Monday 21 May 2012

Year of the Wolf

I’m not Davey Richards’ biggest fan but I was fully expecting him to hold onto the ROH world championship for at least a few more months. That he lost the belt to Kevin Steen came as a huge shock to me. It may have seemed obvious to some that ‘Wrestling’s Worst Nightmare’ was going to walk out of Border Wars victorious but I was convinced that Richards would retain the gold and drop it Steen in a few months’ time. He seemed the first candidate in a long time to enjoy a title reign that would equal those enjoyed by celebrated champions Samoa Joe, Nigel McGuinness or Bryan Danielson.

I thought this for a couple of reasons. First of all it seemed too early in the Steen-Richards feud for a title change. I assumed Steen would lose and then somehow obtain a rematch (this is wrestling, stipulations such as “this will be your only title match” are overturned all the time) and leave as champion then. It’s uncharacteristic of Ring of Honor to put the title on a wrestler at the peak of their popularity, they usually procrastinate and end up putting the title on popular stars months too late.

That was originally the case with Richards himself. Following his unsuccessful challenge against Tyler Black (who himself was kept waiting too long to win the ROH title) on June 24th 2010 everyone knew it was just a matter of time until he became champion. That “matter of time” ended up lasting a full year, by which point Richards, while still undeniably popular, was not as over as he had been a year before. The fans were not as desperate to see him as the company figurehead because ROH had waited too long.

My point is that it is far more like ROH to keep a wrestler as the popular challenger for just a little too long and it was surprising that they deviated from this annoying habit with Steen. It’s the right move and one I’m personally happy with (I much prefer Kevin Steen to Davey Richards) but it’s still surprising.

We're not going to be seeing this sight for a while. Some may say that's a good thing...

The second reason is that ‘The American Wolf’ was only just beginning to hit his stride as champion. He’d had the belt for eleven months and the first half of his reign was completely forgettable. During his first four months he defended the title only three times, once against non-ROH competitor Tommy End, once against entertaining non-threat Colt Cabana, and once against Roderick Strong. This was not Richards’ fault, ROH had scaled down the number of shows they running during this period in preparation for their 2012 relaunch. But the point still stands: Richards was not being given the best opponents possible.

Another problem was that much of Richards’ reign was characterised with matches against Roderick Strong and Eddie Edwards. All three are great wrestlers and they never produced any matches that disappointed but there are only so many times you can see three men clash with one another. It was a lack of variety that damaged the majority of the Davey Richards ROH title reign.

What’s frustrating is that he was just beginning to defend the belt against a wider variety of opponents. By all accounts Richards’ matches against Jay Lethal and Adam Cole were impressive and his main event match with Michael Elgin at Showdown in the Sun was an astonishing display. More defences like that against different names plucked from all levels of the roster could have really helped Richards make more of his time as champion. Had Richards been facing those sort of guys from the start of his reign (rather than the small cadre of main event talent at Ring of Honor’s disposal) I think we’d be looking back on a far more impressive reign.

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