What started as a normal, run-of-the-mill wrestling discussion between myself, LoP's very own Chad Matthews, LoP's very own Romeo, LoP's very own De, and others morphed itself into this column. It went from discussing the finer points of booking feuds on social media sites to eventually turning into a discussion about Dean Ambrose, before turning into an all-out discussion on indy wrestling.
I often get people asking me about indy wrestling, whether it's the current scene or the past, and I get requests to recommend things. People want to know what companies they should watch. What matches they should check out. What wrestlers they should look for. That's what this column is going to be for. I'm going to make recommendations on numerous things. You won't see me including any links to those things, because I don't want to get in any sort of trouble, but if you're particular net-savvy, you'll know where to look for these things, and if you're one of those people who wants to support independent wrestling at any cost, you'll know where to go and spend your money.
I'm going to start with Ring Of Honor, since that's the top indy promotion, and the one that everyone asks about the most. If this column gets to be too long, I'm going to keep it at RoH and just look at other promotions in a future column or two. Let's make this happen..
People usually ask me if they should start from the beginning of RoH's existence and move forward from there. While I wouldn't be completely against the idea, the early years of the promotion were the true definition of "hit or miss". You had some amazing "spot monkeys" on the early cards, and those matches would at least impress you from that point-of-view, but a large portion of the roster was filled with people who simply weren't ready for anything closely resembling "prime time". When you watch RoH shows from 2002 and 2003 (even into 2004), you'll get cards where the first match bores you to tears, but the second match really impressed you, only to have the third match be a botch fest, but the fourth match was full of high spots, and so on. That doesn't make for the greatest viewing experience, if you ask me. The company was still trying to find their groove. They started off as a "indy super fed", basically, taking all of the top names on the independent scene and putting them together on their biggest stage yet. The workers were basically out for themselves in the beginning. Even they didn't know what Ring Of Honor was going to be about. Would they try to succeed as their own promotion? Would they be nothing more than a showcase for the bigger promotions to see them and scoop them up? There wasn't any pacing or true ring psychology in the early days of RoH. Everyone wanted to put as many big spots into their matches as they possibly could, and it hurt the overall quality of the product.
At some point in 2004, things finally began to click. The company had been around long enough, and was becoming quite successful for what it was, so the workers understood more of what was trying to be accomplished. They started spending more time working with the same locker room, and them chemistry began to show in the ring. The second half of 2004 began RoH's "Golden Era", in my opinion. That era would last well into 2008. That's the time frame that I give people when they start asking me about what they should start watching when they first get into RoH. 2004-2008, just for a broad range. What should you look for, specifically, though? I'm glad you asked. Here's some specifics, in no particular order:
Supercard Of Honor 3
If you know my columns, you've seen me discuss this show on multiple occasions. I've said it before, and I'll say it again.. from top to bottom, this is the single best wrestling show I've ever seen. Period. Independent or mainstream. Delirious VS Go Shiozaki? I gave it three stars. Erick Stevens VS Roderick Strong? Four stars. The Briscoes VS The Age Of The Fall (Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black aka FCW's Seth Rollins)? Four-and-a-quarter stars. Kevin Steen & El Generico VS Shingo & BxB Hulk? Four-and-a-quarter stars. Nigel McGuinness (aka TNA's Desmond Wolfe) VS Austin Aries for the RoH World Title? Four stars. CIMA, Dragon Kid & Ryo Saito VS Naruki Doi, Masato Yoshino & Genki Horiguchi? Four-and-three-quarter stars. Just an insane night of in-ring action. LoPR recently showed SOH3 for an episode of Throwback Thursdays, and the chat was full of people that had never seen the show before. By the end of the show, everyone was raving about what they had seen, and people were marking out, talking about going back and watching it all over again. If you're going to watch shows in chronological order, based on my "Golden Era", this would be one of the last shows you'll see, as it took place during WrestleMania weekend in 2008. If you're just watching stuff out of order, go out of your way to track this show down. I guarantee you that you won't be disappointed.
Summer Of Punk
As I mentioned on multiple occasions last year, what we saw with CM Punk and the storyline involving him wanting to leave WWE with the WWE Title was fun, but it wasn't new. During his time with RoH, we got to see something very similar from Punk. After a lengthy quest for the RoH World Title, Punk finally won it, and it was a "feel good" story. However, Punk immediately turned heel and began talking about taking the title with him to WWE. It was a throwback to the days of ECW, where wrestlers would be rumored to be "jumping ship" to the WWF or to WCW, and it would piss the fans off like no other. Punk would put the title on the line, and everyone was expecting him to drop the belt, knowing he was on his way out the door, but he kept on defending the title successfully. It had everyone caught up in the storyline. Punk would even take the disrespect to a new level by signing his WWE contract on top of the RoH World Title during one memorable promo. Trying to capitalize on Punk's mainstream success and popularity, RoH recently released a DVD set that was solely dedicated to the original "Summer Of Punk", featuring his title victory, his title defenses, and even his final match with the company before he finally did leave for WWE. It also includes several promos and moments during the stretch. To be honest, the sheer emotion of Punk's final match makes that set worth purchasing, in my opinion. Seeing Punk with tears streaming down his face, on his knees in the middle of the ring, while the RoH fans throw streamers into the ring is an amazing moment. If you're going to be checking Ring Of Honor out, you owe it to yourself to see this particular storyline unfold.
Joe VS Kobashi
The event itself was called "Joe VS Kobashi", but I'm referring to the match itself.. Samoa Joe VS Kenta Kobashi. The match holds a very special place in my heart, because when I was in the position of asking about Ring Of Honor and what I should check out, this is what was recommended to me. When I was told to watch it, I was told that the entire match embodied what RoH stood for.. the international flavor with one of Japan's all-time greats coming to America for his first appearances here, the crowd being extra jacked for the historic match, the hard-hitting style that both men brought to the table. The match itself is good. It's really good, actually. However, it's more about that overall vibe and that atmosphere than anything else. It's about an electric a crowd as RoH has ever seen, in my opinion.
Bryan Danielson's Title Reign
From September 17th, 2005 to December 23rd, 2006, Bryan Danielson (aka Daniel Bryan, for the five of you who don't know that already) had one of the most epic World Title reigns in Ring Of Honor history, successfully defending the title a whopping 38 times. That's 38 times in 462 days. To give you a bit of a comparison, and to show you how things have changed with RoH through the years, the current RoH World Champion, Davey Richards has had the title for 297 days as of today (Wednesday, April 18th, for clarification, because I don't know what day I'll post this, or what day you'll read this). In those 297 days, Davey has defended the title nine times. Big difference, no? I know I've mentioned those numbers in a previous column, but holy hell, it's worth repeating until the company finally gets a pair and puts the title on someone else. Danielson's title reign was something special, folks. Not only did he defend the title an average of once every 12 days, which is ridiculous, especially for a promotion that doesn't have multiple television shows every week, plus at least one pay-per-view a month, but he was putting on quality match after quality match. He beat the likes of Austin Aries (three times, counting one Four Corner Elimination match), Chris Hero, AJ Styles, Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin, Samoa Joe (four times), Lance Storm, Colt Cabana (three times), Nigel McGuinness (three times), Homicide (two times, before finally dropping the title to him), and KENTA, among others. On top of that, for the last four months of his reign, he was defending the title with a shoulder that was separated and had two torn tendons, as well as a torn tendon in his chest. Ridiculous. If you're looking for some of the best pure, mat-based technical wrestling that the industry has seen in the last decade, then this title reign is definitely something you'll want to check out.
The Monster, Morishima
As is the case with many indy promotions, a large majority of the Ring Of Honor roster has always been smaller workers. Guys that are under six-feet. Guys that most would say are "too small" to succeed in "mainstream wrestling" (although that has certainly been proven wrong in the last two or three years). Sure, RoH had Samoa Joe, who, at 6'1" (or 6'2", depending on where you're getting your info) and 280 pounds, isn't exactly a small man, but he isn't exactly what you would first think of when you think of a "monster" in the wrestling world. Enter Pro Wrestling NOAH's Takeshi Morishima. Now, Morishima isn't exactly Big Show in size (6'3" and 300 pounds), but when he's in the ring with guys like Bryan Danielson (5'10" and 190 pounds, which is probably stretching it on both numbers) and Homicide (basically the same size as Danielson), he might as well be. He got out of the gates in record fashion, winning the RoH World Title in his second official night with the company (his third overall match, after wrestling twice the previous night), and would go on to steamroll his opponents for a 231-day title reign before finally being bested by Nigel McGuinness. Morishima's time with the company was relatively brief (35 total matches in nearly two years), but his domination was, chances are, unlike anything we'll ever see in RoH again. If you're looking for a criminally underrated match from Morishima's time with RoH, check out his match with Dragon Gate's Shingo Takagi at the Good Times, Great Memories event on April 28th, 2007. Pro Wrestling NOAH VS Dragon Gate, but with a twist, as Shingo's strength and bodybuilding background allowed him to actually go to war with Morishima, even though he was also facing a tremendous size disadvantage (5'10" and 215 pounds). Real entertaining stuff.
Cage Of Death
Now, let me first say that I'm not a huge fan of the "death match" style of wrestling. It's alright, I suppose, in spots here and there, but I couldn't sit and watch an entire show of it. With that said, 2006 saw a bit of an "invasion" storyline as Philadelphia-based promotion Combat Zone Wrestling showed up to face off with RoH. Both companies have called Philly their "home base", but the overall vibe of the promotions couldn't have been any more different. The general theme of CZW was the aforementioned "death match" style (although there were certainly some really good non-hardcore matches in CZW through the years), while RoH has always focused on the technical aspect of wrestling. After various run-ins, brawls and promo wars through the months, there was only one way to end things.. CZW would bring their Cage Of Death to RoH for RoH's Death Before Dishonor 4 event on July 15th, 2006. Cage Of Death, at the time, was fought under the old NWA War Games rules. Two teams face off. Each team sends in one man to start the match. Those two fight for X amount of time until the team that won a pre-match coin toss got to send in a second man. Then it would be a two-on-one situation for X amount of minutes, until the second team got to send in another man to even the odds, and so on and so forth. Once every man was in the cage, then the match would "begin". Inside the cage, there would be all sorts of weapons, from steel chairs to tables to barbed wire. RoH was represented by the team of Samoa Joe, BJ Whitmer, Adam Pearce, "Crazy" Ace Steel and Bryan Danielson. CZW was represented by Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli, Eddie Kingston, Necro Butcher and "Spyder" Nate Webb. The match was fought in front of an interesting crowd, to say the least. The event was, as mentioned, an RoH show, and it was held in Philadelphia, but the building was almost literally split in half between RoH fans and CZW fans. As you're watching at home, the entire left side of the building is CZW fans, while the right side of the building is RoH fans. The entire match was filled with dueling chants from both sides, almost as if it were a neutral-site soccer match or something. Just an insane atmosphere. I don't want to give away too much of the match, but let's just say that Danielson's involvement in the match was more about attacking top contender to his title, Samoa Joe, than it was defending the Ring Of Honor name. Once Danielson was out, RoH needed a new member of the team to even the odds. That man would eventually be Homicide, who came out to one of the loudest pops in RoH history. The storyline there was that Cide had "turned his back" on RoH, feeling that they had screwed him out of the RoH World Title on multiple occasions, and he "quit". This was his return, and the Philadelphia crowd ate it all up. The match itself was a helluva brawl. There was enough hardcore wrestling to satisfy the CZW faithful, but not enough to really turn the RoH faithful off. Just a great mix of action, atmosphere, and drama.
The Era Of Honor Begins
I realize what I've said about the early years of Ring Of Honor, and while I do stand by it, I would still recommend taking a look at RoH's very first show, The Era Of Honor Begins, simply for historical purposes. The main event is something that will pique the interest of a lot of you.. Bryan Danielson VS Low Ki VS Christopher Daniels. Also on the card is Eddie Guerrero VS Super Crazy, during Eddie's time on the indies after initially being released by WWE after being arrested for drunk driving at the end of 2001. Other recognizable names on the show would be Spanky (aka Brian Kendrick), Michael Shane (aka Matt Bentley from TNA), Amazing Red, Homicide, and Jay Briscoe (Mark Briscoe was with him, but Mark was only 17 at the time, and in the state of Pennsylvania, couldn't legally wrestle yet). The show's main event was as good as you would expect it to be, even though Danielson was only 20 years old and Ki was only 22 years old. Guerrero VS Super Crazy was a solid match. Jay Briscoe VS Amazing Red was pretty decent considering Red was 19 years old and Jay had just turned 18 years old). The rest of the show was, at best, "meh", and, at worst, pretty bad. Again, though, this is a show you'd check out for the historical value it holds, as well as for the curiosity of it all. As long as you can go into watching it with that in mind, and not expect too, too much out of it, you should find that it's worth checking out.
Little Rage, Big Cage
Jimmy Jacobs is a very interesting piece of the wrestling business. At 5'7" and 165 pounds, he certainly isn't a very large person. His mind for the business, and his heart, couldn't be measured, though. In 2006, Jacobs was involved in a "blood feud" with his former tag team partner, BJ Whitmer. The team was managed by Lacey, and the storyline was that Jacobs was falling in love with her, while Whitmer continued to get frustrated that his tag partner wasn't paying attention to their matches anymore. Their feud saw levels of brutality that RoH fans weren't used to seeing. In one match, Whitmer went to attempt a Powerbomb from the top rope, and depending on who tells you the story, he either slipped and fell, or he did it on purpose as a new move, but the end result was him falling off the top rope and to the outside, with Jacobs essentially getting Powerbombed on the way down, smacking the back of his head on the ring apron, as seen in the following photo..
In another match, Whitmer went for another top-rope Powerbomb, but this time, he jumped off and Powerbombed him into the crowd. I'm not making that up, ladies and gentlemen. One second, they were up top, and the next second, they were both diving into the crowd, with Jacobs obviously taking the worst of the move. The introduction of a railroad spike would then take place during the feud, and there was plenty of blood. Everything culminated in a Steel Cage Match at Supercard Of Honor 2 on March 31st, 2007. An absolutely brutal brawl. Jacobs tore his ACL during the match, and continued working through it. He also had a tooth knocked out during the match, while Whitmer had to miss some time with a neck injury that he suffered. When you watch the match, you get caught up in the moment, and you think that Jacobs and Whitmer are trying to kill each other. You really get the feeling that both men want to destroy each other, and that it isn't just a storyline. That's the kind of magic that we all live for as wrestling fans. To get so wrapped up in something that you blur the lines between "real" and "fake" on your own. I know people that aren't necessarily fans of this style of wrestling who still really enjoy this match.
There isn't a wrestling promotion that says goodbye to its wrestlers like Ring Of Honor. As mainstream wrestling fans, we're used to wrestlers jumping ship or having their contracts run out. We're also used to seeing those wrestlers get jobbed out, or removed from television altogether. In RoH, things are different. I've already mentioned CM Punk's emotional "goodbye", but he's certainly not the only person to receive that type of treatment from RoH and the RoH fans. Samoa Joe got an emotional "goodbye" during the Fifth Year Festival: Finale event on March 4th, 2007. Colt Cabana got one during the aforementioned Good Times, Great Memories event. Hell, Bryan Danielson got an entire "goodbye" tour, getting a chance to speak to the fans in city after city, putting RoH and its locker room over on his way out the door. It doesn't matter if the wrestler was a face or a heel, or what he spent his time with the company doing. The RoH fans, for all of the shit they get from people, showed them the utmost respect, throwing streamers, giving them standing ovations, etc. It's something different, and it's something special. For those of you who are used to wrestlers getting treated like garbage on their way out of a promotion, checking out these various "goodbyes" can be pretty fun.
Davey Richards: The Death Of RoH
As much as I dislike Davey Richards in the ring, as well as the way RoH continues to push him, I know that you can't tell the entire story of Ring Of Honor without mentioning him. In this particular section, I'm only going to point to one particular match.. Davey Richards defending the RoH World Title against Eddie Edwards at Final Battle 2011. There haven't been many matches in recent memory that infuriated me like this one did. We're talking about 40+ minutes of no-sell after no-sell, with a complete lack of ring psychology throughout. Davey Richards is so full of himself that it sickens me. Eddie Edwards is nothing more than a poor man's Davey Richards. Combine that with RoH management's complete lack of testicles, and you have this train wreck. Both men had zero intention of making the other look good. They just wanted to go in there and show the world how "tough" they are. Suplex me? Fuck you, I'm not selling that shit. Superkick me? Fuck you, I'm not selling that shit. Fuck you, period. I'm not selling any of your shit. I'll even break out of your submission attempts to turn around and hit you with moves.. that you'll just no-sell and then hit me with something.. that I'll no-sell. Both men are bland with no real charisma or mic skills, look like generic create-a-wrestlers that you'd put into WWE '12 just so you could practice moves on in exhibition matches, and try a little too hard to come across as MMA fighters instead of what they are.. marginally talented professional wrestlers. They're everything that is wrong with independent wrestling today, and they're spearheading the downfall of Ring Of Honor from the inside. There are too many people on the RoH roster that fall into the exact same category as these two, which means every wrestler looks the same and every match comes across as being the same. There aren't enough differences and personalities in RoH that get any sort of positive reaction out of me these days, so I don't watch as much as I could/should. If you've never watched Ring Of Honor before, and are looking for my suggestions to start with, make sure you look at this one last. I want you to see the difference between RoH from 2002, RoH from 2006, and RoH from today. I want you to see the difference between Bryan Danielson VS Samoa Joe and Davey Richards VS Eddie Edwards.
That's about it for this particular column. Again, I would like to do other columns like this for different indy promotions, but we'll see how this one goes before I even begin thinking about that stuff. If anyone has any questions.. either about these suggestions, or other wrestlers/matches/storylines in the history of RoH, please feel free to ask, and I'll be happy to answer them. I'd also like to hear from people who took my suggestions and watched what I mentioned in this column. You know what I think about all of these things, but now I want to know what you think about them. If you're about to embark on your very first journey with Ring Of Honor, I wish you luck. Just don't forget to holla at ya boy when you're done.