Cult of ROH: Tournament!

It seems like I’m writing about the tag titles a lot. They’ve been the strangest story in Ring of Honor this year. In December the Age of the Fall dethroned the Briscoes after a landmark title reign. In January they fumbled the titles to the No Remorse Corps in a stacked “Ultimate” Ultimate Endurance match. After a few title defenses (where they kicked around Jigsaw), the No Remorse Corps lost the titles back to the Briscoes. Mark Briscoe was either already injured or was injured the next weekend, but in either case he had to take time off and the belts were handed over to Jay Briscoe and his new chosen partner, Austin Aries. They kept them for one match before abdicating the belts. On June 6th there will be a tournament to determine new champions.

A little chaos is good in wrestling. It prevents stories from growing stale. You can’t have a series of long titles reigns without them becoming too predictable (that same predictability damaged the crowd heat for McGuinness/Castagnoli this past weekend), so you throw unexpected losses in there. A great surprise, like Austin Aries at Final Battle 2004 or CM Punk at Death Before Dishonor 3, can immortalize a show and start a new champion off with substantial momentum. If things become too predictable then people become bored and would just as soon read the results tomorrow instead of spending money on travel and a GA ticket.

But too much chaos is the worst thing that can happen to wrestling. It saps the meaning out of victories and titles. With no sense of what should happen and without the satisfaction of things being built and climaxing, fans grow apathetic or bitter. TNA is the model of too much chaos. It can be downright unwatchable.

Ring of Honor is quite watchable, but its tag title scene is fast becoming too convoluted. I’m a pretty forgiving fan (unlike some, I watch wrestling for fun – though every week I suspect more people watch it to be disappointed and complain). I thought the title changes early this year were interesting. I can even look at the team of Jay Briscoe and Austin Aries as necessary by way of precedent (BJ Whitmer substituted Jimmy Jacobs for Dan Maff after the latter’s departure from the company), but I need something. It’s time for stability in this division. More rightly, June 6th is the time for stability.

Jay Briscoe abdicated the titles. Apparently it was in his ability, and he wants to hold them with his brother, not a former rival. He picked Aries to help get some physical revenge over the men who stabbed his brother. He cared so little for a sustained title reign with anyone but his brother that he abandoned his new partner to get mauled after he’d made his point. Fine.

Mark Briscoe can return in September and the brothers can claim they never lost those titles. They were the longest-reigning champions, they were the best, they beat Steen & Generico, Jacobs & Black, Richards & Romero, and Rodgers & Hammerstein. They can get their big title rematch against whoever the new champions are, and people will watch it. They’ll watch it because it will be a big return for a big team, and they’ll watch it because the Briscoes have been the strongest booked team in the company’s history. Even if the new champions are built as paragons of wrestling, the Briscoes could pin them and end their reign on their first weekend back. Some of us will watch praying they don’t. That excitement and morbid interest will be easy to tap.

Until then, let’s do the right thing. On June 6th, less than a month from now, the ROH is running a tournament in Hartford, CT to crown new champions. The format hasn’t been announced, and nobody outside the ROH offices knows who will win, but we all can recognize the most satisfying ending. The ending won’t be on the night of June 6th, but carried on for months afterwards. Let the new champions fly.

Why not Kevin Steen and El Generico? Does Steen have to pursue singles gold just because other companies make those belts more prestigious? Does he have to wait to the end of the year to make good on his championship promise? We’ve seen that show with Homicide. And they’re the best team in ROH now. Last year there was a legitimate dispute over who the best team was, but no longer, even with the Briscoes in action. Kevin Steen and El Generico are dynamic, fresh, can fly, can wrestle technically or with power, and they have not gone stale with overexposure.

Why not the Age of the Fall? They’ll be prime targets for when the Briscoes return anyway. A longer, stronger tag title run will help continue to build Tyler Black’s stock with McGuinness’ iron grip on the singles title. Jacobs can use the belts for further leverage over the company, and perhaps elevate their prestige by turning back Austin Aries and a series of dream partners.

Why not Roderick Strong and Davey Richards in a real title run this time? It would give Strong the direction he needs, provided you put them in high profile feuds. All Strong is lacking right now is that sense of purpose, a little like Aries was in the middle of last year. He and Richards are the best roughneck pairing of the NRC trio (check out their stuff together in PWG), and you could have Sweeney continue to try and court them, this time trying to buy champions into his stable.

It’s been a poor year for tag wrestling so far. WWE is on a prolonged crusade to make its tag titles meaningless, most recently having Chris Jericho pretty much single-handedly defeat the Miz and Morrison and turning perennial jobbers Santino and Carlito into perennial #1 contenders who can’t last ten minutes against anyone. TNA is even worse, putting the tag titles up in an abysmally confusing tournament. As Dave Meltzer put it on Between the Ropes, “When belts don’t matter, what does a tournament for belts mean?”

In this climate confusing tag title booking looks worse. A strong direction under the Age of the Fall or Steen & Generico would look great in comparison to what WWE and TNA have done, but after so much hot potatoing of the ROH tag titles, they’ve given many fans the impression that they don’t know what they’re doing. We haven’t just seen one or two quick changes, and the latest change looks incredibly arbitrary.

ROH can escape this easily. Pick a popular team to win the Hartford tournament and push them to the moon afterwards. I recommend Steen & Generico or the Age of the Fall, though another duo from the No Remorse Corps (preferably Strong and Richards) could also work. In any case, give the one team you pick some compelling rivalries against the two that don’t win the tournament. If the semi-finals or finals matches are blow-aways then spin them into money rematches that elevate both teams. Keep this team strong so that they can have something big with the Murder City Machine Guns in August. Let them defend against the proud Briscoe brothers upon their return. The Briscoes will have both the in-storyline cause of never being beaten for the belts, and the out-of-storyline heat of being booked so strong that they could beat anybody. After all, they do.

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