Ring of Honor has long been known for it’s ability to take fresh young independent talent and groom them for greatness, not just as international standouts in their time with ROH, but down the road with WWE, NXT, Impact Wrestling and elsewhere. Such Superstars as Seth Rollins (aka Tyler Black), Kevin Owens (nee Steen), Daniel Bryan (Bryan Danielson), CM Punk, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Austin Aries, Roderick Strong, Cesaro (Claudio Castagnoli), Kassius Ohno (Chris Hero), Cedric Alexander and many more all cut their teeth in Ring of Honor before moving on to greater success in the squared circle on grander platforms. Yet ROH has always defied the odds in their 15 years in operation, replacing each wrestler lost with new and hungry talent that has kept ROH amidst the top of the independent promotions in North America.
But the last year has seen a growing exodus of ROH talent, who have lost multiple top tier talent to both the WWE and Impact. Here’s a brief look at talent who have left ROH in the past year:
- ACH, Evolve
- Cedric Alexander, WWE (Raw, 205 Live)
- Austin Aries, WWE (Raw, 205 Live)
- Michael Bennett, Impact
- Steve Corino, WWE Performance Center
- Donovan Dijak, indies
- Michael Elgin, NJPW
- Maria Kanellis, Impact
- Nigel McGuinness, WWE (NXT)
- Moose, Impact Wrestling
- Kyle O’Reilly, indies
- Roderick Strong, WWE (NXT)
Three time ROH World Champion Adam Cole recently lost his title to Christopher Daniels at the recent 15th Anniversary PPV and was soon after kicked from the Bullet Club, adding credence to the rumours he’s WWE bound in some capacity when his contract expires in the weeks to come. Add in the reports that War Machine‘s Raymond Rowe is heading to NXT when his deal expires shortly (his fiancee Sarah Bridges, formerly known as Crazy Mary Dobson, is already there) and potentially bringing his War Machine partner Hanson, and suddenly that list features much of Ring of Honor’s talent.
But in the last couple of days, two more names emerged as candidates to join the growing exodus from Ring of Honor, and again, they’re two names that are closer to the main event than they are the opening match enhancement.
Bobby Fish has been a mainstay in Ring of Honor since 2013 when he arrived from Japan’s Pro Wrestling NOAH, most recently as the ROH World Television Champion. His stiff and explosive technical wrestling has won him legions of fans, both in North America and in Japan. Arguably his greatest success has come in the tag team ReDragon with Kyle O’Reilly, capturing the ROH World Tag Team titles three times and NJPW’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team titles twice. But while both Fish and O’Reilly have spent most of the past year primarily in singles action – with Fish’s 194 day reign as World Television Champion and O’Reilly capturing the ROH World Heavyweight Championship in late 2016 – Bobby Fish recently made some interesting comments when interviewed on Sirius FM’s Busted Open Radio on March 1, 2017.
“I love the singles run but in no way does that make me feel as though reDragon is a finished thing. You will see reDragon again, not entirely sure when or where at this point, but that’s a definite.”
What makes this so interesting is that at the time of the interview, his partner Kyle O’Reilly was no longer part of Ring of Honor. After dropping the World title back to Adam Cole at Wrestle Kingdom 11, O’Reilly departed the company after 8 years for other opportunities, strongly rumoured to be a courting from NXT. And while many were under the assumption Fish had re-signed a new long term deal a month ago (following the 2-year deals signed by Jay Lethal and The Young Bucks), rumblings the past week seemed to indicate that Fish had only signed a 30-day extension instead. But Fish’s Tweet posted yesterday seemed to indicate that after this extension, he was leaving the company.
Beginning March 27, 2017… I am once again accepting independent professional wrestling bookings…Please DM me here… Thank you. pic.twitter.com/XGylHHtMmc
Obviously he still has two weeks left on his ROH contract, so contact with the WWE would be illegal at this point, but could O’Reilly’s delay in signing with NXT be because he’s waiting for his partner to be free and clear so they can head to Orlando together as a tandem? If so, they would seem to be following the lead of Raymond Rowe. Rowe’s contract is either expiring soon (or he’s on per appearance deals) and the WWE has great interest in him. But many feel that Rowe is holding out for Hanson’s deal to expire (his contract ran a bit longer) so they can head to NXT as War Machine together.
But while losing Bobby Fish is a blow from the recognition factor, he’s 40 years old. If Fish is to get a big money deal before he retires – either from WWE, Impact Wrestling or NJPW – it’s got to be sooner rather than later. But the other name that’s come up in recent days that is the bigger blow. Ring of Honor’s proud peacock of punch, Dalton Castle.
Dalton Castle debuted in the New York indies in late 2008 (ironically, one of his earliest matches was against Bobby Fish at Empire State Wrestling in August 2009) and in 2013 got his first taste in ROH. But it was in CHIKARA that year that he made his first real impact in the industry. During a match between Jervis Cottonbelly and Darkness Crabtree, the evil faction GEKIDO attacked the ring and “killed” Crabtree. Through a series of ongoing vignettes, it was revealed that Crabtree had left all of his fortune to his nephew, Dalton Castle. In early 2014, Castle made his CHIKARA debut, but Castle – now spoiled by the riches bequeathed upon him – arrived decked out in yacht gear and under the name Ashley Remington. And a star was born.
In January of 2015, Castle returned to Ring of Honor – under the Castle gimmick – alongside two of his “Boys” (indie wrestlers Brandon and Brent Tate) and entered the 2015 Top Prospect Tournament. Although he was defeated in the first round, Castle became an instant sensation and over the past two years, has become one of Ring of Honor’s brightest stars. By December of 2015, even Rolling Stone magazine was taking notice. Combining the arrogant flamboyance of past characters as Gorgeous George, ‘Exotic’ Adrian Street and ‘Adorable’ Adrian Adonis with outstanding athleticism and surprising strength (the man behind Dalton Castle, Brett Giehl was a NCAA collegiate grappler with State University of New York at Cortland in the 184 lb. weight class, going 11-4), Castle is as impressive technically as he is with his performance. And at 31 years old, Castle’s best years are still ahead of him.
So it was somewhat of a shock when Dave Meltzer of the Observer Newsletter reported today that Castle’s contract with ROH is expiring soon and some independent promoters are getting the vibe that Castle will be looking to test out the indie waters when it expires (rumoured to be around SummerSlam). If these rumours prove to be true, it will be a massive loss for Ring of Honor, as Castle is one of the few “young” talents they have left – many of their top names remaining are hovering closer to the 40-age bracket than the 30 (Christopher Daniels, World Champion, 45; The Hardys, Tag Team Champions (Matt, 42, and Jeff, 39); Bully Ray, 45; BJ Whitmer, 39; Frankie Kazarian, 39; Silas Young, 37). Castle, at 31, would be one of the younger stars they could build their future with (along with Lethal, 31, The Young Bucks (Matt, 32, and Nick, 27) and The Briscoes (Jay, 33, and Mark, 32)), plus the addition of UK stars Will Ospreay, 23, and Marty Scurll, 28. And according to PWInsider, another young prospect, Lio Rush, 22, reportedly gave his notice to ROH this week and is heading back to EVOLVE. Oddly enough, the news of Castle’s possible departure came just hours before ROH announced Dalton Castle’s first DVD collection, Planet Peacock.
In today’s market, the opportunities on the indie circuit are bountiful if one is blessed with a strong character and work ethic, something Dalton Castle clearly has (Giehl owns the Dalton Castle character, having used it for years prior to joining ROH). There’s no denying he could become an international indie superstar along the same lines as the likes of The Young Bucks, Drew Galloway, Cody Rhodes, Pentagon Jr., or many of the others who work all the major promotions freely. And there’s no doubt that promotions like the WWE, Impact Wrestling and NJPW would love to have someone of his caliber on their roster.
For independents like ROH, losing top stars is inevitable – it’s even good for growth, as they themselves cannot survive forever on aging stars and need to make room for younger talent. But to lose one of those young stars at the cusp of their peak is pure negligence as a promoter, especially when ROH’s owners, Sinclair Broadcasting, are one of the richest owners in the game.
There’s always another Fish in the sea, but perhaps nows the time for Ring of Honor open the wallets and secure the Castle before they lose him altogether.
Main Photo: Both images from Ring of Honor