At Best in the World, Cody Rhodes, the same man who blew up social media last year with a list of prospective opponents, was able to wrest away the ROH World title from Christopher Daniels to become the ROH World champion for the first time. In the span of a little of a year, the improperly used WWE second generation star changed his fortunes and now is the face of what is arguably the second most important American wrestling company.
Painted as the invading usurper, Cody has been presented as an unsigned free-agent, simply making appearances with no permanent ties or responsibilities to ROH whatsoever. His win opens the door for a new crop of challengers to get in line and share the main event with the champ. The following are the most likely early possible challengers for the title in the coming months.
After Cody’s upcoming best two out of three falls match with Christopher Daniels on ROH television, his next title defense has been announced as SANADA during ROH’s War of the Worlds UK tour. Even Cody himself acknowledged that SANADA does not seem to be on the champion’s level during an episode of the Young Bucks’ Being the Elite Youtube show. That has amounted to the build for a championship match on the international stage thus far and is the only opponent on this list that has formerly been introduced as a challenger, although the chances of him holding the ROH title, especially while NJPW’s KUSHIDA holds the ROH World Television title would ben very unlikely.
Dalton Castle is no stranger to the title picture, as he wrestled Christopher Daniels at Supercard of Honor this year for the ROH World title. He understandably did not headline the show that featured The Hardys defending the ROH World tag team titles in a ladder match against the Young Bucks, but he did challenge for the title nonetheless. Although Castle is currently one third of the 6-man tag team champions, it is not beyond belief that he could challenge a heel champion such as Rhodes. If Castle and his Boys lose the titles to the Bullet Club, that could spark his motivation to set his eyes on the World title once more.
Jay Lethal has been searching for a third title reign after being embarrassed by Adam Cole, ending one of the longest title reigns in ROH history. He is currently embroiled in conflict with Silas Young, stemming from a post match attack perpetrated by both Young and the Beer City Bruiser. While Lethal has not appeared on Ring of Honor television since the attack, now totally nearly 40 days, there is little doubt that when he returns his focus will be on exacting revenge. However, after that program runs its course, Cody’s first ROH opponent, the same man who has been dubbed ROH’s flag bearer, would be a logical choice in not only defending the honor of ROH, but reclaiming what he lost to Cole.
Punisher Martinez first appeared as the second coming of the Purple Haze, a pawn to be used by Kevin Sullivan and BJ Whitmer in their endeavor to bring Steve Corino back into the fold. With Corino’s departure to the WWE, the storyline had to be rushed along, ultimately ending when Martinez finally broke away from BJ Whitmer. Since then, the brooding monster has been growing by leaps and bounds, something that ROH crowds have been quite responsive to. His no nonsense persona as a nigh unstoppable monster could be an intriguing foil for Cody. The fans have shown their support for Cody, so Martinez could play the role of a menace that stalks the champion without relent or he could be positioned as the insurmountable challenge that the fan favorite Cody must overcome. A title win would be unlikely at this early stage of his career, but it would serve as a notch on Cody’s belt, whole simultaneously thrusting Martinez into a top spot with the company.
Shane Taylor is another possible challenger in the same vein as Martinez, albeit with a more clear cut powerful heel. Keith Lee’s departure from the company necessitated Taylor to align himself with the Rebellion, but that partnership was short lived, as the group lost a war to Search and Destroy at Best in the World. The stipulation of the match was that the groups would be forced to split, so Taylor once again found himself left alone on an island. In recent weeks, he has been seen blindsiding Mikey Webb and Josh “The Goods” Woods, further impressing the fact that he is quite simply one of, if not the biggest and strongest men on the roster. A fan favorite, Cody could fend off the big man who has gone on a streak of taking out smaller opponents. Taylor’s mic work could easily sell the story that he feels overlooked by ROH official because he hasn’t opened his mouth about deserving a title shot, as Cody did a few months back.
While seemingly an unlikely opponent at this time, as both Cody and Marty Scurll are members of the Bullet Club, this could be a slow burn that plays out over the next couple of months. Kenny Omega, the leader of the Bullet Club, and Cody have had their issues, that they have claimed are resolved. Both men appeared at each other’s matches against Okada in NJPW, almost throwing in the towel for each other. Cody has since been on his best behavior in ROH, while Scurll has continued his villainous ways, most recently cracking his umbrella over Jay Briscoe’s back during a match that pitted the Bullet Club against the trio of the Briscoes and Bully Ray. Cody could easily become ostracized from the group, as did Adam Cole before his departure and apparent demise at the hands of the Young Bucks, who have proved to be Omega’s henchmen this side of the Pacific. Scurll, as Omega’s handpicked replacement for Adam Cole, could easily follow the general’s orders and take the strap off of his current stablemate.
Briscoe, one of the few wrestler to ever hold the ROH World title two times has been part of a trip with his brother Mark and Bully Ray, but can always be dusted off and placed in the title picture, with no objection from the ROH faithful. During the Women of Honor television special, a clip aired that showed Bully Ray encouraging Jay to extract revenge on the Bullet Club, who have been a thorn in his side. Although this could lead to the Briscoes vying for the tag team titles again with a new fierce attitude, Jay could easily focus his rage on the current world champion and gain a measure of revenge by regaining the title for the third time, similar to Letha’s quest to wrest the title from Cody, who will continue to be viewed as an outsider until an exclusive contract signing is announced.
Ultimately, what the Cody title win has done has called into question who he may face down the road and the intrigue that comes along with the title switch also gives ROH the opportunity to develop new title contenders. The ambiguity surrounding Cody’s persona and the reception of that persona creates wiggle room in who future challengers can be, providing a wealth of opportunities for those who just months ago would not have been associated with hold the company’s top title.