Cult of ROH: The End of the Cult

It’s been a good couple of years, but this marks the end of Cult of ROH. Family problems have reduced my free time to where I can’t write here regularly, though I’ll hopefully pop up again. Before I go all Monty Brown on you, though, there’s the case of a final column, and one question.

What do you want from ROH?

It’s not asked often enough, especially not post-Pearce. There’s a trend in our country to couch our desires in what would be good for business. ROH shouldn’t have faster paced matches because I want them; they should have it because it will draw more. They should slow it down so guys will be healthier. I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve watched over whether Wrestler X was a draw or not, when both parties were obviously using economics as a cover for liking or hating him. Hell, I get sucked into doing the same thing far more often than I’d like to admit.

So I ask again: what do you want from ROH?

I’m a simple guy. I don’t need elaborate storylines, and the best thing Gabe Sapolsky ever did for me was set up programs that made lots of matches possible. Building stories is important on television, but for a company like ROH where everything is taped and reported more than a month before I could see it, I dismissed most explicit build in favor of bouts I actually wanted to see.

Stories served a different purpose here. The Jacobs Vs. Whimter feud was simple as sin; then it was up to Jacobs to cut a few great promos, a couple of hilarious music videos, and to wrestle. Match after match, they made a great feud out of it. Morishima’s reign had little stories, but it was a pretense for a juggernaut character wrestling a whole bunch of talented challengers.

That’s what I want from ROH: great matches. And they don’t have to make me want to see the next show. They have to convince me I was right to buy this one. Once I’m happy with my purchase, I’ll convince myself to buy again. I think that’s true for more wrestling fans than is popularly recognized.

I named my column The Cult of ROH as a joke. I’m not a fanatic devotee; I loved some things about the company, but never thought Sapolsky was the great booker my fellow fans did, and always resented at least one guy getting pushed too much (Matt Stryker, Necro Butcher and Chris Hero come to mind) or too little (John Walters, post-2002 Xavier and Jimmy Jacobs, for starters). When people said a storyline was great, all I saw was a plan that got out of the way and let wrestlers wrestle. It was ROH’s style and freedom that made the company great; the booker just had to get guys in the ring together, and continue to promote new stars to refresh the scene. It’s likely that mindset that kept me from enjoy the CZW War as much as most people, given how many of those matches were forgettable or outright duds. The best things the booker could do were showcase the best wrestlers, then book them to fight – and presto, I’d be psyched to see Morishima Vs. Danielson or Steen & Generico Vs. Black & Jacobs. It’s also that thinking that left me happy with the company when others were complaining Sapolsky didn’t still “have it.”

ROH got slammed in 2008. I don’t mean in October/November during the regime change. Throughout the year there was always another longterm faithful saying he was burned out and the company didn’t have it anymore. But I kept watching shows, and I kept being happy. I kept seeing at least one match that made me glad to be a wrestling fan. Let me break down my 2008 in ROH for you:

Proving Ground: Stevens Vs. Aries for the FIP title, a really good match that went ballistic after the restart. Also, a great elimination tag main event.

Transform: Steen Vs. Albright in the Battle of the Bulls amused the heck out of me, but I’d admit this didn’t have a great match.

Breakout: Tyler Black’s first breakout performance, against Bryan Danielson.

Without Remorse: A killer Ultimate Endurance that saw Romero & Richards upset Danielson & Aries in the finals, and had a shocking first elimination.
Eye of the Storm: Okay, nothing spectacular, but it was a throw-together due to weather issues, and Generico Vs. Go was still fun.

6th Anniversary Show: Aries Vs. Go in the best singles match I’ve ever seen Go have, and McGuinness officially busted out his bastard character against Danielson.

Double Feature: There were good little matches, but no great matches.

Take No Prisoners: Aries Vs. Danielson and Black Vs. McGuinness, one of ROH’s all-time best double main events.

Dragon Gate Challenge 2: The completely killer Steen & Generico Vs. Speed Muscle match, and the underloved Jacobs & Black Vs. Shingo & Hulk tag.

Supercard of Honor 3: Ridiculously stacked with McGuinness Vs. Aries, the Dragon Gate trios tag, Hulk & Shingo Vs. Steen & Generico, and the best brawl of the year in the Briscoes Vs. Jacobs & Black.

Bedlam in Beantown: I’m in the minority of thinking Ibushi Vs. Richards was fun but not great. That was the only big thing on this show.

Injustice: No one great match, but Generico Vs. Evans was a killer opener and the fallout setup Steen Vs. McGuinness I, which was more fun than reports led me to believe.

Tag Wars 2008: Jacobs & Black Vs. Shelley & Sabin in one of the absolute best sprints of the year. Also, Joey Matthews had an undercard gem with Jigsaw.

Return Engagement: The Briscoes Vs. Shelley & Sabin 2 and Generico Vs. Ibushi. Total class.

Southern Navigation: Black Vs. Danielson 2 was just as good as the first, and the NOAH Vs. NRC trios tag was a blast.

A New Level: Steen & Generico Vs. Richards & Romero was so underloved it’s sad. Also, Danielson Vs. Marufuji!

Up For Grabs: Dramatic finale of Jacobs & Black Vs. Steen & Generico

Respect is Earned 2: Jacobs & Black in a killer title defense against Danielson & Aries

Battle for Supremacy: Pearce Vs. McGuinness was more fun than people led me to expect, but it’s still a stinker of a show with nothing that stands out. Even Sapolsky says so.

Vendetta 2: Castagnoli Vs. Danielson 1 and Aries Vs. Jacobs 1. Sharp.

Northern Navigation: Another of the most stacked shows of the decade with one of the best technical matches in Danielson Vs. Castagnoli 2, the sprint of Strong Vs. Marufuji, the crowd going ballistic for home country boy Steen Vs. McGuinness, and the Briscoes & Aries in a good brawl with the Age of the Fall.

New Horizons: The best of the Black Vs. Danielson matches, by far.

Fueling the Fire: Shelley & Sabin Vs. Danielson & Aries underwhelmed me, but Jacobs & Black Vs. Go & Marufuji blew me away. Marufuji managed to out-prick Jacobs. Brilliance.

Death Before Dishonor 6: The last of the definite “show of the year” candidates with Go Vs. Marufuji, Albright Vs. Pearce shocking the world, Steen & Generico Vs. Shelley & Sabin, and arguably the best elimination match in company history in McGuinness Vs. Danielson Vs. Black Vs. Castagnoli.

Age of Insanity: Generico Vs. McGuinness blew past all my expectations, and I expected a lot.

Night of the Butcher 2: I liked Generico Vs. Black, but will concede this as a lame show.

Battle of the Best: Danielson Vs. McGuinness in a technical clinic, Strong Vs. Richards in a strike war.

Tokyo Summit: McGuinness Vs. Jacobs is underloved, but KENTA & Ibushi Vs. Nakajima & Marufuji appropriately gets all the love.

Driven: I was live. High-fiving Nat Sylva, a great friend of mine, as Generico & Steen finally put Jacobs & Black away was a highlight of my year. Also, Strong Vs. McGuinness was finally good.

Glory By Honor 7: Not the annual supershow it should have been, but Nakajima Vs. Danielson was class.

Return of 187: Aries Vs. Go 2 is different but still rules; the elimination main event with LAX was better than I hoped.

Ring of Homicide 2: Briscoes Vs. LAX, a team the Briscoes couldn’t bully around.

Then the regimes changed.

At my meanest, I only see six shows that didn’t give me at least one great match. I enjoy shows with flow (like Injustice), stacked shows (like the Supercards), and interesting story progression (as opposed to the progression of cloying stories like Haze Vs. Jacobs, or too much hurried progression like an Impact), but all I really need is one match that reaffirms the faith per time I tune in. Going almost a year with only six misses meant ROH was doing fine.

That’s what PWG has going for it right now. They still have a lot of indy stupidity on their shows, they rely more heavily on outsiders now than perhaps every before, and they almost never put on a top-to-bottom blowaway. I recently heard Rob Naylor say they were on a twelve show hot streak. After The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, I can’t agree with that. However, the last four DVD’s definitely constitute a hot streak, each with at least one match that reaffirms the faith. For any old ROH fan, DDT4 and its Shelley & Sabin Vs. Strong & Danielson is absolutely worth fifteen dollars. Express Written Consent, 99 and 100 also boast at least one great match, putting that company on the sort of streak that made me love ROH in 2003 and 2004. Given buzz for the next DVD with Strong Vs. Omega, and the next live show boasting Kendrick Vs. Danielson, it’s likely the streak will continue.

That quality is also what inspired my recent column, What They’re Getting Right. Because post-Pearce, ROH introduced several questionable changes in short order, and with all those changes no longer produced a must-see match per show. I, and many others, could have forgiven some run-ins and count-outs, if only match quality stood up. Recently, they’ve been turning things around. The Wrestlemania weekend shows, Steel City Clash, 7th Anniversary Show, Double Feature 2, A Cut Above, Never Say Die, Validation and Contention all featured at least one match that received glowing live reports, and having watched the first half of that list, they all deserved them. Even though I won’t be writing this column, I’ll keep watching ROH.

What do you want from the company? Even though spoilers appear sometimes two months before things air, do you need stories that keep you on the edge of your chair? Do you need new stars? More famous old stars? More gimmick matches? If you do watch, why? If you don’t, what would make you? And if you don’t watch, how would you know if they did actually turn it around?

That’s it for me. You can catch me on Twitter at twitter.com/Wiswell, or on my fiction blog, The Bathroom Monologues. I’ll keep posting something new there every day for the foreseeable future. I’d like to thank the Pulse for hosting the column for nearly two years. And while I’m leaving, there are still some things to read here:

Vinny Truncellito is one of the best wrestling writers on the internet. Last week he took WWE to task. Normally I don’t plug anything non-international or non-indy in the ROH column, but this is my last chance to wave at him.

Roy Reynolds has just joined to cover Chikara in Chikara Chronicles.

Pulse Glazer writes short blogs regularly, and recently asked what lies in store for Brian Kendrick.

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