Wrestlers, a ring and a simple code founded upon respect — for each other, for the craft, and for the company they worked for.
Following the demise of WCW, Ring of Honor stepped forward as a company to fill the void in the North American wrestling landscape and provided a platform for young wrestlers to — as CM Punk recently put it — work, learn their craft and get paid; a reward for following their love of professional wrestling.
Ring of Honor, the one people revere and so many wrestlers across the wrestling landscape once called home, was built on honour and respect for wrestling and for each other. The “code of honor” handshake was symbolic of that, and for those who loved it, fans included, “honor” was as very real.
On Wednesday, Sinclair Broadcasting served up a very real dose of reality when they announced the release of its entire roster following its next tapings and Final Battle at year’s end, while agreeing to pay anyone contracted into next year through March 2022. Although the corporation has alluded to an April relaunch, this suspiciously feels like the end of an era for the people who bled in ROH rings over the years, who called it home whether they haven’t wrestled there for over a decade or within the last days or weeks. It hits hard, because it means so much and is so responsible for much of what we watch and respect today.
It was the place many called home. It was truly the place, if you want to talk about forbidden doors opening and closing, that got the ball rolling with partnerships specifically with Pro Wrestling NOAH (which gave us KENTA vs. Misawa, and Kenta Kobashi vs. Samoa Joe), NJPW and even NWA prior to its current “circumstantial buffoon-like, head-scratching antics.” ROH was the central foundation of All In.
I don’t believe it’s a stretch to call what ROH represented as being the soul of pro wrestling, even if it became less so in the last 10 years and especially so in the last few. When you stripped it down, it wasn’t about pomp and circumstance, nor bells and even fewer whistles. It may have been as close as we’ll get to sport-first-focused wrestling in North America, because that was their focus and credo.
This is in effect a eulogy for a company I’ve always enjoyed, even if I followed it less over the last years. Yet, that passion that built the company was still there because those men and women believed in it through and through. And I think it’s worth eulogizing. There’s no certainty in the statement Sinclair released Wednesday that indicates what does return will be anything like the ROH we’ve known for nearly 20 years now. There’s no assurance Sinclair will return with a product even closely resembling the ROH of old, or even ironically if we’re simply getting ROH 2.0 (cue our collective nausea) in some form similar to what Dave Meltzer “reported;” I’d argue that isn’t sustainable (to run it as an indie with a fluid roster).
Despite Joe Koff reportedly fighting to keep the current ROH running, Sinclair has made their decision and in the days after we’re left with all the above concerns, while wrestlers are left looking for bookings while also pondering what 2022 will bring them. I think it’s foolish to assume absolutely none of the current roster will return to the ROH ring in April 2022, in fact I’d argue the current mix of veterans and upstarts in NXT 2.0 is a strength of the new program so far, and without being in the know it’s convenient in terms of timing that with NXT rebranding that we now also are faced with Ring of Honor getting a facelift. It also carries with it the odour of a company making decisions about a wrestling product when those principals have zero emotional connection to wrestling; when wrestling is treated simply as content rather than its own unique entity with evolving programming.
Credit where it’s due, Ring of Honor management took care of its roster during the pandemic and were moreover the most responsible along with NJPW, but now it seems that with Sinclair putting their portion of the ROH video library on the market (for over a year now), the writing on the wall is quite legible that the company we knew and revered is dead. They would be wise to keep on key mainstays, or young wrestlers like ROH Women’s Champion Rok-C, and vets like Jay Lethal and the Kingdom, but that even feels like a longshot. Much like NXT now, it would be smart to connect the divisions between ROH 2021 and ROH 2022 for the sake of familiarity. With a legacy so rich and important to professional wrestling, it would be unfortunate if that were 100% discarded. Moreover, it’ll create more distance between the company and its fans, which they’ll need as part of any relaunch of Ring of Honor.
With the tape library available, the obvious suitors are WWE and AEW for different reasons. For WWE, obviously it’s great content for the WWE Network, never mind that any future match compilations they might put together could feature ROH matches featuring more recent AJ Styles (as IWGP champion), Seth Rollins and so forth. For AEW, aside from any future streaming platform their content might appear on, in addition to having old matches from some of their current roster members, the obvious carrot for AEW is getting ownership of the All In PPV — the absolute starting point for AEW.
Preferably you’d want to see the library go to AEW for the most simplistic reason for them to get All In, but with Sinclair seemingly not caring who it goes to it’s entirely possible for WWE to end up with the content featuring many of AEW’s current stars which I can’t imagine they’d ever have complete use for. Topping off with the reality, as I’ve said many times before, I’m uneasy of WWE owning absolutely “all” of wrestling’s visually recorded history without a check and balance — or alternative take on history — in place. Granted, this potential sale doesn’t include anything pre-2012 (i.e. no Punk, Danielson, Samoa Joe, early Styles, etc. and even some Misawa and Kobashi matches).
The endgame is obtaining content, and for as much as Tony Khan boasts he’ll outspend WWE, I’m doubtful of that being successful; if WWE truly wants the content for the Network it’ll unfortunately happen. The greater question though, if you look at it objectively, is how much of that content are we as wrestling fans going to actually see in a hypothetical situation where WWE buys it when so much of the content in this period features current AEW wrestlers. It wouldn’t make sense to show All In on the Network, nor the rise of the Young Bucks, or Cody Rhodes and Omega throughout early 2018. Much of the Sinclair half of ROH’s library would probably sit idle outside the WWE Network, serving no real purpose other than ego inflation.
Ring of Honor deserves better than that. There was a time it was what we needed when there was no alternative to WWE. It was steady when Impact was on the ropes and it fed WWE some of the best in the world over the last decade and a half. For the people who loved it — love it, even still — it was very real in how it offered an alternate version of wrestling. It was a breeding ground for new talent, a platform for unusual talent (PCO, Danhausen, etc.), overlooked talent, or even simply as a way to find your legs in the professional wrestling sphere as Cody Rhodes did from 2016-2018, or where Punk plied his craft years prior; even when Eddie Guerrero wrestled there on his road to getting clean. It’s an important piece of history for us wrestling fans, and its legacy should not collect dust. It’s too important to cherry pick the featured content, while the majority is mothballed. That would dishonour the legacy of it, of the people who founded it, caretook it, wrestled in the ring and to this past Wednesday’s announcement, fought to make it better through 2021.
Shake on it?