Wednesday 24 June 2015

Beating Lethal

Best in the World 2015 saw Jay Lethal defeat Jay Briscoe to become the new Ring of Honor world champion. He's the twentieth man to hold the title and the first ever to hold it in conjunction with another active championship. Yeah, Bryan Danielson won the pure championship from Nigel McGuinness during his world title reign but he retired it immediately. He didn't hold belts simultaneously and work as a double champion.

Apparently Lethal will. Reports from ROH's latest TV tapings indicate that Lethal opted not to vacate the TV championship as he'd put too much effort into building it up. Matchmaker McGuinness then made the ruling that if Jay wants to stay a double champion he will have to defend the TV and world titles as separate entities. All of which makes sense from the point of view of Lethal's character and creates the chance to produce some fresh scenarios for championship defences and show-long stories at future events.

The double champ is here.
I'll be surprised if Lethal doesn't hold onto both belts for a while. It would be fairly pointless to go to the trouble of giving him a lengthy reign as TV champion (the longest ever, in fact) and not have him vacate the title only to lose it in a random title match after a few weeks. It would also be pointless to put the world title on him just to take it away quickly. That's not how things work in ROH. Wrestlers work hard to win titles and get to enjoy substantial reigns with them. It makes the titles and wrestlers, and by extension the matches involving them, mean more.

But at some point Lethal will lose the world championship, just as has happened twenty-two times before. Which is the point of this article: discussing the possible successors (as I perceive them) to Jay Lethal as the ROH world champion. As far as the TV championship goes I think he'll hold it for a few more months before losing it to guy who'd benefit from a surprise upset win, such as ACH, or being stripped of it after some form of shenanigans during a title defence.

I'll start with Jay Briscoe. There's a chance that Lethal will lose the title back to him but I think it would be dependent on him having a long title reign. I don't imagine ROH would take the gold from Briscoe only to get it back to him a couple of months later, even though it's an approach that would fit the sports-emphasis style of the promotion. But if Lethal has been made champion with no long term plan for a replacement (not that I think that's the case considering how well Delirious has done planning things out over the last few years) it's possible Briscoe could regain the belt in the far future (by which I mean some time next year). If Lethal left for WWE Briscoe would be a lead candidate for a short notice replacement.

As would Roderick Strong. My reasoning is the same as with Briscoe: he looks and wrestles the part, would be accepted in the role, and is unlikely to leave for another major promotion. I can't see him beating 'The Greatest First Generation Wrestler' at Death Before Dishonor XIII on July 24 but farther in the future he could be in with a chance. Right now he's more of a credible contender to stabilise Lethal's reign than anything else.

AJ's already got a belt though, so...
Sticking with the theme of men who probably won't defeat Lethal but might there's AJ Styles. ROH seems comfortable in presenting him as a special attraction. As such he doesn't need the championship. He's a draw for ROH with or without it. He's also won the IWGP championship twice since joining New Japan last year and is the champion right now. That places limitations on ROH, because New Japan aren't likely to be happy if their champion starts laying down for people elsewhere. And ROH have benefited too much from their relationship with New Japan to upset them. Styles is best off facing bigger names who aren't champion and losing (or indeed winning) any ROH title matches he's in via disqualification.

The first guy I'll name who I think has a crack at taking the title from Lethal in a long term planning capacity is Michael Elgin. He's one of the better wrestlers in the company despite fans having turned on him. In fact his  current status as a heat magnet is a large part of the reason I think he could end up beating Lethal for the title. People would be genuinely irate if he become a two time champion with his current persona. He has the character and in-ring ability to make a reign as heel work and it would be nice to see him get the championship run he deserved to have last year. Although I think an 'Unbreakable' title win would be reliant on Lethal becoming a babyface at some point the response to his win at BITW indicates he'd be accepted as a good guy. I don't think it's something that's going to come any time soon though, if it comes at all.

Moose is a possibility too, which isn't something I would have expected to write a few months ago. He's comfortable in the big man role and could easily introduce some flashier moves to help him fit in at the top of the card (big lads need to have stuff like the cross body block he used at Best in the World when they're main eventing). He's also really, really over. His burgeoning programme with Cedric Alexander will likely keep him busy for a few months but he should be done with that in plenty of time to challenge Lethal at whatever big show ROH promotes in September or October or perhaps even at Final Battle (although there's someone mentioned below who I think would make a far better opponent for Lethal at Final Battle).

No ROH champion has mastered the point into the crowd... until now.
A wildcard possibility is Nic 'Dolph Ziggler' Nemeth. I mention him mostly because at time of writing there are rumours floating about that he'll be leaving WWE when his contract comes to an end later in 2015. I don't think this will come to anything but if it does ROH has to be the favourite for the company he'd turn up in. It wouldn't rule out him working for New Japan and TNA is a laughable suggestion at this point. He's probably the WWE guy I'd most like to see in ROH. Everything that's needed to make it to the top of the work rate-centric promotion he has, and he could do it as a face or a heel. Nemeth would be a boon to ROH, giving him the title would only help matters.

But I'm not going to make any of those names my official prediction. That honour goes to Adam Cole. Everything I can find on the subject indicates that he has a significant amount of time left on his current contract. If Best in the World and TV spoilers are anything to go by he's on the cusp of turning face. Having him work as a face champion would be something new for him and the company. By the time he's finished with what I suspect could be a lengthy breakup with his Kingdom stablemates we should be just about ready for a build towards Final Battle. Babyface Adam Cole versus heel Jay Lethal would not only be new, it would be one of the biggest matches Ring of Honor could promote. I think this will be the match to headline Final Battle.

That is my official prediction. Now watch as I'm wrong, just as I always am when it comes to predicting ROH title changes.

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