Moments Ago: The Biggest Stars of the First Five Years of Ring of Honor

Moments Ago: The Biggest Stars from the First Five Years of Ring of Honor

The jury may still be out on who truly gets to be called the biggest star of Ring of Honor for the year 2007. Jay and Mark Briscoe, Nigel McGuinness, and Takeshi Morishima are the frontrunners, but with a returning American Dragon, a rolling Kevin Steen and El Generico, and an emphasis on newer talent the title of best could really go to anyone.

Inside Pulse has been doing feature coverage of the first five years of TNA, but Ring of Honor has been much better if not nearly as high profile five years coinciding with TNA in many ways. They have shared talent borrowed and stole from one another all the way up to the present, but this column is going to look at who were the stars in Ring of Honor during its first five years. You could call it a “Wrestler of the Year” award for each year, but there will be some honorable mentions noted.

Before we get to the column however we will debut a new section in Moments Ago.

Big Andy Mac’s Big Andy Links

First although it is a week old I feel I should draw more attention to my boy and his look at star ratings in the always comprehensive A Modest Response.

Also worth checking out is a work of fiction showing equal amounts comedy and insight from Pulse Wrestling legend GRUT’s look at a fictional meeting between Edge and Matt Hardy which if actually played out on TV would be more compelling than any almost billionaire exploding in a limousine.

Iain Burnside does a stellar job recapping the convoluted history of the NWA/TNA tag team titles.

Lastly is Scott Keith’s rant from the very first TNA ppv which shows that the more things change the more they truly stay the same.

Now on to the column:

2002

Ring of Honor debuted with a colossal bang and truly followed it up through the first five shows. The star of these shows was undoubtedly one man. Low Ki. Fans today may know him as Senshi if they have only seen his TNA work, but he first made his name as the star and focal point of Ring of Honor.

One needs to look no further than his first five RoH appearances to understand the greatness that was Ki. He wrestled in what still may be the best triple threat match in RoH history on the very first show. He wrestled an absolute classic with American Dragon, wrestled AJ Styles in what holds up still as one of AJs best RoH matches, shocked the fans with a state of the art sequence against Amazing Red, and outlasted Spanky, Doug Williams, and Christopher Daniels in a great one hour match to crown the first champion. It was only fitting that the man of the hour was Low Ki.

While Ki was unquestionably the man and the hero of Ring of Honor’s first year, he needed a villain. That villain was personified by Christopher Daniels and his Prophecy feuded with and attacked Low Ki at every turn even bringing in another man who would make some noise in Ring of Honor Samoa Joe. Without the Prophecy feud Ki may not have had as much heat on his matches, but they would have been great regardless.

2003

The first half of 2003 belongs to one man and one man alone: Paul London. He made an otherwise lackluster show must own in 2002 with his no holds barred match against Michael Shane (Serotonin’s Martyr) at Unscripted. But he would ascend to greater heights in 2003. An injury prevented him from teaming with AJ Styles in what would have undoubtedly wound up in a classic tag team title reign.

He did however have a great triple threat match with Low Ki and AJ at the first anniversary show and a classic with Xavier immediately afterwards. He wrestled amazing matches with American Dragon, AJ Styles and Samoa Joe. The match with Joe was the first emotional farewell that Ring of Honor had to experience and he couldn’t have gone out on a higher note.

Many people argue that Homicide was the MVP of 2003, and it is hard to disagree with that fact. The most noteworthy matches Homicide had were against his arch-nemesis Steve Corino. They took violence to a new level with their match at Bitter Friends, Stiffer Enemies and almost killed each other in a no rope barbed wire match at War of the Wire. Homicide also drew the best out of people like BJ Whitmer and others. There may have been years where Homicide had better matches, but in 2003 he was truly RoH’s go to guy for great wrestling.

The true stars of 2003 belong with two men though: CM Punk and Raven. The feud that these two had not only put on classic matches but raised the profile of RoH higher than Joe as champion, London’s farewell, or the Scramble Cage match possibly could. This feud has produced promos that are still unequalled in Ring of Honor and violence that while maybe surpassed has not had as much passionate hatred behind it. In my opinion, Raven vs. Punk has become a blueprint for a great feud, and few things from any other fed have come close to surpassing it.

2004

2004 was the year that Samoa Joe’s reign really took form. When he first won the title many fans were unhappy that a fat guy, from a long ways away, with a strike heavy offense now had the belt, but they were happy to see it off of the current champion. (That scenario sounds awfully familiar, oh well) He had great matches with Jay Briscoe, Homicide, and others. But his greatness would not be at the level it reached if not for one man CM Punk.

The trilogy that these two had was without a doubt the greatest series of matches since Steamboat and Flair in 1989. Their second match was the first American match to receive 5 stars from Dave Meltzer in nearly a decade. Joe turned a random independent wrestling title into one of the most valued in the business. Every champion since Joe has tried to match his reign and only one other person could be argued as coming close. And maybe surpassing?

2004 would not be complete without mentioning four men that truly helped change the face of Ring of Honor. Alex Shelley, Austin Aries, Roderick Strong, and Jack Evans had been kind of middling in Ring of Honor through late 2003 and into 2004. But in June, under the leadership of Alex Shelley they united and took Ring of Honor by storm. They stole the show their first night out with early squashes and a classic eight man match in the semi-main event. They went on to have great matches in tandem or solo the rest of the year and it culminated with Austin Aries ousting Alex Shelley as leader and winning the RoH world title ending the epic reign of Samoa Joe.

2005

2005 was a year of redemption. The first instance came in the form of James Gibson. WWE and WCW fans knew him as Jamie Knoble or Jamie San or Jamie Noble. He was always a solid hand and one of the most competent cruiserweight workers in the world. Controversy led to his dismissal from WWE and his surprising redemption in front of mere hundreds of fans in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and in Florida.

He first showed his ability thumbing his nose at sports entertainment in a match against Spanky. He later wrestled great matches against Black Tiger, Samoa Joe, Homicide, Austin Aries, and then ultimately climbing the RoH mountain in a four-way elimination match for the Ring of Honor world title defeating Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, and CM Punk for the title. His reign was short due to a call back to the big leagues, but he did not leave without having classic matches against Colt Cabana and “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson in a losing effort.

2005 was truly about the summer as much as it was about any other season of the year. The summer of 2005 was the Summer of Punk. It what most were led to believe was his last match, CM Punk defeated Austin Aries for the Ring of Honor World Championship. Without giving the fans time to celebrate with him he turned on them and Ring of Honor paying homage to his recent windfall of a WWE contract. Every show had a sense of urgency. Wrestlers like Roderick Strong, Christopher Daniels, and Jay Lethal tried but were unable to wrest the belt away from him. He finally lost the belt to James Gibson and redeemed himself in the eyes of the Ring of Honor fans.

2006

Last year in Ring of Honor belongs to one man and one man alone: “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson. He held the belt for almost the entire calendar year and on almost every show he didn’t give the undercard a chance to steal it because his match was just that great.

His biggest matches were against Nigel McGuinness, Roderick Strong and Samoa Joe. He wrestled all three men on multiple occasions each delivering a memorable moment. He also had the match of the year against Pro-Wrestling NOAH standout KENTA.

The main reason, to me, that he was the best wrestler that year is that in dominating the competition he also added an air of invulnerability to the title. He took on all comers in the tradition of Ric Flair and Bret Hart, and like those all time greats he made every challenge seem viable. Jimmy Rave had tons of heat, but no one believed he could win the belt. No one believed he could win, until he got in the ring with Danielson, that is.

The best example of this, though, is the challenge of the Lizard Man: Delirious. In a show hyped as a huge title match between Colt Cabana and Bryan Danielson the match went a disappointing five minutes. All was redeemed however when Dragon made an open challenge after intermission which was answered by Delirious. Although every single fan in attendance knew there would be no title change, Danielson had us thinking at every turn that Delirious could win. The subsequent rematches made Delirious even more of a viable contender. He was so viable in fact that in losing he gained credibility, but more importantly Danielson made him look so good in the process that he seemed the better wrestler for turning back such a difficult challenge. Such is the skill of Danielson. Such is the mark of a great champion. Such is the MVP of 2006.

In Conclusion

Well there you have my take on the previous five years in Ring of Honor. This weekend however expect something different from Big Andy Mac which usually has an RoH focus. This weekend I will be covering the Young Lion’s Cup presented by Chikara.

For those of you that don’t know, Chikara is a small indy fed out of Pennsylvania that is run by Mike Quackenbush. They have produced some talent that has seen RoH talent and serves as a training facility that has honed the skills of other RoH stars. Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli are probably the two biggest names associated with Chikara, but not far behind them are Larry Sweeney, Jigsaw, Hallowicked, Gran Akuma, and Quack himself among others. They have a fairly comprehensive website that should answer all questions before I begin my coverage with Night One on Friday.

I’ll see you next time

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