Sunday 22 April 2012

The Lone Wolf

I feel the need to address my feelings on Davey Richards.

I’ve been very open about my dislike of the man before. Generally when people say they don’t like him they state it’s because he’s an “MMA wannabe.” That’s not the case for me. It’s not that the MMA influences aren’t there, because they clearly are, more that it doesn’t bother me. Wrestling thrives on variety. If every performer has the same routine things quickly become boring, so I welcome wrestlers who adopt MMA influences. It adds something different to shows.

In truth Richards MMA gimmick isn’t all that pronounced anyway. He just works a very stiff style and incorporates various strikes and submission holds from other combat sports. That’s nothing new to wrestling or Ring of Honor. The stiff style in particular has been present in ROH since its very first event so it’s nothing Richards has introduced. Chris Hero was working a more realistic style before he left for WWE, and Bryan Danielson was doing it before him. You can even go back to ECW and see Taz using Judo throws and holds (most famously the Tazmission). It’s nothing new to wrestling and not something that necessarily equates to “bad.”

I have no problem with Richards’ perceived MMA influences. I also have no problem with his clear fascination with the sport. Wrestlers need to gain inspiration for their art form from somewhere, so why not mixed martial arts?

My problem with Davey Richards is that he doesn’t do everything he can to improve Ring of Honor. He strives for perfection when in the ring, I can’t fault him there. He’s an impressive wrestler continuing to have excellent matches for the ROH title. It’s his actions outside of the ring that I take issue with.

I first noticed the problem last September when ‘The American Wolf’ chose to go on a tour of Japan with New Japan Pro Wrestling rather than appear on ROH’s Death Before Dishonor IX internet pay-per-view. It was the first pay-per-view event the company had promoted since Richards won the belt at Best in the World in June, it was also one week before they launched their then-new television show.

As champion Richards should have been. He should have been in the main event wrestling for the ROH title. Instead he was in Japan with NJPW, a company he had described as “prestigious” in a video hyping the very ROH event he had chosen to skip. There is nothing prestigious about working for New Japan (or All Japan, NOAH or any other Japanese promotion for that matter) in 2012. It’s a wrestling organisation like any other that hires workers of all skill levels. It’s as respectable an organisation as Ring of Honor, WWE, All Japan, NOAH, or any other wrestling company you care to name.

That Richards chose not to describe ROH as “prestigious” made it seem as though he regarded the US promotion as the minor league and NJPW as the big time. That’s not a good attitude for a champion to have about a company they work for.

That Richards opted to wrestle abroad rather than defend his world championship and tried to pass it off as a move designed to bring fresh attention to ROH (by using the word prestigious) was disgusting. How many new fans was he going to attract to the North America-based group by wrestling in Asia?

Does anything about this look prestigious to you?

I also have a problem with his stilted promo style. I appreciate that Ring of Honor has always been more about wrestling skill than possessing a particular look or being the best talker in the world, but that excuse will only carry the champ so far. ROH has turned out Daniel Bryan, Austin Aries, Chris Hero and, most notably, CM Punk, all of whom are held in high regard when it comes to their promo work.

It may not often be acknowledged but ROH has a rich history of top quality promo guys and as the current champion Richards should be attempting to improve his work in that area. In fairness he does often address opponents and audiences after matches, and he tends to be pretty good when doing so. Perhaps he could watch back these post-match segments and study his performance for things he could use to improve his pre-match promos.

Richards doesn’t need to be the best talker in the business. That isn’t what being the ROH champion is about. But he could and should be making more of an effort in that area. In the current era of wrestling champions need to be able to cope with every aspect of the business. That’s everything from putting on a top quality match to picking up a microphone and telling viewers why they should buy tickets to the next show.

Davey Richards gets a lot right but also a lot wrong. If he’s ever going to become a true heir to the likes of Danielson and Punk he needs to start putting ROH first and start saying no to Japan. That’s unlikely to happen, which means my views are likely to change any time soon.

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