Wednesday 2 July 2014

Beating Elgin

Several years ago I wrote about Eddie Edwards defeating Roderick Strong for the ROH world championship. Three months later I turned that into something approaching a tradition when I did the same for Davey Richards after he’d beaten Eddie and the following year when I did it for Kevin Steen after he’d beaten Davey.

I haven’t always made an actual, proper prediction in each of these pieces. But I have since the Kevin Steen entry in 2012. I’ve never gotten it right. I thought Steen would lose the title to Michael Elgin. I thought Jay Briscoe would lose the title to Matt Hardy. And I thought Kevin Steen would defeat Adam Cole.

I stand by my assertion that Hardy should have dethroned Briscoe for the gold. It was a great storyline waiting to happen. As the hated sports entertainment practitioner ‘The Sensei of Mattitude’ was perfectly positioned to work a short reign as an unpopular (that’s putting it mildly) champion before losing the title back to lead babyface Steen. Speaking of which I think I was right to say Elgin should have ended Steen’s reign too: he was a fresh act and winning the title so soon after a string of breakout performances could have tipped him over the edge into ROH godhood.

But no matter how superior I think these scenarios would have been I was, as I say, wrong every time. I mention this to highlight that I do not have a good track record when it comes to selecting ROH champions. I’m going to keep writing these pieces but you shouldn’t pay too much attention to predictions as I’m statistically likely to be wrong.

On the subject of writing these new champion posts now is probably a fitting time to address why I don’t do it for any other company. Basically a Ring of Honor world title change is an event. The company still books their world title as the centrepiece of the company, the thing that everybody strives to win. New Japan does this too, but that’s not a company I follow closely enough to make predictions for. It would be doing the promotion and anyone reading a disservice.

WWE presents their world title as meaningful but it’s not the pinnacle of the company: that would instead be a programme with John Cena (or, possibly, Cena himself is the pinnacle). They’re better at making their title important than they were a few years ago thanks to the Daniel Bryan storyline that stretched from last year’s SummerSlam to WrestleMania but it’s still not presented in the same manner as world titles elsewhere. Besides, the title switches around amongst the same bunch of guys so often that such pieces would be redundant and too common to have any significance.

As for TNA, their world title’s a joke. It means nothing in the grand picture of the wrestling business and even if it did they make such random, last minute booking choices that it would be practically impossible to know who they’re going with next. Look at the last two champions: very few people would have predicted a title reign for Lashley and nobody would have selected Eric Young as the man who’d defeat Magnus.

But enough of this. I’m not here to write about TNA, WWE or New Japan. I’m here to write about Michael Elgin. His journey to the Ring of Honor world championship was a long one. His first title shot was against Davey Richardsat Showdown in the Sun Chapter 2 on March 31 2012. It was a match that opened a lot of people’s eyes as to how good Elgin could be. He went from being seen as a generic, charisma-free powerhouse that loomed in the background during Truth Martini promos to a man who could carry his side of a lengthy, exhilarating match. So good was that match that it would have worked perfectly as a title change. The fans would have accepted it and Elgin would have been a made man.

In fairness there was something to be said for waiting. Kevin Steen was also hot and primed for a run on top. ROH could afford to keep Elgin simmering as a top contender while switching the title on to a man people were desperate to see as champion. Having Elgin win the belt and keep it against Steen may actually have harmed him. It seemed sensible to give Steen his time and have Elgin relieve him of the strap at Final Battle. Unfortunately that’s not what happened.

Elgin mounted a second unsuccessful challenge at Glory By Honor XI in October 2012. That loss harmed his standing. He was no longer the hot rising star. He was the guy ROH were holding off on progressing. The man who was in the main event but not of it. He spent much of the first half of 2013 as the number one contender to the championship, which further harmed his standing. It either made him look weak and incapable of winning when it counted or like a petulant heel (even though he rarely complained about his treatment). Either way it was less than ideal.

By the time ‘Unbreakable’ reached the finals of a tournament held to crown a new champ he was part of the furniture. He was the guy who was there to lose and put over the new great hope, Adam Cole. He did a fine job of it and was protected whilst doing so but it was clear that Elgin was no longer capable of having the hot run he could have had a year earlier. That point was hammered home when he was unsuccessful in winning the title at Final Battle (in a three-way against Cole and Jay Briscoe) and once again spent the first several months of a new year being presented as the uncrowned champion.

The shaven-headed champ is here.
His title victory at Best in the World was really well booked. He and Cole put on a storming performance and the various run-ins and ref bumps all made sense in the context of long running storylines. It’s just that it came eighteen months too late for Elgin to become the massive star ROH need him to be. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a good choice for champion and that he can have an enjoyable reign with good title defences against many different wrestlers. It’s just that in order to expand as a promotion ROH need a fresh and hot act. Elgin is neither. Eighteen months ago he was fresh and it’s possible he could have helped attract new eyes.

So who can beat him? Truth be told I don’t think there are that many options on the roster. Kevin Steen would be a top choice if he weren’t heading off to NXT within the next few weeks. Elgin could have slowly turned heel and slotted into a programme with ‘Mr Wrestling’ for an enjoyable and fresh match at Final Battle or the 2015 anniversary card. But it’s not to be.

Similarly it appears that Chris Hero’s out. He returned to a great deal of fanfare at the end of last year but hasn’t appeared in an ROH ring in months. Had he been used regularly in meaningful plots he could have been built up as a credible contender and potential next champion. At the very least he could have been Elgin’s first major challenger, especially if they’d been placed into an alliance before Elgin’s victory to make a Hero heel turn more impactful.

But he’s not been around and he’s not confirmed for any upcoming shows. He could come back and beat Elgin later in the year or next year but it doesn’t seem likely. At this point I think Hero’s role is to be the guy with the solid reputation that puts over the regulars. And that’s probably for the best.

Frankly the most likely regular I can see winning the belt from Elgers is Tommaso Ciampa. He lost the TV championship a while ago and showed heelish tendencies when interacting with ACH at Best in the World. A friendly rivalry with ACH that progresses into something more violent as Ciampa keeps losing, prompting a violent outburst, would be a good way of re-establishing him without rushing things. As a heel he could work a few different programmes ahead of a title match with Elgin.

Of course he could just as easily stay a face but display more of an assertive attitude. That’s a fairly standard ROH approach and it would allow a face versus face match to be teased out for a while.

Other main roster regulars that could be potential Elgin foils are Michael ‘Don’t Call Me Mike’ Bennett and Silas ‘My Moustache is Manlier Than Yours’ Young. As a member of The Kingdom Bennett is one of the promotion’s lead antagonists and has a solid act in place working deliberately WWE flavoured matches with Maria interfering. He’s the sort of act that works on top in any western promotion but that has never been booked as an ROH champion. It would be interesting to see and isn’t something that needs to be rushed into. Bennett is always going to be a bad guy in Ring of Honor and the option to have him face off with Elgin will be there as long as both are on the roster.

Young has been knocking about on the undercard for a year or so now. He’s not done anything spectacular but his potential seems clear. He looks the part, is a fantastic antagonist and works a rough style that’s a perfect fit for ROH. It’s possible booker man Delirious has been biding his time with him so people don’t turn on him for being rushed. He’s a heel but that could still happen: there’s a world of difference between heat and disinterest, and a rush could encourage the latter.

That Silas has been selected as Kevin Steen’s goodbye feud is interesting. It indicates that ROH are finally done letting Young build steam naturally and that they’re finally ready to do something major with him. Being the last feud Kevin Steen has in Ring of Honor is a big deal, the sort that could establish someone as a new top name. If the treatment continues after Steen’s gone, against any other popular act that isn’t Elgin, a programme between the two could mean something come the end of the year.

The members of the War Machine team, Raymond Rowe and Hanson, are probably worth mentioning, although both are massively unlikely. In kayfabe terms Elgin is responsible for them forming a regular tandem and getting ROH contracts. That could lead to the two turning on Elgin for “sidelining” them as a pair to avoid them as tough challengers or, more likely, only one forming the opinion. These scenarios would be really long term deals, but the preparation’s already been done.

Finally there’s AJ Styles. He’s massively popular in the US and can legitimately be called an international success thanks to his IWGP championship win over Kazuchika Okada. That’s a title reign that won’t last forever. When it ends I could definitely see ‘The Phenomenal One’ relieving Elgin of the gold. His status as an original roster member would make the title win a big deal, and there’s already an established history between the two after their exchanges earlier this year.

Selecting one name to go with is tough. Elgin’s style, look and character are fantastically well-suited to a long reign. I’ve predicted those many times over the last three years but the closest we’ve had are the reigns of Richards and Steen. Neither of those surpassed the one year mark, and when I talk about a lengthy reign I generally mean something in excess of eighteen months. If I’m right and Elgin does get something approaching that (and I’m not confident that he will considering the booking of the title under Delirious) then it makes predicting who’ll beat him incredibly tough. How do you predict who’ll be in a position to work as champion that far in advance? It could be somebody not even on the roster.

I hope Michael Elgin gets his long run. It would somewhat justify the ridiculous amount of time he’s been kept waiting to win the strap and give him the best chance possible of going down as one of the all-time great ROH performers. That’s something I think ROH need to be looking at. It would be great if Elgin had a lengthy reign which ended at a time when four or five guys could potentially defeat him. I’m not going to hold my breath though. And I’m going to predict Silas Young as the man who’ll end up beating him to become the twenty-first ROH world champion.

No comments:

Post a Comment