By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Hey, it’s Go Home Week. Did you know?
Maybe you didn’t. Because it’s not for SummerSlam. It’s also not for All Out. Slammiversary just passed last month. And New Japan is in the throes of this year’s G1 Climax Tournament, so you know it can’t be anything from them.
TONY, THE SAVIOR
Instead, it’s Go Home Week for a company that doesn’t even have a television show -Ring of Honor. The name of the program is Death Before Dishonor. The venue is the Tsongas Center in Lowell, Massachusetts. The day is Saturday. And the time, if you’re looking to not miss the pre-show, is 7 pm ET.
This, of course, follows the only other show of the Tony Khan ROH era, which was the Supercard of Honor back in April. And that night came about a month after Khan announced that he had purchased the company (Khan announced that the sale officially closed on May 4). At the time, wrestling fans united around the regime change. To so many people, Tony Khan has sort of become a makeshift savior of professional wrestling. Those who soured on WWE long ago needed an alternative after being fed up for years, and Khan – along with Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks and Cody Rhodes – came around and gave those people what they had been craving. Less acting. More blood. Quality wrestling. No nonsense.
As such, Khan is kind of The Guy when it comes to most things cool in the business. And because nothing is ever appreciated until well after it’s too late for appreciation to have a say in the matter, Ring of Honor had carved out its corner in the wrestling world as the little engine that could – and did for so many years. Then old footage of people like CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, and dozens of other names that have since gone on to achieve mainstream success surfaced in ways it hadn’t surfaced before and the marriage felt elementary: Tony Khan, the savior of wrestling, will buy Ring of Honor, the plucky beloved organization and the world will be right if for no other reason than Ring of Honor will not die.
I was in the room after AEW’s first pay-per-view of 2022, Revolution, when CM Punk broke down in tears while talking about how happy he was that Khan bought the company and the company’s library. Punk was worried that his early years’ work would fall into the hands of the dreaded WWE multiverse and knowing that Khan was now keeping it safe essentially allowed Punk to sleep at night. Punk’s emotion was palpable. The moment, in and of itself, suggested how powerful the ROH acquisition was for some, be it talent or fans. People take their wrestling seriously, remember, and the ones who do it for a living stand proudly at the top of that list.
And so it was set. A marriage made in heaven was consummated, the savior himself stepped in to ensure legacies would not be forgotten and Ring Of Honor, that lovable engine that could, would live to see another day.
… When exactly is that day going to come?
I said it months ago and I’ll say it again: The rush to announce the purchase of Ring Of Honor was shortsighted (even more so at the time, considering how an AEW PPV was right around the corner). The attention that the company needed to have on it, if it was going to thrive, wasn’t there. There was no television deal to speak of – and, conversely, some four months later, there is still no television deal to speak of. That coveted library is nowhere to be found. And after reading the recent press release … what’s happening with HonorClub again?
All glibness aside, you can’t forget that the brand was in a weird spot when it faced mortality at the beginning of 2022. With the advent of AEW, Ring of Honor was in one of the most advantageous spots it’s ever been in, in part because between AEW and NXT at the time, those two companies shone a bright light on independent talent that cut their teeth in Ring of Honor. There was never a platform for someone like an Adam Cole to be on network television, but between AEW and NXT, all of the best indie talent – most of whom made significant stops in ROH – got the most exposure they could ever receive as the rise in popularity of that brand of wrestling soaked its way into the mainstream via those two conduits.
And so, it felt like Ring 0f Honor, at the very least, was not ready to die if only because fans still wanted to see how wrestlers like Danhausen and Jonathan Gresham fared on a bigger stage. Enter Tony Khan, whose commitment to it not only promised the company a future, but also a future in which all the fans of both AEW and ROH could trust. Danhausen can make 1,500 people laugh in Baltimore on a Saturday night once every four months; can he work that same magic for hundreds of thousands of people across the world on a Wednesday night?
Khan purchasing ROH served as a shot of adrenaline not just for wrestling companies, but the wrestling landscape. Knowing the company was going to survive brought brightness to what could have been a dark reality. But then …
HALF-GONE, NOT FORGOTTEN
Well, but then, a barbed wire, exploding ring death match turned into a handful of sparklers and a confetti cannon.
Ring of Honor went away. OK, so maybe not away, away. But it went away enough. Enough so, in fact, that anyone who gave me shit about questioning the announcement of the acquisition four months ago needs to take an audit of what we’ve seen since then. Jonathan Gresham is your world champion, but he’s a heel now, a move that feels wildly miscast as this new era of Ring of Honor tries to get its feet on the ground. Tully Blanchard found work managing a group of guys after FTR gave his character the boot, and among those guys is the “Wait, he’s still here?” Brian Cage. FTR are your tag champs, but only really have one team that’s worthy of challenging them on the ROH roster (and speaking of which, what exactly is the ROH roster anymore?). Samoa Joe is the television champion, but you can count on one hand the amount of times we’ve seen him since he arrived. Mercedes Martinez is your women’s world champion, but unless you watch one of two AEW programs that air exclusively on YouTube, you might not even know that.
Now, while it might sound like I’m trying to be dismissive of these things, I promise I’m not. I just don’t understand how anyone can think this company has found a groove in any way. There’s no identity for this era of Ring of Honor because outside of what will be two PPVs after Saturday, we see Ring of Honor wrestling exclusively on AEW programming. And even then it’s kind of confusing. Weren’t Samoa Joe and Jay Lethal listed as All Elite? They at least got the graphics. Yet if that’s the case, can someone please tell me how I’m supposed to know if Jay Lethal vs. Konosuke Takeshita was an ROH-sanctioned match or an AEW-sanctioned match? And Joe … how does he figure into AEW at all? At this point, we’re just supposed to believe that Satnam Singh is going to be the one to carry the proceedings from here on out.
And all of this is somewhat ironic because there was a time, not more than a couple months ago, where it felt like AEW programming was featuring too many Ring of Honor matches. It seems absurd, but in order to get this new era kick-started, we saw a significant number of ROH bouts on AEW’s Dynamite and Rampage, even if the only way we could tell them apart from a typical AEW match was to hone in on whether Ian Riccaboni or Caprice Coleman sat in on commentary.
NO MAP IN SIGHT
There’s no balance. And perhaps more acutely, there’s seemingly no roadmap, no hope for how to keep the brand alive while also delivering a consistent product on a consistent basis. At this point, it feels like we’re destined to see a handful of ROH matches on AEW programming every so often while pay-per-views dominate the Ring of Honor conversation every quarter. It’s then, and only really then, that we are reminded, “Oh, that’s right. That still does exist, doesn’t it?”
None of this would be all that glaring – and nor would it matter nearly as much – if you weren’t playing with Big Deal names within the context of this dynamic. I’ll tell you what, when Claudio Castagnoli made his AEW debut at Forbidden Door, that Chicago crowd would have run over bunny rabbits and slapped elderly people in the face in order to give Claudio a high five. The guy had two prominent spots throughout the evening and each time he appeared, those people loved him. Now, two weeks later, he’s booked to challenge Jonathan Gresham for the ROH World Championship at Saturday’s event. And how does that feel?
After finally, mercifully getting that hero’s welcome/ovation/appreciation that so many people thought he always deserved but never received in WWE, all Claudio had to do was walk out onto the ramp for eight seconds after Gresham’s match on Friday’s Rampage and the glow that was once beaming off him in AEW some two weeks ago dissipated as quickly as it once appeared. The guy was in a main event program and announced as the latest member in arguably the most popular faction currently running in AEW. And yet while he’s going after a world title, and the match, on paper, promises it will deliver something more than great, Castagnoli has been defined down as a result of this booking.
Why? I can’t tell you. And I can’t tell you because I’m not sure. Plus, this same perception extends to Samoa Joe. And even Wheeler Yuta, in a weird way. The thing is, Ring of Honor is so sporadic, it’s impossible to fully grasp what is going on beyond some poorly built title matches that feel more random than they do as part of some long, intricate, interesting story. Granted, that seems to be Khan’s approach to booking – “Oh, we’re three weeks away from our next PPV? Time to shoot some angles!” – but when you combine that penchant for rapid-fire booking with a brand that has no consistent presence on any network or streaming service anywhere, it just feels like you have a show with a bunch of title matches and little else, including worthwhile stories.
Which, of course, brings us to Saturday.
A COMPANY DESERVING OF MORE
I have no doubt that Death Before Dishonor will be a fantastically wrestled night of wrestling. The card is made of quasi-dream matches for those who adore this blend of pro wrestling. If FTR vs. The Briscoes is even half of what their first encounter was, it’s going to be a hell of a battle. Wheeler Yuta vs. Daniel Garcia has the ability to steal any show. Mercedes Martinez vs. Serena Deeb might just end up being better than the match Deeb had with Thunder Rosa recently, and that’s no knock on Deeb’s Double Or Nothing match at all. Samoa Joe vs. Jay Lethal will be a bout worthy of more than just a TV title. And then, of course, Claudio and Gresham would have to actively try to make that main event bad if it’s to end up that way.
But … then what?
At the same post-event press conference that saw CM Punk shed a tear about Khan buying Ring of Honor, Khan coyly mentioned something toward the end of the night about the relationship between NXT and WWE – or, for that matter, the way the two entities differed – and it made me wonder if ROH was going to become AEW’s black and gold NXT. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, of course, but let’s not forget something that’s important to remember: NXT was built from the ground up. ROH existed in very prominent ways before AEW came along. One brand was designed to be a developmental brand; the other was its own brand that welcomed those in various stages of development. To regard ROH as a second hand, minor league space for wrestlers does a disservice to it and it certainly doesn’t pay homage to the rich history it has.
Or, in other words, Ring of Honor deserves better.
The question is will it receive better, moving forward. The directive to all us skeptics when this announcement was made months ago was to wait and see how things played out. In time, Tony Khan would build this thing into the best Ring of Honor it could be and so many of us needed to trust the process. OK. I’m still willing to do that. Running two wrestling companies at once can’t be easy, so time and evolution could be valuable friends in all this for Khan and the evolution of Ring of Honor.
But, for the love of Pete, if I’m still sitting here one year from now and all we have are a few pay-per-views on the docket along with some smatterings of Dark matches and a few Rampage and Dynamite offerings for ROH … the notion of Death Before Dishonor might take an entirely new meaning. Because at that point, the only thing that will be on the brink of death will be a company that managed to thwart it countless times.