In the days of WCW the question “Who’s next?” would routinely be asked in reference to the next opponent of swaggering powerhouse Bill Goldberg. In 2012 Ring of Honor fans can ask that same question regarding Kevin Steen.
Since he won the title from Davey Richards at Border Wars in May ‘Wrestling’s Worst Nightmare’ has been pitted against as wide a variety of challengers as the company has at its disposal. He’s beaten them all. In addition to El Generico, Steen has made iPPV defences against Richards (in a wild brawl at Best in the World), juggernaut-for-hire Rhino (at Death Before Dishonor X), mullet-sporting babyface-in-waiting Michael Elgin (at Glory By Honor XI), and the CHIKARA-sponsored brawler Eddie Kingston.
Off of pay-per-view Steen has taken on everyone from Cedric Alexander to Rhett Titus on TV and DVD shows. That list includes stature-enhancing defences against former champions Eddie Edwards, Homicide and Roderick Strong.
At this point there are very few fresh challenges left for Steen on the roster. From this point on he will mostly be booked in rematches or against outsiders and newcomers. It’s difficult to imagine bouts with the likes of QT Marshall and Caprice Coleman setting the wrestling world on fire.
While Strong, Edwards and Homicide have already challenged for the title during Steen’s reign they did so on low profile shows. Their second shots, should they materialise, could be promoted to iPPV. As former champions and meaningful names to ROH fans they should help to attract an audience that most other opponents couldn’t. If Steen’s time as champion is to last several more months this is the route we’re going to have to expect. It won’t be a bad move: the previous matches between Steen and these three challengers were all very good but lacked a proper story to them. Running them again for pay-per-view should change that.
Where Ring of Honor has shot itself in the foot is in running a story which disallows Davey Richards further title matches with ‘Mr Wrestling’. As one of the company’s most popular and accomplished wrestlers Richards should always be eligible for a title match. It’s commendable that ROH didn’t want to continually rely on Richards v Steen matches and angles to draw TV ratings and iPPV buys but ‘The American Wolf’ could have been written out of the title picture in a far simpler way.
It wouldn’t have been at all out of character for Richards, upon failing to recapture the belt at Best in the World, to take a leave of absence (as he did in reality) before returning to beat every top challenger in a lead-up to tackling Steen again. This is what happened when he failed to beat Roderick Strong for the title at Final Battle 2010. Richards would have been out of the title picture but would have been able to return to it in the future and would have had a storyline to keep him busy in the meantime.
The story with Jay Lethal’s ban from title shots is a little different. He will be unable to tangle with Steen because the champ has deemed him unsafe, the result of a particularly wild meeting between the two at Killer Instinct in New Jersey.
This ruling, unlike the Richards one, seems designed to be overturned at some point. Lethal won the 2012 Survival of the Fittest, thus earning himself a guaranteed ROH title match. His ban on facing Steen and having a guaranteed shot sets up a one-time-only bout for Lethal. He’ll have to win if he wants to be the man to topple Steen. Timed right the match could provide a great atmosphere and maybe even a memorable title change.
Lethal’s SotF-funded title match will probably take place at the 11th Anniversary Show on March 2nd or Supercard of Honor VII on April 5th. I don’t see how the story could be dragged out much beyond that. Other potential challengers for these shows are, as noted above, Edwards and Strong. Homicide has to be considered a longshot at this point, mainly because he has not been presented as a big enough threat to successfully carry an iPPV so soon.
Another possible contender is Colt Cabana. He had a successful career in ROH until he left in 2010 (due to contract issues) and is one of the more popular acts to pass through the company’s doors. That the Anniversary show is taking place in his hometown of Chicago would provide a natural story and ensure a hot reaction to the main event. Without Cabana signing a new contract his victory in such a match would seem unlikely, but he has the reputation to pull off being a legitimate challenger.
Ultimately there are just too few challengers to Steen’s gold right now. Unless an influx of new talent occurs (and don’t hold your breath for that)a title change is going to have to occur relatively soon or else ‘Mr Wrestling’s’ reign, and by extension his persona, will become stale. That’s not something ROH is going to want to risk.