ROH: The Decline and Fall

Ring of HonorROH came to Pittsburgh. I didn’t go. Most people didn’t. Attendance was estimated at 500. How that can be rated a success on any level, I’ve got no idea. But they’ll try. It’s nice to know Bruno Sammartino’s audience has finally died out.

ROH did a mini-angle in Pittsburgh involving Arena Football players. Free advice: Don’t mix bush-league genres. It’s like blending rotgut scotch with mud. Bad goes to worse.

Checked out ROH TV again. Crap production aside, it’s good. Episodic. Action-packed. Identifiable storylines. Subtle threads intermingled to make you think. Kevin Kelly excellent on PbP.

ROH has arrived as a legit third promotion. Thing is, you can’t be third. When was the last time a third promotion survived for any length of time? We tend to think ECW was around longer than it actually was because WWE absorbed it as a brand. But the Extreme version of ECW existed from 1994-2001. Not that long.

Not enough trickles down to No. 3. Casual fans and the mainstream media just never find out. No. 3 can fit into a marketable niche, but not a profitable niche. As good as ECW under Paul Heyman was, it went broke. Bankrupt. For a No. 3 promotion, there simply aren’t enough dollars to go around.

The word is that Jim Cornette sees the end coming, and is brooding because of it. Hey, no one knows better what the end looks like. Cornette knows that a small promotion can only exist so long without turning a corner. Then returns quickly diminish. You lose top talent, you get desperate, you compromise. Bad goes to worse. It happened in Smoky Mountain. It would have happened in OVW without WWE (now TNA) backing.

ROH has lost top talent. Right now, there’s little talent worth poaching. ROH does some dumb stuff – like involving local DJs in feuds for house-show purposes; the ‘70s are over! – but nothing crippling. There doesn’t seem to be a relationship with WWE or TNA, so there’s no temptation to bring in wrestlers from those companies to be “the real stars” on selected shows. Cornette damaged Smoky Mountain by going that route.

Right now ROH seems set to slowly peter out. Fade away. Never mind the product. Nothing about the business model suggests ROH is going in the right direction.

Note to ROH fans: I understand how much you love ROH. I appreciate the product, too. It’s relatively pure. It’s wrestling the way you like it. Wrestling the way it used to be. (Now where have I heard that before?) The loyalty of the fans is impressive.

But there just aren’t enough of you.

If/when ROH folds, does it damage Cornette’s legacy? He’s one of the best managers and talkers ever. He’s supposed to be this great wrestling mind. But whenever that great wrestling mind gets in charge of something, it goes belly-up. Cornette has long been stuck in a time warp, though several of his innovations in ROH have served the promotion well, like using graphics to educate fans about wrestlers and rules. That gives ROH more of an MMA/“real sports” feel than most fake wrestling.

Cornette needs ROH, that’s for sure. His behavior has made him totally unemployable by a big company. You can’t slap an employee or beat up a Burger King and expect to work for a major corporation. That’s what WWE & TNA are, major corporations – though Vince and Dixie certainly do their best to compromise that credibility behind the scenes. But owners can do what they want.

It would be a shame to see Cornette disappear into the indy scene, and I mean that sincerely. At this point in his life, he should be booking WWE, not scrambling for $50. But Cornette is one bankruptcy away from that happening.

With ROH in danger – and it is; anytime you draw a “crowd” of 500, your promotion is in danger – it’s time to look back through the annals of ROH and pick the company’s No. 1 wrestler ever.

You can make an argument for Samoa Joe. He was ROH’s longest-reigning champ, and his attitude and style gave ROH a different look, a nastiness, a perverse credibility. Nigel McGuinness and Bryan Danielson (bka Daniel Bryan) each had 38 title defenses. Their in-ring work was impeccable and Danielson, in particular, set a new standard. His reputation has been further burnished by what he’s done in WWE, tough turf for a guy his size. Same thing with CM Punk: His character development carried ROH, and his feud with Joe might be the company’s most memorable. Three words: FIVE-STAR MATCH. I still think Kevin Steen looks like a fan who won a contest, and he’ll never make the big time, but I include him out of respect to current ROH fans.

But my pick for ROH’s top wrestler of all-time is DAVEY RICHARDS. Richards, you see, knows when to get out.

Davey sees the end of days coming, so he’s looking for other work. He’s going to be a fireman, I’m told. Escaping a burning building, escaping a dying promotion/business: both heroic acts. If he’s not ROH’s best wrestler, he’s certainly its smartest.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m.weekdays on WXDX-FM, Pittsburgh, PA(105.9). Check out his web page Contact Mark by emailing [email protected]com. FOLLOW MARK ON TWITTER: @MarkMaddenX