“We Don’t Imitate, We Innovate”

The first tapings, for ROH’s new television venture, are set to take place in Chicago, today. With Jim Cornette’s blog promising “one of the most innovative professional wrestling programmes ever aired”, Dave Wood takes an in-depth look at what ROH could do, to deliver on the Executive Producer’s statements of intent.

Since day one, Ring of Honor has been synonymous with setting trends in wrestling. One of the company’s earliest marketing slogans was “We don’t imitate. We innovate” and this philosophy has permeated every aspect of the ROH product ever since.

As the dawn of a new era of honor is upon us, ROH will be looking to separate themselves from the wrestling pack, all over again. This time on broadcast TV.

In recent years, wrestling television, in general, has become stale. Tired, outdated formulas are now accepted as “the rules”, by many. The prominent wrestling shows, today, are more filler than killer. The promoters themselves are conservative dinosaurs, who are out of touch with modern popular culture.

Jim Cornette styles himself as “the only guy in the industry that realises that he’s too old to do this anymore”. As I read his forward-thinking commentary, at www.jimcornette.com, certain phrases jumped out at me.

”Cool music…”

Much like the latest product to enter the TV marketplace, one of the most innovative wrestling shows, in history, was created by a third-party promotion.

ECW Hardcore TV, is remembered as, perhaps, the most influential wrestling programme of all time. It’s concepts were borrowed and, in some cases, stolen wholesale by the financial giants of the 1990s industry, WWF and WCW. ROH, the natural successor to ECW, will be looking to change the public perception of wrestling, in a not-dissimilar way.

Aside from the choppy cuts and angled cameras; one of the main devices that was employed to make ECW’s product stand out was music.

Counter-culture anthems, such as Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ and White Zombie’s ‘Thunder Kiss ’65’, will be forever burned into the minds of members of ECW’s rabid following.

With the stricter copyright enforcement of the modern age and the still, relatively, limited budget that ROH will have at it’s disposal, popular music may well be out of the company’s reach. This doesn’t mean, however, that ROH will have to rely on soulless production muzak.

In the past couple of years, various ROH wrestlers have used songs from underground acts. Kevin Steen’s theme ‘Unsettling Differences’, by Blue Smock Nancy, was a huge hit with the ROH hardcore. The Kings of Wrestling’s iconic Cody B. Ware theme has added something special to their iPPV entrances. Colt Cabana’s buddy Kidd Russell surpassed himself, when producing Cabana’s walk-on music.

Using more of this brand of edgy, underground music would help to preserve the independent spirit of ROH, whilst also setting the company well apart from WWE and TNA. It’s one of many cues that ROH could and should take from the extreme promotion, in my opinion.

“Dynamic presentation…”

In terms of adding a fresh dynamic to this TV show, this writer would like to see ROH borrow from other TV genres. They could perhaps adopt somewhat of a magazine show format. Incorporating featurettes, sit-down interviews and so on.

ROH could use content along the lines of the out-of-the-box things that you see on Claudio Castagnoli’s ‘Claudio’s Cafe’ and other similar Youtube shows.

A great way to showcase and accentuate the athletes’ personalities would be by filming them on a visit to (…for the sake of an example…) Disneyland or any other tangible real world location. A featurette in which Colt Cabana shows fans around the landmarks of his home town of Chicago, that leads into a nice enhancement match for Cabana would be really effective, in this writer’s opinion. The UFC does a great job of producing content like this; for web, TV and PPV. It’s one of the many concepts that ROH could adopt from the lucrative MMA organisation.

Alongside this, it could make sense for ROH to intersperse, in-depth, interview segments amongst the matches. Perhaps, a sit-down catch-up with a former talent, where said talent comments, candidly, on his ROH experience and on how ROH has evolved since his heyday in the company. Something similar to the incredible Davey Richards interview from the ‘Glory By Honor IX’ intermission, only with a Nigel McGuinness, or a Low Ki, or an Adam Pearce, or even Xavier.

I’d also like to see aspects of reality TV being borrowed, by ROH. Behind-the-scenes footage, that breaks the fourth wall tastefully, without detracting from the stories, would be a suitable addition. Wrestling is crying out for some backstage segments that don’t feel ham-acted. A simple piece of footage of Eddie Edwards’ pre-match ritual would have more value that a 1,000 weeks’ worth of Divas dancing with Sgt. Slaughter. Snippits of bonafide voyeurism appeal to modern viewers. We live in a culture of not only reality TV but also of widespread social media.

ROH is best known for it’s cathartic, wrestling-heavy shows and although, as a long-time fan, I wouldn’t want them to stray too far from their founding principles, more “entertainment” will be needed. Shoehorning the wrestling content of thirty-five, three-hour-plus DVD and iPPV events a year, into fifty one-hour TV episodes (whilst also retaining the original portfolio of events) is an, almost, impossible task. Whether or not the wider population can even palate wall-to-wall wrestling is questionable. It’s inevitable that the product will have to evolve.

If “entertainment” is indeed a necessary evil, then, in this writer’s opinion, ideas borrowed from contemporary media genres would provide more entertainment than a pre-tape of a rapping midget or of the World Champion holding an authority figure captive, with his pet bird…or whatever it is that is often passed off as “entertainment” in wrestling, today.

“Young stars, for young (and young at heart) fans…”

One of the main things that came across from SBG press conference was that ROH is willing to put faith in youth. Michael Elgin, Tommaso Ciampa, and Mike Bennett were amongst the most prominently-featured stars, on that broadcast. The roster’s youthfulness will, undoubtedly, set ROH apart from competing brands.

Should the significant presence of the new TV show lead the DVD tapings to, more closely, resemble traditional wrestling house shows, it would make sense for ROH to use these events as a breeding ground for young talent. Including local young talent, from all different parts of North America.

The luxury of being able to experiment with different combinations of opponents and stipulations, before exposing them to the bright lights of TV, could prove to be a novelty to ROH. This is where the younger members of the roster could come into their own. The biggest successes, from around what would now be the house show circuit, should be rewarded with their fair share of TV time. Once on TV, the next generation would need to be paired-up with established names, who’s style accentuates their own, in the hope that the youngsters will, themselves, become established.

ROH’s constant conveyor-belt of young talent is something that, historically, has kept the product fresh.

This process must continue.

“Every corner of the globe….”

Another important factor, that must be considered, is the universality of this show.

In this writer’s opinion, ROH needs to make a huge fuss out the international nature of the live online stream, of this show, and, also, of the iPPV feeds. With Twitterholic Dave Lagana firmly on board and Youtube video-makers, of the calibre of Alex O’Keefe, dying to get involved, there’s no reason why ROH can’t promote itself to a worldwide audience, in a cost-effective manner.

Also, with the Sinclair money now swelling the ROH coffers, foreign language versions of the offical website could, easily, be made available. This would help international fans to connect with the ROH brand.

Additionally, ROH could, once again, fly in talent from exotic parts of the wrestling world. The disappearance, since the credit crunch hit, of many talents that appeal to different ethnicities and demographics, has severely harmed the midcard. Wrestlers like Rocky Romero, Naomichi Marufuji, Teddy Hart and Go Shiozaki brought something inimitable to the table.

The proposed rekindling of the relationship with Pro Wrestling NOAH could and should lead to premier Japanese talent appearing on ROH TV in 2012. It’s highly unlikely that WWE and TNA will ever foster such strong links with an overseas promotion or utilise foreign talent, to this extent. Again, it’s essential that ROH infuse this international flavour into their product, if they’re truly looking to set themselves apart from other promotions.
Finally, above all else, ROH must stick with the values that first brought the company to the dance, back on February 23nd, 2002.

The best way for Ring of Honor to set itself apart, has always been to produce the kind of fast-paced, hard-hitting, logical professional wrestling that, sadly, seems to be lost on certain other organisations. Indeed, when it comes to producing wrestling, one of Jim Cornette’s most famous mantras has always been “KISS”.

It stands for Keep It Simple Stupid.

What are your thoughts on the status quo, in wrestling TV, today?

What are you hoping to see, from the new ROH show?

Let us know by tweeting us @ROH_World. By posting on our Facebook wall:Facebook.com/ROHWorld or by e-mailing us at: contact@ROHWorld.com.

Dave Wood

Dave is a former member of the ROHWorld team who wrote feature articles on a semi-regular basis.