A Decade of Honor – Ring of Honor 2008 (Nigel McGuinness, Bryan Danielson, The Briscoes)

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More than anything that happened in the ring, 2008 will be remembered as the year ROH parted ways with booker Gabe Sapolsky. The man most people give a lion’s share of the credit to for ROH’s successes in the early years was dismissed after the “Ring of Homicide 2″ show in October amidst much speculation as to the reason. In a move surprising to most, Adam Pearce was appointed as the new head booker, effectively removing himself from the active roster.

Nigel McGuinness began the year as ROH World Champion, and was determined to do what no one else had ever done: make it a through a full calendar year as the Champ. After defenses against Chris Hero, Roderick Strong, Bryan Danielson, Tyler Black, Erick Stevens, Kevin Steen, Claudio Castagnoli, Go Shiozaki, Adam Pearce, Ruckus, El Generico, Jimmy Jacobs, Necro Butcher, Jerry Lynn, and Naomichi Marufuji in ROH, and defenses against Shiozaki, Larry Sweeney, BJ Whitmer, KENTA, and Vic Viper elsewhere, McGuinness accomplished that goal. He had great matches throughout the year and truly became a bona fide ROH legend during this reign.

The ROH World Tag Team Championship bounced around a bit this year. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black began the year as champions, but lost the belts in an Ultimate Endurance match to Davey Richards & Rocky Romero before the end of January. After a non-descript reign, the Briscoes won the titles from the No Remorse Corps in April for the fifth time. When Mark got injured (again), Jay decided to forfeit the titles rather than defend them with anyone else. A tournament was held at “Up For Grabs” in June, and Jacobs & Black regained the titles in a one night tournament after defeating Delirious & Pelle Primeau, Bryan Danielson & Austin Aries, and Kevin Steen & El Generico. After successful defenses against Danielson & Aries, Go Shiozaki & Naomichi Marufuji, and the Briscoes, Steen & Generico finally captured the belts at the “Driven 2008″ pay-per-view taping in September. Steen & Generico went on to successful defenses against the Briscoes and Jimmy Jacobs & Delirious (twice each) before year’s end.

Known mostly for athletic competition, ROH presented its most storyline-driven feud, perhaps ever, in 2008. After securing the love of Lacey in 2007, Jimmy Jacobs became dark and jaded and formed the Age of The Fall. Early in the year, Austin Aries decided that he didn’t like the way Jacobs treated Lacey now, and vowed to take her away from him. Aries accomplished just that, and Jacobs completely fell apart, the apex coming at the “Return Engagement” show in Chicago in April. The two then engaged in a memorably violent series of battles in both singles and tag team matches. Aries won the first singles match at “Vendetta II” in June, and then a series of three gimmick matches in the fall was to decide the feud. Jacobs won an Anything Goes match at “Ring of Homicide 2,” and then Aries secured victories in a Dog Collar match at “Bound By Hate” and an I Quit match at the “Rising Above 2008″ pay-per-view taping. In an interesting twist, the two formed an uneasy alliance at the end of the year based on their mutual hatred of Tyler Black. They were hardly friends, but it was still bizarre to see them working together in any fashion after what they did to each other in 2008.

While this was going on, the Age of the Fall went through many changes, losing Necro Butcher and Tyler Black but adding Delirious, Joey Matthews, and Zach Gowen. They continued to battle the Briscoes throughout the year, as well as Austin Aries, Steen & Generico, and Black & Necro.

Another big storyline attempted to capitalize on the success of the Darren Aronofsky film “The Wrestler,” released in December 2008. Having filmed the wrestling sequences at ROH shows in March, the company though it only natural to emulate the film using veteran Jerry Lynn in the Randy the Ram role. Lynn lost a close non-title match to Nigel McGuinness in June, and then came back full-time in September and began chasing the title hard. Other top challengers to Nigel’s title included his old rival Bryan Danielson, and upstart Tyler Black, who broke out with an incredible performance at “Take No Prisoners” in March.

This year’s guest stars included the return of Dragon Gate, bringing Genki Horiguchi, Naruki Doi, Masato Yoshino, BxB Hulk, Shingo, Dragon Kid, Ryo Saito, and CIMA for the WrestleMania weekend shows in Orlando; Kota Ibushi did a four-show run in April, losing to Davey Richards, Claudio Castagnoli, and a tag match with Austin Aries against the Briscoes before defeating El Generico, he also appeared when ROH returned to Japan in September; TNA’s Motor City Machine Guns returned for a double-shot in April and August, losing to Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black, defeating the Briscoes, wrestling Danielson & Aries to a time-limit draw, and losing to Steen & Generico; Naomichi Marufuji wrestled several times throughout the year; ROH returned to Japan in September and featured YAMATO, Team No Limit, Kotaro Suzuki, Kazushi Miyamoto, Taiji Ishimori, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Katsuhiko Nakajima and Kensuke Sasaki (both of whom returned in December), among others; Homicide & Hernandez did a double-shot in October.

In other notable news, Kevin Steen won the “Eye of the Storm” tournament in February after defeating Delirious, Bryan Danielson, and Go Shiozaki; the FIP, NWA, and SHIMMER titles were all defended on ROH shows; Faction Warfare gradually died out with a whimper; Bryan Danielson won the GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title from Kanemaru in September, and then successfully defended it against Nakajima a week later; also, Danielson finally got revenge on Takeshi Morishima, defeating him in a bloody Fight Without Honor at “Final Battle 2008.”

Match of the Year – Nigel McGuinness vs. Bryan Danielson, “Sixth Anniversary Show”
Wrestler of the Year – Nigel McGuinness
Tag Team of the Year – Kevin Steen & El Generico
Feud of the Year – Austin Aries vs. Jimmy Jacobs
Show of the Year – “Death Before Dishonor VI”

Coming up – A new booker ties up loose ends and struggles to establish himself…

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