Sitting in Bostonâ€™s Case Gym for the main event last Friday, I was bemused with Chris Hero taunting the venerable champion that he had â€œsixty minutes.â€ As they went through basic wrestling holds for ten minutes, Hero made even more comments about the time limit. When Lynn gave the challenger a terrifying Hurricanrana from the second rope to the arena floor and the match still didnâ€™t end, people around me buzzed. By twenty-five minutes people asked how long it had been, and a good friend leaned in to say what a good idea an hour draw would be. It would instantly elevate Hero as a main event heel, he argued, and would give Lynn a reason for another title defense.
Lynn won with his Cradle Piledriver in about 35 minutes, but it left the question open: who is there for Jerry Lynn to face?
The conversation on Lynn as champion stalled out at â€œHe shouldnâ€™t be,â€ and in responses there-to. The follow-up complaint is equally simple but even pettier, saying his reign lacks direction. What was the direction of Bryan Danielsonâ€™s reign? Of Morishimaâ€™s? They had great matches with as many challengers as ROH could manufacture. Sure, Nigel McGuinness turned nuclear heel, but once he did that he just beat all challengers, this time as the bad guy in the role. It wasnâ€™t direction that made those reigns; it was simple, competent setups that gave talented challengers repeat shots. Punk chasing Joe, Homicide chasing Danielson and Steen chasing McGuinness all added to those reigns. Aside from the match quality internet fans demand, itâ€™s a proper roster of opponents Lynn needs.
Heâ€™s already run through many challengers. He cleanly and decisively dispatched Hero even with Hagadorn cheating outside, and ROH has still booked a re-match for their TV tapings. In a four-way title defense at the previous TV tapings he pinned Bryan Danielson, his second decisive win over the man this year. He has put away Stevens, Strong and Jay Briscoe in-between, all babyfaces, but thatâ€™s what ROH has. Despite a glut of heels, ROH hasnâ€™t elevated any outside of the tag team champions. Worse, El Generico and Tyler Black may be seriously injured and out for a long time, the former guaranteed to give Lynn a good match and the latter one of the few title threats in the company. This is where the conversation on Lynn as champion should move.
Since the American Wolves have been pushed, they are both technically viable challengers. Yet getting anyone to believe either will become the first double champion will be difficult. ROH has too long a history of having tag stars choke in the singles title picture, and the Pearce Era has done nothing to dispel the notion. Should Richards leave the tag division, though, he would be a prime challenger given how loathsome he is and how much he can do. Already this year heâ€™s had multiple stand-outs against Kevin Steen, and was in both of the most buzzed-about matches of the first quarter, once against KENTA in Texas and the other defending his tag titles against Black & Danielson in Canada. At worst, Richards as a challenger would be likely to have a good match.
Claudio Castagnoli should be challenging right now, and itâ€™s strange that instead heâ€™s joined Nanaâ€™s goon squad. He made Lynn submit in a triple threat shortly before the title change and presents a special threat. He stands beside Hero as the tallest of the ROH bad guys, but is far more cut and even more fluid in the technical wrestling Lynn likes. It would be easy for him to roll on the mat, throw out a couple of power moves and a couple of flying uppercuts, and then declare he is better at everything Lynn likes to do as he chases him for the belt. Castagnoliâ€™s â€œHEYâ€ shtick is so popular with so many audiences that he might even be one of the few challengers who could get the crowd to not default against Lynn.
Castagnoliâ€™s current stable buddy, Jimmy Rave, also makes a good challenger. Heâ€™s an excellent bastard, technically sound with a couple of good counters and exactly the attitude Lynn should want to destroy. With Sweeney gone, a good direction would be to push Nanaâ€™s Embassy as the stable of disrespectful challengers Lynn has to contend with, using either Castagnoli or Rave as a surprisingly effective candidate with a pinfall or two in tags.
If this reign is going any length of time, Roderick Strong should be set up for a rematch. He bled buckets in his first challenge and has a rightful claim that if he hadnâ€™t been injured he would have won. Especially if they put the rematch in the same market as the original, it would be a reliable title defense.
At the same time, Strong is caught in a feud with Austin Aries. Aries doesnâ€™t have to win the feud to challenge Lynn. He can take any big victory as it goes along and spin that into a title shot. Being a former champion and the supposed â€œace,â€ A-Double is essentially an eternal challenger for any belt he doesnâ€™t have, just like Danielson. Heâ€™s also one of ROHâ€™s best remaining wrestlers, and unlike Danielson, has switched to the heel role where heâ€™s a more natural opponent for Lynn. He has a long history of quality title matches, from win over Joe, to challenging Danielson at technique, to playing the little guy against Morishima, to getting the very best out of McGuinness. At a similar size and being incredibly capable at explosive and mat-wrestling, Aries could be the big rival for Lynnâ€™s reign. If the new, sleazier character continues to catch on as it has in recent months (after the shock that he wouldnâ€™t be the workrate god anymore), he would even cut a great figure to be the guy who steals Lynnâ€™s belt, and whom Lynn pursues for redemption.
Castagnoli, Rave and Aries can each be shaped into longterm repeat challengers for a babyface veteran. Theyâ€™re younger, theyâ€™re cocky, and each has his own talent and report with audiences. The fear right now is that Lynn may turn, as he and ROH keep acknowledging his detractors, even when there are very few being vocal at a given moment. Itâ€™s the kind of tease that came before McGuinnessâ€™s turn, and something Lynn has no track record to suggest heâ€™ll be good at. Following McGuinnessâ€™s amazing reign with the same turn and act could be disaster, especially since capricious booking and injuries have already burned through a chunk of the babyface roster. Regardless of which side the champion sits on, however, he needs new stars to wrestle.
That’s it for the Cult of ROH this week. Check out more of my writing on my daily fiction blog, www.johnwiswell.blogspot.com
Also around the internet:
-Big Andy Mac is all over everything ROH with reviews of the most recent ROH on HDNet, Proving Ground Night 1 and Night 2. The man is a machine and his weekly column on the ROH TV show is a great way to keep up if you don’t get the channel and don’t have the internet attention span for an hour on Youtube.
-There’s my review of ROH’s May 8th show in Boston.
-Then there’s Bones Barkley reviewing the May 9th ROH show in Edison, New Jersey.
-And Vinny Truncellito has an excellent column on the wacky laws of professional wrestling, specifically which ones we don’t mind obeying, and which ones are blisteringly stupid.
Tags: Austin Aries, Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli, Davey Richards, jerry lynn, Roderick Strong, ROH, ROH World Championship