The sleigh bells are jingling, the cash registers are ringing. TV is a constant rotation of toy, perfume and food advertisements. Stress levels are reaching critical mass and the only way to get through the day is with heroic doses of mescaline (at least for me). There’s tinsel in your hair and desperation in the air. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Weirdly it’s because all across the Western world kids are getting ready for a fat elderly man to creep into their bedrooms during the dead of night and empty his sack all over their bed. Now normally this would be considered a serious criminal offence but apparently because it’s Christmas it’s ok. Oh yeah, in case you didn’t work it out yet …IT’S CHRISTMAS!!!!
You know what that means, don’t you kids? That’s right, it’s every lazy writer’s favourite time of year – the end of year review! This isn’t going to be the usual list of all the things that I’ve liked or disliked this year in professional wrestling. I am lazy but I’m not that lazy. I can’t promise no list action but I will try to keep this as mildly entertaining as you’ve come to know and expect.
This end of year review is all about one company. I’m going to look at a company that this year had, without a doubt, the most significantly important year in its nine year existence. So you better all strap yourselves in, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover as we look back at 2011 in Ring of Honor Wrestling!! It’s dark and I’m wearing sunglasses…hit it!
Although before I do indeed hit ‘it,’ I need to say that I’m an unabashed supporter of Ring of Honor Wrestling. I have been since I first saw the promotion on the now defunct ‘Wrestling Channel’ here in the UK back in late 2004/early 2005. I’ve literally spent big on DVDs, IPPVs and other merchandise down the years. I push, promote, hype and generally annoy everyone I know with my tales of how much I enjoy Ring of Honor as a wrestling promotion. I’m sure some kind hearted people would refer to me as a ‘ROH-Bot,’ but you know what? Fuck them. I’m a huge ROH fan and proud of it.
I will do my best to keep things balanced and not veer off into just repeatedly typing, “this is awesome” (clap, clap, clap, clap, clap) and throwing streamers at the screen. However I can’t promise I’ll be able to keep my love and respect for everything ROH and their roster do completely in check. So this might get a bit sickly. But come on, it’s fucking Christmas, lighten up and mark out at something for a change! It’ll brighten up your day!
2011 has been a year of massive change in ROH. The biggest and most significant of these changes occurred on May 21st when ROH announced the sale of the promotion to the Sinclair Broadcast Group. This sent shock waves through the ROH fan base. Some casual fans simply saw the news as a case of a TV company buying a wrestling company. But let’s be honest here, to the long time ROH fans, this was as big a shift in the ROH landscape as you could have outside of bringing Vince Russo in as booker.
Now before anyone freaks out I’m not saying that Sinclair purchasing ROH would have the detrimental effect that bringing Russo in would (i.e. killing the company dead) but it definitely left many long time fans with a feeling that the ROH as they knew it had changed forever. The question of whether or not it’s a change for the better can’t be answered at the moment, but the signs are positive even at this early stage.
The ROH/Sinclair baby is still in its infancy. It’s not even out of diapers yet or annoying you about Christmas presents. It’s extremely early days in what is a long term business plan. It’s tough to keep reminding people that 6 months is not long term (unless you’re talking the length of my relationships) but every ROH fan needs to accept that we won’t see the full effect of the Sinclair purchase immediately.
In the few months since the purchase there have been a number of improvements and subtle changes and thankfully nothing to indicate the end of the world for ROH fans! Sinclair have cleaned up and added a few licks of paint to ROH but they haven’t replaced the whole engine. It’s been small cosmetic changes (new logo, new ring, new website, new store layout, much improved audio and visual production levels on DVD releases) that have helped to generally freshen ROH up. Sinclair bought ROH because it’s ROH, not because it’s a WWE imitation. It makes sense to spruce things up but also to keep all those key elements in place that makes ROH so special.
ROH fans can be content that while Sinclair deal with the business side of owning a wrestling company, the wrestling side of the business is still in the hands of extremely talented wrestling people. THIS is the most important factor in the whole deal. As we all saw with WCW when TV executives try to run wrestling you end up with the kind of mess you normally see in the bathroom at Taco Bell on turkey taco night. There’s a lovely Christmas image for you!
You can’t talk about ROH and Sinclair without mentioning the biggest news coming out of the sale of ROH to Sinclair – the new weekly ROH TV show broadcast on syndicated network television. It has been decades since wrestling aired on broadcast television and it’s somewhat of a forgotten and untapped market. This is what makes the move so interesting, if it does work will other promotions try to follow suit? If it doesn’t work can we finally say that a major wrestling company can’t survive without cable TV exposure?
It’s pretty obvious to anyone looking from the outside that ROH were not going to get on cable and certainly not receive big money from the rights to the show. Their brand is not known yet, their fan base still relatively small and frankly if WWE are on cable, there’s not much point in anyone else being on there. ROH isn’t competition to WWE, it’s an alternative. The decision to go the route they’ve chosen by selling the company to a TV network really is a major roll of the dice. It’s early days and the growth in ROH’s various revenue streams from being on TV won’t truly be able to be measured until this time next year.
This project is in its early stages and one of the most important things you need to do when beginning a long term project like this is build a grass roots fan base and start the long process of getting your brand out there to the wider public. ROH were in an advantageous position of having a readymade audience to watch the TV show (either on TV or online) which they have built up over the last nine years. The grass roots fan base is in place and now the TV show can be used to build on that fan base and get the brand of ROH Wrestling out there to the wider wrestling public.
What’s really interesting is ROH/Sinclair are using an old school business model with a new school product and if the early TV shows are anything to go by, ROH on Sinclair is going to provide the most logically booked angles and action packed matches you’ll see anywhere on a weekly wrestling TV show.
It’s a complete change of pace and style from the cartoonish world of WWE and for a lot of younger fans the lack of bright colours and pyro probably won’t appeal. However to the slightly older and slightly more jaded wrestling fan, the legitimate alternative to WWE that ROH offers could be just the tonic they’ve been looking for. Professional wrestling presented as a serious, athletic sport.
The TV show also allows greater promotion of the IPPVs that ROH have been pioneering for the last couple of years. A huge benefit of the TV show is it’s the perfect platform to do what ROH do better than anyone else – build new stars for their audience. I’ll talk about some of the emerging stars in ROH in 2011 a little later.
One of the main changes in ROH this year has been the much improved use and focus on social media to get the ROH name out there – although CM Punk name dropping them on Raw probably helped a little! Dave Lagana, former WWE writer and now part of the TNA creative team was the driving force behind the ROH social media focus. Thankfully that drive has been kept up since Lagana signed with TNA.
Lagana saw a gap in the market with his ‘I Want Wrestling’ online revolution and then in turn used this to promote ROH – at least indirectly. Ok, so it’s not exactly a over throw Gaddafi kind of revolution, but you know what I mean. The link between the internet and wrestling has always been strong, some say to the determent of the business, but with Dave Lagana on board ROH were able to use social medial effectively and ‘harness the power of the internet for good’ – which incidentally is the title of my next movie.
In 2011 ROH were at the forefront of using social media to promote their company. They were not as heavy handed as WWE with their ‘twitter trend addiction’ and thankfully they didn’t just come up with a snazzy marketing line like, ‘wrestling matters,’ and then have 20 minutes of wrestling on a 2 hour TV show like TNA. Instead ROH expertly used different aspects of the internet and social media to rally their fans.
Videos and other promos on YouTube are a regular tool used by ROH but they also got their name out there with their #findROH and #watchROH on Twitter along with a much more interactive Facebook page and a great looking new website. Couple all this with their willingness to interact with fans online and 2011 has been the year where ROH was the market leader in wrestling promotion on the internet with WWE and TNA frantically trying to catch up.
It’s amazing how few wrestling promotions have grasped the concept of how much free advertising and fan feedback and interaction you can get online. Granted you need a giant bullshit filter to find the good among the retarded, but I’m sure they’d all mine some gold eventually.
So on the business, IPPV, TV and social media side of things it’s been a big year for ROH and with Final Battle only a few weeks away I’m confident ROH will have another record setting IPPV buy rate for their annual end of the year spectacular. The strength of the Davey Richards vs. Eddie Edwards main event rematch for the ROH World Title alone should be enough to crack a very good IPPV number.
It’s not just in the board room or the production truck where ROH have had an important year. It’s also been a year of cutting edge in-ring action, new stars being primed for the future and one absolutely fantastic angle that has the entire indy wrestling scene talking. So now it’s time for some end of year review list action!
Duckman’s Top ROH Wrestlers for 2011:
The current ROH World Champion and one of the most in demand talents working in the world today. It’s been a huge year for Richards in ROH as he finally won the World Title, defeating Eddie Edwards in a Match of the Year candidate at the IPPV ‘Best in the World.’ I’ve written about that match and Davey’s post match promo before (http://wrestlingslasthope.blogspot.com/2011/08/what-happened-to-all-promos-duckman.html) but if you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favour, stop reading this, go find the match and WATCH IT NOW! You can thank me later.
Along with Davey’s tremendous feud with Eddie Edwards (which you just know is going to kick up a gear at Final Battle) he has also worked some tremendous matches in New Japan and Mexico. Fans have been calling Richards the best in the world since Bryan Danielson went to WWE and this year Davey truly cemented his place as the best in the world.
He hasn’t been able to defend the ROH World Title as often as previous champions (mainly due to being booked in New Japan) but to be honest it’s added an element of ‘must see’ to his World Title matches because they don’t happen as often but when they do…holy crap are they worth watching!
His in-ring mix of MMA and pro wrestling (or American Strong Style as it’s known) is just the kind of work that ROH need to showcase on their TV show to show people they are a true alternative to WWE but that they also offer something new from an in-ring stand point. Davey’s promos have improved leaps and bounds in recent years. I think his promo at last year’s Final Battle was a real marker of how far Richards has come with his promos. He doesn’t play a character, he’s a serious athlete who can cut a great promo.
Richards is the wrestler that ROH can build their promotion around as they move into 2012 – let’s just hope he doesn’t get snapped up before he’s had the chance to really show what he can do in ROH.
It’s been a huge year for Eddie Edwards, maybe even more so than Richards. A ROH World Title win. Great match after great match with a variety of opponents during his World Title reign. Then an all time classic match with Richards at Best in the World. Add to that how much Edwards has refined and improved his in-ring work this year and you can see why ‘Die Hard,’ is one of the most popular and respected wrestlers on the ROH roster. Plus there’s Final Battle on the horizon and I get the feeling that the Eddie Edwards/Davey Richards story has a few more twists and turns in store for us.
Another amazing year for the Generic Luchador who has to be one of the most popular indy wrestlers in the world today. A master of selling, Generico has charisma to burn and his in-ring work consistently ranges from amazing to spectacular. Generico has firmly placed himself at the top of the ROH card and I know a lot of fans are hoping that the former ROH TV Champion will continue his march to the top of the card in 2012 – OLE!!
What a great year Roderick has had. He was World Champion in the early part of the year and continued to develop his in-ring style while working as a heel. Roddy is the kind of wrestler all promoters would sell their first born child to have on their roster. He can work with anyone in any number of styles. As a heel he can generate great heat and as a babyface he’ll always be extremely popular with the ROH fan base. Roderick Strong has had a lot to do with the great year Eddie Edwards has had and that should not be forgotten as the year draws to an end. One of the most important wrestler on the current ROH roster.
The Briscoe Brothers:
The baddest tag team on the planet. ‘Dem Boys’ never fail to deliver in the ring. 2011 has seen the rise of the awesome Briscoe promo and you know something? Thank fuck for that! If you haven’t seen a Briscoe Brothers promo then again, do yourself a favour, stop reading this, go find their recent promo about hunting young bucks and WATCH IT NOW! You can thank me later.
Inside the ring the Briscoes have really turned up the heat and aggression this year and it’s resulted in some brutal bloodbaths along with their usual great tag team matches. Their heel tactics and stiff, intense style has resulted in a lot of people cheering them when they’re supposed to be the bad guys.
That’s the problem the Briscoes are always going to have in ROH – they’re so beloved that the majority of fans will always cheer them. Oh and those NYC fans that boo the Briscoes? They’re the same dumb fucks who shout ‘Twinkie’ when Todd Sinclair is making a count out. Don’t book to the lowest common denominator, no matter how much fucking noise they make.
In 2011 you can’t think of the Briscoes without thinking of their incredibly physical feud with The All Night Express. That series was integral in establishing the All Night Express as one of the premier tag teams in a loaded tag team division. Speaking of which…
The Tag Team Division:
If I had the space and time I’d dedicate a whole lot more to looking at the ROH tag team division – without a doubt the strongest division of its kind anywhere in professional wrestling, even with the recent loss of the incredible Kings of Wrestling. Although with Hass and Benjamin as Tag Team Champions the division hasn’t been as badly hurt by the departure of the Kings as many feared it would. It’s been great to see Hass and Benjamin free from the shackles of being ‘sports entertainers’ and just going out there and kicking ass as professional wrestlers.
Plus with teams as diverse and entertaining as The All Night Express, Future Shock, The Young Bucks, The Bravado Brothers and others the tag division has been one of the major highlight of the year in ROH. If they could just get the Motor City Machine Gun signed up that’d be tag team perfection!
Michael Elgin, Mike Bennett, Tommaso Ciampa – 3 of the young and up and coming talents that ROH have invested a lot of time in establishing and getting over with their fans base. It wasn’t a coincidence that these three men were introduced during the first Sinclair/ROH press conference. These are the kind of guys that will be the foundation of ROH moving forward and they also really bring different and valuable elements to the ROH roster. This is important as in the past ROH have been accused by critics of having not having enough diverse styles on their roster.
Elgin is the man in the midst of the biggest push of his career thanks to his big win in the annual Survival of the Fittest Tournament. That tournament has established so many wrestlers in ROH down the years and was the kick start in 2010 for Eddie Edwards and his run to the ROH World Title. I’m not sure if Elgin is ready to be World Champion but he’s well on the way to being established as one of the top wrestlers in ROH. His look and his in-ring power really make him stand out from the pack. Expect big things out of Elgin in 2012.
Bennett is a guy the ROH fans love to hate but I don’t think it’s because of his heel behaviour. The guy almost seems to generate ‘go away’ heat which he really doesn’t deserve. It appears a lot ROH fans are just not willing to accept Bennett in any form because he looks like the a-typical WWE developmental guy – right down to the haircut.
The level of resistance for Bennett is ridiculous because the guy is a good worker. He’s different from others on the roster but again that’s a good thing. The only part I don’t get is ‘Brutal’ Bob Evans, his manager. It just doesn’t fit with Bennett’s gimmick.
Bennett looks like a WWE superstar. He needs to act like one and he should have a sleazy agent in the style of the late, great, Sweet and Sour Larry Sweeney. Or he should have a hot chick accompany him to the ring. He should be proud of his ‘sports entertainment’ look and style. He should rub it in the ROH fans faces every chance he gets. Instead he’s got a weird Rocky rip off style comedy manager who unfortunately looks so bush league he brings the whole ‘superstar’ gimmick of Bennett down a notch.
I’m hoping in 2012 that Evans is dropped in favour of really pushing the elements of Bennett’s character that the ROH fans hate. Either way the guy is heading to the top, they should generate as much heat as possible because people will pay to see him get his ass kicked!
Ciampa is actually the guy I’ve been most impressed with out of the new crop of wrestlers ROH have brought through this year. What he lacks in mic skills he makes up for with in-ring work and great facial expressions. I recently watched him in a tag match with Rhino teaming against Homicide and Jay Lethal and he was more than able to hold his own with three much more experienced wrestlers.
He’s on a solid footing with his undefeated gimmick which ROH should run with for a while longer. Ciampa is the only legitimate regular guy in the Embassy stable so it makes sense to protect and build him up as much as possible. He also gets my vote for the most sickening finishing move of 2011, that powerbomb into a lungblower is a hell of a lot more brutal than Bob Evans!
So, let’s see what’ve we covered? The Sinclair deal, the guys who have had great years in the ring, the tag division, the new up and coming stars. Yep, I think that just about covers it for ROH in 2011 and…oh hold on, I’ve just got a tweet:
@KILLSTEENKILL – write about me or I will eat your face, bitch.
Well when you put it like that!
Everyone talked about the Summer of Punk but really all eyes should have been on the Winter of Discontent of Kevin Steen. Whereas WWE stumbled upon their hottest angle and act in years and then allowed it to fizzle out like a wet firework at New Year; ROH have taken a long term approach to the best angle I’ve seen on the indy scene since the build up and eventual debut in ROH of The Age of the Fall.
The situation with Steen began back at Final Battle 2010 where he lost in the final match of the absolutely fucking epic feud with former Tag Team Championship partner El Generico. As Steen lost he had to leave ROH forever. We all know in wrestling that ‘forever’ can mean anything from one show to one year and in Steen’s case it’s meant one year, which is about as close to ‘forever’ as you can get in wrestling in 2011!
Steen is an unbelievable talent. Both in the ring and on the mic there has not been a more consistent performer over the last couple of years in ROH. In his time away from ROH Steen has returned as a mainstay in PWG and his in-ring work is even better than at the end of his run in ROH. Given his level of talent it wasn’t going to be long before the cries of ‘bring back Steen’ would be heard in ROH. The man is too talented and too over to stay on the sidelines for long.
With a ground swell of support from fans lead by his former mentor Steve Corino it appeared that Steen would eventually be back in ROH. However things didn’t go to plan (as is usually the case when the crazed Steen is involved) and when ROH finally agreed to let Steen back in the ring to cut a promo, he hit Corino with the package piledriver and told all of ROH to go fuck themselves!
This lead to Steen invading major ROH shows, disrupting things as much as possible and making the life of ROH Executive Producer Jim Cornette a living hell. In recent weeks on ROH TV it has become clear that the only way for Steen to come back to ROH would be to face Corino in a match at Final Battle. If Steen wins, he’s back in ROH for good – one year after his initial exile.
The beauty of this whole story has been the slow build and the tremendous blurring of the lines between shoot and work. While everyone knew deep down that CM Punk had to clear his ‘shoot’ promo with Vince, with Steen he’s so convincing as an unhinged nut job you do question if what he’s doing is real. The moments were Steen invaded ROH shows were so convincing that you could easily believe that Steen was out to kill ROH and desperate to come back and finish the job.
Considering they’ve been able to maintain this angle for over year is a testament to the great story telling ability of everyone involved, from Cornette and Hunter Johnson, to Corino and Jimmy Jacobs and of course Steen himself. The use of the internet and in particular Steen on Twitter has really shown how to use the internet to the benefit of an angle. Cutting edge stuff.
The fans are absolutely hooked by Steen and his quest to come back to ROH to fuck things up. This, along with Richards vs. Edwards 2, are great examples of two completely different styles of wrestling angle that ROH have produced in 2011. They are two shining lights pointing out why ROH is streets ahead of any other promotion in terms of their commitment to long term and hopefully money drawing angles. Plus you can see both play out at Final Battle in what are the definition of ‘must see’ matches in ROH in 18 days!
So as we get closer to Christmas and Final Battle 2011 I sit here, feet up, fire blazing, brandy in hand as the winter weather batters my house and I feel that while ROH have had a hugely significant year, there’s still so much more to come. The Sinclair deal, the TV show, IPPVs, the expansion into new markets. It’s an exciting time to be a ROH fan and here’s to 2012 and more great angles, more cutting edge in-ring work, growing TV ratings and Davey Richards vs. Kevin Steen for the ROH World Title at Final Battle 2012!!
Thanks for taking the time to check out my look back at 2011 in ROH and some of the star performers. I hope you guys enjoy Final Battle and have a great Christmas and New Year. Keep supporting ROH and keep supporting Wrestling’s Last Hope. Don’t forget you can follow me on twitter @WLHDuckman where I’d love to hear your thoughts on 2011 for ROH, Final Battle and anything else on wrestling or MMA.
Until next time…
Oh and as an added bonus, here’s my favourite matches in ROH in 2011:
1. Eddie Edwards vs. Davey Richards – ROH World Title match – Best in the World.
2. Eddie Edwards vs. Chris Hero – ROH World Title match – Toronto, Canada.
3. The Kings of Wrestling vs. Charlie Hass and Shelton Benjamin – Honor Takes Centre Stage 1.
4. Christopher Daniels vs. Eddie Edwards - ROH TV Title match - 9th Anniversary Show.
5. Charlie Hass and Shelton Benjamin vs. The Briscoes - 9th Anniversary Show.
6. Eddie Edwards vs. Roderick Strong – ROH World Title match – Manhattan Mayhem 4.
7. The All Night Express vs. The Briscoes – Ladder War 3 – Death before Dishonor 9.
8. Eddie Edwards vs. Roderick Strong – Ringmaster Challenge Match – Death before Dishonor 9.
9. The Briscoes vs. The All Night Express – Chicago Street Fight – Supercard of Honor 6.
10. El Generico vs. Michael Elgin – Honor Takes Centre Stage 1.