Cult of ROH: What They’re Getting Right

Since October ROH has lost a lot of its credibility. More run-ins and unsatisfactory endings with fewer high-quality matches per weekend had people abandoning the company by the end of the 2008, ironic as they wound up missing one of ROH’s best shows of the year, Final Battle. A lot of people made up their minds in that period, so that in 2009 they didn’t watch much and picked up a bad word here or there to support the non-habit. It’s unsurprising as it’s the same fan base that once hugged ROH while simultaneously saying WWE sucked and claiming they didn’t watch it – even though it’s impossible for one to know the former when doing the latter.

This isn’t an argument that ROH has turned it around in 2009. They don’t want to. They want to be something else, and no, nobody really understands what yet. But they are getting it together. With Proving Ground weekend in Florida they delivered fan-pleasing shows. At Wrestlemania weekend they had an essential showing, when KENTA Vs. Davey Richards got a few people so enthused that they claimed it better than Undertaker Vs. Michaels. That latter match is my favorite of everything I’ve seen this year, but objective superiority isn’t the point – instead it was the first time in months that got people that positive coming out of an event. Then they returned to Canada after their underwhelming doubleshot in October and let Danielson & Black Vs. The American Wolves deliver a classic. Since then, and especially recently, it feels like they’ve gotten some essential things right for the fans they have. That’s what we’ll talk about this week in the Cult of ROH.

Better TV
Rob Naylor of Dr. Keith Show fame made the great observation that no one left the first TV tapings ecstatic. If some love it, even if others are apathetic, you’ve got a potential hit. If no one is buzzing, something is wrong. And something was wrong: the first six episodes were incredibly dry, poorly paced, didn’t build to future episodes and didn’t feature great wrestling. They had good wrestling, and that wasn’t enough for a company built on workrate poking into a market that already had seven hours of wrestling on more accessible TV.

The first thing ROH has gotten right is making this show better. It still has a wide room for improvement (the current ECW on Sci Fi format seems ideal), but the time given to matches makes more sense, the quality of main events are improving, and they are building from episode to episode. Things matter and, as we saw this week, titles can change hands here. Steen & Generico Vs. the American Wolves, Hero Vs. Kingston, Lynn Vs. Aries and Danielson Vs. Black are all progressing across the series. If you’ve followed the tapings, you know Danielson Vs. Black in particular is supposed to build in serious ways, without any required DVD viewing. If you’re concerned about quality of matches in ROH, I highly recommend checking out Steen & Generico’s recent TV matches against Titus & King and the American Wolves. Match quality for what’s been taped and yet to air has the best buzz of anything yet.

You can check them out easily enough, too. HDNet is bum channel, but if you don’t have it you can get episodes on X-Box 360 and PS3’s streaming media services for nominal fees, or free on youtube. Content provider ROHBrazil was given permission to post the newest episode every Wednesday in high quality, breaking up the shows into chunks that mostly segregate into specific matches, in case you’d rather see just a given SHIMMER match or the main event.

Lynn Delivers
If improving the television show wasn’t the most important thing, then Jerry Lynn proving himself as champion was. He won it in a bad way. There’s no argument to convince his detractors otherwise – they either will not believe Lynn would have won had McGuinness not been injured, or they will resent management for choosing him in the long term. Both of those options come with a host of grievances.

For the fans who stuck around, including the jaded ones who hadn’t yet fled, Lynn has done what he had to: had the good defenses. Roderick Strong deserves more of the credit for the bout, fighting through a scary head injury, but that was an essential match. Going into the night, Richards Vs. Black was the big deal. Once it happened, many in attendence thought that was the best thing they’d see. Lynn was in a corner where he was in the main event and still had to steal the show. And he did.

Since then he had a heck of a match against Chris Hero on a Boston show that was severely depleted in talent, and had one of the most buzzed about TV taping matches in a four-way title defense. These are not McGuinness/Aries and McGuinness/Black level performances, but good enough to show he can give this promotion something. If the rest of ROH could offer something, Lynn succeeding even to this degree as champion would help make their case.

His next test is in New York, where he’s set up for something special against Austin Aries.

Eddie Kingston Vs. Chris Hero
I’ve written three columns on Kingston at this point. It seems silly to embrace him further. He’s loathed by some, but is the biggest U.S. indy darling the company hadn’t brought in yet. So ROH gave him another shot, put him on videowires and TV, and repackaged the feud with Hero that so many loved in other companies. I’d rather see something more dramatic, but it’s an obvious boost to a lot of people to see this, and Kingston blaming Hero for never getting to the company is a novel angle on things. He is good, he is beloved, and giving people this feud again in a new setting is a serious thumbs up to a segment of the hardcore fans who needed the encouragement.

Young Bucks and Super Smash Bros.
Four more indy darlings, this time with relevance to particular companies. Former ROH fans fled to PWG and Chikara, and in rebuilding their tag division management has brought in two of the most popular teams from those companies.

The Young Bucks improve with every tour of Dragon Gate they do, and are presently the only U.S. wrestlers booked both for ROH and DGUSA. They are praised to the hilt in PWG, a refugee camp for many ex-ROH fans. To bring them in and let them win on TV tapings, already promising further bookings, is another nod to the hardcore base.

That both teams earned second weekends meant a lot to ROH’s sustained interest in the indies. Where Petey Williams and Sonjay Dutt do not excite, these people can. Beyond being talented to the point where they deserve looks, bringing them in is akin to bringing in Eddie Kingston – an appeal by way of indy darlings that has always bolstered the confidence of the ROH faithful.

Sonjay Dutt is Not Bad
You shouldn’t hate him. He came to ROH for a weekend and earned a return engagement, fitting in properly with Danielson and Edwards one night and flying for Hero the next. He’s as crisp as Matt Cross with better timing and selling, enough flair to avoid seeming generic, and on neither night did he ever present himself as the lame guru TNA made him play. On one videowire he claimed that character is dead. He is a heck of a flyer, and if PAC and Paul London won’t come east, he might be the best singles flyer available. We lost Sydal and Evans. We could really use someone this good at aerial offense. If he was the same thing he was in TNA, sure, pan him. But he isn’t.

The benefit of the doubt is cautious neutrality, and that’s all I ask you to have when you see the Boston show. But see it (for other quality matches on the card), and then you’ll realize that booking Dutt is something they’ve gotten right.

I was going to end this a few upcoming matches that look particularly promising. It’s good that the company is using the momentum of a few stand-out matches to book ones that are truly exciting. Yet looking at what’s fresh coming up, KENTA is a factor. And he’s been a factor for a while.

He tagged with Generico against McGuinness & Richards for what was supposedly a must-see. He stole the show in Houston against Richards, and the next night stole the PPV taping with Black against Nakajima & Aries. The only match people have been particularly divided over was the McGuinness title defense, where we all know the champion was working hurt. Rather than a regular rookie, ROH is making the most of a serious NOAH star this year to improve the quality of its cards. Coming up are what could be two of his best matches yet. They’ve even brought him to the TV tapings for much-praised matches against Roderick Strong and the former Sweet & Sour Inc. squad.

The first is a big tag, teaming with Bryan Danielson against the American Wolves. KENTA has a great track record in tags, and has spent the year putting on stellar shows against Davey Richards. This match could set up an actual story for him, with Danielson appearing to turn heel. They’re destined to fail, and another tag title frustration could turn Danielson on KENTA after the match. KENTA pursuing a true heel Danielson would be a fresh take on a rivalry ROH fans love.

The other match, signed for Chicago, is KENTA Vs. Tyler Black. He can do a plethora of rematches, but Black is the last main eventer he has to face in singles. He beat Danielson in singles and needs to step up as a real pillar of the company. At his highest point since the new regime started booking, Black faces one of ROH’s most beloved outsiders in a guaranteed sprint against a guy who will kick his head off his shoulders. While I’m sick of reading “MOTYC” in live reports, getting that acronym on this match will heat things up. And realistically either of them can win: KENTA is notoriously protected, losing almost no matches in his tenure, and Black really needs to win. The two times KENTA has lost in singles to ROH wrestlers, it’s been when they were defending belts against him, and to some degree, the fans knew he had to lose those (minus what doubt Danielson’s injury imbued in that first match). Think of what it would mean for Black to be the first non-champ to beat KENTA.

That’s it for Cult of ROH this week. If you’re still hungry for wrestling writing, check out:

-Vinny Truncellito considers who should be ROH’s first two-time World Champion.

-Big Andy Mac reviews the latest ROH on TV.

-Jake Ziegler reviews ROH’s latest PPV DVD release, Caged Collision.