Right now, we’re in a golden age of professional wrestling. From All Elite Wrestling’s remarkably successful first year and WWE’s lucrative deal with Fox, it’s clear that wrestling is hot. But this success is not universal. Plenty of promotions are struggling, and they might get left in the dust while AEW continues to grow. After Ring of Honor endured a particularly challenging 2019, could it become the most prominent of these possibly endangered companies?
Looking back on the previous year, ROH constantly made news for the wrong reasons. The highly-publicized G1 Supercard, which could have been a new beginning for the company, turned off many fans. The controversial debut of nZo and CazXL and the arrival of Angelina Love and Velvet Sky left some viewers with a sour taste in their mouths. Plus, rather than putting the world title on fan-favorite Marty Scurll, the company opted to end the major Madison Square Garden show with Matt Taven as its top champion. Needless to say, many fans weren’t thrilled with ROH’s portion of the card.
There’s nothing wrong with rewarding a loyal, talented member of the roster with a title run. But given the ascension of AEW, ROH could have earned some favor with the fans by pushing the charismatic Scurll. Instead, we had to sit through an uninspiring summer with Taven as the Ring of Honor World Champion. During this time, one of the company’s hottest acts, Jeff Cobb, lost to Taven before he left to compete in New Japan’s G1 Climax. Cobb’s defeat and subsequent absence derailed his momentum and he still hasn’t regained it. At every turn, it seemed that something went wrong for ROH.
Speaking of AEW, the loss of The Elite (Cody, the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and others) devastated ROH. When they, Ring of Honor lost a sizable chunk of its star power. The Young Bucks have played a vital role in bringing wrestling back into pop culture. Without them, ROH suddenly became a lot less “cool” and Cody, Omega and the Bucks were vital cogs in the company’s relationship with New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Once they left, it was only a matter of time before this partnership frayed. (Especially after many fans panned ROH’s showing at G1 Supercard.) Likewise, a once mutually beneficial relationship between the National Wrestling Association and ROH soured in the summer. (Although that looks to be in good favor again, if recent events are any indication.) Imagine the exposure ROH could have gotten on NWA Powerrr when it immediately wowed wrestling fans.
Even when you put aside the loss of top talent and these crucial partnerships, negative publicity still tormented the company all year long. In June, a backstage incident between Bully Ray and a fan led many to criticize ROH for the way it handled the situation. Of course, the grim saga involving Joey Mercury, Kelly Klein and the company’s medical policies takes the cake. Of course, there are two sides to every story. But at the end of the day, the controversy worsened ROH’s fall from grace and severely diminished the company’s women’s division. Again and again, misfortune ravaged ROH.
Believe it or not, we’re here to talk about why 2020 could be a much-needed step in the right direction for the company. It’s just important to establish everything the company has been dealing with recently. This month, when a few reasons for optimism arrived, we felt compelled to call attention to them because ROH had been put through the ringer in 2019.
First and foremost, the most significant step forward is Marty Scurll’s new contract with the company. For months, it seemed like a certainty that the Villain would head for greener pastures, either with WWE or All Elite Wrestling. When Scurll made an appearance at NWA Into The Fire, his departure from ROH seemed even more imminent. Instead, earlier this week, news of Scurll’s contract extension shocked wrestling fans worldwide.
In addition to staying with the company, Scurll will become the head booker. Time will tell if he can improve the on-screen product but the importance of this development cannot be understated. Scurll is one of the hottest commodities in wrestling. It’s safe to say that both WWE and AEW wanted to sign him. By staying with Ring of Honor, Scurll is sending an emphatic message: he’s not giving up on ROH, and neither should we.
Retaining Scurll could be the best thing ROH does all year. His contract reportedly allows him to continue working with NWA, and it’s no coincidence the two companies are working together again. (For example, after appearing at ROH Saturday Night at Center Stage, NWA Worlds Champion Nick Aldis will face ROH star Flip Gordon at NWA Hard Times.) The restoration of this partnership could be a shot in the arm for ROH, and it’s fair to hope that their relationship with New Japan Pro-Wrestling could be on the upswing. Slowly but surely, ROH is getting back on track.
In another bit of good news, popular star Bandido also opted to re-sign with the company. Since he debuted in ROH, Bandido has dazzled fans with his high-flying offense. He’s only 24 years old, so the sky’s the limit for Bandido. In the short-term, he’s staying with ROH, which is another sign that prominent wrestlers believe in the company despite the trials it faced throughout 2019.
Some skeptics may question if any of this really matters; the professional wrestling landscape is crowded and the success of WWE and AEW could lead to a weeding out process. We could see natural selection in the form of fans picking which companies to engage with. Any company that fails to draw sufficient eyes could fade away before our very eyes, but it isn’t always true that only the strong survive.
ROH could find itself in the same place as IMPACT Wrestling. For years, IMPACT struggled to stay afloat, let alone thrive. Their inability to land a quality television deal is well-documented and a long stretch of questionable creative decisions led to the company’s rapid downfall. But IMPACT persevered and brought in new leadership to enter a new era. After getting the coveted deal with AXS TV, IMPACT continues to find carve out a niche for itself. It offers a different flavor of wrestling than WWE and AEW, and, if ROH can do the same, they too can maintain a place in the professional wrestling landscape.
We’ll have to wait and see what comes of Scurll’s new role with Ring Of Honor and how it’ll affect the product. But, no matter what, it’s encouraging that Scurll and Bandido displayed their trust in the company. On the heels of a fairly miserable 2019, t’s easy to declare that ROH is dying or that there’s no place for it in today’s landscape. But with newfound reasons for hope, ROH may have just weathered a terrible storm and made it to the other side.