Cult of ROH: The Bit Players

Ring of Honor can’t run perpetual supercards, and no company can make everyone a main eventer. Even at the height of the Attitude Era when almost every WWF “superstar” had some sort of direction or storyline, many of them were still bit players. So, too, does Ring of Honor have its bit players. They’re a necessary class of characters who can wrestle short matches and fill specific roles. None of them are supposed to steal the show – not yet, anyway.

But some who play bit roles today may be groomed for bigger things later. Recall Jimmy Jacobs as the little hussing caveman who was almost cut from the roster; today he’s a focal point of ROH’s most interesting storyline (and it’s not his first time in such a spot, either). Jimmy Rave was a generic indy flippy guy, before taking off in the Embassy. You could argue that even Samoa Joe was a bit player, a mercenary who was supposed to hurt Low Ki (and lose) in his first match, and quite possibly never show up in Ring of Honor again after that. Of course, Joe didn’t remain in that role for long, but the bit players are essential in filling out cards. Some may explode down the line, while all of them have jobs right now.

These guys aren’t taking up a spot on the roster that could go to your favorite indy guy. Kicking Pelle Primeau off the main show won’t cause ROH to bring in Josh Abercrombie or Scott Lost. These men are filling out basic roles. Let’s have a look at them.

Adam Pearce
He tops out most people’s lists of “Who I’d Fire,” quite possibly because they don’t know who they really want to fire. Pearce wrestles almost exclusively in either short singles matches or as an extra in tag matches. If Brent Albright needs a partner, then you stick Pearce in there. If Claudio Castagnoli needs to beat a physically bigger bad guy than usual, you stick Pearce in there. His one major feud was with Delirious, which was the very definition of an undercard feud, barely ever even cracking the second half of a card. He usually bumps well and makes smaller opponents look capable. Time and time again he’s shown he was willing to take one for the team, whether it meant getting decked by the Necro Butcher or embarrassed by Delirious. In fact, he seems to live to make other people look better at his expense. One out of every three moves he does is done so the other guy can reverse it. One of the highlights of the scramble at Rising Above was Pearce swooning in the middle of a long chain of offense – apparently unable to keep up anymore. It gave the audience a moment to laugh, breathe and release from all the incredible stuff that had unfolded in front of them.

ROH has no apparent designs of making him a main event player, and they showed that when they made him the mouthpiece of the Hangmen 3, or the Underest of the Undercard Stables. He cut some promos and Pay Per View, then proceeded to not wrestle any big matches at all. They served as filler teams in “Ultimate” Ultimate Endurance. They feuded with Delirious with the purpose of showcasing the guy even though it had since become evident ROH had no intention of elevating him afterwards.

He plays a very small role very well. He doesn’t have to win or be pushed. He just needs a microphone every so often, and his awful little manservant. In fact, that brings us to…

Shane Hagadorn
Hagadorn appears to have found his role in life. Sadly for his parents, his role is the ROH equivalent of that little giggling monster than lived on Jabba the Hut’s crotch. Adam Pearce serves as Jabba.

All Hagadorn does is stand on the apron (or the floor), cackle, jeer, and occasionally get the Hell beaten out of him. He is one of the few ROH wrestlers who has probably been smacked around more often than he’s wrestled in matches. His matches are short and he goes for simple heat. He’s not as crisp or engaging as Pelle Primeau,

And he’s quite good at it. He stands on the apron, laughs, and gets punked out. When he actually wrestles he goes for simple heat – like using the F-U. He’s very limited in the ring so whether or not he can develop into something better later, this at least gives him experience.

Bobby Dempsey
Everyone’s favorite bit player in ROH, his role is almost entirely being embarrassed and beaten by Sweet and Sour Inc. His most recent character development was being forced to stand at ringside without a shirt on.

He is either a master actor or is incredibly uncomfortable at this level, as he is almost perpetually looking clueless or uneasy. Most of his popularity has really come from the charismatic people who abused him. If he is actually uncomfortable it would explain why ROH hasn’t broken him from the group in the rebellion storyline for which so many fans have called. Further, if that is the case and ROH does something major with him it could be a disastrous disappointment. Nothing pisses off smark fans (like the majority of ROH’s fanbase) more than long anticipation leading to a lackluster culmination. Just look at what they did with the 4/20 “big announcement,” or the outrage over Sal Rinauro joining The Embassy.

Pelle Primeau
Given his recent change of attire, perhaps Mr. Primeau expects to be doing something soon. He really does look like an even smaller Paul London, something few fans even imagined possible. Regardless, he serves as the plucky little guy who gets the holy Hell beaten out of him. Sometimes Tank Toland slips on a banana peal and Primeau gets a victory, and sometimes he can go toe-to-toe with other students, but his general role is rather obvious. Recently he’s been pasted into some tag matches with a bit more of a profile role, but he was annihilated in two out of three of those, too.

Primeau is probably the best ROH school student in the ring. He has a phenomenal ability to connect to crowds through underdog selling, some impressive offense (but not too impressive – that would ruin it), and a general aura of it being impossible for this little guy to ever win a match. He takes a lot from the old ECW’s Mikey Whipwreck, and like Whipwreck, he could break out in a tag team. A giant partner like Erick Stevens or Claudio Castagnoli could be what he needs, especially since while the elation of every victory he’s ever gotten overcame any unbelievability, a strong partner would make a growing streak of victories more believable. Potentially he could break away from the successful tag team down the line and become a more serious singles competitor when he develops, as Jimmy Jacobs did from his team with B.J. Whitmer.

Now if only Ring of Honor would grant Rhett Titus a similar opportunity.

Poor Jigsaw. I think ROH wants him to amount to something and tried to give him a chance in de-masking, but it flopped. He’s gone from getting criticized for being the generic ROH masked wrestler (which was absurd – he was one of only three masked guys on the roster) to the generic flippy indy guy (of whom there are certainly more on the roster). Now Evans and Ruckus are in tag title contention and Jigsaw’s potential feud with Eddie Kingston has stalled out. The biggest thing he’s done is decisively lose to Rocky Romero and Davey Richards in tag title matches. His mentor, the perennial fan favorite Mike Quackenbush, is out of ROH for the foreseeable future, cutting off that option. Unlike others on this list, Jigsaw has sadly been reduced to a bit player.

Jigsaw is one of the crispest flyers in Ring of Honor. He doesn’t miss targets anywhere near as frequently as Ruckus. Perhaps the best frame of comparison is on the Reckless Abandon DVD, when Jigsaw, Seth Skyfire, Silas Young and Human Tornado were all in short showcase-style matches where they were given the chance to impress. Jigsaw was noticeably more fluid and able to go with what Hero gave him than the other three men were (against Castagnoli, McGuinness, and Richards and Stevens, respectively). Tornado and Young have other obvious strengths, but it was evident that of all the young, athletic flyers out there, Jigsaw was just about the best investment. His nimble mat game didn’t hurt, either (thanks, Mr. Quackenbush).

Maybe that BLKOUT feud will re-materialize. Maybe he’ll put the mask back on (his de-masking was so arbitrary that it is possible, especially if he falls out with Julius Smokes). But right now he is a wrestler who generally loses, puts on 10-15 minute athletic-based matches, and does so with more creativity and ability than most of the guys who could play a similar role. His recent victory over Joey Matthews could signal that ROH is going to try to do more, but we shouldn’t get our hopes up.

Joey Matthews
James Gibson, Jimmy Yang, Tank Toland, Brent Albright, Stevie Richards, Daniel Puder, Zach Gowen – Ring of Honor jumps at the chance for ex-WWE talent. They might help ticket sales or draw attention, and some of them (most notably Gibson) really fit in with ROH’s style. But most of them never found a proper direction, and some went straight to bit roles. Matthews is such a man.

His basic role is interesting. Matthews suffered real life trials and his character claims to have come through them thanks to help from the Age of the Fall. Since then he returned to ROH and aligned with the anti-establishment faction, fighting anyone they asked; tagging with Jimmy Jacobs, going after Mark Briscoe and Kevin Steen, etc. He’s only won one of these matches since he came back, meaning he’s also picked up the common ex-WWE-guy trait of giving the rub to ROH wrestlers. Most recently he lost to Jigsaw in what may be the beginning of Jigsaw’s push.

He’s technically sound, experiments with crowd interaction and makes his opponents look very good in defeat. Even if his first match with Kevin Steen was slow, Steen looked strong in making him submit. He’s competent enough and still has enough of the WWE shine on him that the loss to Jigsaw was an upset. Where he truly excels, though, is tag wrestling. His best match back so far was teaming with Jacobs against Roderick Strong and Rocky Romero in a fast-paced match that had actual sympathy to it and showed that Matthews can still go. Given how much Johnny Nitro (now John Morrison) improved while tagging with Matthews, it might be a good idea to have somebody paired with him regularly.

Zach Gowen
Gowen is like Matthews but even lower on the totem pole. No one has mentioned that this outcast from WWE helped dig his own grave by lying about a relationship with Hulk Hogan. ROH isn’t that interested in his character. He wrestles exclusively in filler roles when Jacobs, Black and Butcher are busy and in need of an extra hand. Still, he has some phenomenal ability for a man with one leg – see his performance at Eye of the Storm where his offense was the only redeeming value in the tag match.

Gowen’s is such a small and nondescript role that he could easily be swapped out for another anti-establishment type without being noticed. It’s funny that such a role exists in the Age of the Fall.

Is there anyone you could see playing these roles better? Anyone who you think belongs on the list? Leave your thoughts below.


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