People often say that Ring of Honor features the highest quality wrestling of any American promotion.
What an insult.
I’m being a bit feceitious when I write that, but the fact is that Ring of Honor’s long-standing reputation as “the work rate promotion” fails to acknowledge everything that the company brings to the table. Yes, you are almost always guaranteed at least a couple of matches in the four-star range when you watch a major ROH show. But ROH is about so much more than that.
After a tough few months during which ROH tried to find its footing in the wake of losing Nigel McGuinness and Bryan Danielson at the same time, the Philadelphia-based promotion is once again banging on all cylinders, and reminding mainstream wrestling fans how refreshing it can be to have an alternative to TNA and WWE.
Indeed, ROH’s athletes have put on several stellar performances in recent months. At April’s “Big Bang” Internet pay-per-view alone, two matches – The Briscoe Brothers vs. The Kings of Wrestling and the triple threat match featuring Tyler Black, Austin Aries and Roderick Strong – were both early Match of the Year candidates.
But that show also featured another one of ROH’s best traits, and one that is too often taken for granted – its ability to tell stories.
Consider this: It was nearly four months after Kevin Steen betrayed his longtime partner El Generico before the two had any kind of physical contact at all. When they finally did at the Big Bang, where Generico teamed with Colt Cabana against Steen and Steve Corino, the atompshere was intense to say the least.
But even in that match, the physicality between Steen and Generico was reserved for when it made the most impact. Now, heading into this weekend’s ROH event in Chicago, the “Come-As-You-Are Streetfight” between these same two teams is a legitimate main event.
Now that’s the kind of disciplined wrestling storytelling you don't see much these days. If it were TNA, we could expect Generico and Steen to split, wrestle each other, get back together again, and split again within two hours. WWE is better disciplined in its storylines, but even it tends to rush through key angles in feuds that could be spread out over several months.
The same kind of patient, intricate booking has been on display in the ongoing saga between Roderick Strong and ROH heavyweight champion Tyler Black. As a friend of Black, Strong agreed to be his hand-picked ringside judge when Black beat Aries for the title back in February. But he did so on one condition – that Black would give Strong a title shot.
Strong got that title shot at the Big Bang, but Jim Cornette threw a monkey wrench into things when he added Aries to the mix. Strong was infuriated at the decision, and further disheartened when he was the first one eliminated during that match.
ROH announced last week that Strong would finally get his one-on-one title shot against Black at an upcoming New York event in May. A match that could have conceivably been put together at any time in the last five months now feels like a uniquely big deal. And Strong, who has spent much of his seven-year ROH career in the mid-card, is now a true main-event star.
Again, wrestling storytelling at its finest.
There have been numerous other examples in recent months: the ROH TV title tournament culminating with partners Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards competing in the finals; estranged former tag team partners Chris Hero and Claudio Castignoli reuniting to challenge for and win the tag team championship; aging veteran Jerry Lynn coming out of semi-retirement to seek vengeance against the man who nearly ended his career, Kenny King.
It’s a disservice to ROH to only praise its wrestlers’ ability to put on great matches. Their ability - and those of ROH bookers – to tell great stories is every bit as important.
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer