In 2004, Ring of Honor introduced the concept of the Survival of the Fittest tournament, the idea for which was born out of Marlyand Championship Wrestling‘s Shane Shamrock Memorial Cup. Each year, with the exception of 2008 and 2013, competitors have taken part in the tournament, first in a qualifying match, with the winners going on to face off in a six-way elimination final. The winner of that match is declared the new #1 contender for the ROH world title.
As Ring of Honor noted in one of their initial releases, the winners of Survival of the Fittest read like a “who’s who of professional wrestling.” The inaugural winner was Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan) and others on the list include Roderick Strong, Chris Hero (Kassius Ohno), Tyler Black (Seth Rollins), Eddie Edwards, Bobby Fish, Adam Cole, Jay Lethal and the only two-time winner, Michael Elgin. And while this is just a #1 contendership and not a briefcase to cash in at the opportune moment, SOTF winners have enjoyed Money in the Bank levels of success. Of the winners of the previous 12 SOTF tournaments, seven have gone on to become the Ring of Honor World Champion.
Perhaps the winner of this year’s edition will go on to do the same. ROH has assembled an interesting group of veterans, rising stars and guys who are making their debuts with the company. It’s a great collection of indie wrestlers, all of whom have a legitimate claim to becoming the next ROH world champion.
Let’s take a look at the resumes of the 15 men vying to become the next ROH world champion.
Singles #1: Tracy Williams vs Jonathan Gresham
The first announced competitor for Survival of the Fittest is also someone who will be making his ROH debut in this very tournament. That man is 29-year-old Tracy Williams, who is perhaps better known by his nickname, “Hot Sauce.” Williams debuted in 2009 but it wasn’t until 2014 when he debuted with EVOLVE, that his career began to take off. Williams has been a fixture for EVOLVE, Beyond Wrestling and World Wrestling Network ever since, and has made global appearances in promotions such as Germany’s wXw and the UK’s Preston City Wrestling and PROGRESS Wrestling. A former two-time EVOLVE and two-time Absolute Intense Wrestling tag team champion, Williams is also the current AIW Absolute Champion and Powerbomb.tv Independent Champion. He’s never been a world champion though, making Survival of the Fittest a huge opportunity at this stage in his career. In order to even make it to the finals though, Williams will have to get past a man he knows very well and who he’s done battle with throughout the indies in Jonathan Gresham.
One of the best technical wrestlers on the planet, the 30-year-old Jonathan Gresham has been honing his craft for 13 years. Since debuting on the scene in 2006, Gresham has traveled the world, winning titles all over as well. He’s won 12 titles, including one he current holds, the International Wrestling Cartel Super Indy Championship. Gresham made his ROH debut in 2011 but it wasn’t until 2015 when he began to make his mark on the company. And while he’s continued to work the indies throughout the world as a must-see attraction, Gresham has also become a huge part of ROH’s recent refocus of talent. He’s one of the guys this company could build around and they’ve shown that faith in him recently as Gresham took on Jay Lethal in a 30-minute iron man match for the title, one that was one of ROH’s best television matches in years. Gresham has Lethal’s respect and if he gets a second chance at the title which he came so close to winning, the end result could very well be different this time.
Singles #2: Luchasaurus vs PJ Black
The 33-year-old Austin Matelson, current ring name Luchasaurus, began his career in 2009 wrestling for various National Wrestling Alliance properties. In 2012, he made his way to FCW/NXT as Judas Devlin. Things didn’t quite pan out but in 2016, Matelson received another big opportunity, as he took on the role of Vibora in Lucha Underground. It was with LU as a member of the Reptile Tribe, that Matelson won his first career title, the trios championship. On the indies, as Luchasaurus, he’s a fixture at Joey Ryan‘s Bar Wrestling and is currently one-half of the All-Star Wrestling tag team champions. In 2018, Luchasaurus made his ROH debut in a dark match but Survival of the Fittest will really be his first opportunity to make a splash with the company.
Much like several others in this field, the 37-year-old PJ Black will be making his ROH debut at Survival of the Fittest. Unlike some of the other competitors however, Black brings with him 21 years of experience and shy of Christopher Daniels, is the most veteran competitor in the field. Perhaps the best South African wrestler the world has ever seen, Black was trained by the Frontier Wrestling Alliance Academy before making his way to Florida Championship Wrestling as Justin Gabriel. Black found success with WWE, winning the tag team titles three times as a member of Nexus/The Corre, and was there until early 2015. Upon leaving WWE, Black briefly wrestled for IMPACT Wrestling and on the global circuit before landing with Lucha Underground alongside fellow WWE departee John Morrison. As a member of Worldwide Underground, Black won the LU trios championship once. In all, Black has won 12 titles, but none of them are world championships. He will look to change that at Survival of the Fittest where a victory gets him one step closer to that elusive prize.
Singles #3: Beer City Bruiser vs Christopher Daniels
Beer City Bruiser
Trained by the great Harley Race, the 40-year-old Beer City Bruiser is somewhat of a wrestling caricature, but one who has certainly has had quite the career. A pro since 2000, Bruiser, who has won 24 titles, wrestled a lot of his early matches for NWA and other indies in the Midwest scene such as Wisconsin Pro Wrestling and Brew City Wrestling. With WWE and IMPACT Wrestling matches under his belt, albeit as enhancement talent, Bruiser made his ROH debut in 2013 in much the same role. When he returned to ROH in 2015 it was as more of a regular and since then, he’s wrestled more matches with the promotion in each ensuing year. Through ROH, Bruiser also made his international debut, taking part in several matches with New Japan Pro Wrestling over the last three years. Alongside fellow Milwaukee native Silas Young, Bruiser won ROH’s Tag Wars in 2016. Survival of the Fittest will be his first real big singles opportunity though he’ll have no easy task given who his first round opponent is.
You could fill an entire copybook, front-to-back with highlights and accomplishments from the 48-year-old Christopher Daniels’ career and it still would barely scratch the surface. With 25 years of experience, Daniels is not just one of the founding fathers of ROH and he’s not just a TNA Original. He’s one of the most well-respected wrestlers in this entire industry and one of the early pioneers of wrestling’s independent scene as we know it today. In fact, if there were to ever be a Mount Rushmore for the indies, Daniels would be the first guy up there. Daniels’ career began in Windy City Pro Wrestling and while the veteran is best known for his time in ROH and TNA/IMPACT, he actually briefly wrestled in WWE and WCW before his time in either of those companies. In large part, that’s because Daniels’ career outlives that of both promotions he spent the bulk of his 25 years with. Daniels was with IMPACT and ROH from the beginning and even wrestled concurrently for both promotions for a time, making him probably one of the only people to ever do so, and he did it for parts of five years. Daniels left IMPACT in 2013 to return to ROH, where he’d spent parts of all but four of the company’s now 16 years in existence. One of the most decorated men in wrestling history, Daniels has won 44 titles of all varieties. In 2018, upon winning the ROH six man titles, Daniels became the first and so far only, grand slam champion in history. No one deserved it more. But at 48, Daniels isn’t settling nor is he thinking of retirement. In fact, its just the opposite as he’s trying to keep himself from being fired. Daniels needs to end the year with a title in order to gain leverage in his war with ROH COO Joe Coff and he’s running out of time. This will be Daniels’ fourth attempt to win Survival of the Fittest, but none more important than this one given the fate facing him if he can’t win a title before the clock strikes midnight on 2018.
Triple Threat #1: Dalton Castle vs Hangman Page vs Colin Delaney
There’s only two men in this year’s Survival of the Fittest field that know what it’s like to be ROH world champion. One of them is Christopher Daniels and the other is Dalton Castle, who just so happens to be the last man to hold the title prior to Lethal’s current championship reign. The 32-year-old Castle began his career 10 years ago and in that time has shown himself to be one of pro wrestling’s most fascinating characters. In his early years, Castle spent a lot of time in IWC, where he is a former world champion, before making his ROH debut in 2013. It wasn’t until 2015 however, a year which saw Castle work matches in IMPACT Wrestling as well, that the Peacock became an important fixture for ROH. Castle has taken part in two previous SOTF tournaments, reaching the finals in his most recent appearance in 2016. In ROH, Castle is a former six-man champion and world champion, a reign which seemingly came to an end due to an injury. But Castle is back now and he’s looking to regain his championship. For him, that journey begins at Survival of the Fittest.
If reports are to be believed, the 27-year-old Adam Page recently turned down a WWE offer…at least for now. And while Page’s future is uncertain, much like the rest of the Elite, he’s still under contract with ROH right now and is looking to win his first singles title with the company. He’ll get one step closer by winning Survival of the Fittest, in this his fourth attempt. Page, who has been wrestling for 10 years, made his debut with Carolina Wrestling Federation. Just a year later, he debuted for ROH in a dark match before making his televised debut for the company in 2013. It was clear that the company saw the future star that Page has become as he took part in that year’s Top Prospect Tournament. Page didn’t win the tournament but he had made enough of an impression with ROH management that they brought him back for more and more matches including to take part in 2014’s SOTF, where he reached the finals. In the past two years, Page, due in large part to association with the Bullet Club, has broken out in a big way, recently taking part in his first G1 Climax for NJPW. But he still has yet to win his first singles title (and just the second such title of his career) in ROH. He enters Survival of the Fittest as one of the hottest wrestlers in the company however, so if ever there was a time for Page, it would be now.
Certainly not new to wrestling, the 32-year-old Colin Delaney has 14 years experience under his belt including time in WWE. Much like a lot of wrestlers who came up in the early 2000s, a good deal of Delaney’s early career was spent wrestling for NWA and its properties. In 2007, Delaney made his WWE debut as enhancement talent for ECW. The following year, while still used primarily as a jobber, Delanay alongside Tommy Dreamer, had a brief feud with the Miz and John Morrison for their ECW tag titles. In addition to WWE, Delaney, who wrestled his only other ROH match in 2013, is perhaps best known for his time in CHIKARA, AIW, Squared Circle Wrestling and Upstate Pro Wrestling. A 14-time champion in wrestling including the current Upstate Pro Wrestling No Limits Champion, Delaney, like many others in this field, is still looking for his first world championship.
Triple Threat #2: Andrew Everett vs Guerrero Maya Jr. vs Flip Gordon
Andrew Everett has been wrestling for 11 years, much of which have been at an extremely high level. It’s hard to believe that he’s just 26 and that he got into the business at the ripe young age of 15. Much like Adam Page, Everett’s early career began with CWF, where he wrestled primarily up until 2013. The following year, Everett, while still with CWF and Premiere Wrestling Experience, made his ROH debut in the 2014 Top Prospect Tournament. Everett wrestled several additional matches for the company from 2014-15 but by 2015, he had found himself in IMPACT Wrestling, which became his home up until earlier this year. With IMPACT, Everett was a member of the X-Division, though he wasn’t particularly featured. While with IMPACT, Everett continued to wrestle globally as well, making regular appearances for England’s Southside Wrestling Entertainment, Mexico’s Lucha Lubre AAA and Pro Wrestling NOAH in Japan, where he made an excursion due to IMPACT and NOAH’s partnership. Everett has won 11 titles in his career, most notably tag team championships in IMPACT, AAW: Professional Wrestling Redefined and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. As the theme continues, Everett has never won a world championship, such as the opportunity winning Survival of the Fittest will grant.
Guerrero Maya Jr.
Despite being a member of the Consejo Mundial De Lucha Libre roster, the 33-year-old Guerrero Maya Jr. hasn’t wrestled as many matches in ROH as one might think. In fact, the 14-year pro didn’t make his debut with CMLL’s partner promotion until earlier this year where he teamed with Atlantis and Stuka Jr. for ROH State of the Art. Maya Jr. has wrestled primarily for CMLL his entire career though he has also wrestled sporadically for some other promotions, one of which, International Wrestling Revolution Group, he is a former champion. As far as CMLL titles, Maya Jr. is a three-time Mexican National Trios Champion and two-time Arena Coliseo Tag Team Champion. Mostly a tag specialist for the majority of his career, Maya Jr. could be looking for that breakout moment at Survival of the Fittest. Winning the tournament would be huge for the luchador and his perhaps, budding singles career.
A rising star in Ring of Honor, the company didn’t hesitate to ink the 26-year-old Flip Gordon to a long-term deal this summer, keeping him under contract until 2020. Gordon, who has been a professional wrestler for less than three years began his career on the Northeast wrestling circuit. In 2017, he debuted for ROH and has been on a tear ever since. Likely one of the new faces of ROH, Gordon has been featured front and center since signing his deal this summer. At All In, the Army veteran received his first ROH world championship match and even if he doesn’t win SOTF, he’s guaranteed another. Gordon won the first-ever Sea of Honor tournament by defeating Jay Briscoe in the final in order to win a future title shot. If he wins Survival of the Fittest, he’ll have two and will no doubt be next in line at an attempt to gain ROH’s greatest prize.
Triple Threat #3: Silas Young vs Stuka Jr. vs Marty Scurll
A 16-year veteran and 16-time champion, the 38-year-old Silas Young is a throwback to the old, misogynistic characters of wrestling’s earlier days. That’s why he calls himself the “Last Real Man.” Young’s career began in 2002 with his ROH (and WWE) debut coming five years later. Young’s time in WWE wasn’t long but as the years went on, his relationship with ROH remained steady and continued to grow. A focal point for AAW for many years, in 2013, Young became a full-fledged member of the ROH roster as well, taking part in the Top Prospect Tournament and sticking beyond that. In the past five years, Young has wrestled for NJPW, taken part in two prior SOTF tournaments, is a two-time ROH World Television Champion and enjoyed a memorable world title feud with Jay Lethal. While Young was unable to defeat Lethal in their most recent meeting, his recent alliance with Bully Ray has seen the 38-year-old regain some momentum. There’s no doubt he wants another shot at Lethal, a man whose number Young had up until recently, and SOTF is the perfect place to get back on that title road.
At 39 years old, Stuka Jr. is the third oldest competitor in the field. But make no mistake, he’s just as good now as he’s ever been. Much like his fellow luchador Guerrero Maya Jr., Stuka Jr. has spent almost his entire career with CMLL, where he is a former two-time trios champion, one-time tag champion and one-time Occidente Light Heavyweight Champion. Stuka Jr. made his ROH debut in 2016 and his NJPW debut two years prior. A 16-year veteran of the industry, Stuka Jr. is also very much a tag team specialist, having wrestled his last singles match back in August of this year. That being said, in that match, Stuka Jr. won the NWA World Historic Light Heavyweight Championship. So while not a regular singles competitor, Stuka Jr. brings a lot of experience and talent to this match. His opponents would be wise not to underestimate what he brings to the table.
Certainly someone who has been treated like the new face of Ring of Honor since he first debuted with the company back in 2016, the 30-year-old Marty Scurll probably has to be one of the favorites to win Survival of the Fittest and the future world title opportunity that comes with it. A wrestler since 2006, Scurll spent much of his early career wrestling throughout the United Kingdom at promotions such as International Pro Wrestling: UK and Premier Promotions. In 2011, he made his debut outside of the UK, wrestling for Germany’s wXw and at select promotions in the U.S. Continuing to be a fixture of the UK scene at prominent companies such as PROGRESS and Revolution Pro Wrestling, Scurll made his ROH debut in 2016 and won the television title in just his third day with the company. Much like Page, Scurll’s association with Bullet Club helped to make him a household name, not just in England anymore, but in the U.S. and Japan as well. A former winner of the Battle of Los Angeles tournament, Scurll has also won 17 titles in his career including four world titles and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. Scurll’s had several chances to win the ROH world title as well, always coming up just a little short. Perhaps with another #1 contendership and a one-on-one shot at Lethal, which he hasn’t gotten, Scurll will be able to come out on top.