Cult of ROH: Plus Flair & Nakajima, Minus Prazak, DG & Music


No More Music?
ROH management should have started using public domain music a long time ago. They introduced it as PPV-only, but didn’t commit to DVD-only shows, allowing them to coast on licensed music they probably never should have had in the first place. No, public domain instrumentals are not as catchy as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bouncing Souls, but they’re legal to use anywhere. I was shocked when Austin Aries dropped Marilyn Manson’s “Personal Jesus” cover only to use another licensed song, as that should have been when he got a rights-free song people could associate with his new character. That Gabe Sapolsky’s ROH put it off indefinitely and Adam Pearce’s ROH has put it off until now is like hoping a disease will go away.

The music is important to the experience. Fans emotionally invest in songs and get pumped for them. Bryan Danielson’s “Final Countdown” is particularly beloved. But it’s got to go. It not only costs a lot to use on a TV broadcast, but once record companies come sniffing, ROH would be charged a fee for every DVD they sell. That’s why WWE edits out so much licensed music from both event DVD’s and anthologies. No matter what kind of fan fundraiser you put together, these songs are gone. If management is wise, they will be off all shows, as you’re only going to confuse new fans when wrestlers switch music from TV to live events.

ROH management has wisely given open auditions to any bands that would like their music to be featured on shows. The hope is that they will find some authentic tunes for cheap or even free, trading exposure for the bands for some good entrances. It’s a smart tactic, and one can only hope the music they find works.

No More Prazak?
But that’s not the only sound in ROH that’s changing. HDNet is substituting Mike Hogewood on play-by-play for the ROH TV show. Prazak will still be available for DVD-only shows, and he’ll probably do them as HDNet isn’t paying Hogewood to do shows they aren’t broadcasting. But you don’t care about that, do you? You want to know who the Hell this guy is and if ROH is getting the next Don West.

Mike Hogewood anchors the Nextel Cup Nascar races and has been a sports commentator of some kind for over fifteen years. Most of his exposure has been in college football and basketball games, so he’ll have to learn about wrestling, but there’s no telling how much he already knows. He hosts the Emmy-winning ACC All Access show. He looks a little like a young Jim Ross, and sounds like most professional play-by-play men in sports. You can get a look at him introducing this segment of his show here.

It’s unsurprising that ROH’s commentary would change heading to TV. No American indy has professional-sounding commentary, and ROH’s habit of having Prazak and Leonard tape several shows worth of commentary in one day led to some pretty lifeless DVD voicework. If they listened to one of these shows, they’d probably want something a little crisper. It would only get worse if they looked at recent ROH releases and heard Prazak’s even more subdued and lifeless “heel” commentator act. That it turned out HDNet wanted a sports-approach doomed him.

Frankly, I’m a lot happier with the mere prospect of somebody with Hogewood’s credentials calling ROH than I am with Dave Prazak. Nothing against the man personally, but his recent hot-and-cold running commentary has been the worst part of the new ROH. It drags in-ring performances down. Hopefully he shapes up this year on DVD’s.

More Nakajima!
Katsuhiko Nakajima will be in ROH April 3rd and 4th for the Wrestlemania Weekend shows. He has visited ROH three times before: in a lauded match against Bryan Danielson at Glory By Honor 7; tagging with Kensuke Sasaki against Strong & Albright at All Star Extravaganza 4; and tagging with Sasaki against the Briscoes at Final Battle 2008.

If you don’t know him, Nakajima is one of the top Junior Heavyweight prospects in Japan. He is the protégé and favorite student of legend Kensuke Sasaki, the famous free-lancer who has gone from New Japan to All Japan to NOAH. Wherever he’s visited, he’s brought Nakajima and pressured their offices to push him. That’s meant Nakajima has wrestled the most great cruiserweights in Japan of any young guy, often in very high-pressure matches. He is currently GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion in NOAH and has already wrestled in more televised main events than a lot of their homegrown prospects. Even if he was terrible, he would be forced to improve.

But he’s actually excellent at what he does. He’s a fast, slick kicker with good transitions. He’s often called “the KENTA that sells,” and unsurprisingly is in the middle of a rivalry with that man. Having wrestled for years as the second beneath a veteran bruiser, he has great tag instincts. Do not be surprised if he defends his championship on one night that weekend, and does a big tag the other. It’s quite likely that he will have a rematch with Danielson to get his win back from Glory By Honor 7 – very nice to consider with how popular their first match was.

No More Dragon Gate…
Nakajima coming in brings up the ugly topic of Dragon Gate. Specifically, they’re not coming in this year and they’re probably done with ROH. The relationship between the companies was never the same after Shingo’s tour, with DG deciding to keep all its developing talent to itself while NOAH moved in, sending first Takeshi Morishima, and then Go Shiozaki for prolonged stays.

The Wrestlemania Weekend visits by Dragon Gate talent were mostly handled by CIMA, who is rumored to have left the company entirely in search of bigger opportunities (specifically, WWE). He came back for one tag match in December, seen a farewell loss to YAMATO, before heading out. Without CIMA as a liaison and with the expense of a bunch of Dragon Gate guys, it looks like there won’t be a trios tag this year.

Ric Flair!
That money has pretty obviously gone to Ric Flair. Flair is hitting ROH for what the company calls a “multi-event agreement” beginning on March 13th in St. Louis. Flair infamously charges at least $10,000 per appearance, so a lot of grief immediately went to that money going to somebody who won’t wrestle. Fans seem to be divided between wanting outsiders who can wrestle, and general excitement over possibly seeing one of the most important wrestlers of the 20th century.

This actually brings up something from Gabe Sapolsky’s shoot DVD. Sapolsky booked special appearance wrestlers based on whether they’d draw enough additional fans to equal whatever the guest charged. With General Admissions tickets running $15 as the door (though on discount online), Flair would have to draw 666 fans into the building just to neutralize his cost. Realize that 600 people is about the average size of a Pearce-era crowd, and you’ve got to ask yourself if even Flair has that kind of drawing power for a promo and a punch at Larry Sweeney.

Unlike the Dragon Gate guys whose matches always drew rave reviews and boosted DVD sales, Flair will just be talking and perhaps run an angle. He is not likely to boost DVD sales, especially when you can see Flair on TV for free any time WWE feels like calling him. Don’t be surprised to see him back on WWE television leading up to Wrestlemania.

On the side, ROH will pocket some percentage of all of his autograph concessions. They’re charging $30 for the first item and $20 for any further items, without mentioning how much they’ll charge for all the people who didn’t bring anything and want an 8×10. That’s where they’ll hope to neutralize some of his price tag.

If his visit is going to be worthwhile, it’s going to be on the Friday and Saturday before Wrestlemania when the most wrestling fans with money to burn are concentrated near an ROH show. ROH will be running within walking distance of the site of WWE’s Hall of Fame ceremony, and their Saturday show was specifically set in the afternoon as not to conflict with that event.

The flipside is that with tens of thousands of wrestling fans will be in town just to see wrestling that weekend. ROH can expect to fill up its venue with cheaper attractions. Nakajima isn’t cheap, but ROH can easily get two or three more Japanese guys without scratching Flair’s price tag. But if Flair isn’t useful Wrestlemania weekend, when can you ever expect him to pull great numbers?

The hope is that he’ll appear on HDNet, or at least spread a lot of buzz for the company. This pretends that mainstream news follows Flair, which it doesn’t, and that wrestling media will cover ROH more, as though anyone with a subscription to the Observer doesn’t already know what ROH is.

The fear is that WWE will sign him to a fat contract to keep him off ROH TV. WWE did not snatch him back up when he agreed to do promos for the NWA’s TV show recently, so they may not interfere. But HDNet has much bigger penetration than the NWA’s network. Their shadow will loom large. Also remember that his deal begins March 13th, conveniently missing the first weekend of ROH TV tapings on March 1st.

Like John’s writing? Check out his blog at