For the past several years, Ring of Honor has needed to hit the hard reset button when it comes to their talent and 2019 seems to be no different. While the raid of sorts didn’t come from the usual place this time around, it happened nonetheless and ROH found itself heading into the new year without Cody, Hangman Page, the Young Bucks and SCU (Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky). It’s not the first time ROH has lost its fair share of top names and given the company had learned from experience, they were prepared on how to start taking the next steps to replace the departing wrestlers.
Before turning the page on 2018, ROH added Jeff Cobb, Bandido, Brody King, Mark Haskins and PCO to its ranks. They also started booking PJ Black, Tracy Williams, Facade and Luchasaurus for tapings and seem intent on using their New Japan Pro Wrestling alliance to involve Will Ospreay, Zack Sabre Jr., David Finlay and Juice Robinson in a larger capacity going forward. Plus, they re-signed Flip Gordon, who fans named the ROH Breakout Star of the Year, secured at least a few more months of Marty Scurll, committed to their relationship with the NWA and have been slowly developing some Future of Honor prospects, including Eli Isom, who came on strong toward the end of the year.
Ring of Honor is in a transition period sure, but there are reasons to be optimistic about the company’s future. Fans will get their first taste of this new ROH soon enough as the first TV taping of the new era takes place this Saturday and features some first-time matchups as well as a slew of the new signings all in action for the first time under the ROH banner. In addition to five matches that have been booked for the TV tapings, Jay Lethal, Jeff Cobb, Kelly Klein, The Kingdom, Villain Enterprises, Dalton Castle and the Boys, Flip Gordon, Juice Robinson, Kenny King, Shane Taylor, Jonathan Gresham, Chris Sabin, Cheeseburger and Luchasaurus have all been signed to compete.
Bandido vs Mark Haskins
Ring of Honor isn’t wasting any time putting two of their brand new stars in action against each other as for the first time ever, Bandido and Mark Haskins will do battle, and they’ll do so in an ROH ring.
A 13-year veteran, the 30-year-old Mark Haskins made his ROH debut in 2017 as part of the RevPro/NJPW/ROH/CMLL War of the Worlds UK tour. As someone who has primarily worked in the UK his entire career, this tour put Haskins on ROH’s radar and they didn’t hesitate to bring him back in 2018 for the inaugural ROH International Cup. Haskins defeated Jonathan Gresham, Flip Gordon and finally Hangman Page to win the cup, earning him a world title shot against Jay Lethal at Honor Re-United. Haskins took Lethal to the limit in a match that went nearly 27 minutes, and in the process, impressed ROH officials enough that they offered him a contract a few months later. While Haskins has wrestled a handful of matches in ROH, his match at Center Stage will be his ROH stateside debut. In his career, Haskins has won 28 titles, including championships in IPW:UK, PROGRESS, Defiant, Over the Top Wrestling, RevPro and more. He’s also the current OTT Gender Neutral Champion and Frontline Wrestling Heavyweight Champion. Haskins will also be in action at Honor Reigns Supreme on Sunday, where he’ll take on Beer City Bruiser.
Having wrestled for seven years, it’s hard to believe Bandido is just 23 years old. One of the rising stars in not just lucha libre but all of pro wrestling, Bandido really broke out last year when he began working outside of Mexico for the first time in his career. The young luchador worked a full schedule with Dragon Gate in Japan while also picking up bookings in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, AAW: Professional Wrestling Redefined, Combat Zone Wrestling and DEFY in the U.S., Oriental Wrestling Entertainment in China, PROGRESS, Fight Club: PRO, Rev Pro and Over the Top Wrestling in the UK and World Series Wrestling in Australia. Global breakout aside, Bandido’s biggest moment likely came when he took part in All In in a tag match alongside Rey Mysterio and Fenix against the Young Bucks and Kota Ibushi. It was reported that both WWE and the new All Elite Wrestling were both interested in Bandido, making this a huge get for ROH. He’ll be working both the taping, which will be his ROH debut, and Honor Reigns Supreme where he’ll take on PJ Black. And speaking of the Darewolf…
NWA World Heavyweight Championship: Nick Aldis vs PJ Black
Last year, Billy Corgan and Nick Aldis surprised wrestling fans when they announced that the NWA World Heavyweight Championship would be defended at All In. From there spurred a months-long angle where Aldis and Cody traded shots back-and-forth, all of which built to the match which saw Aldis take his first title loss since becoming champion in December 2017. Serving as Cody’s home promotion at the time, ROH was the site for many of the confrontations between champion and challenger. Following Aldis and Cody’s feud as well as Cody leaving ROH, it was unknown if the angle was merely an angle or if it would turn into a full-on partnership. In December 2018, Corgan broke the news that NWA and ROH would be partnering into 2019 and they’ve wasted no time putting that to work as Aldis will be defending his title at the first ROH event of the new year.
In the midst of a career revival thanks to his role in the NWA, the 32-year-old Nick Aldis is already a 15-year pro. Trained in the UK with World Association of Wrestling and others, Aldis was one of the first of his generation to break out of the BritWres scene and into the mainstream, doing so in 2009 with IMPACT Wrestling. Aldis remained with the company until 2015, winning two tag titles and the world heavyweight championship once. He also won NJPW’s IWGP Tag Team Championship (during NJPW/TNA’s partnership) and the GHC Tag Team Championship for Pro Wrestling NOAH. In 2017, as Global Force Wrestling Global Champion, Aldis rejoined IMPACT briefly during the short-lived GFW invasion storyline. From there he became the focal point of the NWA, winning the title twice and defending it over 30 times in just under 350 days as champion.
One of the most famous wrestlers to ever come out of South Africa, the 37-year-old PJ Black has 22 years experience under his belt spread across 50+ promotions. Trained by Frontier Wrestling Alliance Academy, Black is most known for his time in WWE, where he spent six years with the company under the name Justin Gabriel. Black won two titles in Florida Championship Wrestling, including the Florida Heavyweight Championship and the WWE tag team titles three times as a member of Nexus and later The Corre. He departed WWE in 2015 and began to work the indie circuit both in the U.S. and abroad, ultimately finding a home with Lucha Underground. A member of Worldwide Underground, Black is a former trios champion with the company. In 2018, he made his ROH debut taking part in Survival of the Fittest and the most recent TV tapings in December. He’s won 12 titles in his career, but none are world titles. That could all change on Saturday, perhaps then making his match on Sunday against Bandido for the NWA championship.
ROH World Television Championship #1 Contender’s Match: Silas Young vs Eli Isom
Calling himself pro wrestling’s “Last Real Man,” the 38-year-old Silas Young has undoubtedly been a thorn in many of ROH’s roster member’s sides over the past year. Aligning with Bully Ray, Young won his first ROH title in 2018 when he captured the television championship in February. Now, a two-time television champion, Young is looking for his third reign with the belt currently held by the undefeated Jeff Cobb. But before he gets to Cobb, the 16-year-veteran will have to get past one of ROH’s fasting rising stars first, Eli Isom.
Just 23 years old, Eli Isom’s pro wrestling career has only just begun. In 2017, the Indiana native graduated from the ROH Dojo, becoming a fixture of the Future of Honor programming shortly after. While still a relative unknown, Isom showed up on ROH TV in June as the surprise partner of Kenny King and Chuckie T in the #1 contendership gauntlet for the ROH six-man titles. It was in this match that Isom picked up the biggest win of his career as he pinned Christopher Daniels to get the victory for his team. In a lot of ways, this was Isom’s coming out party, one that saw him develop and receive more TV time as the months went on. In December, after having wrestled on Honor for All and Glory By Honor XVI, Isom made his iPPV debut against King at Final Battle.
David Finlay vs Tracy Williams
The 25-year-old son of WWE legend Fit Finlay, David Finlay is set to make his stateside ROH debut as part of the Center Stage tapings this weekend. Now in his eighth year in the business, Finlay, a former young lion, started working for NJPW in 2015. He honed his craft in the dojo and with NJPW’s own voids they’ll need to fill, is someone who could be primed for a big year in Japan. Thanks to NJPW and ROH’s relationship, Finlay made his ROH debut in 2016 at Honor Rising, a card he’s taken part in every year since. As mentioned above, this will be the first time Finlay is working stateside for ROH as it will be the first time he’s working a taping or any sort of card that has not been co-promoted by NJPW. He’ll be returning the next night as well, taking part in a tag team match with Juice Robinson against Best Friends.
Tracy Williams made his ROH debut in 2018, taking part in the annual Survival of the Fittest tournament where he faced long-time independent rival, Jonathan Gresham, in the first round. While Williams didn’t advance past the first round, he impressed ROH officials enough to earn a match against Zack Sabre Jr. at the December TV tapings. Williams made his pro wrestling debut in 2009 but only really began to take off a few years ago when he became a fixture for EVOLVE, Beyond Wrestling and World Wrestling Network. The 29-year-old has won six titles in his career, including the Absolute Intense Wrestling Absolute championship which he holds today. Much like his opponent, Williams will be working double duty over the weekend as he takes on Flip Gordon at Honor Reigns Supreme on Sunday.
ROH World Tag Team Championship: The Briscoes vs Best Friends
Returning to Ring of Honor for the second set of TV tapings in a row, Best Friends are set to face the Briscoes, in the team’s first defense of their newly won tag team championships. The championship bout was set after the Briscoes joined Bully Ray, Silas Young and Shane Taylor in ruining the Elite’s farewell and beating up the group, as well as their opponents on the night, Jay Lethal, Flip Gordon and Best Friends after the match.
Jay and Mark Briscoe spent much of 2018 as ROH World Tag Team Champions. The brothers, who have been with ROH since day one, surpassed 1,000 combined days as champions and did so in their record-shattering ninth reign with the belts. They ended the year by recording their 10th reign, doing so by defeating SCU and the Young Bucks in Ladder War at Final Battle. Overall in their careers, the Briscoes have captured tag gold everywhere they’ve gone, with 23 reigns spanning several promotions including Combat Zone Wrestling, NWA, Pro Wrestling NOAH, NJPW and ROH. There’s no denying they are the class of ROH’s division. They’ll face a huge test the following night as well as they’ll join Silas Young in a proving ground match against Villain Enterprises, in their debut match.
Chuckie T and Beretta have only been together for a little over five years but in that time, the Best Friends have become one of the most fun and entertaining tag teams on the indies. In 2017, the duo brought their best friendship to ROH and have been pretty successful in their brief time there (22 matches in two years). The two have competed for the ROH titles on multiple occasions but haven’t quite been able to capture the belts. In fact, they haven’t actually won titles anywhere as a unit so a victory over the Briscoes would be huge. Best Friends have always been more of a comedic duo but there is no doubt they are taking this one very seriously. And they’ll have to in order to dethrone the 10-time champions. If they do, perhaps their match the following night against Juice Robinson and David Finlay will see the titles on the line.