Wednesday 5 September 2012

20 Ideas to Improve ROH

Ring of Honor has been in something of a slump for a while now. The creative direction seems stagnant, the same old faces are in the same old spots, new names are struggling to get the exposure they need, and the company seems reluctant to try anything new. If things are to be improved something has to change.

ROH operates on a very tight budget and as such its options for making alterations are limited. It cannot simply hire a big name or increase the number of shows it runs. The strict finances mean that even tweaks to the formula that cost nothing are heavily scrutinized in case they do more harm than good and place the company into a worse financial situation.

I’ve never run a wrestling company (obviously) but I’ve watched the sport for long enough to have an idea of what audiences want to see. Below I’ve come up with a list of twenty ideas (the clue is in the name of the article) that I believe could help Ring of Honor get itself back on track. They either cost a relatively small amount of money or none at all.

Because I’ve tried to remain realistic and bear costs in mind I have not mentioned production values on TV and iPPV. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a priority though. If ROH wants to be taken seriously it needs to sort out the production blunders and present clear, crisp shows. They’re owned by a TV company. There’s no excuse for errors.

I believe all my suggestions are realistic. I’ve not recommended they enter a bidding war with WWE over John Cena, for example. Everything fits with the established direction and style of the promotion and the majority could be put into motion immediately.

So, in no particular order…

1. Change the bookers
Completely remove Cornette from the booking process and let Hunter Johnston work alone. The company needs a fresh direction and it can't be said that Delirious has definitely had a chance at establishing his own ideas. He deserves the chance to succeed or fail on his own merits.
If after an agreed upon amount of time (six months strikes me as fairly reasonable) there has not been sufficient change in the company's direction or profits (again criteria would need to be agreed upon beforehand) then a new booker should be found. This new showrunner should ideally be somebody already working in ROH. Steve Corino is an obvious candidate but is a short term solution: Ring of Honor needs someone who could bring a fresh approach to the product.
2. Approach Paul Heyman

Heyman would be the ideal man to replace his old rival Jim Cornette as a booker for the company. He understands the need to help the wrestling business progress to stay relevant and compete with new rivals such as UFC. His approach to and knowledge regarding character development, storylines and gimmicks would benefit every performer on the ROH roster and the company itself.

Convincing Heyman to come on board as a full-time booker is unlikely (and likely impossible due to his current deal with WWE). The next best option would be to get him to agree to become a consultant. Perhaps he could attend TV tapings and iPPVs to work with talent and current booker Delirious. The worst that could happen if he were approached is that he’d say no.

For more on this idea read here.
3. Get rid of Kevin Kelly
This suggestion sticks firmly with the theme of the first two. While I've nothing against Kevin Kelly he is not the finest play-by-play man in all the land. I'd like to see Jim Cornette replace him in the role. It would mean ROH loses none of Corny’s experience and gets a better commentator while getting rid of his 80s-style booking philosophies.
4. Improve the quality of house shows

This again ties into the booking of the company. When ROH was founded in 2002 the idea was that the company would break even when promoting a show and make their money on DVD sales. It was a business model that met with mixed success in practice but provided wrestling fans with some classic cards.

Since being purchased by SBG Ring of Honor has been reformatted into a company built around its television show. Ensuring that each card now has unmissable matches on it to attract as many DVD purchases as possible is no longer a priority. The company now saves its biggest matches for internet pay-per-views and television. The lack of roster depth has only made the problem of house show quality worse.

While I appreciate that ROH cannot be run under the DVD model anymore I still think there’s an argument for presenting more intriguing cards at house shows. Not only would doing so encourage stronger DVD sales it would also help Ring of Honor become established in new markets and regain its ‘King of the Indies’ crown.

Improving quality doesn’t necessarily mean guaranteeing every big name is at every house show. If booked with thought then enjoyable cards could be booked with two headline stars. Pitting each headliner against a mid-carder helps to spread the star power across the card and creates fresh or rarely seen bouts. Or two main eventers could each team with a mid-card grappler for an interesting main event.
5. Rework Mike Bennett's gimmick to be a WWE wannabe
‘The Prodigy’ was first introduced as a wrestler who wanted to use ROH as a stepping stone to a career in Hollywood. The gimmick has always felt like it’s designed to actually refer to Bennett pursuing a career as a sports entertainer in WWE. That’s never been stated though. I think it should be.

The heat Bennett would receive if he insinuated that he wanted to go and “sports entertain” elsewhere would be great. Ring of Honor attracts very loyal fans, and even the most popular wrestler can find themselves hearing jeers when it’s revealed they are heading to one of North America’s other wrestling companies.
Ties make anyone look like a Superstar
There would be lots of options for subtly presenting Bennett as a sports entertainer rather than a wrestler in order to help the gimmick get over. He could start off the TV show with an in-ring promo, be given a new T-shirt designed to emulate the ones worn by WWE grapplers, and wrestle an exaggerated version of his already sports entertainment-esque ring style.

Bennett has the “WWE look” and even wears gear that looks like that of a WWE Superstar. It would be a natural and believable development for the character and would help to set him apart from the various other heels that have worked for the company over the years.

6. Bring in big name outside talent for the larger iPPVs

As the promotion prides itself on not stockpiling WWE and TNA castoffs this suggestion would require a bit of thought. Fans would probably not take kindly to someone like Batista being brought in for a show. There are names available that the company could consider hiring for iPPV events though.

One name that springs to mind is Ric Flair. It’s almost guaranteed that ‘The Nature Boy’ will wind up back in WWE at some point in the future, but because of a legal battle with TNA it’s not likely to be soon. He may be past his best but I believe Flair could still work an enjoyable brawl with someone like Kevin Steen if he were allowed to blade and use weapons.

Such a match could attract a decent audience, both online and in the arena. Seeing a man of Flair’s status would ensure a feisty crowd, and it would give Steen’s title reign a boost. How many other ROH world champions can say they’ve defended the belt against Ric Flair?

The company could also consider bringing in more Japanese stars. This worked well for them several years ago. It creates matches that can help shift tickets and DVDs. That’s what ROH needs to be doing.

Which brings me to…
7. Establish a working relationship with a Japanese promotion

Establishing a formal working relationship with a company like NOAH or NJPW would allow ROH to send its performers over to Japan, where they could work with a wider variety of opponents and progress as performers. Such an agreement could also be used to help ROH promote another tour of the country, something which would again help their DVD market and allow them to look like a bigger outfit.

A working agreement would also allow Ring of Honor access (in theory at least) to some of the top workers in Japan. Promoting matches between US and Japanese stars has worked very well for ROH before and I see no reason it wouldn’t now. Flying in a headliner for an iPPV could help attract a few more buys.
8. Film the TV show somewhere other than Baltimore

The reasons for doing this should be obvious. The Baltimore crowd, while far from bad, is not the hottest wrestling audience you could find. What’s more the city is not known as wrestling hotbed. One of the things ROH did right with its HDNet show was record it regularly in Philadelphia, a city known for its wrestling action and having good crowds. Recording the show there helped ROH portray itself as a serious wrestling company. Filming in Baltimore comes across as a cost-cutting measure. That’s not a good message to send out.

Taking the show to other locations would help to convince fans in different towns that they’re going to see something worthwhile and would make ROH look like a national company. It’s already being done with the iPPV schedule. I think the next step is to do it with TV tapings too.

9. Release BJ Whitmer, Jimmy Jacobs, the Guardians of Truth and Homicide

Homicide has been coming and going from the roster since September 2010. It’s clear from this sporadic run and his current lack of a meaningful storyline that the booking team doesn’t know what to do with him. Either a plan needs to be devised for using him or he needs to be shown the door. He may be a big name form the company’s past but he can only help to attract the fans of yesteryear if he’s given something meaningful to do.

The same could pretty much be said for Jimmy Jacobs and BJ Whitmer. ‘The Zombie Princess’ at least has his affiliation with Kevin Steen to keep him vaguely relevant but I have no idea why Whitmer is on the roster. The money going to these two would be better spent on two or three young guys keen to make names for themselves.

The only positive thing I can think to say regarding the Guardians of Truth is that they bulk up the numbers of the House of Truth. That’s a good thing but, again, the money going to them would be better spent on some young guys plucked from indy obscurity for a shot at making names for themselves and bringing something new to ROH.
10. Establish Adam Cole, Kyle O'Reilly and Michael Elgin as headline acts

The current main event stars at the company’s disposal are Kevin Steen, Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards, and, at a push, Roderick Strong. That’s a worryingly low number and one that severely limits the company’s booking.

The smart thing to do would be to establish Cole, O’Reilly and Elgin as main event draws as soon as possible. The aim should be to have them ready to headline cards in six months’ time. The easiest way to do that is to put them into feuds against the current crop of headliners.

A programme between Elgin and Strong has been teased for months. Booked correctly it would be a good way of turning ‘Unbreakable’ into a breakout babyface. Perhaps Strong could cost Elgin the world title at Glory By Honor XI, setting up a match between the two at Final Battle. Elgin could win that, plus a rematch or two, and then come back to challenge for and win the world championship at the Eleventh Anniversary Show next year.
This guy needs to be readied for the top of the card
Cole would make a good underdog opponent for Kevin Steen, and could also continue his respectful rivalry with Davey Richards. Allowing him to pin either man (or both) would help him gain acceptance as a credible act, as would giving him a lengthy reign as TV champ.

O’Reilly has a natural programme waiting for him with Davey Richards and I imagine that’s the way the company is going to go. I also think he’d be well served by a feud with Eddie Edwards. They could produce some high quality matches and a win over a Triple Crown winner would give O’Reilly a boost up the ranks.

How it’s done isn’t really the issue here. That it gets done as soon as possible is key.

11. Use TJP and the Young Bucks on as many shows as possible

That TJ Perkins and the Young Bucks were “given the summer” off was ludicrous. It was either done to cut costs or because the booking team had no idea what to do with them. Neither reason is good enough.

If it was a cost cutting measure then there are other names who could have been lost first. The men I mentioned under point nine all should have gone first (or not been brought back at all) and the Briscoes would have benefitted from a break. If it was a case of Cornette and Delirious not knowing what to do with them then that’s just another reason the company needs a shake-up in the creative area.

These guys should be the core of the company’s mid-card. They are the guys who should be prepared for a push into the main event once O’Reilly, Cole and Elgin are established. A wrestling promotion can never have too many popular acts. These three men have gained popularity despite misuse (and I’m not just talking about ROH, the Bucks got treated poorly in TNA too). They are exactly the sort of wrestlers ROH needs to remain credible and popular.
12. Approach Low Ki, Paul London and Brian 'Spanky' Kendrick about returning

Those three men were partially responsible for the promotion’s early success. Their eagerness to put on the best match possible helped ROH gain a reputation for excellence and being great value for money. Any or all of them returning would help to create a buzz and help to create a feeling that the promotion is getting itself back on track. It would create some much-needed fresh matches too.

Any of them could be immediately slotted into a main event position. They could work exciting matches with the current top line crew of Richards, Edwards, Strong, and Steen and help with the elevation of O’Reilly, Cole, and Elgin. London and Kendrick could even be put together as a team to spice up the doubles division.

13. Put dark match try out matches onto the ROH website

Unaired try out matches are a regular part of any wrestling company with a television deal in 2012. They’re designed to allow the booking team and company management to evaluate wrestlers for addition to the roster.

If these matches were put online it would allow the fans to voice an opinion on the prospective talent. It’s true this would open the company and the talent up to some negative comments but properly monitored that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. What’s more important is that it could reveal someone who is unexpectedly popular.

A wrestler that decision-makers may have otherwise decided they aren’t interested in could prove unexpectedly popular with fans. If that were to happen then it would be a strong indication that the competitor would be worth using more.
14. Make good use of Davey Richards during his final year in wrestling

Richards is rumoured to want to be out of the wrestling business by this time next year. I expect this will be his announcement when he makes his first appearance since June at Death Before Dishonor X. While he’s not my favourite ROH wrestler I appreciate how important he is to the company and what a difficult task replacing him will be.

If Richards is to leave then his last year needs to be a creative and commercial success for the company. He needs to be used at every iPPV against as many big names as possible as this will give the company a back catalogue of desirable bouts that they can flog on DVD for years to come. His TV and house show appearance should feature him in competitive battles with rising talent like TJP, Cole, the Bucks, C&C and O’Reilly.

I wouldn’t advise he begin putting over everyone he faces. Richards should be kept strong for his final year so that he remains a draw and fans still care about him when his final outing rolls around. Any losses he takes should be for a reason and for someone who will form a part of the headline crew in the future.

‘The American Wolf’s’ last match needs to be meaningful. One final outing against whoever holds the world title would be poignant, as would a match with Eddie Edwards. Personally I’d build up to a clash between Richards and O’Reilly, with the match being used as a way for Richards to pass the torch to the man most likely to keep his style alive in ROH and to turn O’Reilly babyface. 
15. Reform the American Wolves

Part of Davey Richards’ final year in wrestling should be the reformation of the American Wolves. The falling out of Richards and Edwards was a key storyline for the company last year but neither man went heel on the other so the door is open for a gradual storyline which sees the two men regain each other’s respect.

Part of what would make this work is that Richards can no longer challenge Kevin Steen for the ROH world title. Richards could suggest the two reform their tandem and challenge for the ROH world tag team titles, stating that he wants to hold the belts one final time before retiring. It would make for a different sort of story and one that fans would likely be keen on.

Reforming the American Wolves would also widen the number of wrestlers Richards could help to elevate during his final year. A clash between the Young Buck and the American Wolves would be great and could help to make the brothers stand out as the future flag bearers of the company’s doubles division if they won.

All of which brings me neatly to…

16. Emphasise tag team wrestling

Neither WWE nor TNA, the closest thing Ring of Honor has to competitors, give wrestling fans enjoyable tag team wrestling. It used to be something ROH did very well but it seems to have tailed off over the last year.

The departure of the Kings of Wrestling and Kenny King hurt the promotion’s doubles division but little has been done to resurrect it. I’m a fan of Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team, but they have been pushed far too strongly, to the point where it has damaged other units. The Briscoes have become overexposed thanks their long run with the league. They could do with a year of so that they can come back feeling like a fresh act.

Promising teams have been overlooked. The Young Bucks were excused from service for the summer and the C&C Wrestle Factory have been given little to do since becoming regulars on the roster. The focus is too strongly on veterans and that needs to change.

The reformation of the American Wolves would inject a popular act into the division and create fresh matches. Bringing the Bucks and the Bravado Brothers back full time would be a step in the right direction and pushing Caprice Coleman and Cedric Alexander would be good sense too. The Bucks and C&C look like the future of the division to me right now.

17. Put the tag team titles on the C&C Wrestle Factory

Another point that flows neatly from the previous one.

The recent tag team title tournament (necessitated by the departure of Kenny King) was the perfect opportunity for ROH to relaunch the tag ranks. It was promising to see C&C, the Young Bucks, the Bravados and the debuting unit of BLK OUT put into title contention.

Unfortunately ROH got things spectacularly wrong. Instead of using the tourney as a way of giving underutilised acts a chance to shine the decision was made to have Rhett Titus and Charlie Haas, the Briscoes, and Steve Corino and Jimmy Jacobs advance. Of the four acts that deserved the chance to shine only Coleman and Alexander progressed beyond the opening round.
If it were up to me these guys would be the next ROH tag team champions
ROH can still use the tournament as a way of reinvigorating its tag team scene. C&C could and should be booked to capture the tag gold in the tournament finals at DBDX. Having them as the company’s lead duo would allow the underutilised teams of the Bucks and Bravados to be used as challengers. BLK OUT could be brought back to the company as regulars and a clash between C&C and the American Wolves could be built up as a big clash over a course of months.

We don’t need an eighth Briscoes title reign. We don’t need a continuation of the Titus versus WGTT feud. We don’t need Corino and Jacobs winning the belt and doing an “all the belts in one stable” gimmick. We need young talent being given a chance to portray ROH as a company that’s not all about veterans.
18. Make Final Battle and the Eleventh Anniversary Show memorable cards

Obviously all pay-per-view cards should be memorable but with ROH’s recent slump it’s even more pressing that they start getting their big events right. Realistically I think it’s too much to ask for Death Before Dishonor and Glory by Honor to be action packed cards. The booking team needs time to turn things around and prepare some intriguing matches that will draw money. Being three months away Final Battle seems a realistic target.

It should be a show that casual viewers feel they cannot miss. Big matches should be presented and title changes should be planned. The fanbase needs to be convinced that the company is heading in the right direction again and still capable of producing an excellent card from start to finish.

If the lacklustre approach to supershows continues I don’t believe ROH will have a long future ahead of it. Changes need to be made while the promotion still has a reasonably sized regular audience.
19. Concentrate on the UK
I’ve mentioned this before. ROH has run very successful shows in Britain on several occasions. The country has a very healthy number of wrestling fans who would attend live events and watch the TV show. Getting a British television deal should be a priority as it could be used as a promotional tool for an annual tour.

The argument against this is the cost. It requires a lot of money to fly a roster from the US to the UK. The answer is to offer ROH talent to British promoters in exchange for them paying part of the air fare. It’s also worth noting that not everyone needs to be flown over. I believe ROH could present an authentic and entertaining card with nine or ten regulars along with eight or nine British workers.

TNA routinely promotes its biggest shows of the year in Britain. That’s not a fluke: fans in this country are very passionate and keen to support their favourite companies. I’m not suggesting that ROH could sell out the Wembley Arena but they could certainly manage two or three sell outs in venues holding a thousand or so fans.
Read more on this idea here and here.

20. Encourage every member of the roster to attempt to steal the show

This is perhaps the simplest way of improving the product. It’s the approach that made ROH stand out in the first place. Neither TNA nor WWE do it. By encouraging every wrestler to try and have the best match possible the company would regain its reputation for excellence and have a greater number of satisfied fans leaving events. Those satisfied fans would be more inclined to suggest attending shows and buying DVDs to friends, helping to bring in more money.

The approach was also originally used to gauge a wrestler’s popularity. If someone went out and stole the show on a regular basis they would get themselves over, thus earning a push and becoming a bigger star for the company.

It’s basic and it works. Encouraging guys to have the best match they can is the best way for ROH to mean more in the eyes of fans.

Closing statement

Realistically the company could not do everything on this list. It could do some though. I believe it should. As I stated at the beginning of this article the company has become directionless and its creativity has declined. There are no truly exciting feuds or characters and the rising talent are not being given the opportunity to establish themselves and give fans a reason to see ROH as a promotion that focuses on young talent.

I did not write this simply to lambast the promotion’s decision-makers. I understand they’re in a tough position, both creatively and financially, and have done what they feel is right for the future of the company. They have sustained things for now, but for the company to truly grow something different has to happen.

The change should begin as this article did: with a shakeup in the booking department. If anyone at SBG wants me to replace Cornette and Delirious I can be reached through Twitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment