A Decade of Honor – Ring of Honor 2009 (Austin Aries, Tyler Black)

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The year 2009 was definitely one of transition for ROH and its fans. With Adam Pearce firmly entrenched as the new booker, he did his best to tie up Gabe Sapolsky’s loose ends while starting new storylines of his own with some new talent. The biggest change besides the booking was that ROH was now on TV, with a one-hour show on Mark Cuban’s HDNet station. Tapings were all held in Philadelphia. “Take No Prisoners 2009″ ended the company’s run on traditional pay-per-view, but the final show of the year, “Final Battle 2009,” marked the company’s debut with the internet pay-per-view system, which they still use to this day.

Nigel McGuinness began the year as ROH World Champion, and it was clear that his two major challengers were the young and hip Tyler Black and the elder veteran Jerry Lynn. The first title defense of the year was at “Injustice II,” in which Nigel battled Tyler to a controversial time-limit draw. The controversy stemmed from the fact that the bell mysteriously rang about 49 minutes into the match because the timekeeper legitimately made a mistake. ROH never followed up on this and it just made everyone look foolish.

Nigel would go on to defend the title against El Generico, D-Lo Brown, Brent Albright, and KENTA, as well as a four-way match against Jerry Lynn, Jimmy Jacobs and Tyler Black at “Eliminating the Competition.” He also snuck in a defense in Japan against Kaio. He finally lost the title to Lynn at “Supercard of Honor IV,” the company’s debut in Houston during WrestleMania weekend. Nigel then took some time off to heal some nagging injuries.

Lynn was a divisive champion, as some thought he deserved a last run at the top, and others were annoyed that a storyline so blatantly ripped off a movie was being shoved down their throats (as I was). Even so, Lynn went on to a solid reign, defending the title against Bryan Danielson, D-Lo Brown, Erick Stevens, Austin Aries, Tyler Black, Roderick Strong, Colt Cabana, Jay Briscoe, and Chris Hero. A scheduled defense against Austin Aries at “Manhattan Mayhem III” was changed at the last minute to a three-way involving Tyler Black. Unfortunately for Black, Aries was able to capture the title, becoming the first (and to date, only) two-time ROH World Champion. Black’s quest for the title would continue.

Aries played the cowardly heel to great effect, but the match quality came and went depending on the opponent. Through defenses against Nigel McGuinness, Jerry Lynn, Tyler Black, Grizzly Redwood, Alex Payne, Bryan Danielson, Petey Williams, Delirious, Roderick Strong, Kenny Omega, Davey Richards, and Colt Cabana, you almost never knew what you were going to get. His most memorable defense, in the worst possible way, was a disaster of a 60-minute draw against Tyler Black at “Final Battle 2009.” With a snowstorm brewing outside and an insanely long show to begin with, fans were in no mood for a 60-minute draw, especially when it became blatantly obvious that was what they were going for. Aries literally ran away from Black for a good portion of the match. At one point Black chased Aries to the back and the fans chanted “don’t come back.” That’s when they should have called an audible. But they didn’t, and it ended 2009 on an extremely sour note.

While the World Title division struggled, the tag team division thrived for first two-thirds of the year. Kevin Steen & El Generico began the year on top and immediately started feuding with the newly formed American Wolves, Eddie Edwards & Davey Richards. In the midst of that they made successful defenses against the Wolves at “Motor City Madness 2009″ and the “7thAnniversary Show,” as well as against Kenny King & Rhett Titus at “Insanity Unleashed.” Then they dropped them in a Tables Are Legal match at a TV taping in April, and the Wolves were off and running.

Richards and Edwards were the hottest act in the company, with great matches across the board. They made successful defenses against Bryan Danielson & Tyler Black, Kevin Steen & Jay Briscoe (both Generico and Mark Briscoe were hurt), Bryan Danielson & Kevin Steen, Kevin Steen & El Generico, Roderick Strong & KENTA, the Young Bucks, and the Briscoes. Unfortunately, Edwards injured himself during a match with Kevin Steen, halting the Wolves’ momentum, but they still defended the belts against Steen & Generico in the second-ever Ladder War at “Glory By Honor VIII: The Final Countdown.” It was their last defense until December, when they finally dropped the belts to the Briscoes at “Final Battle 2009.”

In addition to chasing the ROH World Title all year, Tyler Black had to fend off his former Age of The Fall leader Jimmy Jacobs. The feud seemingly went on forever, with multiple singles, four-way, and tag team matches throughout the first half of the year. Black finally got a definitive victory in June, beating Jacobs in a Steel Cage match at “Violent Tendencies” in Detroit. Jacobs tried to recreate the Age of The Fall that night, but the next night Black and several other ROH superstars cut that effort off at the knees and carried Jacobs out of the Frontier Fieldhouse in Chicago Ridge and out of Ring of Honor entirely.

Two veteran ROH stars made their returns in the same match at the “7th Anniversary Show” in March, as Colt Cabana returned to side with Bryan Danielson against Bison Smith and the returning Jimmy Rave. Both returns were well-received by fans, but both men were mostly midcard acts throughout the year, as Rave rejoined the Embassy, which also featured Bison, Claudio Castagnoli, Joey Ryan, Ernie Osiris, and later Erick Stevens. Cabana joined forces with Brent Albright, Necro Butcher, Grizzly Redwood and others to battle the Embassy throughout the summer. Rave also feuded with Necro Butcher, and Cabana had a brief feud with ROH World Champion Austin Aries and his underlings, Rhett Titus and Kenny King.

Unfortunately, stars also continued to leave Ring of Honor. In addition to losing Jimmy Jacobs, ROH suffered two of its biggest losses ever, as Bryan Danielson and Nigel McGuinness were both set to leave the company after “Glory By Honor VIII” to head to WWE and TNA, respectively. Danielson and McGuinness were both long-term ROH World Champions and two of the most respected men to ever compete in the company. They were huge losses. Both did the right thing on their way out, as Danielson put over Chris Hero, Austin Aries, and Davey Richards in classic matches, and McGuinness put over Roderick Strong. On their last night in the company, Danielson and McGuinness wrestled each other one last time, with Danielson getting the victory.

In other notable news, both Ric Flair and Bret Hart made a handful of appearances for the company, cutting cookie-cutter promos putting over ROH and “the guys in the back”; KENTA made several appearances and had excellent matches with Nigel McGuinness, Davey Richards, and Tyler Black; ROH debuted in Houston with AAA stars Magno, Blue Demon Jr., and Incognito appearing, as well as International stars Katsuhiko Nakajima and Alex Koslov; Lance Storm wrestled on both nights of “Death Before Dishonor VII,” teaming with Kevin Steen to beat Chris Hero & Davey Richards the first night, and then dropping a singles match to Hero on night two; Jim Cornette returned at “Glory By Honor VIII” as the new Executive Producer of ROH on HDNet; Tyler Black won the Survival of the Fittest tournament, defeating Roderick Strong, Chris Hero, Delirious, Colt Cabana, and Claudio Castagnoli in the finals; and Jack Evans and Teddy Hart made a bizarre appearance at “Final Battle 2009″ and embarrassed themselves with an exhibition of high flying maneuvers and not much else.

Match of the Year – The American Wolves vs. Bryan Danielson & Tyler Black, “Tag Title Classic”
Wrestler of the Year – Austin Aries
Tag Team of the Year – The American Wolves
Feud of the Year – The American Wolves vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico
Show of the Year – “Glory By Honor VIII: The Final Countdown”

Coming up – ROH changes bookers again, a new midcard title makes its debut, and more stars come and go…

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