I would like to send my thoughts out to the players, officials, and anyone associated with the horrific plane crash in Columbia that killed the majority of the Chapecoense football team as well as a number of others who were onboard the flight.
I love soccer. Anyone who has read a lot of my work or follows me on social media wouldn’t be shocked by that statement, and they will also know that my first love in the world of soccer is my local team Cardiff City. Despite my passion for the team from the capital city of Wales, I love the sport so much I can watch any soccer match and still be entertained. Earlier this year, I went to see a lower league match between Walsall and Millwall and, although I was entertained by the show of skill on the pitch and I was immersed in the atmosphere of a football match, I still noticed how cold it was and the rain that was falling on a glum February day. However, you replace Walsall or Millwall in that scenario with Cardiff City with exactly the same way the match developed and I don’t notice the rain, I don’t notice the cold and I’m not thinking about where the closest Nando’s is for dinner, instead I’m fully behind my team passionately wanting my team to win and overcome the evil (in my mind) rival team.
No, I haven’t finally lost all my marbles, Ring of Honor to me at the moment is like Walsall vs. Millwall but I want it to be a soccer game involving Cardiff City. Let me explain…
We all know that if you want to watch great matches a ROH PPV is a good place to see them. Ladder Wars from All Star Extravaganza was outstanding and several others were great matches. Better still they were all different types of contests that serviced different people’s needs. Indeed, if we look at the card for Ring Of Honor’s Final Battle, up and down the card it’s difficult to pick out a match that in a vacuum you are not looking forward to seeing, but where’s my emotional connection? Why should I care about wrestler A beating wrestler B?
Take the main event for example, if I’m a viewer who’s only been watching ROH TV for the last year, up until the go home show, all I would know is that Adam Cole will be taking on Kyle O’Reilly and they really really don’t like each other. They had the opportunity to build towards the climax for this feud for weeks if not months, but they tried to cram all of the storytelling into the final TV show before the PPV. For me, it should have been a story that wrote itself and filled several weeks of TV to reach a crescendo. Recap the history of Cole and O’Reilly, make it known that Kyle has never won the World Championship and it’s mostly been the fault by hook or by crook of Adam Cole. Tell the story over a couple of weeks where Kyle is desperate to get his hands on the title, so much so he’s bulked up and changed his wrestling style.
Get Cole in the ring and explain why he’s always held O’Reilly down using heel logic, while we all know it’s because he’s jealous of his challenger. Make me want to see Kyle O’Reilly win the big prize and make me want to see Adam Cole get his comeuppance. That is not a story that is “sports entertainment” or goes against the sports like narrative that Ring Of Honor prides themselves on, it’s taking the viewer on an emotional journey which will make them feel a connection to what they are watching outside of “I enjoy good Pro Wrestling matches.” It will simple enhance the enjoyment for those fans. ROH is aware that they should be doing this as evidenced by the final hype on the go home show, but by that point it felt rushed and not as intense as it should have been. As a result, it gave the sense that the story was an afterthought whereas I argue it should have been the central point, perhaps of not every show, but certainly of the promotion towards the pay-per-view.
I am aware that they had the tour of the UK to deal with so close to Final Battle and they were promoting Adam Cole vs. Jay Lethal for the title so technically we wouldn’t know who the champion was going to be going by their TV show narrative, but why prioritize that over building towards the biggest show with your most intriguing potential story in the company? Ask yourself whether you would expect WWE to hold off on promoting a main event of WrestleMania because they may not know if the champion would lose the belt at a house show? It would be nonsensical booking. I am also aware that O’Reilly’s contract is expiring at the end of December, so if that’s being used as a reason to not fully get behind this feud it’s another wasted opportunity. Imagine if you built up this emotion in the viewers that want to see O’Reilly stand tall at the end of the PPV, but Cole breaks the heart of O’Reilly and the fans, and after the match or sometime in the coming weeks, he takes out Kyle to set up his departure from company. The amount of heat he would get would lead him into the next babyface feud.
It doesn’t mean that you can’t have matches that are either for a title or are just exhibitions. After all, Bobby Fish vs. Will Osprey vs. Marty Scrull vs. Dragon Lee has the potential to blow people away with little build, and I’m certainly not advocating for a full on “sports entertainment” product where every other segment is ha ha comedy. What I am advocating is an attempt to make me as a viewer feel that there are some matches where what is on the line is more than just seeing who is the better man or who is the most athletic. I want to want to see Kyle O’Reilly finally take the next step forward and win a championship that he has deserved for years and be happy for him. Conversely, if O’Reilly doesn’t win, I want to hate Adam Cole to the point that I want to see whoever he takes on next rip his head off.
I appreciate that ROH hasn’t traditionally booked their shows this way, and that’s understandable. Their niche was the best wrestling you’ll find anywhere. But they now have a weekly TV show that is broadcasted all around the world either through syndication, Fite TV, etc., there’s no excuse. They are not restricted to being the little company that could anymore. While it was once difficult to get word out that this promotion had amazing wrestlers and amazing matches, in this content heavy landscape where you are constantly under threat from losing your top talent to NXT, you have to make your TV show compelling and grip people emotionally if you want the company to grow. If ROH wants to take that next step, they have to start booking the promotion with stories that make people want to come back and see conclusions to feuds live, not just check online to see if the reviews for a show were good before deciding to order it. In a market where you’ve got WWE monopolizing people’s time that they put aside for wrestling, where FloSports and other online streaming services are opening up a world of wrestling that people from different countries, and in a world where quality non-wrestling TV shows are abundant and are being consumed in different ways, ROH cannot stand still and think that the way they have booked since their inception will work all these years later.
Going back to my soccer analogy, although I know I’ll enjoy the matches and I’ll appreciate the hard work and the skill that is being shown just like I did at the random soccer match, ROH has not given me that push forward to emotionally invest in anyone. In turn, it does not given me an emotional attachment to the overall product to get me coming back for the next chapter of the story. They haven’t given me a reason to feel anywhere close to how I feel about my Cardiff City soccer team, which leaves me desperate to see them win and their opponent to lose. That is what is missing from ROH, and why I feel they are missing out on their full potential.
Agree or disagree, feel free to let me know on twitter @haydngleed or via email firstname.lastname@example.org