Ring of Honor debuts its new, syndicated Television show this weekend, with much anticipation and potentially the biggest earthquake in the status quo of the professional wrestling industry in more than a half-decade.
Note that I said potential, but the reality is that Sinclair Broadcasting is a major player in syndication, and while some have scoffed at the 22% penetration across the nation, this deal brings ROH and its established brand to more people than have ever seen the promotion.
You can go to www.rohwrestling.com or check your local listings to see where Ring of Honor is airing.
The key question will be, can ROH captivate a professional wrestling fanbase and generate revenue from live events, iPPV and merchandising in an era where it is difficult to survive in this business, and difficult to gain mainstream traction in the industry.
ROH Talent runs deep. The promotion has always been associated with great wrestling and matches, and obviously the Champions of ROH maintain that high standard, like Nigel McGuinness, Takeshi Morishima and current World Champion Davey Richards. The ROH roster has always been filled with characters, wrestlers and a variety of storylines and feuds that brought great attention from a hardcore wrestling fanbase, often scoffed at as being Internet based, but almost invariably presenting a level of skill and interaction and interest that makes mainstream wrestling pale in comparison.
While the mainstream promotions tend to belittle ROH, they have turned to the promotions’ talent and have featured or signed up former ROH Champions with few exceptions. Low Ki was prominent on the WWE’s Tough Enough relaunch. Samoa Joe, Nigel McGuinness, Homicide, Austin Aries and Jerry Lynn have been title holders or main event players in TNA. While CM Punk and Daniel Bryan have made waves in the WWE, James Gibson also wore gold, and Tyler Black – perhaps the most mainstream talent that ROH produced – is signed to the WWE’s Florida Championship Wrestling developmental territory.
In terms of talent and dedication and passion, Ring of Honor does compete with the mainstream.
And often excels.
Sure, there are those fans who believe that merchandising makes a Superstar (TM, WWE) great, but more fans look to in-ring skills, ability to work a long match and the ability to impress with athleticism as more important.
In those terms, ROH is superior, but in terms of visibility, Ring of Honor has been suspect.
The promotion toiled on Mark Cuban’s HDNet Cable station for some time, but never seemed to reach a higher level of prominence. Then again, TNA has toiled on SPIKE far longer, and has seen diminishing returns despite having far more name value among its talent.
Will the Sinclair situation raise the visibility, and will ROH raise enough eyebrows?
That is the big question.
Professional wrestling has been a staple of TV since that medium was mainstream, and syndicated shows were among the strongest of programming, until Cable dominated the small screen. Pro wrestling fans tend to gravitate to the product, no matter how bad the time slot is. With ROH on a significant syndication deal, and airing in reasonable time slots – it seems like 10 pm and 11 pm on Saturdays are the expectations, how long will it take for fans to find it?
And will they like what they see?
Ring of Honor presents a more technical approach to the sport, but also hits the high spots. At the top of the card are guys who can do the daredevil spots, the high flying, the dives that elicit awe from fans. On the other hand, ROH has mostly avoided the “ECW” style of blood, violence and vulgarity since it did battle with Combat Zone Wrestling a few years back.
Well, mostly is a subjective term.
One interesting storyline involves Kevin Steen, who threatens to bring back the violence, the blood and the irreverent attitude, despite bearing the moniker of Mr. Wrestling.
And the tag team scene has had its memorable images of crimson masks and over-the-top situations.
What is a tag team, you may ask?
I’m sure ROH will return the sport to that particular avenue of pro wrestling history and glory. While I’m never one for WWE castoffs, the current ROH Tag Team Champions are Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas, the once proclaimed Greatest Tag Team in the World, and the team has reclaimed that title.
It’s somewhat belittling to say that they are the best Tag Team in the world in an industry where Tag Team wrestling faded away along with The Road Warriors, but ROH is a strong proponent of the artform of matches between two teams of two men, and established teams, not just two top names tossed together.
The Briscoes (Jay and Mark), The All Night Express (Rhett Titus & Kenny King), Adam Cole & Kyle O’Reilly, and an assortment of other named teams fill out the roster. Also, while the Kings of Wrestling are headed to the WWE, they are slated to appear in the early episodes of ROH’s one hour programming, and Chris Hero & Claudio Castagnolli have dominated the independent scene for the past few years.
The match between Benjamin & Hass and Hero & Castagnolli will make even the most jaded mainstream fans realize the potential of the style.
When you watch, the most important thing to look for is an introduction to Ring of Honor.
ROH has a history, has a rabid fan base and has a strong style that can sometimes be hard to follow.
Technical wrestling involves lots of counters, an expectation of understanding the talents of the guys in the ring, and keeping up with what is often a fast paced performance in the ring.
If the TV show can package its top performers, it can make stars out of them with their efforts in the ring. That’s an approach the mainstream cannot touch, but it’s also something that ROH has not proven over the past several years – an ability to introduce new audiences and to grow its fanbase.
That’s the most important question these next few weeks.
Because I have little doubt that any self-professed professional wrestling fan will love this promotion, I’m just not sure how much time the modern era professional wrestling fan will give to a promotion that doesn’t explain itself properly.
Fifteen years ago, the professional wrestling industry had many, significant, stylistically different promotions in Japan, Mexico, the United States and across the world. Today, there’s mostly the Mainstream style dominated by the WWE and copied by TNA, plus an American Indy style dominated by ROH and copied by most (but not all) other regional or smaller promotions.
(Yes, there is Dragon Gate, Evolve, CHIKARA, PWG, AAW, AIW and others of significance).
The key breakthrough to getting more attention to other styles requires three things, and ROH on Sinclair brings two of them: a distinct style with great talent, and an increased visibility.
That third aspect is much more elusive, and that involves the patience and understanding of how to present this new style to a mainstream audience.
The question I have is whether or not ROH can deliver on that, but with Jim Cornette, Joe Koff and and an established crew continuing the momentum that ROH has established over seven years, I have high hopes.
But, like most avid pro wrestling fans, having high hopes in the modern era is no guarantee of success.