Back in 2005, I was first introduced to Ring Of Honor. I mean… I heard a lot about the promotion before that, but 2005 was when I had discussions with folks who were already smartened up to the topic (shout out to my man, Joe Crack), and they convinced me to give RoH a try. The company had just brought Kenta Kobashi in from Japan to do a double shot of shows, and from the reviews I read, that’s where I should get started. As soon as the DVD’s for Joe vs Kobashi and Unforgettable were released, I ordered them.
I’ve told that story before, as well as the story about me spending a few thousand dollars on RoH DVD’s, merchandise, and tickets over the next few years. Because of the viewing I was doing, I was introduced to a ton of wrestlers that would go on to achieve tremendous things in the wrestling business. I think Bryan Danielson might very well be the greatest in-ring performer to ever live, and the first time I ever saw him wrestle was on a Ring Of Honor DVD. Samoa Joe (the “Joe” in “Joe vs Kobashi”), Seth Rollins, Claudio Castagnoli, Chris Hero, Homicide, Nigel McGuinness, CM Punk, Roderick Strong, Colt Cabana, KENTA (not Kobashi, who I had seen before), Naomichi Marufuji, Kevin Owens, El Generico (who looks an awful lot like Sami Zayn, although I might get mocked for saying that), Super Dragon, the stars of Dragon Gate (ranging from CIMA to Shingo Takagi to Dragon Kid to Masato Yoshino to Naruki Doi and so on), Jimmy Jacobs, Necro Butcher, Eddie Kingston, Davey Richards, Jay Lethal, Go Shiozaki, Takeshi Morishima, Pac, Sara Del Rey, Eddie Edwards… goodness gracious, the list goes on and on of wrestlers who I saw for the very first time because I popped a Ring Of Honor DVD into my Playstation 2 (and later, my Playstation 3) and watched the action unfold.
One team… and, more specifically, one man… was able to stand out more and more as the years would go by, though.
I first saw The Briscoes on one of the very first RoH DVD’s I ever purchased, and all these years later, I was still able to enjoy their work, as they just competed in one of the greatest match trilogies in pro wrestling history, culminating at Final Battle 2022 last month.
Jay Briscoe immediately jumped out at me. He was more well-rounded in the ring than his brother, Mark, but it was his screen-dominating presence, natural charisma, and promo skills that really captured my attention. The best word I can come up with to describe Jay Briscoe, for anyone who wasn’t lucky enough to see him work through the years, is “real.” When you watched him cut his promos and perform on whatever screen you were watching him on, everything seemed real. He was a throwback to the days of old, when you saw the likes of Abdullah The Butcher, Bruiser Brody, Terry Funk, and people like that, who played “crazy” and “dangerous” characters in the ring, but you believed with every fiber of your being that they were “crazy” and “dangerous” FOR REALLY REAL. Seriously, Jay would get himself so riled up during his promos, and he’d get to talking with a glint in his eyes that just made him look like someone you would not want to meet in a dark alley somewhere.
It was a pleasure getting to watch the man’s career blossom, going from winning Tag Team Titles in every promotion he and his brother wrestled in to achieving singles success, winning the RoH World Title in 2013 and then winning it again in 2014.
An even bigger joy for me was watching him grow as a man and a human being, though. Last march, in the wake of news that certain nameless executives were against AEW bringing the Briscoes in, partly (mainly?) because of a series of tweets made by Jay Briscoe in 2011 and 2013. If you’re unaware, the whole thing started with Jay tweeting out a particular derogatory gay slur that starts with the letter “f” and not really getting punished for it, probably because our society was in a different place in 2011 than it is in 2023. In 2013, when the Delaware Senate passed a bill that would allow same-sex marriage, Jay would tweet that he would “fucking shoot you” if you tried to teach his kids that there was nothing wrong with same-sex marriage. The 2013 tweets got him into a lot more trouble, ranging from having to donate his next two pay checks from Ring Of Honor shows to a non-profit charity that was created to “help prevent, deter, and reduce juvenile hate-related behavior” to, as the rumors go, WWE changing their minds about offering contracts to both of the Briscoes.
On one hand, I feel Ring Of Honor really botched his punishment, because those two pay checks that he donated was about all the punishment there was. He was the RoH World Champion at the time of the 2013 tweet, and he would be stripped of the title about a month later due to a kayfabe injury, but he won it right back, and his in-ring career was still going very well. On the other hand, though, it’s hard for me to make that claim, because I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I was in their position at the time, and that’s just me being completely honest with you.
After he made those tweets, he would spend the next decade apologizing for them, directly and indirectly. I mentioned all of this in the column I wrote, but both Jay and Mark spent a lot of time with RoH Commentator Ian Riccaboni, who not only has a background as a Sex Educator, but has also done extensive work with LGBTQ+ charities through the years, trying to educate themselves on topics they were unaware of in the past. Riccaboni said they would constantly ask him questions about LGBTQ+ topics, even asking him about what this word means or what that term means, and that they did so without any humor. They truly and genuinely wanted to learn more about a world that they had no experience in.
In the nine-plus years since the tweets pissed people off, I haven’t seen a single story about Jay getting himself into trouble like that again. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Long before his passing, you didn’t have to look very far to see stories from wrestlers, announcers, ring crew, journalists, and a variety of personalities involved in the business that would rave about how much of a changed man he was since the days of those tweets. How friendly he was, how easy going he was, how approachable he was, and how much of a joy he was to be around. Multiple openly gay wrestlers would come to his defense, as well, talking about how it really did seem like he had changed. In today’s day and age, it is becoming more and more rare to see someone say something that gets them in any sort of trouble and then for them to step back, take a look at the situation, admit they made a mistake, and make as many steps as necessary to fix the problem.
As of the moment I type this sentence, it has only been a few hours since Tony Khan announced the passing of Jay Briscoe. Details are still pretty scarce. We know that there was a car accident in Delaware, and we know that Jay was one of two adult fatalities in the accident, but that there were also two other patients in critical condition, one of which was listed as “pediatric.” I’m not here to jump to any conclusions, or to talk about things that aren’t factual yet. All we know is that Jay has passed away, eight days shy of his 39th birthday. When I was growing up, we certainly heard our fair share of stories involving wrestlers passing away, no matter how they died. Dying in their 30’s, 40’s, and so on. That’s clearly too young to die, but when you’re, say, 14 years old, then 40-something sounds so far away. Things are different now. I celebrated my 40th birthday exactly six months ago. I have a four-year-old daughter. When I hear anything about a father passing away, it hurts me deeper now. I’ve shed some tears since the news broke.
Selfishly, I sit here and think about the wrestling that we won’t be able to see now that he is no longer with us. The matches, the feuds, the promos… the Briscoes appearing in promotions that they’ve never appeared in before. Without fail, though, my brain will switch over to thinking about the man’s friends, family, and coworkers who will no longer be able to see him at all. Fuck wrestling. That’s not important right now. It doesn’t matter what Tony Khan decides to do with the RoH Tag Team Titles that the Briscoes won at Final Battle, nor does it matter if Mark Briscoe decides to continue wrestling. Now is not the time to be asking those questions.
Rest in peace, Jay Briscoe.
Rest in peace, Jamin Pugh. It’s not much, but my thoughts and prayers go out to anyone who knew the man in any way.
Folks, please make sure to tell your loved ones that they are exactly that… loved. Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us, and you don’t want anything left bottled up and unsaid when the day comes that you’re unable to say it anymore. Hug people. Tell them you love them. Make sure there’s no question that they know where you stand.
I’ll have my regular weekly column posted at some point later today. I just needed to get something out there about this. I apologize if the column was more jumbled than usual.