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Ring of Honor’s Direction Unclear After All-Star Extravganza

If you consider the starting point where WWE, TNA and Ring Honor all started 2014, the company that has made the most progress this year is Ring of Honor. You can clearly make an argument to say both WWE and TNA have regressed from where they were at the start of  2014. The peak of the rise of Ring of Honor seems to be their live debut on traditional pay-per-view in June. Since that time, Ring of Honor lost the guy that had been the company’s biggest star in Kevin Steen to WWE Developmental. They lost Silas Young just prior to this weekend’s show in Toronto as he was the guy they picked to have Steen’s last program with.  And now, he is out of the mix with a broken leg for 3-4 months.

Saturday in Toronto marked the return to iPPV for first time for ROH since they were on traditional pay-per-view in June. While “Best in the World” exceeded the internal expectations in terms of pay-per-view buys, the show had the main event of champion Adam Cole against challenger Michael Elgin who had been chasing Cole for some time to get a fair one-on-one shot for the title. He finally got it and he was able to cash in and become champion. It was a great feel good moment to close out a debut on live pay-per-view.

I have been disappointed with the follow-up since in terms of Ring of Honor. It seems like so much focus and energy went into that and things rather went flat after that. The in-ring product remains a very high quality, but it just seemed to fail to have the follow-up that you would have expected. The next big event for the company was Field of Honor, an event in which they replaced TNA for an annual show that takes place at the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball stadium each summer. They drew a decent crowd based on observation and it wasn’t a nightmare scenario that we have seen with TNA baseball stadium shows a couple times this summer. Now, it wasn’t a bad show but it didn’t exactly blow me away. I thought the best match was the opener with the blow off to the Matt Taven and Jay Lethal feud in a steel cage. The 4-way main event for the ROH title had star power but just did not deliver with Adam Cole, Jay Briscoe and AJ Styles all looking to take the ROH Title from new champion Michael Elgin.

That was roughly three weeks prior to this past Saturday’s All-Star Extravaganza event. This turned out to be a fantastic show that I was able to take in live over the weekend in Toronto. The big talking point out of the show was the surprising title change with Jay Briscoe defeating Michael Elgin in Toronto where he is hometown talent.

It was surprising without knowing a couple of things. Elgin, on this very website in an interview with our Brian Fritz, expressed his desire to tryout for professional baseball. He went into detail how he has changed his training to prepare for this and even hired a battling coach. This did not sit well with Ring of Honor officials but is something Elgin somewhat denies on Twitter.

In addition, there were some issues with how he was booked in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla in Battle of L.A according to Dave Meltzer on Live Audio Wrestling Sunday night.  Meltzer also noted that the choice to take the title off Elgin was made prior to knowledge of another major problem for Elgin.

Elgin has some issues with his visa and will not be able to return to the United States for the next 90 days and will have to stay north of the border. unless something can worked out with his paperwork.  If you do the math, this might also have an impact on his ability to appear at “Final Battle” which is the big event on the ROH calendar scheduled for early December in New York City. You combine this 90 days that Elgin can‘t be used with him then potentially off to spring training in February — assuming he is able to get a tryout for a major league squad — it makes his availability very limited. Elgin says he was not quitting and is still focused on wrestling but he has positioned himself in a less than desirable position for the company that has given him their highest honor — no pun intended.

This company was already dealing with losing their top star in Kevin Steen and could lose a couple more top talents at the end of the year with contracts expiring for both Adam Cole and Michael Bennett somewhere near the end of 2014.

ACH was booked to appear on Saturday and he was a late scratch for the All Star Extravaganza, which had ROH make a change to Jay Lethal against Cedric Alexander who was supposed to meet the injured Silas Young. Briefly, the plan was to have Alexander face Michael Bennett who was booked on the show to make an announcement that turned out to be a make over for Jay Briscoe’s old real world time belt to a pink fluffy belt now called the Title of Love with Mike and Maria’s faces on the belt.  It turned out that the better choice as Lethal and Alexander had a heck of a match that saw Lethal escaping with the win.

The matches that stole this show were Adam Cole and A.J Styles who met for the very first time and had a great match with back and forth action that built to a frenzied pace by the end. But the match on the night and what turned out to be the main event of the show saw ReDRagon face the Young Bucks in two out three falls. It was a clinic to why these are two of the best tag-teams in the world. Despite losing, it solidified the Young Bucks as the best and most exciting team in pro wrestling today. They just have refined their style to the point they real make great use of all the crazy spots they have in a match.

Full credit to ROH; the card had many issues and they were able to come up with this one and made it all work, putting on a highly entertaining show. It was a cool experience to be in a building for a company’s top title changing hands.

So what does it all mean for the future of ROH with Jay Briscoe as just the second ever two-time champion in company’s history? Well, Matt Sydal is returning to the company on September 27th:

They did have a crazy Tommaso Ciampa who has been suspended by the company come out and cut a promo where his microphone was shut off, only to have him later at the end of night come out and laid waste to Young Bucks and than escaped through the audience.

I would say that ROH is going through a transition period that is unfortunately ill timed after getting a lot of buzz leading into “Best in the World” and getting on traditional pay-per-view. The big difference is I have faith in ROH’s booking for the most part, something I can not say with WWE or TNA. I also have faith in the talent on this roster that in my mind can hang with any company not named WWE. Their partnership with New Japan Pro Wrestling is also a huge plus. While it might be a bit frustrating that Ring Honor has not followed up on some things, as you would have hoped they would, they still put on a highly entertaining product that they proved once again in Toronto on Saturday.

The challenges for the company remain the same: they need to find some way to get their television into more major markets than it currently is. They also need to continue to grow their core audience, which is extremely loyal. This has always been a tricky thing to not offend their hardcore fans while still trying to expand their audience.

Ring of Honor has a long history of peaks and valleys and the goal should be a much more consistent model. This is a huge challenge, as they have become the most recruited North American promotion by the WWE. The record of accomplishment for the former ROH talent in WWE has led to some big success stories.

The challenge of ROH is somewhat like that of a college sports program. Never quite knowing how long there next big star will be part of fold beyond the date on a contract.

About James Borbath

James has covered the NBA and Toronto Raptors for 6 years for various publications as well as his own website. A native of Hamilton, Ontario where he attended the first ever Royal Rumble, James is a life long wrestling fan and has decided to trade to slams of a different kind in pro wrestling. He hopes his transition will be more successful than Dennis Rodman or Karl Malone. Among his talents is a better than average Randy Savage impression. Follow him on Twitter @condoonthemoon

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