Tuesday 3 December 2013

The Strange Career of Davey Richards By Adam Timmins

So Davey Richards has announced that he’s parted ways with ROH; not as a result of his potential trip up north, but rather it seems, due to some kind of falling out with ROH management. More than any other wrestler on the indies in the past few years, Richards has divided opinion; he’s usually the first name people bring up as representing everything that’s wrong with indie wrestling – no psychology, over-long matches etc etc. On the other hand, many will argue he’s the best to have come down the pipe in the last few years. Like the result of the race around the world between FDR and Superman, the truth lies somewhere in between….

I felt really sorry for Richards in the first few years of his ROH career, as his increasingly stellar performances were overshadowed by some terrible booking. He had a couple of cracking singles bouts with Samoa Joe and El Generico, but was lumbered with the hapless No Limit Soldiers Remorse Corps for the majority of the year. As the company nose-dived in 2008, Richards became ROH’s most consistent performer – but again was hampered by first Gabe and then Pearce’s hapless booking, most notably having to job to Brent Albright. Then came the American Wolves.

Now, hindsight is always 20/20, and given that the Wolves became one of the best tag teams in the business, most would call their formation a booking masterstroke. In fact, it was a huge step backwards for Richards at the time. Edwards was struggling to get over at the time, while Richards was a top-singles guy waiting to happen. Therefore the formation of the Wolves was a massive stroke of luck for Edwards: not so much Richards. Still, he made the best of it, feuding with Kevin Steen and El Generico for most of 2009, and he also had some very good singles outings with Tyler Black, Claudio, Aries and KENTA, as well as a super-stiff Anything Goes match with Kevin Steen.

The Wolves dropped the tag belts at the end of 2009 to the Briscoes, and Richards by now was set for an ROH title run. The problem was however, that they were still getting around to putting the belt on Tyler Black – by the time Black got the belt at the 8th Anniversary show, arguably his moment had passed. In the meantime, Richards had stated in a number of interviews that he was quitting wrestling at the end of 2010 in order to spend more time with his family and to train to be a fire-fighter. However, a couple of things then happened that would change the course of Richards’s career. Firstly, Richards split with his wife over the summer of 2010, meaning that retirement was off the table. That summer also saw Tyler Black announce he’d signed up to have a two-year spell in WWE developmental. The onus now was to get the belt off Black: his final appearance was slated to be Glory By Honor 9, and there was only one viable candidate to take the belt off him. Richards had already wrestled a couple of classics with Black over the summer of 2010, and it would have been the perfect blow-off to the feud, as well as Black’s ROH career.

There was just one problem however: Richards wasn’t booked at GBH9, as he was already booked to wrestle for New Japan when the show was scheduled to take place. I don’t think it’s a exaggeration to say that this had an adverse affect on ROH and Richards in the long-run. ROH had to resort to putting the belt on Roderick Strong: a talented wrestler, but in no way a guy capable of holding the top belt. Strong vs. Richards was then made for Final Battle: a classic example of booking yourself into a corner. To have taken the belt off Strong so soon would have been to cut him off at the knees; but for Richards to job clean to Strong wouldn’t do much for the latter either. In the end Strong beat Richards via stoppage in a match that was hurt by going longer than it needed to and having too many near-falls; something that was to become an increasing feature of Richards matches.

Richards announced that if he didn’t win the ROH title in his next attempt, he would leave the company. A fairly stupid booking move, given that Richards had just reneged on one retirement pledge – which obviously was a good thing for the fans – but to threaten it a second time made him look a bit like the boy that cried wolf (no pun intended). It also made it a foregone conclusion that Richards would win the belt in his next title shot. To further complicate matters, ROH decided to book a surprise title change, putting the belt on Eddie Edwards at MM4. So it would now be Wolf vs. Wolf at some point: and the match took place at Best in the World 2011. Richards went over in a match that I enjoyed, but a lot of people didn’t. Incidentally, what Edwards three month title reign achieved or was supposed to achieve has never been explained.

So Richards finally had the top prize in ROH; but what should have been a big moment in the end turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax. Sadly, things would get worse from there. Following the purchase of the company by SBS, ROH spent most of the summer on hiatus – a fairly underwhelming way for the champion to start his reign. Furthermore, Richards missed Death Before Dishonour again due to Japan commitments, something that did him no favours at all. Moreover, the rest of 2011 was spent building towards a rematch with Edwards at Final Battle. The problem was that Richards had beaten Edwards clean at BITW, so there wasn’t really much of a jumping off point for a rematch. And indeed, the build was pretty much awful – Cornette was booking by this point, which probably tells you all you need to know. If memory serves Dan Severn was involved in the build-up to the match, despite the fact neither Edwards nor Richards particularly wanted him there in real-life. The bout itself was awful: a forty minute effort that seemed to go on forever and it largely consisted of two wrestlers pretending to be MMA fighters. Once again, Edwards lost clean – 2011 was definitely not his year.

2012 turned out to be a pivotal year for Richards: he hit his lowest ebb, but also made strides towards redemption. By now ROH as a company was dying under the booking of Cornette, and Richards was inevitably associated with it. Kevin Steen was supposed to be a heel; but his taunts towards Richards of being Jim Cornette’s “Ju-Jitsu jackoff” were resonating with a large section of the ROH audience. In the ring Richards was still producing the goods: he had a cracking match with Elgin in Florida, before dropping the belt to Steen in Canada in a super-heated matchup. But 2012 saw Richards rapidly develop a reputation for being unprofessional: he pulled out of a New Japan tour at the last minute following a car accident, as a result of which New Japan stopped booking Richards. Then there was the infamous “Team Bandits” incident: Richards and his cronies/partners Kyle O’Reilly and Tony Kozina ripped off a promoter to the tune of $350 and later bragged about it on the internet, labelling themselves “Team Bandits”. Internet backlash later saw Richards return the money, but the damage was done. Richards once again made noises about retiring.

But a tour of Europe in the summer of 2012 seemed to reinvigorate Richards. He returned to ROH in the autumn of 2012 and made a mea culpa in the middle of the ring, saying he was ashamed of the person he’d been outside of the ring recently. He seemed a lot more relaxed; realising that not every match had to go 20-30 minutes. At Final Battle 2012 the American Wolves reformed, and Richards spent the majority of 2013 tagging with Edwards again, as well as wrestling in singles bouts here and there.

Truth be told though, Richards had pretty much done everything there was for him to do in ROH, and it was time to move on. But sadly, he’s not going to get the farewell match he deserves. No-one’s quite sure what happened behind the scenes: but given the corporate direction ROH has taken in the last few years I’m more inclined to believe Richards statement that they dicked him about. But in a way it kind of sums up the way Richards ROH career went. In my mind he’s up there alongside Joe, Dragon and Punk as a true ROH legend. But many would disagree – and given the man’s undoubted talent, it’s sad that the matter should be up for debate.

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