When Eddie Edwards pinned Roderick Strong to win the ROH World Championship it came as a huge shock. Not only was Strong only six months into what many had thought would be a lengthy title reign (in a company that has featured numerous reigns in excess of one year), but it was Eddie’s first time challenging for the belt. Only a handful of people had ever won the belt on their first attempt.
It was also surprising because it was Eddie’s American Wolves tag team partner Davey Richards that had been seen as the most likely candidate to topple Strong for the gold. So fervent was this feeling that Richards had been bombarded with chants of “Next world champ!” for months on end.
Ring of Honor is a promotion that does not take title changes lightly. They are built to logically, only the company’s very best workers being considered for championship glory. It doesn’t just take in-ring ability to be the ROH champion, it requires a connection with the audience and a dedication to the craft of professional wrestling.
At Honor Takes Center Stage chapter two, two weeks after Eddie had won the belt, Richards heard the “Next world champ!” chants again after an in-ring altercation with the champion closed the show. As good as Davey is I’m not entirely convinced the chant is accurate. I think there are a lot of men on the roster that it could apply to. Davey is certainly one of them, but he’s heard that chant during the reigns of Tyler Black, Roderick Strong and now Eddie Edwards. He wasn’t the next world champ when either Black or Strong held the belt, why should things be any different now?
Who else is there to take the gold from Eddie? I think El Generico has a good chance. His popularity has exploded in the last year thanks to his memorable, long running feud with Kevin Steen. His recent performances against former champion Strong have helped to establish him as a man who’s at the top of the card to stay. In other promotions his unimposing look and lack of verbal skills would limit progression but in Ring of Honor they can be overlooked. The pale complexion and mask only help to set him apart from the rest of the roster. Over the years he has shown himself to be a talented and versatile performer, the very characteristics an ROH world champion needs.
A slightly less likely candidate is Kenny King. While he may not be someone who could become champion immediately he could become a serious contender if Eddie’s reign lasts into 2012 or beyond. Crowd reactions to him have grown steadily louder and more positive this year, and looking back at his matches from twelve months ago shows he’s matured as a performer.
King is already a good enough athlete to win the title, he just needs to spend a little longer solidifying his more serious demeanour and polishing his mic skills. I think he and Rhett Titus are due for a run with the ROH tag team titles before the end of this year. Once that’s accomplished I think he’d be ready to become a featured star in the singles ranks.
Then there’s Chris Hero. Over the last two years I don’t think anyone in wrestling has overhauled themselves as successfully as ‘That Young Knockout Kid’. He got into shape, changed his look, got new ring gear, updated his style with a series of convincing strikes, and, most significantly, reformed the Kings of Wrestling with Claudio Castagnoli.
The Kings have brought a “real sports” air and big match atmosphere to their matches, risen to the top of Ring of Honor’s tag team division, and travelled to Japan for several successful tours with Pro Wrestling NOAH. I believe that if they carried their current personas with them into solo careers both would do very well. Hero could become a serious contender to the world crown very quickly if the company needed him to.
Finally there are former champions to consider. The promotion has shown a reluctance to give champions second reigns in the past, preferring to use them as challengers for bigger shows. They’re almost a rite of passage for their successors. But Austin Aries became a two time champion, so it’s not inconceivable that Roderick Strong or Homicide could regain the belt at some point. In fact, Strong is scheduled to get his rematch at Supercard of Honor VI on May 21st. Personally I don’t think he’ll regain the belt so soon after losing it, it would make Eddie’s victory look like a fluke (not the sort of approach Ring of Honor would take) and his burgeoning feud with El Generico and Colt Cabana won’t need the championship involved. But I wouldn’t rule him out as a contender.
It could be someone else entirely that dethrones Edwards. The longer his reign continues the more likely it is viable successors will rise up the card and present themselves. Building title challengers has always been one of the promotion’s strengths and I can’t see that changing now. Of course, it could turn out to finally be Davey’s time after several failed attempts. But the best indication of who the next world champ will be remains that chant the audience love so much. Next time you hear it be sure to make a note of who it’s directed at.