Greg DeMarco explores the potential for a company-altering 2019 on the horizon for ROH.
As Ring Of Honor heads into Final Battle 2018, the company finds itself at a crossroads of sorts. Things might look quite different at the 2019 edition of the company’s annual capstone, and the year of 2019 could be quite a journey to get there.
Or not. That’s the really interesting part.
Here are my Top 5 things you need to watch for in 2019 for ROH.
(I am publishing this before Final Battle because the event itself, and subsequent tapings, will likely go a long way towards shaping 2019, and might answer some of the questions posed below.)
5. Continued Production Upgrades
This one seems like a “no brainer,” as the company has continually upgraded production equipment and production values over the past few year. Last year’s Final Battle was no different, with a new lighting rig that was almost too big for the Hammerstein Ballroom.
But this is on the list for a bigger reason: people are too hard on ROH for this subject.
I think people watch Ring Of Honor and expect WWE quality, or even IMPACT Wrestling quality. Yes, they are owned by a television broadcast company, but that company does more distribution than production. And the production they do is local news, mostly from affiliates they purchased.
They don’t do live sports, which is what ROH is. I’ve never really understood the thinking of fans when slamming ROH for this. But I do see it continuing to get better.
4. The Elite Departs…? (Big Shoes To Fill)
Talent turnover could be its own category, but let’s be honest here: The Elite has made themselves the most valuable talents in Ring Of Honor.
Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks, specifically, have had a hand in building the ROH of today, the one that partnered with New Japan to sell out Madison Square Garden for WrestleMania Weekend in 2019.
If Cody and The Bucks, along with “Hangman” Adam Page and ROH part-timer Kenny Omega do indeed leave, the void will be massive. “Next man up” is a great idea in theory, but this isn’t football. The “next man” doesn’t have the following to make an impact like The Elite did.
And because he was “spoiled in talent,” Delirious hasn’t spent the time and broadcast resources to build their replacements.
But here’s the biggest what if: What if they don’t actually leave?
Final Battle is supposed to be the last night for Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks (among others), but what if it isn’t? The trio already put on ALL IN, a “non-ROH” event that drew 10,000 fans in Chicago while under a Ring Of Honor contract.
Yes, they’ve filed trademarks for All Elite Wrestling, Double Or Nothing, and All Out, with those filings coming from Jacksonville. They are linked to the Jaguars owner. But does that mean they have to leave ROH?
Not hardly. No one has said that All Elite Wrestling is going to be a weekly or even monthly product. Nothing of the sort, actually. It’s entirely plausible that Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks could stay with Ring Of Honor and be given the freedom to put on the All Elite events that offer them more fulfillment.
In fact, having a “working relationship” with All Elite Wrestling can only benefit ROH. If talent has the chance to work 2-4 All Elite “mega-indy” events per year, while working a full ROH schedule, plus New Japan and international bookings, than said talent actually has an option outside of WWE to make a great living. No one company can provide that to many, but the combination of ROH, All Elite, and NJPW can. That’s a point many are overlooking.
3. A Departure For Christopher Daniels
Yes, losing The Elite is big. Bigger than any other talent loss the company could endure during this time of transition. But that doesn’t speak to the potential loss of Christopher Daniels.
All three members of SoCal Uncensored (Daniels, Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky) are rumored to be leaving ROH at the end of the year. Daniels and Kazarian are under contract, and if Sky is contracted it’s not likely a full deal as he has been working independent dates throughout the year.
Daniels, Kazarian, and Sky have a good relationship with The Bucks and Cody, and Kazarian is actually in business with Rhodes outside of wrestling. So their involvement in whatever All Elite Wrestling does is an easy assumption.
But if Daniels does go, they are losing more than an in-ring talent. He is one of the most influential backstage personalities the company has. Seemingly ageless, at 48-years old and with over 25-years of wrestling experience, he has helped craft some of the best in-ring showdowns ROH has seen over the past few years.
The Ladder War that took place at All Star Extravaganza (The Addiction vs. The Motor City Machine Guns vs. The Young Bucks) was one of the best inc company history, and saw the first reports of Daniels’ work backstage in an agent-like capacity. He has since gone on to hold the ROH World Championship, and his partners Kazarian and Sky are the current ROH World Tag Team Champions.
Daniels, along with Kazarian, have a heavy influence over the talent in ROH, especially the younger talent. There is no one better to learn from than “The Fallen Angel,” and if he goes an irreplaceable amount of knowledge and impact will follow him out the door.
And in writing this section I cannot neglect Frankie Kazarian, himself closing in 20-years in the business and an amazing talent in front of and behind the camera, and Scorpio Sky, himself 35-years young, is just not getting the recognition he deserves as a performer. All three are tremendous losses for the company if they do indeed depart.
2. New Talent Coming In
With talent (potentially) leaving the company, opportunities are created for new talent to enter. One is already there, and two more have been recently announced.
Jeff Cobb: Cobb, recently killed off of Lucha Underground seemingly to end his role as Matanza Cueto, was long considered one of the best talents not signed to any major company. His signing is a major coup for ROH, and he’s already the World TV Champion. If the company plays their cards right, he could have a Samoa Joe like run through 2019 and beyond, and be a star they can catapult to main event status with ease.
PCO: The former Quebecer (not a Mountie) had a career resurgence in 2018, becoming one of the fanbase’s favorite stars at the young age of 50. Faced with losing The Elite, ROH was smart to sign the man who is arguably the most sought after talent not named Cody Rhodes, Matt Jackson, Nick Jackson, and/or Kenny Omega.
Brody King: With 3.5 years of experience, Southern California’s King has fast become one of the most reliable talents in independent wrestling, providing stellar match after stellar match. His signing proves that ROH is looking beyond the New England area for talent–and they’d be smart to look into other Santino Bros Academy grads while they’re at it.
Personally, I am surprised we haven’t seen more talent announcements. As I’ve hinted above, I am not 100% certain The Elite and/or SCU end up leaving, as recent comments by Cody, The Bucks, and ROH COO Joe Koff could be more posturing than anything.
If so, then look for more talent to be signed by ROH–and that’s a good thing. Otherwise it’s “more of the same,” and as much as I love Jay Lethal and The Briscoes, they need fresh talent to work with in order to keep the product interesting and relevant.
1. The New Japan Relationship
It might not be the most fun to admit, but ROH might not be in in the “Number 2” position in the United States without the New Japan relationship. In fact, it’s really easy to argue that ROH needs NJPW more than New Japan needs Ring Of Honor.
That’s why the company gets by not putting ROH talent over, regardless on which side of the ocean the match takes place. And if The Elite leaves, Harold Meij and company have even influence over ROH.
G1 Supercard is already a huge success, despite nothing being announced outside of a few talents. The event at Madison Square Garden is going to be nothing short of amazing, and anyone in attendance is sure to leave happy regardless of The Elite’s presence.
But what happens after? What I want to see happen is simple: the ROH World Champion after Jay Lethal (let’s just use Jeff Cobb as an example) needs to be put over by a big name from New Japan. A Tetsuya Naito level name.
Basically, ROH needs to stand up for themselves, and be treated as an equal to NJPW in their booking, not as a little brother. Otherwise the relationship remains one-sided, and hurts ROH despite helping them draw.
2019 is set to be a very telling year for ROH, and I personally plan to devote more time and energy to covering their product. Many of you know that I worked for Ring For Honor in 2010 as I was their local contact for the Phoenix events that happened during WrestleMania 26 weekend. Nearly everyone I worked with on that weekend is gone, but my love for the company and my desire to see them succeed hasn’t left at all.
Hopefully 2019 will be a year that ROH transitions into a strong #2 option, a true alternative to the WWE product.