Cult of ROH: A Look at the Students

With the next class of the ROH Wrestling School starting up soon, it’s time to check how the recent crops have been doing. CM Punk, Bryan Danielson and Austin Aries have taught at the school, with Delirious currently running things. That’s pretty good selection of guys who succeeded in the independent wrestling environment. Yet the first class didn’t materialize quickly, and its star, Davey Andrews, dropped off the face of the earth shortly after showing promise. Since then Pelle Primeau, Bobby Dempsey, Shane Hagadorn and others have shown potential. How much is there to these guys?

I know some of the ROH students have gotten shots in Chikara and assorted indies, but I haven’t seen much of it. Please drop me a comment or e-mail if you’ve made an impression of their work abroad.

Pelle Primeau
Primeau’s gotten surprisingly good. I write “surprisingly” because he was really the first student to show promise after Davey Andrews disappeared, and the bar has been so low for students that Primeau showing real talent was impressive. He can bump and sell like he’s being butchered, he has some nice aerial offense to help neutralize his size, and he connects with crowds to make every upset victory means something (even if one of those hasn’t happened in a while). With a talented lead he can participate in a really fun match. ROH believes that, which is why they put his Double Feature match with Roderick Strong online for free. Give it a look. I’ll wait.

Short, but one of the best singles matches featuring a student to date. He’s found his way into tag matches lately, teaming with Erick Stevens and his teacher, Delirious. Tags may be the best place for him, where he can work highly sympathetic selling and self-sacrificing offense into longer matches with the aid of a stronger, more reliable partner. While no one buys him dethroning Nigel McGuinness, with the proper build and partner he could be a tag title contender. Delirious is his scheduled partner for the Connecticut tournament, though in the long run a larger, stronger partner may be better for him, like Stevens or Brent Albright. The size difference would only accentuate his current strengths, as well as give his tag matches a distinct dynamic, rather than giving him someone of comparable size or style.

Bobby Dempsey
Gabe Sapolsky wasn’t lying when he called Bobby Dempsey “one of the most popular members of the roster.” Crowds love Dempsey, though they loved him a little more with his gut covered. He’s a very sympathetic player, skirting the line between really uncomfortable in his role and a character who is at a total loss in front of Larry Sweeney. I still can’t figure out which he really is, and I don’t have to. He’s fun as he is.

Will he break out or is he a tool for Sweet & Sour Inc.? The time to strike was several months back if he was supposed to turn against the group, though he still could and it wouldn’t be the first time ROH was late to pull the trigger on something. Yet he’s a great tool for his faction, serving as a proper catalyst for Brent Albright’s rebellion at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Long before that, abusing Dempsey was a great way for Sweeney and Hero to turn crowds against them when their (very entertaining) act made it difficult. In fact, Sweeney used Dempsey for such ends on releases as recent as Double Feature. But will he always be stuck in the silent, hapless role of a lackey, or will he go on his own? And if so, the bigger question no one has yet raised is whether or not he can handle that. As much as Sweeney and Hero have leached from him in front of live crowds, their abuse built him far higher than he ever had on his own, and he’s largely untested in ROH main show matches.

Ernie Osiris
Current holder of the Top of the Class trophy, Osiris is still looking for a regular role. Presently he gets the standard student role of being crushed when ROH needs an extra body. His first main card appearance was in April 2007 when he lost to Sara Del Rey in an intergender singles match, one of ROH’s many attempts to legitimize women’s wrestling to their picky fanbase. Sadly, Osiris showed more personality than Del Rey did, but she’d go on to get the spotlight in the pale imitation of SHIMMER that regularly appears on ROH cards. He mugs well, has a pretty good Standing Shooting Star Press, and seems as fundamentally competent as any of the students so far. Hopefully he continues to develop.

Shane Hagadorn
Living life as an extra in Sweet & Sour Incorporated is a sweet gig. He’s got a definite sense of personality that outstrips his wrestling ability. See the extras on Man Up when he played off of Albright slapping him, repeating, “I deserved that!” over and over. See him playing the detestable, grinning lackey for Larry Sweeney on the Wrestlemania shows. Or check out the latest videowire where Brent Albright turned on the faction. Not only did Hagadorn take one of the scariest falls I’ve seen (if nothing else, showing devotion to the role), but Hagadorn visibly played off of Albright, Sweeney and Johnny Fairplay when other stablemates were standing around. He’s a particularly loathsome lackey at Adam Pearce’s side, where he plays his equivalent of the cackling crotch monster to Pearce’s Jabba the Hutt. He makes me want to see him get smacked and is satisfying to see get destroyed, which is about as much as you could ask from a student in a manager role.

Mitch Franklin
Owner of one of the freakiest bodies in professional wrestling. He’s short, but so is almost everyone in ROH. But his legs are abnormally short, and his trunk is abnormally long. He looks like a wrestling action figure that was left out in the sun. While he’s not particularly compelling in the ring yet, I’m blown away any time a match ends and he hasn’t snapped in half. Any aerial moves (like his Victory Roll Faceplant) are much more impressive than usual because he doesn’t look built to be capable of doing them, or at least doesn’t look like his center of gravity should permit them. It’s mesmerizing. It may be impossible for a wrestling journalist to critique Mitch Franklin. Consult a Physics or Sculpture professor instead.

In all seriousness, Franklin falls into a category of generic and inconsistent students. Alex Payne is another, whose most outstanding feature is a nickname. They are okay at getting squashed but don’t show too much on main shows. Maybe they’ll stand out some day, but for now most of the students aren’t even at OVW levels of competence. There is one who went against the stereotype of the student, though, who may break through this year. His name is…

Rhett Titus
Rhett “Addicted to Love” Titus is looking at a feud with his teacher, Delirious. Really, there’s no better way to introduce someone to the main show than by having them wrestle the guy training them. No one is as familiar with a wrestling student as his teacher. And Delirious is low enough in ROH standings that Titus can win the feud or at least get over on him enough to leave as a relevant undercard player. The best part for right now is that this adds a goofy story to ROH’s serious programming, and the unrequited love triangle with Daizee Haze could go a number of ways. Titus could walk out of this feud with arm candy – it wouldn’t be first time Haze turned on a good man.

I first noticed Titus on the Race to the Top tournament, when he took a brief but impressive beating from BJ Whitmer. Even in that brief appearance he had a noticeable charisma or “it factor,” that thing that attracts the eye. Since then he’s found this Heart Break Kid-type gimmick, which really seems to suit him. It’s something he can play up or down at will in matches, so that he’ll be able to go serious in ROH’s environment when necessary (unless they book him into a corner).

Disagree with some of my assessments? Want to stick up for Bobby Dempsey? Drop by Pulse Wrestling and let your voice be heard. Also on the site are new reviews of Dragon Gate Challenge 2 and Supercard of Honor 3 by Ollie Sutherland, and Pulse Glazer begins his list of the top twenty shows in ROH history with 20-11. Check Glazer out this Friday for numbers 10 through 1.