A Decade of Honor – Ring of Honor 2011 (Davey Richards, The Briscoes)

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As ROH’s two-year contract with HDNet was scheduled to end on April 4, Ring of Honor aggressively began searching for a new TV deal to keep their name in the national spotlight. To that end, it was announced in June that the entire company had been sold to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, who would begin syndicating ROH Television at the end of September. This is one of the biggest stories to ever come out of Ring of Honor and would hopefully set the company up for long-term national exposure and success.

Even though he lost his Championship bid at “Final Battle 2010,” it was easy to see that Davey Richards was being positioned as the top guy in ROH as the calendar turned to 2011. Richards was given a shot at the ROH World Title to use whenever he wanted, but he wanted to make sure he was ready, because if he lost another shot, he claimed he would never challenge for the belt again.

While Richards bided his time, Roderick Strong began the year as Champion. Strong successfully defended the belt against Jay Briscoe, El Generico, and Homicide on his way to a matchup with Richards’s partner Eddie Edwards at “Manhattan Mayhem IV.” In a bit of an upset, Edwards upended Strong to become ROH’s first-ever Triple Crown winner. Edwards was able to get by Christopher Daniels, Chris Hero, and a rematch with Strong on his way to a showdown with his American Wolf compatriot, Davey Richards, who decided he was ready for his title shot at “Best in the World 2011″ in June.

Edwards had previously defeated Richards in the finals of the TV Title tournament in March 2010, but this was a different situation. After 30-plus minutes of brutal strikes and nasty submission holds, Richards knocked Edwards out with a running kick to the head to finally capture the ROH World Title. The new champion immediately cried, called the ROH fans his family, and hugged his opponent. Some people may think Richards thinks of wrestling as “too real” because of things like this, and I am one of those people.

Richards made it through the end of the year as the champion, with successful defenses against Roderick Strong at the first SBG TV Taping in August, and then followed it by retaining against El Generico at “Glory By Honor X” in Chicago and against the man he won the title from, Eddie Edwards, at “Final Battle 2011.” He also made defenses outside of ROH against Tommy End and Colt Cabana, who quietly exited the company in July.

After wrestling just one match in ROH in late 2010, Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas, now known as Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team, made a full-time commitment to ROH in 2011. They immediately targeted the Kings of Wrestling, who held the titles. Hero and Claudio were dominant champions in 2010, and looked to continue that trend in 2011. They were able to get by the All Night Express at the “9th Anniversary Show,” but a loss to Benjamin and Haas at “SoCal Showdown II” in January, as well as a WGTT victory over the Briscoes in February set the stage for a third and deciding match between the champs and their toughest challengers. Benjamin and Haas were able to capture the gold in Atlanta at “Honor Takes Center Stage Chapter 1,” ending the Kings’ reign at a few days shy of a year.

Haas and Benjamin were a good fit in ROH, as the fans like to cheer anyone who didn’t get pushed in the WWE because they think that makes them “underutilized.” And though they had some very good matches, their promos proved exactly why WWE felt they could live without them. Through their title defenses against the Briscoes, the Kings of Wrestling, the All Night Express, Colt Cabana & El Generico, and Future Shock, the match quality ebbed and flowed to the point that ROH fans were growing tired of them, and they had turned heel by the end of the year out of necessity.

Another ROH team had a back and forth year, as the Briscoes turned twice. They began the year as babyfaces, but then were part of a well-executed double-turn with the All Night Express in April. The two teams feuded through the spring and summer, and both teams made each other look good in a series of violent encounters. It all culminated in the third-ever Ladder War, in which the ANX finally got their big win and a Tag Team Title shot, which they lost. At the end of the feud the fans no longer seemed interested in booing Dem Boys, and they became babyfaces again to feud with Benjamin and Haas. The Briscoes began their seventh World Tag Team Title reign by defeating WGTT at “Final Battle 2011.”

With Christopher Daniels holding the TV belt, the title started off hot. Daniels made four defenses in January against Claudio Castagnoli, Devon Storm, Kenny King, and Mark Briscoe, and then one in February against Eddie Edwards and another in March against Mike Bennett. But when the HDNet deal expired and no new one in place, the belt was put on hold until the SBG announcement in June. With that very announcement, TNA once again pulled Daniels from ROH, but he was able to drop the belt to El Generico at “Best in the World 2011.” Unfortunately, some of the higher-ups in ROH (hint: he used to carry a tennis racket everywhere he went) don’t think much of Generico, so he quickly dropped the belt to a returning Jay Lethal at the first SBG taping in August. Lethal is still champion as of press time, successfully defending the title multiple times against Generico and Bennett.

One of the more prominent storylines of the year featured Steve Corino, who spent 2010 mentoring Kevin Steen in ways to be evil, particularly to El Generico and Colt Cabana. With Steen out of the company, Corino saw the error of his ways and wanted to rehabilitate himself from evil. Corino tried to wrestle and team with the youngsters of ROH to try and win their trust. He also feuded with Mike Bennett and brought Jimmy Jacobs, another former evil person, back as his sponsor. Also throughout the year, Steen himself made several appearances at ROH events, terrorizing Corino, Jacobs, Generico, and upper management. This led to a No-DQ match at “Final Battle 2011,” in which Steen beat Corino to earn his way back into ROH.

Always on a quest to develop new stars, ROH struck gold with Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly, collectively known as Future Shock. O’Reilly the striker and Cole the high flyer immediately jelled as a tag team and had good matches with a variety of teams, including the Bravado Brothers, the returning Young Bucks, and Caprice Coleman & Cedric Alexander. Those teams, along with the Briscoes, the Kings of Wrestling, the All Night Express, and Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team, gave ROH its deepest tag team division in years.

In other notable news, Prince Nana rebranded the Embassy with Tommaso Ciampa as the new crown jewel and also brought in Rhino for a couple of appearances; Mike Bennett won the Top Prospect Tournament on HDNet, defeating Adam Cole, Andy Ridge, and Kyle O’Reilly; Cole and O’Reilly won the Tag Team Lottery tournament in July, defeating Caprice Coleman & Cedric Alexander and the Bravado Brothers; Michael Elgin won the Survival of the Fittest tournament after beating Cole, Kenny King, and Ciampa in a qualifying match and then O’Reilly, Edwards, Strong, and both Briscoes in the finals; ROH introduced the Proving Ground, in which competitors who either beat or lasted to the time limit with one of ROH’s champions would earn a future title shot; a new longevity record was set during an eight-man tag team match in December featuring Benjamin, Haas, Edwards & Generico against the Briscoes, Elgin & Strong, as the elimination tag match lasted just over 80 minutes.

In its 10-year history, Ring of Honor was written off multiple times, but somehow they manage to keep coming back and creating new stars and memorable matches. Over the course of these columns I hope I brought back some fond memories for those who read them. I know I didn’t cover every single event or important figure in ROH, so for those I forgot I do apologize. ROH has a history rich with incredible matches, memorable shows, and some of the best talent to come onto the scene in recent memory. It’s no accident that the current WWE Champion (CM Punk) and World Heavyweight Champion (Daniel Bryan) primarily made their name in ROH.

Congratulations Ring of Honor. Here’s to another 10 years!

Match of the Year – Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team, Eddie Edwards & El Generico vs. The Briscoes, Michael Elgin & Roderick Strong, “Northern Aggression”
Wrestler of the Year – Davey Richards
Tag Team of the Year – Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team
Feud of the Year – The Briscoes vs. The All Night Express
Show of the Year – “Best in the World 2011″

Coming up – ROH celebrates 10 years!

For an easy-to-search archive of all my ROH DVD reviews, Click Right Here!

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