Friday 3 January 2014

Back on Track?

Last year produced mixed results for Ring of Honor. The first six months were generally very enjoyable. The SCUM invasion storyline was something different (for ROH if not wrestling in general), the tease of the Adam Cole heel turn began, the American Wolves were sensibly placed back together, and there was new talent present on a string of very enjoyable events. The second half of the year was characterised by the mostly poor world title tournament, a lack of new talent (Homicide and Eddie Kingston didn’t count for two reasons: they’d been around before and nobody cared when they showed back up), and Michael Elgin becoming just another member of the roster.

Things did perk up at Final Battle though. Which is nothing unusual. For almost its entire existence the traditional year-closer has been used to launch fresh storylines and provide surprise twists. It's a system that works well.

Final Battle '13 featured a couple of big developments. Firstly BJ Whitmer, Roderick Strong and Jimmy Jacobs formed an alliance and beat up the departing Eddie Edwards. Factions are nothing new for any of the three. In fact they're probably the three ROH guys with the most faction experience on their respective CVs, but this is still a good move as Jacobs and Strong were doing nothing of interest beforehand. And we’d been told BJ was ready to retire, making his actions doubly surprising. As long as their mission statement isn't given as destroying ROH (that angle’s totes played out) they should be good together. Six man tag matches should be the order of the day for them. With The Shield WWE has shown that fans can get into trios matches. It’s a type of match ROH is well-suited to produce.

The second big development was another union. This one saw Matt Hardy run-in during the main event to help world champion Adam Cole retain his title. After the match the bad guys (who I suspect will get a snappy unit name soon) continued attacking Michael Elgin and Jay Briscoe until Chris Hero returned to the company and made the save. The team of Hardy and Cole should ensure Cole is treated like the lead bad guy he's supposed to be: there have been few men ROH fans have enjoyed lashing out against more than ‘The Sensei of Mattitude’. If he's limited to tagging with and doing run-ins for Cole I think Hardy's a good addition to the roster. ROH can benefit from the heat he generates without needing to have him wrestle too much.

I'm very much looking forward to Hero v Cole
Chris Hero returning to Ring of Honor is obviously a good thing. He gives the company another big name to play around with and he's credible enough to be a serious contender to Cole's title. I don't think he'll win it but I do think he'll give the champ a solid match with believable false finishes (always important in a good wrestling match). WrestleMania weekend, the NYC show in May or Best in the World are my guesses for when Hero will get his first title match of 2014. I'm covering a lot of possibilities there I know. So be it.

Final Battle also saw Silas Young defeat Mark Briscoe in a strap match and Tommaso Ciampa squash Matt Taven to win the television championship. This may not sound like much but it demonstrates the league's dedication to Young and Ciampa. It indicates they'll be given chances to move up the card in 2014. Both of them deserve that. I'm particularly pleased that 'The Last Real Man' has the chance to progress. I think he's got the aura to be a meaningful name for ROH.

There's also the matter of AJ Styles' return to brighten up 2014 for ROH. I'm not the biggest fan of Styles and I feel he's overhyped by TNA fans but he's a big enough name and a good enough wrestler to improve Ring of Honor’s standing by attracting new fans (specifically people who only watch TNA and maybe WWE who want a fix of some AJ Styles flavoured goodness). Every match he can have in the company is either completely new or one we've not seen for years. That's a great position for ROH to be in. It’s a nice position for Styles too.

Will ROH fans still think AJ Styles is phenomenal?
How much Styles, and Hero for that matter, benefit ROH depends on how often they appear. 'That Young Knockout Kid' has already wrestled for EVOLVE since leaving WWE and he's confirmed for future dates. It's not hard to imagine Styles heading there, plus there's the possibility of a TNA offer hanging over him. He's only going to be appearing for ROH and various promotions until TNA is ready to pay him what he thinks he's worth. I don't blame him for that, but it does make it hard for ROH to do anything with him beyond rotating him through matches with the bigger names on the roster. Unless there's some sort of longer term deal in place that makes a lengthy storyline possible. We'll know more about what's store after the January 4th TV taping. That's where 'The Phenomenal One' will reappear and set up any storylines or feuds he's going to be a part of.

It will also feature the eight man Top Prospect tournament. Last year's instalment was won by Matt Taven but served as an introductory tool for Tadarius Thomas, ACH, QT Marshall, Adam Page and Silas Young. Hopefully the same will be true this year. Ring of Honor is a company that benefits from a steady cycle of new names and the TPT is a nice way of bringing them in.

On the subject of the Top Prospects it seems fairly obvious that the masked man billed as The Romantic Touch is actually Rhett Titus. All I've seen of him is a still and I immediately recognised his posture. Plus the initials are the same. After doing some half-hearted Googling I found that other people think the same thing. It's too easy to imagine The Romantic Touch winning the tournament and then being unmasked by Ciampa when he gets the TV title shot. It's a way back on to the roster, basically. I'd rather see the tournament used to give a newcomer a boost. Titus wouldn't need to win the thing to come back full time. Of the other seven I think Corey Hollis, ‘Benchmark’ Bill Daly and Andrew Everett look like they'd fit in the most. Cheeseburger will stick around even if he loses in the opening round.

The potential’s there for Ring of Honor to get back on track this year. I hope they manage it.

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