Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic

Beloved independent federation Ring of Honor made their pay-per-view debut last week with the Respect is Earned show, and I took the opportunity to get my very first look at the company that’s sweeping IWC members off their feet and earning loyalty from wrestling fans all over the globe.

TODAY’S ISSUE: Ring of Honor’s Respect is Earned pay-per-view.

The event emanated from the Manhattan Center in New York City, the original home of then-WWF’s Monday Night Raw. From what I’ve read about RoH, they’re the pro wrestling company that shuns “sportz entertainment” and presents only hard-hitting, explosive action and allows their in-ring performance speak for them, rather than glitz, pyro, and over-the-top gimmicks.

Let’s take a look at my first impressions of Ring of Honor, one element at a time.

Production. I’ll be lenient here, since a young company with little capital on it’s very first ppv appearance can’t be expected to come off like a world-class promotion. That being said, the sound was difficult to endure (the crowd noise often overwhelmed the commentators, for example), and since I wanted to learn more about RoH, I often muted the television and read the closed-captioning in order to understand what was being said. There were plenty of good comments being made by the announce team, and a newbie like myself wanted to actually hear them.

The bright red ring canvas with black designs was too much. It often distracted from the action, especially considering most performers wore some variation of red and black ring attire. I’d suggest a light gray mat next time around. The cozy confines of the Manhattan Center made for a terrific atmosphere, as the rabidly loyal fans banged the guardrails in time with ring entrance music, chanted in unison on several occasions, and gave European-style soccer cheers to Swiss grappler Claudio Castagnoli. Like the South Philly throngs for the original ECW and the fans in TNA’s iMPACT! Zone, RoH fans are as hardcore as the action between the ropes, and this enhances the viewers’ appreciation for what they’re seeing in the ring.

Performances. I’m torn here. While the in-ring action was always exciting and fun to watch, most matches on the card sorely lacked the focus of psychology; no stories were told in the ring. There were no extended heat segments, no hope spots, and no triumphant victories after overcoming tremendous odds. For the most part, each match consisted of high spot after high spot, with very poor selling, and far too many near-falls. Each time somebody connected with a devastating finisher or vicious strike, their opponent kicked out at two and shrugged off the effects of the move far to easily and quickly, only to deliver their own amazing attack without scoring the pinfall.

I assume these men were desperate to show their new ppv crowd every move in their arsenal and every trick up their sleeves, but this approach hurt the overall presentation of the product. I’ve watched a LOT of wrestling in my lifetime, and I got to the point during Respect is Earned where I didn’t want to see another kick-out, because the RoH stars continuously made their opponent AND his incredible moves seem weak rather than helping him, the move, and the company get over. It was all too much.

There was a defined heat segment on KENTA in the main event tag team match, but it still took far too much offense to finish him, making The American Dragon’s “cattle mutilator” submission hold look far less impressive in the process. When Danielson tied up KENTA in that move and hit the flip to cinch it in, that should have been the end, but KENTA escaped and survived a few minutes longer before Danielson locked him the submission hold a second time, finally forcing KENTA to tap out at 26:31, about four minute more than necessary.

I’d love to see these great performers slow things down and tell a story in the ring, rather than trying to hit as many unbelievable moves as possible before going home. There’s a time, place, and pacing for outlandish offensive attacks, and using too many of them in a match makes each move that much less special.

My dear friend Tom Walkup who passed away a few years ago used to say the word “f*ck” about 15 times in each sentence, and it took away from the impact of the word. “Fuck, this f*ckin’ pizza tastes ok, but that f*ckin’ one we had the other day was at least ten times f*ckin’ better, sure as f*ck.” I once tried to explain to him that when he really wanted to emphasize something, the word “f*ck” was now useless coming out of his mouth, due to overexposure. That’s what RoH needs to be careful about – not overexposing high spot after high spot and amazing move after amazing move. When used sparingly, the killer finisher can echo like thunder, but when they use the Alpamare Waterslide, Van Terminator, Shadows Over Hell, the super-kick, and other innovative attacks as mere transition moves, they risk turning incredible maneuvers into, well, transition moves. And that’s not the right direction to take match pacing or to build to the finish. The more impact and emphasis on the move the better, not the other way around.

Roster. Matt Sydal, the Briscoe Brothers, Bryan Danielson, Rocky Romero, Kevin Steen, Roderick Strong, Delirious, Nigel McGuinness, and all the other wrestlers in RoH comprise a deep and very capable roster of talented, hungry competitors. The strongest advantage RoH has over other federations right now is this talent pool. Matt Sydal, for one, impressed me far more than during the failed WSX experiment on MTv.

These guys went all out for this show, and I could tell it wasn’t the only time. I’d bet they give everything they’ve got to every crowd for which they perform. I was certainly impressed by what they had to offer in terms of moveset and innovation. I know several of my favorites from TNA are also RoH alumni, including Samoa Joe, Alex Shelley, Austin Aries, Chris Sabin, and many others. RoH is a veritable factory of great performers, and they are fortunate to have a great locker room full of amazing young studs.

Announce Team. Fantastic. I loved the approach Dave Prazak and Lenny Leonard took, calling the action in a controlled way, lending credibility to the action and calling the moves without ever going over the top, and eschewing the standard heel/face tandem cliché. They truly added to my enjoyment of the product, which is the most important part of any announce team’s job description.

Originality. Sadly, I don’t have much positive to say here. From the “lounge lizard” super agent Larry Sweeney talking to the muscle-head personal trainer Tank Toland in the back, to the opening segment featuring B.J. Whitmer running his mouth on the mic in the ring, to the gimmicky character “Delirious” who hails from “the edge of sanity”, to Adam Pearce as Sean O’Haire v2.0, RoH unfortunately tread no new ground in professional wrestling. In fact, their reigning world champion seems to be an attempt to recapture the magic of Samoa Joe’s 21-month run with the RoH strap. Takeshi Morishima is a large, less-than-hardbodied foreigner who uses power and aggressiveness against his generally-smaller opponents. Where’ve I seen that before?

Allow me to clarify. Although the in-ring action lacks the depth of pacing, phsychology, and storytelling, there were literally dozens of innovative, amazing, and impressive manuevers in that two-hour broadcast. That’s where their originality lies: between the ropes. The acrobatic, hard-hitting style of this RoH event was captivating to say the least.

But for a company that’s supposed to be the true pro wrestling alternative, they fell right into the trap of offering the same stuff we’ve all seen for years. Brent Albright – hired gun. Roderick Strong – cocky heel, with stable. KENTA – Japanese buzzsaw. Naomichi Marufuji – see KENTA. Rocky Romero – Chippendale’s wannabe. Even the main event stemming from earlier activities on the card screams old news. And just what WAS the company planning as the main event of their first ever ppv, theoretically one of the most important matches in their 5-year history, that they so easily tossed aside in favor of this tag match which was born from a confrontation earlier on the card?

Overall, I’d be happy to purchase a few 10-dollar RoH ppvs a year, and if they ever secure a one-hour weekly time slot on cable, I’d certainly set the DVR to record it week after week and add RoH columns to my usual repertoire. However, I won’t be scouring the internet for every last Ring of Honor show I can find, and it’d be unlikely that I’d buy many DVDs, other than to find a specific show or match I’d been looking for. If they came anywhere near my home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I’d shell out ticket money to see them live, but I can’t imagine a pilgrimage to the East Coast for Ring of Honor shows. Maybe next time I’m visiting family in Jersey, I’ll add RoH to the list of things to do.

I believe there’s room in the pro wrestling world for Ring of Honor, but in order to take a place as a serious world-wide contender, they need to slow down the in-ring action, allow finishers to finish people, and get a television show on the air. Otherwise, they’ll have to enjoy their current niche as a cult phenomenon rather than a global wrestling powerhouse.

For more on Ring of Honor, check out resident experts Pulse Glazer, Big Andy Mac, and newcomer Ollie Sutherland.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill