What Next For Ring Of Honor?
Will ROH successfully relaunch, or will another option become apparent?
Waking up this morning I didn’t know if I wanted to write an obituary for Ring of Honor, speculate on what could be next for them, or just try and figure out what the hell happened to what was once arguably the greatest promotion on the planet.
Whichever way we look at it, one thing is for sure - the Ring of Honor we knew is over, with ROH announcing that Final Battle 2021 will be the final battle for a while, as they released all talents from their contracts and are looking to restructure, reconfigure, and ‘reimagine’ the company before a relaunch in Spring 2022.
It’d be easy to just sit here and say where the talent should go (Jonathan Gresham to NJPW, Brody King to AEW if you were asking) but we still don’t know what this all actually means. Come Q2 2022 there could still be a Ring of Honor, and many of the stars who have propped it up throughout the years might still be willing to die for the cause. We just don’t know for sure.
If we're realistic though, there are three likely outcomes for ROH; a relaunch, a sale, or an unceremonious death.
If the relaunch does come to fruition, then ROH need to work really hard to find their niche once more.
During their glory days their USP was simple; pure professional wrestling. Yes you had the occasional hardcore war like the blood feud with CZW, but for the most part it was a no-nonsense technical federation, bringing the King’s Road and Strong Styles of All Japan and New Japan to America, and establishing a proper identity whilst every other indie promotion scrambled to fill the void left by ECW.
The problem is, as ROH grew and grew, so did their reputation, inspiring a generation of wrestlers and promoters in the meantime. Now in 2021 if you want pure technical wrestling can you pick a promotion at random and be satisfied; MLW, AEW, GCW through their Bloodsport series, and of course NJPW, who were arguably the biggest benefactors of ROH’s success - all these promotions now do ROH better than ROH do.
It also didn’t help that as every man and his dog discovered ROH, WWE also took note. First they landed CM Punk, then Bryan Danielson, then Vince McMahon and Triple H said “sod it let’s make our own version” hoovered up every good name in the company and funnelled them into NXT.
With NXT becoming the wrestling fan’s wrestling promotion, ROH fought back by strengthening their relationship with NJPW, and threw all their eggs into a Bullet Club shaped basket. But when NJPW realised they didn’t need ROH to fully expand into America, and most of Bullet Club buggered off to start AEW, ROH were in trouble.
To successfully make a second go of things they need to figure out their USP, streamline their product, and simplify their broadcast schedule. It’s frankly a nightmare in the UK trying to figure out where and when to watch ROH’s weekly TV without Honor Club, which considering ROH is owned by the massive Sinclair Broadcast Group is an utter head scratcher.
Going forward, do ROH swallow their pride and attempt to mend fences and step through the forbidden door? Do they follow PWG’s example and just solely run monthly/bi-monthly supershows?
Dave Meltzer has suggested that ROH is set to become a traditional indie promotion with no contracted talent, with TV being classic matches and re-runs until the relaunch. But how will this translate into a weekly TV show and PPV schedule in the future? How can you promote a weekly TV show when you have no control on who will show up? It doesn’t add up to me.
For my money, scenario two seems the most plausible - a sale.
Sinclair are clearly not that bothered about Ring of Honor, but have in their hands a potentially lucrative set of assets, and there are two men who would love to get their hands on them; Antony Rafiq Khan and Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
In the case of Khan, he has significantly flexed his financial muscle in 2021, hoovering up every big name talent on the free market as AEW has grown exponentially. Whilst detractors will scoff and say that he’s going to bankrupt himself, we still don’t have a very clear idea on just how much AEW has spent on wrestler contracts, or how some of these contracts are structured. That’s the joys of being a privately held company after all.
And let’s not forget, the Khans have very very deep pockets, have a great relationship with broadcasters, and are in a good position in the wrestling world.
I’d also like to believe that the wrestling nerd in Khan would want to keep ROH going under his own watch. Whether that’s as a feeder system, a replacement for one of AEW’s YouTube shows, even just another string to his burgeoning pro wrestling empire, you could totally imagine Khan honouring ROH in some way shape or form. Hell, 80 per cent of his roster are from there anyway. So could TK buy ROH? It’s certainly plausible.
As for McMahon, it’d be all about that expansive tape library. TK would like that too - mainly for the rights to All In - but for the content hungry WWE, the company that wants to be ‘the’ destination for pro wrestling, being able to put ROH next to WCW, ECW, and the AWA on the network would be too juicy an opportunity to ignore.
With huge stars like Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, and AJ Styles all being former ROH mainstays there’d be a new wealth of footage when producing documentaries or video packages on them, and it could give some heft when bringing the likes of Kyle O’Reilly up from NXT by calling him a former Ring of Honor World Champion, rather than trotting the old ‘he’s wrestled all over the world’ line.
But it all just depends on Nick Khan opening up that chequebook doesn’t it.
Unfortunately though, with WWE’s global localisation project on hold and with NXT being revamped in a more sports entertainment oriented image, if WWE bought ROH then it’d likely lead to scenario three; the death of ROH.
Like I said, WWE would only be interested in ROH for the tape library. There’s no talent to nab, there’s no name value for the casual fan in running an NXT Death Before Dishonor special, and there’d be no point in keeping ROH active. WWE is a business - a damn successful one to boot - recycling ROH footage would be an easy way to produce content for what would in the grand scheme of things be very little money, anything else would be a waste of their time.
Of course, ROH could end up dying off anyway, regardless of WWE involvement.
Sinclair might just cut their losses and run, bundling all their old DVDs into a box and popping them on the street with ‘GO AHEAD, BUY ALL THIS’ written on the side as Delirious does a soft shoe shuffle for spare change.
Deep down in our hearts we want still ROH to exist, but we’re clouded by memories of Nigel McGuinness, of the Summer of Punk, of Joe vs. Kobashi, and Takeshi Morishima smashing American Dragon’s face in half. But in our heads, we don't want to consider the inconsiderable - that perhaps we, as wrestling fans, know that we don’t need ROH anymore.
With the ‘forbidden door’ being kicked open, brand exclusivity isn’t vital on the indie scene anymore. Most of ROH’s biggest names wrestle other places as it is - just this week Dem Boys the Briscoes won the GCW Tag Titles, whilst Brody King and countless others spent most of the pandemic booting people in half on NJPW STRONG, or floated into PWG to have a jolly old knees up with Super Dragon and the lads.
As such, many of ROH’s roster will be in a good position despite having their contracts cut. The likes of Danhausen will easily find work anywhere, EC3 has options, and Jay Lethal could pick any promotion and waltz in in any capacity. And for those who have burned bridges elsewhere or are ‘not the right fit’ for the bigger companies, if ROH does become re-born as a regular indie then they can always come back.