Sunday 20 March 2011

Blog of Honor

I originally considered making my first blog entry about Jeff Hardy. You know, Jeff Hardy, the man who went from exciting stunt matches to being North America’s premier babyface to someone who gets drunk or high or whatever just before he’s due to wrestle in a pay-per-view main event that a lot of people have paid to see and that his bosses are relying on to be good? Yes, that unprofessional pothead who’s let himself, his fans and the company he works for down by thinking it’s okay to live his gimmick.

But then I realised I could summarise my feelings in one paragraph and opted to do that instead, allowing me to concentrate on something positive for my first post.

So, in place of a blog detailing my feelings on Jeff Hardy (that can wait, for now just reread the first paragraph if I didn’t make myself clear) I’m going to write about my favourite part of modern professional wrestling: a company called Ring of Honor.

RoH has been a company I’ve enjoyed since it first debuted in 2002, gifting wrestling fans with a hard hitting, realistic in-ring product and booking which focuses more on the athletic abilities of the wrestlers than their ability to talk or perform in silly skits. It’s a company I’ve been lucky enough to (sort of) see live, when they co-produced an event in London in May 2003 alongside the Frontier Wrestling Alliance. I’d attended wrestling shows before and have attended some since, but that remains the best event I’ve seen live.

RoH gives its fans a more entertaining wrestling style than the quick-cut nonsense of TNA or the punch-kick-suplex-finisher style of WWE, and features wrestlers who are still young and keen enough to want to impress and better themselves. It’s the promotion to look to for the most gifted stars of today doing what will almost certainly turn out to be the best work of their careers.

I’m also a big fan of the care they take of their top championship, and the high regard in which it is held. Since the first champion was crowned on July 27th 2002 there have only been fifteen championship reigns. In that same amount of time there have been thirty-five different reigns with the WWE championship, the top prize of the top wrestling company in the world. Ring of Honor only puts its title on the very best wrestlers once they’ve gained acceptance from the fans and proven they can work consistently and to a high standard in the ring. It is used to signify the company’s faith in a performer, which is exactly how a top championship should be treated in every wrestling company.

This care extends to the infrequency of title matches. By only presenting championship bouts an average of once a month they seem more important when they occur. By contrast, World Wrestling Entertainment presents WWE title matches several times a week... and has a second world championship too. Can both these champions really be the best in the company? Of course not. Having more than one title designated as a world belt in one promotion damages the credibility of both, as does giving fans the same match four nights a week. It damages the aura of these championships, and while the title is on the line as an attempt to improve attendance figures the truth is that in the age of the internet, when results are available so easily online, the majority of even the most casual of fans know that titles won’t switch hands unless the TV cameras are rolling.

Meanwhile, the RoH method means that only the company’s top stars wrestle for its most prestigious belt, and only do so once every few months at the most, rather than four times per week.

I’m not trying to argue that RoH is superior to WWE. I know Vince’s empire is more profitable, and as the goal of any wrestling promotion is to make money that means it’s the best. But while Ring of Honor doesn’t make as much money, it does provide better in-ring action than the vast majority of Vince McMahon backed shows. Just because it works on a smaller scale doesn’t mean it’s an inferior product.

Case in point: last night’s Manhattan Mayhem IV event. Before the event I was absolutely certain that Roderick Strong’s reign with the RoH world championship would continue until this year’s Final Battle event in December, at which point he would lose it in a rematch from last year’s event to Davey Richards. Despite my certainty, Eddie Edwards beat Strong for the title and Davey Richards won the TV championship, a belt previously held by Edwards. In one night, Ring of Honor had shaken up its roster, whilst surprising the fans (in a positive way, I should add) and setting up an intriguing situation that will be allowed to unravel slowly over the next few months: how will Richards and Edwards (previously tag team partners and two of the promotion’s biggest stars) deal with the other holding a belt they had considered to be their own? It’s a level of subtlety and foresight you just wouldn’t get in TNA or WWE.

And that’s why I love Ring of Honor. It provides great action, entertainment and surprises, just as wrestling should. Long may it continue.

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