Coming into 2011, Ring of Honor was facing its most important year to date. Not many people had expected ROH to last a few years let alone nine (the company was created in 2002). And very few people would have anticipated such a hectic year for America’s third largest promotion.
First and foremost, it’s hard to look past the change of ownership. May 21st 2011 will be a key date in Ring of Honor history for years to come. That was the date that Sinclair Broadcast Group bought Ring of Honor. Cary Silkin, then-owner, had teased a big announcement for a few weeks. Many people speculated as to what the announcement would be. Before ‘Supercard of Honor VI’ later that day, all ROH employees were called in for a meeting and they were told the news.
Details started to filter out to the media and the internet. Not only had ROH been sold to one of the largest television broadcasters in the United States, they would be back on TV in September. ROH had been off TV for a month after the final episode of ROH on HDNet aired on 4th April. A new TV deal was expected but the sale of the company certainly wasn’t. Reaction to begin with was sceptical. Fans remembered the last time a big corporation bought a wrestling company and that involved WCW. I think we all know how that one ended up but now, some seven months after the deal was agreed, it’s safe to say that not much has changed.
Cosmetically, ROH has undergone a bit of a facelift. A new logo was revealed along with a new ring design. This was something fresh and undoubtedly a bit of a mark SBG wanted to stamp on the company. Fortunately for fans, that’s the only stamp they have used. The in-ring action, as promised, has largely stayed the same. ROH debuted back on TV on September 24th and it has gone from strength to strength since then. The TV show has allowed ROH to showcase their product in markets that may have been unaware of it before hand. The TV show did a great job of getting established guys over to the new audiences without it being laboured viewing for long-time fans. Although production values could still be improved, the in-ring action and links to iPPVs has really made the new show a success. The main SBG goal is to spread the word of ROH without losing anything that makes the company how great it is. It was refreshing to hear from the people at SBG that they loved Ring of Honor and that was the main reason they bought the company; it wasn’t merely just a ‘feather in the cap’ purchase. New markets in the Carolinas have already been visited with live events and this Saturday, ROH tapes its next set of TV in Baltimore – the home of SBG. Things behind the scenes seem to have stayed the same too. Delirious and Jim Cornette have remained as the main men behind booking and no interference has been made by SBG – something which must continue for ROH to thrive.
As noted before, the in-ring action has remained top class. Ring of Honor is the real alternative to sports entertainment and SBG haven’t tried to push ROH towards that moniker – it knows what Ring of Honor is and how to get the best out of it. Titles are as important in ROH as they are anywhere around the World. Only the cream of the crop win titles in Ring of Honor and that’s what makes title changes so special. The World Title was held by Roderick Strong going into 2011 after defeating Tyler Black at ‘Death Before Dishonor VIII’. He defended the belt against the likes of El Generico, Jay Briscoe and the returning Homicide. Homicide and Strong faced off in a disappointing street fight at the ‘9th Anniversary Show’ which Strong won. His next challenger would turn out to be Eddie Edwards – the 2010 ‘Survival of the Fittest’ winner. Strong’s title reign was gathering pace after a largely uneventful start which wasn’t helped by a lack of top level challengers. Most expected Strong to retain and finally lose the belt to Davey Richards down the road. But Edwards shocked the World and beat Strong to become the first ever Triple Crown winner in Ring of Honor history. In a fantastic match amongst one of the best of the year, Edwards grabbed the belt after a rollup. Edwards had improved tremendously over the past 12 months or so and continued to do so throughout 2011. Unfortunately for ‘Die Hard’ his title run was poorly timed and just three months later, he dropped the belt to American Wolves partner Davey Richards. ‘Best In The World 2011’ was aptly named and the scene was set for Richards to finally become the top dog after ‘next world champ’ chants had hounded him for years. It was hard not to feel sorry for Edwards who seemed to get short-changed but despite that, he solidified himself as the wrestler of the year in ROH and became one of the most talked about wrestlers on the independent scene. The pair had a rematch at ‘Final Battle 2011’ in another epic encounter. Unfortunately, the third installment of Richards vs. Edwards was too much like their second for it really to capture the imaginations of the ROH fanbase but despite that, the World Title enters 2012 with as much, if not more, prestige than it did in 2011. Three World champions in a year might seem a lot for Ring of Honor but all three men played their part in a captivating World Title scene when the top of the card looked thin after the exit of Tyler Black and the disappointing performances of Homicide.
The ROH World Tag Team Titles are held by the best tag team in the world – that is a fact. ROH has always prided itself on showcasing the best tag team wrestling in the world and it still does. The Kings of Wrestling had dominated 2010 and began 2011 in similar fashion. Nobody could stand in their way; All Night Express, Latin American Exchange and Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team tried and failed to unseat the Kings. At ‘Honor Takes Center Stage: Chapter One’, WGTT finally ended the Kings’ reign, one day short of a calendar year. The Kings kept the belts for a long time yet always kept their matches fresh and exciting. The Briscoes and ANX began a bitter feud so it was up to WGTT to take the straps. Haas & Benjamin had impressed since coming into ROH and fans were excited to see what they could with the belts. The former WWE stars had a strong, yet uninspiring title reign. Things just didn’t seem to click for them and fans quickly started to get on their backs for their performances. WGTT quickly found the Briscoes in their faces and after a strong build up on the ROH TV show, the two teams faced off at ‘Final Battle 2011’. Despite getting beat down for close to 15 minutes, the Briscoes managed to pull off the win and become seven time ROH World Tag Team Champions. What a feat from the ‘baddest tag team on the planet’ and one that they greatly deserved. People had said the Briscoes were becoming stale, but after an excellent double turn in a match against ANX at ‘Manhattan Mayhem IV’, the brothers went on to have a fantastic year. In the ring, they were as good as ever and outside, their brilliant promos kept fans invested. With other teams such as Future Shock, the Young Bucks, Bravado Brothers and Caprice Coleman & Cedric Alexander on the roster, Ring of Honor can look back on 2011 as yet another year where they showed they have the best tag team division in the world.
When ROH on HDNet finished in April, the ROH World TV Title was thrown into jeopardy. How could you have a TV title when you didn’t have a television show? Christopher Daniels was the current holder and ROH announced that the title would go on hiatus and not be defended. Thankfully, with the SBG buy-out came a new TV deal and Daniels began defending the belt once more. After losing non-title matches to El Generico and Colt Cabana – two men he turned on to join the House of Truth – he defended the belt against ‘The Generic Luchador’ at ‘Best In The World 2011′. Generico would defeat Daniels in his last appearance for the company. It was a disappointing end to Daniels’ latest run with ROH. Just when things were looking interesting again for him following his heel turn, he returned to TNA. Generico, much like Edwards, was short-changed however, and lost the belt in his first defence. The newly returned Jay Lethal defeated Generico on the first set of TV tapings to become TV Champion. Lethal is still the champion and putting the belt on an established name in the wrestling World was obviously a decision with the TV show in mind. Lethal has fought off the advances of Generico and Mike Bennett – defeating both at ‘Final Battle 2011’. Many expect Bennett to win the belt soon, and he has another opportunity this weekend. After a slow start to the year for ROH’s second singles belt, momentum seems to have been created and it now looks like the perfect time to use the belt to elevate a younger member of the roster.
Aside from the titles, there have been some captivating feuds in Ring of Honor during 2011. The aforementioned Briscoes vs. ANX feud was unexpectedly brilliant. ANX, who have improved a lot throughout the year, matched up to their counterparts and both teams put on great matches through the Summer and beyond. When you mention memorable, it’s hard not to mention Kevin Steen. Steen, who lost at ‘Final Battle 2010’ and thus left ROH, returned at ‘Best In The World 2011’ after convincing Steve Corino he was a changed man. Steen then uttered the words: “I’m Kevin Steen… and f*ck Ring of Honor!”. Those words would be ringing in the ears of ROH officials for months to come and despite only wrestling one match in the whole year, Steen was the most talked about man on the roster. His off-the-wall character is entertaining and the fans lap up whatever he does – a key ingredient for a major player in any company. After defeating Corino in an epic battle at ‘Final Battle 2011’, two years after turning on ex-partner El Generico, he is back in Ring of Honor and going after World Champion Davey Richards. A Richards vs. Steen feud at some point in 2012 has most fans salivating.
Ring of Honor has always earned the reputation of creating stars. The best example of this is the WWE. Both World Champions were former ROH Champions too. CM Punk and Bryan Danielson are Ring of Honor legends and ROH lost more talent this year – not at a great time. The Kings of Wrestling were signed by the WWE and although Chris Hero’s deal is still in limbo and has since returned, Claudio Castagnoli is starring in WWE’s development territory FCW. Christopher Daniels, as mentioned above, once again returned to TNA but the best of him was yet to come which made his departure easier to take. Another man to have left, or so it would seem, is Colt Cabana. Cabana, a name synonymous with ROH, was not offered a deal – much to the anger of fans. Despite those high-profile departures, ROH has still had a great year. There have been a number of new signings in 2011. The Young Bucks returned and are now #1 contenders for the Tag Team Titles. The Bucks are fresh after leaving TNA and their characters are entertaining – a big plus to ROH after losing the Kings. TJ Perkins, who has impressed ROH at every opportunity was eventually signed to a contract and although he has yet to get significant wins under his belt, looks set to climb the ladder in 2012. Jay Lethal returned to the company that he enjoyed so much success in and has added a new dimension to the roster. Yet another addition to the tag team division were Caprice Coleman & Cedric Alexander. While it’s still early days for the tandem, the signs are looking good.
Add the new signings to the guys who have had great 2011s and the list is an impressive one, Mike Bennett – the polar opposite to the ‘stereotypical’ ROH wrestler – has come on leaps and bounds both inside the ring and with his character. Bennett is a TV champion in waiting and has won large parts of the fanbase over with his heelish antics – not many people get as much heat as he does. Michael Elgin is another who has won the fans over with impressive performances. Elgin possesses a scary amount of strength that leaves fans with open mouths. Elgin already has a World Title shot and you wouldn’t bet against him becoming champion at some point in the future. The future is bright for the ‘Unbreakable’ monster. Similar to Bennett, Tommaso Ciampa has solidified himself as a part of the roster through 2011. He joined the Embassy towards the end of the ROH on HDNet run and has since become the new ‘Crown Jewel. Ciampa is still undefeated in ROH with wins over the likes of Colt Cabana, Homicide and Jimmy Rave. Ciampa is yet to reach the heights of Elgin but with a bit more work done in the ring, and some higher level opposition, he has the potential to be a star. Add those men to Future Shock – Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly – and ROH has a good mix of young talent waiting to burst into the limelight.
So as you can see, ROH has gone through a lot in 2011. Fortunately for the company and fans alike, most of it has been positive. Ring of Honor continues to grow and SBG can only help that. With an impressive roster of talent and lots to look forward to in 2012 – the future looks bright for Ring of Honor.