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ROH Column

Posted in In My Head by Jack at 00:59, May 08 2007

This ROH Thing

So this week you heard Ring of Honor is going to PPV. You either asked yourself ?Is that a good idea?? or ?What the fuck is Ring of Honor?? I thought it might be a good idea to answer both questions. Skip down to ?Gotta Have a Team to Play? if you don?t feel like reading an introduction to the brand.

Ring of Honor is North America?s most prominent independent wrestling company. It has its own offices, a full staff, and as of last week, a contracted roster. Its owner (Cary Silkin) and celebrated booker (Gabe Sapolsky) have frequently commented that they aren?t an ?indy? at all, but they?re still referred to as such because they tour independent of WWE. ROH goes for a specific niche, building its promotion on high quality wrestling, important championships, mostly clean finishes and simple, logical storylines that create as many matches as possible. It?s marketed to the ?smart? fans that know it?s predetermined by still enjoy the competition and old school storylines. Gabe Sapolsky studied under Paul Heyman in ECW, and while he?s still owed a lot of money, he calls the debt ?tuition for wrestling college.? Until now it has been a straight-to-DVD product, meaning every show was 3-3.5 hours long, so every match received proper time, only occasionally erring on the side of ?too long? as opposed to TNA?s weekly ?too short.? The in-ring style is mostly a hybrid of WCW?s cruiserweight division and 1990?s AJPW physical wrestling, with samples of other things popular on the indies. By putting every event for sale on DVD they?ve become one of the few profitable wrestling companies in the U.S.

Their greatest asset is their amazing ability to scout talent. Similar to ECW?s philosophy of listening to wrestlers? reports from working other territories, they network and discover many of the best independent wrestlers years before major companies hear of them. ROH was the home of Paul London, Brian Kendrick (as Spanky) and CM Punk before their WWE careers. Eddie Guerrero, Super Crazy, MNM?s Joey Mercury (under his real name, Joey Matthews), Jimmy Wang Yang, Justin Credible, Lance Storm and Jamie Noble (under his real name, James Gibson) also toured with ROH when unemployed by the WWE. Guerrero and Noble?s matches in ROH were widely rumored to have helped get them re-hired. Also of interest is former NJPW star and trainee of Shawn Michaels, Bryan Danielson, whose considerable wrestling talent and political connections to his teacher, Chris Benoit and William Regal, earned him multiple offers to join WWE. Danielson turned down every offer to remain in what he calls on camera, ?wrestling freedom.? WWE recently hired ROH stars Colt Cabana and Ace Steel.

TNA has enjoyed even more of Ring of Honor?s alumni. ROH was responsible for refining and energizing the careers of Christopher Daniels, Low Ki (now Senshi), the Amazing Red, AJ Styles, Martyr (as Michael Shane), Jay Lethal, Austin Starr (as Austin Aries), LAX?s Homicide, and Samoa Joe. Though relationships with other independent companies had more influence on their careers, Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin, Kaz (as Frankie Kazarian), Sonjay Dutt and LAX?s Hernandez all came through ROH before entering TNA. TNA has also used CM Punk (before dropping him; WWE subsequently picked him up years later), Paul London (similar to Punk?s case), Delirious and Nigel McGuinness. Despite TNA?s fetish for WWE stars and its relationships to northern indies, only the now-defunct WCW produced more TNA employees.

While considerably smaller than WWE, Ring of Honor has had many high profile guests. They?ve hosted Eddie Guerrero, Bobby Heenan, Jim Cornette, J.J. Dillon, Mick Foley, Ricky Steamboat, Baron Von Raschke, Abdullah the Butcher, the Midnight Express, Dusty Rhodes and Bruno Sammartino. Guerrero and Butcher actually wrestled for them, while others served as managers or gave speeches, and in 2006 Sammartino, a legend who was widely thought to hate every promotion in modern wrestling, gave Ring of Honor his approval during a rare live appearance in Manhattan.

ROH has also hosted Japanese legends such the Great Muta, Satoshi Kojima, Jushin Liger and Kenta Kobashi, all of who wrestled for the promotion. In 2005 Kobashi had what many considered the best match of the year with Samoa Joe. Mitsuharu Misawa, the champion and booker of Japan?s largest wrestling company (NOAH), is rumored to appear for Ring of Honor at the end of 2007. The positive impression ROH made on the Japanese legends spurred them to send their hottest rising stars to train with and perform for the company, including KENTA, Takeshi Morishima, Makoto Hashi, Naomichi Marufuji (including when he visited New York for the first ever defense of the GHC Heavyweight Championship on U.S. soil), Dragon Kid, Naruki Doi, Susumu Yokusuka and CIMA, all of whom will appear on Ring of Honor?s pay per views. As an indication of its strong relationship with Japan?s NOAH promotion, Takeshi Morishima became ROH?s world champion in February of this year. Ring of Honor will visit Japan over the summer, and return to the United Kingdom for its third visit later this year.

In return for the respect they show, several ROH wrestlers have seen great success abroad. ROH star Nigel McGuinness won the King of Europe tournament this past April. In 2006 ROH?s Matt Sydal won Dragon Gate?s Open the Brave Gate Championship, and brought the title back to ROH for its first ever defense on U.S. soil during ROH?s Fifth Year Festival. Most remarkably Mark and Jay Briscoe became the first American team to ever win NOAH?s GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team titles in 2006.

If you?re completely new to ROH and haven?t checked out a DVD yet, you can check out rohwrestling.com. One easy way to sample the product is to check out its ?Best Of? DVD?s, which give you about a dozen matches from a wrestler?s tenure in ROH. They?re mostly for wrestlers who later went to WWE or TNA, such as Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, CM Punk or Paul London, so you can see someone you are familiar with (and hopefully already like) in the ROH environment. Alternatively, you can jump into the product. Given that it?s over five years old, if you want to go chronologically it?s smart to start in 2005 or 2006. 2005?s Manhattan Mayhem is considered the best sampler show, is often discounted to $10, and is the beginning of a run of very interesting shows. If you want to get into what?s going on right now try International Challenge and Final Battle 2006, the final two shows from 2006, which set up the early part of 2007. The most recent string of shows was the Fifth Year Festival, a six-show extravaganza celebrating the company and bidding farewell to Samoa Joe as he left the promotion for fulltime work in TNA. ROHwrestling.com runs a sale about every month, so it?s smart to check every Tuesday until you hit on a ?Buy 3, get 1 Free? or ?15% off? sale before placing a sizable order. I believe every live show has some kind of sale, and pretty much every DVD is sold by the vendors.

Gotta Have a Team to Play

Alright, we all know ROH produced Samoa Joe, CM Punk, Christopher Daniels, Homicide, Senshi and the Hooliganz ? but they aren?t there now. After April 28th?s ?Good Times, Great Memories? show, ROH is without Colt Cabana, Christopher Daniels, Shingo Takagi, Austin Aries and Homicide. Even if you?re new to ROH, you can tell whatever company lost five of its top guys in one weekend is in a little bit of trouble. Who are they going to rely on now?

In the May 5th ROH Newswire, Gabe Sapolsky announced that ?a roster of talent? was signed to exclusive contracts, meaning they wouldn?t be snatched away by bigger companies. He listed Bryan Danielson, Nigel McGuinness, Roderick Strong, Davey Richards, Rocky Romero, Jay Briscoe and Mark Briscoe. That is a good start as McGuinness, Strong, Danielson and the Briscoes have been responsible for the majority of the highly heralded ROH matches in the last two years, excluding other stars that have already left for TNA and WWE. Strong, Richards and Romero also make up ROH?s current top faction, the No Remorse Corps, so they are also set. The Briscoes are ROH?s tag champions, while their current singles champion is under contract with NOAH, allowing him to be on ROH PPV, but excluding him from being signed by WWE or TNA for the foreseeable future.

More contracted talent will be revealed when their roster site launches later this month. But that shouldn?t keep any voracious fan from speculating.

The first man not on that list that they need to sign is Brent Albright. In WWE as Gunner Scott he was average sized, but in Ring of Honor he is a hulk. He has amazing technical ability and aside from ROH champion Takeshi Morishima, he is their best big man. Even live you are impressed by his size and never doubt that he could break your neck. He has obviously been studying tapes of Taz and Mike Awesome from their ECW days and emulates the very best parts of their performances. He?s created the perfect niche for himself as the ?gun for hire? who can effectively work as a face or heel against anyone on the card, so you can switch him to whatever role you like. This is helpful as the crowds are already waiting to cheer for him. Since his debut in the Fall of 2006 Albright has never had a match in ROH that fan consensus rated any lower than ?good,? which means a lot coming from that extremely picky fanbase. The last ex-WWE employee to hit Ring of Honor and carve such a genuine niche was Jamie Noble (under his real name, James Gibson). Within one year he proved himself, became one of ROH?s most beloved stars, and was both utilized better and performed to higher standards than you have ever or will ever see out of him in WWE. With ROH?s award-winning booking, you can be certain Albright can be the next ex-WWE success story in ROH, so long as they can sign him. It is an important note that WWE is rumored to want him back. That is the only thing that really stands in the way of Albright?s future in the company.

Despite not being a founding father of ROH, Jack Evans is one of the most over guys at live events. He was cheered against Homicide in his hometown of New York City, which is damn near impossible. Unlike many high flyers, Evans has boisterous charisma to back up his wrestling skills. His cocky, mouthy, break dancing character would stand out in any cruiserweight or X-division. It doesn?t hurt that he does some of the most mind-bending spots in wrestling, and that he can contort his body to bump and sell like no one else in Ring of Honor. The only truly comparable high flyer is Britain?s PAC, who has one tenth of Evans? character. He plays a great underdog, his comebacks are amazing, and his offense is so outrageous that he?s believable in nearfalls against top guys who should always beat him. Evans has also become much more crisp in his striking game, something ROH fans always appreciate. His working relationship with Japan?s Dragon Gate (and his having a longstanding girlfriend over there) makes it extremely unlikely that he would leave for WWE or TNA, instead playing on ROH and PWG, who are happy to cater to his American schedule. He was not on the roster portion of the video ROH released announcing their PPV deal, but this is explainable by him being out of the country for the next two months, and hence missing all live shows and the PPV taping.

Matt Sydal was one of the most improved wrestlers of 2006, noticeably sharpening some part of his game every few months. He has a passion for improvement like few independent wrestlers, and definitely deserves a nod. Recently he?s developed a pretty boy personality that is one of the more watchable renditions of the cocky heel on the indies, played just enough to excuse his eye-popping aerial offense, and making him a perfect target for beatings. Along with Evans, Sydal?s bumps are among the best on the indies, and he?s worked very hard on bringing his selling up to par with them. He is also a favorite of Japan?s Dragon Gate promotion, so keeping him in ROH helps maintain their positive relationship. However, Sydal is also a favorite of Christopher Daniels and AJ Styles (which you can tell just by seeing how often they tag with him in various promotions), and as a part of the recent WSX project, he?s probably in TNA?s sights. If he?s willing and his WSX contract won?t hold him up, they should sign him soon. Given that he is working exclusively on the American indies right now, his exclusive from the PPV announcement video is disconcerting.

The most promising newcomer is Mike Quackenbush. The senior teacher at the Chikara Wrestle Factory, he has been a big splash in almost every indy he?s ever worked for, including the one he started. That company, Chikara Pro, is also responsible for current ROH superstar Delirious. Not only is Quackenbush a gifted wrestler, but if properly incorporated into Ring of Honor he could easily become the next teacher for their wrestling school (previous teachers were CM Punk, Austin Aries and Bryan Danielson). At the very least a strong relationship with him means more of his own school?s promising students will be directed to ROH. Having studied Lucha, European and Japanese wrestling so thoroughly, he?s proven to be able to have a good match with a visitor from any country ROH is looking at, as well as having a great track record with current ROH wrestlers Bryan Danielson, Claudio Castagnoli and Chris Hero. There is no one wrestler on the independents who can have quite as good aerial and technical matches, and to boot, he?s a very good promo guy. If Ring of Honor backs him and signs him to an exclusive deal, I guarantee you TNA will be kicking itself for missing out within two years.

There are a lot of other wrestlers ROH should hold onto. Delirious and El Generico are wonderfully entertaining ? however, they?re also tiny and use lighthearted gimmicks to help get over. That?s very fun on the indies, but it?s never helped someone get signed by the big companies (except Sharkboy). Delirious evening had tryouts with TNA, and they neglected to sign him. Similarly Claudio Castagnoli is an extremely entertaining babyface, using simple offense and catchphrases (you try getting everyone at your place of work to happily yell ?Hey!? every time you raise your arms) to great effect. Yet even when WWE had a contract ready for him, they had second thoughts and sent him back. Jimmy Jacobs is also a very valuable player after the huge success of the Lacey?s Angels program, but his ACL injury makes him an unlikely target for any big company in the immediate future. These are guys who could mean a lot of ROH, but who aren?t close to the flight risks of a Brent Albright or Matt Sydal.

Views on Pay Per View

ROH has inked deals to produce six shows, one every 60 days. Their first show will be taped next weekend, but will begin running on services like InDemand on July 1st. It will then be available for order at any time over the next two months, before the new show becomes available. While ROH doesn?t have production quality anywhere near TNA?s level, they will have plenty of time to touch up their work. Gabe Sapolsky has already promised that there will be several minor upgrades to production, though they intend the in-ring product to be the focus. They intend to continue to follow their niche, and have already set up a site (www.rohaffiliates.com/) to help existing fans find where they can order these shows. They also have rohvideos.com set up with roster videos, free (but short) matches, and videowires explaining storylines for newcomers, and Sapolsky commented that the PPV shows will be geared so that anyone will be able to enjoy them, not just the existing faithful.

According to Sapolsky, the television companies have not set minimum of buys for the first show. ROH merely has to send them the tape and they will put it on the service. It looks like ROH will simply receive a portion of the revenues without any significant financial investment, making it quite different from the disastrous attempt at a regular TV show that they tried a few years ago. Rather this is to be a very low-stress venture where they can either succeed and gain a new following on pay-to-view TV, or where they can fail and go home with a few additional DVD customers picked up from all the new markets they?ll be exposed in. Companies like InDemand are plugged into cable and dish services that have a lot of self-advertising space to fill and have the impetus to promote new products, so ROH may even receive a healthy degree of free or very low cost advertising. With some companies already announcing a $9.95 price tag, they?re in good shape as an impulse buy, and at two hours they compete with most movies in that same impulse market. It?s also a substantial bragging right for the company; PWG and IWA:MS haven?t come near such a venture. Already many former ROH employees have contacted them about returning with the promise of national exposure.

But at six shows a year and two hours per show, Ring of Honor has another significant way to gain. Their average show is over three hours long. If someone loves they show they just saw, they can buy the full ?uncut? version on DVD. ROH does about thirty shows a year, so anyone interested in these six has almost two-dozen additional DVD?s to scope out by the end of their contract. While the PPV shows are supposed to be set up for anyone to follow, anyone who checks it out has the opportunity for a deeper appreciation of the product and becomes a potential regular customer. With $10 DVD sales popping up on their site every three months for older titles, ROH also suggests to the same buying base who initially invested for an InDemand show at $9.95 to sample other parts of their history which they can also follow, in addition to full-priced current content. Given ROH?s passionate crowd is one of its greatest strengths, viewers also may be compelled to go to these events themselves, to be a part of it. Just in terms of advertising, it?s a huge potential success for the company.

One of the best parts of the ROH live experience is the music. The rhythm and lyrics of certain themes become intrinsic to the characters, and sometimes entrances get bigger pops than any highspot in the matches. One reason is that they use real music, not in-house stock stuff like most of WWE and all of TNA?s themes are. In the past fans wondered if ROH was going to be sued over using the works of L.L. Cool J., A.F.I., Marilyn Manson and Hank Williams Jr. While it is a shame to see the likes of Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels depart ROH, it does help in licensing themes. Ring of Honor is indeed in talks with paying for the licenses to all their theme songs, but they don?t have to worry about many of the higher price tag bands that were associated mostly with everyone who left over the last two years. Most of ROH?s remaining wrestlers either use songs from classic bands that tend to come cheaper (Bryan Danielson with Europe, Mike Quackenbush with Tears for Fears) or use music from smaller bands than benefit from exposure (such as Roderick Strong with Misery Signals, Brent Albright with Clayed and Stitched). In the past WWE has taken advantage of smaller bands or artists to help add variety to their own music library without much cost. Considering that they are working with major media providers, ROH should also receive a little assistance in lenient pricing. As of right now, it looks like most of the iconic songs will be staying.

Television is daunting for most wrestling companies. Attempts at TV helped sink MLW, ECW on TNN and most recently WSX on MTV. Television also hasn?t helped TNA, which floats adrift at 30,000 buys per show with over 1,000,000 viewers on Spike ? and TNA is only still alive because of the millions of dollars Panda Energy pumps into the project. ROH tried its hand at a small television deal early in its career, and the lack of ad revenues, fees for broadcasting and production demands nearly killed them. Only WWE, with its huge production resources and allies in media, has managed to make televised wrestling profitable in this decade.

Yet ROH isn?t trying to get on free television. It?s well known that networks have a hand in choosing who gets pushed or featured, and both Silkin and Sapolsky have frequently commented that they don?t want to have to compromise their product. This would mean censoring content, cutting edgier angles, paying huge sums to recognized superstars, putting with their egos, protecting them in booking, and ultimately deviating from the formula for a product they know has sold in the past. While a niche product, ROH is the second biggest profitable wrestling company in the United States. Going straight to InDemand and Dish pay per view with means few restrictions and no worries about advertising revenues, something that is still a pain in WWE?s ass. All they really have to worry about is how many curious buyers will put down money again for the second show in September.

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