Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic – The Dirty (half) Dozen…

Ring of Honor has recently hired Jim Cornette, the Louisville Slugger himself, as the new executive producer of their weekly program on HDNet. Cornette is a former promoter, manager, commentator, on-screen authority figure, and booker, and is renowned for his brilliant mind for the business. Any wrestling fan worth his salt will tell you what a profound impact such an experienced veteran can make on a promotion, and nearly immediately, Cornette did exactly that.

TODAY’S ISSUE: ROH’s new “Pick 6” Standings.

To quote the ROH home page, the Austin Aries Lucky Lottery or A-Double, L-Double has been “universally viewed as a farce”, with ROH world champion Aries recently using a likely rigged drawing to select challengers who are not necessarily the top wrestlers in the company, obviously padding his world title run and refusing to face the men who present the toughest threats to his championship. In response, ROH Officials and Jim Cornette have conceived a method to ensure the top challengers earn and receive title matches. Known as the “Pick 6 Contenders Series”, this new format for determining world title challengers is a simple yet effective process. Here’s the deal (again quoting ROHwrestling.com).

“To begin, twelve competitors have been selected by ROH on HDNet Executive Producer Jim Cornette to compete in six singles matches with the winners being seeded by ROH officials from one-to-six. Once the initial ranking is established, the “Pick 6” Contenders Series will function as follows:

– Only wrestlers ranked in the “Pick 6” are eligible to challenge for the ROH World Championship.

– The higher a wrestler is seeded, the more leverage he has in determining the scheduling of championship matches.

– Wrestlers securing victories in “Pick 6” matchups earn a match bonus.

– Once the rankings are set, wrestlers can only enter the “Pick 6” Standings by defeating a ranked wrestler.

– An unranked wrestler that defeats a “Pick 6” Contender assumes that wrestler’s spot, and everyone lower slides down one rank. The lower a wrestler is ranked, the more they have to lose.”

This is a brilliant way to make under-card matches seem very important without swapping some meaningless secondary title over and over. The Pick 6 Standings affect the careers of all the singles stars (and plenty of tag team folks as well) who must now keep their eye on that group of six top contenders at all times. Consider that every Ring of Honor DVD release includes matches like Chris Hero versus Kevin Steen, Colt Cabana versus Delirious, and Kenny King versus Davey Richards. Fans can normally look forward to entertaining, hard-fought contests from these preliminary matches before the main event provides the truly important stuff, but now those matches can have world title implications and increase the drama, tension, and urgency amongst the competitors, which results in matches that are more fun to watch for the paying fans. For the purposes of discussion, let’s pretend the current Pick 6 Standings are as follows:

1. Davey Richards
2. Tyler Black
3. Kenny Omega
4. Roderick Strong
5. Chris Hero
6. Claudio Castagnoli

Now we’ll simulate two fictional weekend shows to see how these standings might be affected by match outcomes. Friday night, Strong defeats Black in a 22-minute epic affair allowing Roddy to claim the #2 slot, forcing Black down to #3 and Omega to #4. Hero and Castagnoli remain where they are for the moment, but later on the card Colt Cabana defeats Hero with the Billy Goat’s Curse and steals Hero’s #5 slot. Hero slides down to #6 so Claudio gets bumped from the standings altogether without even wrestling in a singles match this night, instantly sowing the seeds for a storyline issue should ROH officials chose to pursue it (the old motivation of “I’m pissed off because I got screwed, so now I’m going to hurt somebody” always works). Now we have:

1. Davey Richards
2. Roderick Strong
3. Tyler Black
4. Kenny Omega
5. Colt Cabana
6. Chris Hero

The Cabana/Hero and Black/Strong matches have made an immediate impact on the world title picture, and as I mentioned, Castagnoli has an instant issue. Saturday night, Delirious upsets Kenny Omega and steals his #4 position, forcing him to #5 and Cabana down to #6, knocking Hero off the list altogether. Also on the card, Strong and Richards face off in a showdown of the top two contenders, with Strong surviving and taking Richards’ #1 spot. Now the Pick 6 Standings look like this:

1. Roderick Strong
2. Davey Richards
3. Tyler Black
4. Delirious
5. Kenny Omega
6. Colt Cabana

In the above scenario, Roderick Strong had himself one heck of a weekend in defeating two ranked contenders and climbing to the top slot in the pecking order. Therefore he is granted a title opportunity at the next big show in a few weeks, and he can look forward to challenging his former ROH world tag team championship partner with the big belt on the line. But suppose that because Claudio Castagnoli feels cheated as discussed above, he cuts a scathing promo and challenges Strong to a contest with huge implications. Roddy, of course, would never back down from a fight, so now before his world title match against A-Double, Strong puts everything on the line against Claudio. Wouldn’t you like to see that contest? I certainly would.

Chris Hero started the weekend as a ranked title contender and ended it off the list completely, and since Colt Cabana is ultimately the reason for Hero’s misfortune he challenges Boom Boom to a rematch with much more than pride at stake. Can That Young Knockout Kid reclaim his status as one of the chosen few, or will Cabana continue to keep Hero out of the Pick 6? That’s another match that carries huge implications, and is one I’d love to watch. Based solely on the two fictional shows above, you can imagine how many other matches ROH could promote that will resonate with logical rivalries and a grave importance on winners and losers. There are potentially weeks of contests brewing from these minor changes in the Pick 6 Standings, and it gives Ring of Honor a lot of focus and makes matches more career-impacting.

I’m not clear on the fate of a ranked contender who challenges the champ and loses, but I assume this will knock him out of the Pick 6 Standings, advancing everyone else one rung up the ladder and allowing two unranked competitors to battle for the #6 slot. This is the most logical way I can think of to handle those challengers who “had their chance” and lost, leaving room for upward mobility like no other wrestling company does. Another sensible option is for a contender who loses his title match to automatically fall to the #6 slot and bump everybody else up one rung. Otherwise, in order to be dropped out of the hunt altogether a Pick 6 contender would have to lose his title match and then lose enough matches against lower-ranked opponents to get bumped completely out of the six top spots. This would be a significant losing streak for somebody high on the totem pole, and would also guarantee some interesting storyline fodder. Think of MVP’s losing streak in WWE, but apply it to a company that routinely promotes logical storyline with satisfying in-ring action to pay them off.

This is all incredibly clever of ROH because if you think about it, those wrestlers defending their spots in the Pick 6 or trying to break into it aren’t really fighting over anything tangible; everyone on the roster seems to get a title match at one time or another as the months go by (perennial mid-carders BJ Whitmer and Jimmy Rave both had title shots on pay-per-view when ROH was still utilizing that medium). But the Pick 6 makes it seem like they’re fighting for something important, and that makes all the difference. Also, as crazy about statistics as wrestling fans can be, having something relevant to keep track of makes it interesting for us (remember Goldberg’s streak?).

In March of 2005 I wrote a column that was only my fourth of nearly 250 total so far. In that piece I mused about how effective a top 10 ranking system would be in the big two, and when I reviewed it today I was surprised at how similar my idea was to ROH’s new Pick 6 Standings. At least I’m consistent; I’ve been saying the same sort of things for over four and a half years now.

The bottom line is that this is a great thing for ROH to do. It helps them keep things interesting, and breathes new life into the same old matches. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the Pick 6 Contenders Series as it develops, and to watching the matches that are featured as Ring of Honor’s best battle for their shot at the brass ring.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “Victory is sweetest when you’ve known defeat.” – Malcom Forbes

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