By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Zack Sabre Jr. Vs. Blake Christian. Konosuke Takeshita vs. Josh Woods. Claudio Castagnoli vs. AR Fox. Wheeler Yuta vs. Timothy Thatcher. Athena vs. Willow Nightingale.
Ladies and gentlemen, Ring of Honor on HonorClub. Those matches were just a few of the standouts of the first two weeks of the ROH TV reboot that began at the beginning of March. Now, as we sit in the middle of July, somehow the beginning of March feels like one thousand million years ago.
Lest we forget that the hopes were high when Tony Khan purchased the brand. ROH holds a special place in a lot of wrestling fans’ hearts and knowing the imprint would continue to live (at a time when surviving barely seemed possible) felt like a breath of fresh air. I’ve said it before in this space, but I’ll say it again: I stood about ten feet from CM Punk at Revolution 2022’s post-show press conference, and I watched as that guy wept at how relieved he was that Khan bought the company. He, like many others, was concerned that the thing would either die or the Evil Empire that is WWE would somehow gobble it up, damning ROH (and its back catalogue) to irrelevancy from now until forever and ever, amen.
Not to jump the gun on any relevancy talk just yet, but Ring of Honor’s very next pay-per-view is happening on Friday. Indeed, AEW Dark Presents … er … I mean, ROH’s Death Before Dishonor is set to emanate from Trenton, New Jersey, in four days. Did you know? Or, perhaps more telling, three weeks ago, did you know?
As of this writing on Monday morning, four matches are kind of/sort of supposed to happen. Two of those are official (unless you read some spoilers from the weekend tapings). Katusyori Shibata will defend his Pure Title against Daniel Garcia and in a match that was made official no sooner than last night, Athena will defend her ROH Women’s Title against Willow Nightingale. Samoa Joe will defend the ROH TV title against the winner of a weirdly lazy tournament and world champ Claudio will face … well, we don’t quite know yet. It was supposed to be Mark Briscoe, but the challenger is hurt. So for now, let’s just bank on Claudio defending the belt against somebody?
I don’t know. Who actually knows? Does Tony Khan even know?
Never could we say that this road of honor wasn’t paved with good intentions, but let’s at least approach everything with some modicum of perspective. Those matches I listed at the beginning of this were promising enough for me to at least consider ponying up for an HonorClub subscription when the latest iteration of ROH began. Three and a half months later, here are some of the bouts that appeared on the July 13 episode: Big Bill vs. Serpentico. Layla Hirsch vs. Bambi Hall. The Righteous and Stu Grayson vs. Evan Rivers, Levi Night and Michael Allen Richard Clark. The main event featured The Mogul Embassy going up against the latest “throw a Martin brother in a six-man tag” team of Darius, Matt Sydal and whatever’s left of Christopher Daniels.
Ten dollars can’t go a long way these days, but something tells me there are better ways to spend that money than watching the former Big Cass take more than four minutes to squash someone who has exactly one more win in the AEW/ROH win column than I do this year. And to think I wrote a nostalgic-filled requiem for the dearly-departed AEW Dark and Dark: Elevation when those two series shuttered only a handful of months ago. If I would have only known that I could throw $10 a month at The Internet to get those throwaway shows back, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so warm and fuzzy about them.
(Pshhhhhh … Bring the team of Taz and Excalibur to ROH and maybe I’ll think about it).
No, but really: Remember how absurd it would be to see that Dark would advertise something like 53 matches over a four-and-a-half hour Monday night show? The May 25 episode of ROH on HonorClub featured 19 matches. Among those were instant mat classics like Willow Nightingale defeating Ryan in 4:17, Mercedes Martinez beating Dream Girl Ellie in just under three minutes and Claudio making short work out of Serpentico in about four-and-a-half minutes. Where’s Matt Menard and The Big Show when you need them?
OK, perhaps the cynicism is too thick, but let’s consider the upcoming pay-per-view. As this site’s Sam Robinson so studiously wrote in his latest review of the most recent ROH on HonorClub broadcast – which, again, was only a few days ago – “Ian Riccaboni ran down all the upcoming matches for all the upcoming shows, but couldn’t give us any matches for the Death Before Dishonor show, because there are none at the moment.”
And boom goes the dynamite.
That was a show broadcast eight days before a pay-per-view. Yes, ROH has one more go-home edition of the program before Friday night’s event, but we were eight days out and there were no matches made official at that point in time. And this from a promotion everyone feared would die on the operating table at least 25 times by now. If I was the one on that table and I was in this type of condition, I’d beg the doctors to pull the plug. What’s the point? No sense in surviving if you can’t live and right now, Ring of Honor is not living its best life.
Now for the other side. I understand that gobbling up the ROH archival footage has added value to some of the feuds AEW has been promoting in recent months. We’ve seen so many Samoa Joe vs. CM Punk packages leading up to their showdown on Collision that I was almost convinced it was 2004 again. AEW has, in essence, been the place where ROH’s biggest stars have migrated to over the years. A young Bryan Danielson video montage is always a lot of fun to consume and catching a clean-shaven Adam Cole in some grainy VHS footage from more than a decade ago will never not be a novelty.
Plus there’s that pesky little thing called “All In” that ostensibly started the AEW story in perpetuity. It’s only right that AEW would have the rights to that name in the first place and purchasing Ring Of Honor was the key to that castle. We’ve already seen that move pay off in huge ways as the next installment of “All In” in August will be AEW’s biggest show by a country mile. Between the perfect storm of the company’s first event in England, a return to the name of a show that kicked off things to begin with, and an entirely admirable willingness to take wild chances, Aug. 27 will most likely go down as one of the most memorable days in modern day pro wrestling, no matter the brand.
Still, that brand won’t be Ring Of Honor. Instead, that brand will be All Elite Wrestling. And therein lies the core of the problem. There is only so much focus one person can have. Tony Khan has roles in soccer clubs and football teams in addition to his duties running AEW – which now includes more hours of television on a weekly basis, mind you. I’m sure Khan loves the idea of playing God when it comes to all these wrestling endeavors, but the reality is, he’s doing more harm than good when it comes to the things he’s forced to neglect.
And “neglect” might even be too harsh a word, if we’re speaking fairly. If you only have 18 waking hours in a day and you’ve got multiple high-level positions at multiple professional entities, something is bound to suffer. Do you take 15 minutes to eat dinner or do you use that to think about how you’re going to book Dalton Castle and The Boys for Final Battle? A man shouldn’t have to apologize for making sure he doesn’t go hungry.
What that man should realize, though, is that keeping his own belly full can sometimes mean other things have to starve. And starving is what Ring Of Honor is doing right now. Maybe the biggest travesty of it all is that between ROH and AEW, Khan has more than enough very good talent to both feature in prominent ways and tell compelling stories. Why is Athena wrestling someone named Promise Braxton in a Proving Ground match when Abadon hasn’t had a singles match all year? What’s up with Penta having to wrestle Slim J when Bandido appears to be stuck in Rampage purgatory? It shouldn’t be terribly hard to right the Ring Of Honor ship; it just needs a little basic care and attention to make sure it doesn’t come as close as it is right now to sinking.
It all leads to what currently stands as a very disappointing first three-and-a-half months of television – and, all things considered, a mildly disappointing first year of Khan owning the company as a whole. Let’s not forget that Death Before Dishonor marks exactly one year of ROH existing under the Khan umbrella. The first show with him at the helm was 2022’s installment of the PPV on July 23 in Lowell, Massachusetts. It was there that FTR had one of their classic battles with the Briscoes (the two out of three falls match), and Claudio won the ROH World Title by beating an unhappy Jonathan Gresham. The future seemed bright for the company. The sky felt like the limit for this new era of ROH.
That unbridled optimism has since wavered into near disappearance. Can everything turn around? Of course. Nothing is forever in wrestling and that even includes the shuttering of companies. But can things turn around while ROH exists in its current state? I’m not convinced. The way things are going, we’re being set up for Prince Nana squashes and a Final Battle card that won’t be announced until halfway through the Zero Hour pre show. And that’s not entirely a joke.
So, as we head into this PPV weekend, I admit that accepting death before adhering to dishonor is a respectable mantra. But in the case of current day ROH, operating without honor has become the norm. If death is the only other option, it might be the most honorable decision that the company can make.