Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 Year in Review/2014 Year in Preview: Ring of Honor

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The start of something devious...
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein

Promotion: Ring of Honor

What Happened in 2013: The year started with Kevin Steen as Champion with the backing of the SCUM stable. The group moved on from feuding with Jim Cornette to various challengers to Steen's title. Along the way, the group picked up a number of malcontents and also-rans, including but not limited to Matt Hardy, Rhyno, Cliff Compton, and Rhett Titus. The group was cruising along until Supercard of Honor during WrestleMania weekend. Jay Briscoe was getting his long-overdue traditional title shot against Steen. He wasn't expected to win, as he'd challenged nearly every other Champ in the past unsuccessfully. This time, however, he actually got the job done.

The loss sent a shockwave through SCUM, shaking the renegade group at its core. Steen and Hardy got at each other's throats even before the title loss, but after it, the group decided that the former WWE and TNA standout was more of an asset to their cause than the newly deposed Champion. They booted Steen, but their survival was short-lived without him. They would go on to lose a cage match for their primacy in the company, even though some of the remnants of the group would stay on.

As for Briscoe, his title reign would last through Best in the World in June after a match against his brother Mark. Both brothers' contracts ended, so injury angles were cooked up. Jay Briscoe was stripped of the title, and a tournament was set up (curiously enough, Mark Briscoe was the 16th entrant announced for it). The final four would be Adam Cole, Michael Elgin, Tomasso Ciampa, and Steen, with the semifinals and finals playing out at Death before Dishonor in Philadelphia. Briscoe the elder returned to the company, and was there on hand to surrender the ROH World Championship in person. In a hard-fought final, Cole triumphed cleanly over Elgin.

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Hero back? Hero back.
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
After the match, Cole attacked both Briscoe and Elgin, cementing a heel turn and becoming the company's new big bad. Both wrestlers had axes to grind. Elgin took the brunt of Cole's attack, while Briscoe lost the title without ever losing a match. The latter took the opportunity to get his own title belt made. At Final Battle, the three men were entered in the same match, and Cole escaped with the title thanks to some timely interference on his behalf by Hardy. However, his good feelings subsided as Chris Hero made his ROH return, staking his claim to Cole's Championship.

2013 MVP: Many deserving choices come to mind, but I have to go with Kevin Steen. His in-ring quality didn't waver, despite rumors to the contrary. He also provided a rock-solid anchor for the main event for two-thirds of the year before lending his star power to help put over Michael Elgin during the tournament to crown a new Champion. He was one of the only things keeping a company-wide SCUM angle from going tits-up, and his feud with Michael Bennett into Final Battle was pretty entertaining.

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Still the man
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
What's Going to Happen in 2014: Hero/Cole will certainly be the big title match that will be built up first. I doubt Hero will end up winning the title, although Ring of Honor has never really been a company to follow traditional wrestling booking patterns for better or worse. I still think the endgame, whether happening at WrestleCon or at Best in the World in June, will end up with Elgin as the Champion. They've been delaying the payoff with him taking the belt almost for too long. Most of the fans seem to want him on top.

The Tag Team Championships are ripe for picking as well, although Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish don't have obvious challengers ahead of them. The team dubbed reDRagon has beaten the tag ranks several times over. Adrenaline Rush (ACH and TaDarius Thomas) and the team of Caprice Coleman and Cedric Alexander have spent the year middling around the division with no real success, and the Outlaw Inc. team of Eddie Kingston and Homicide seemed to flop at Final Battle. One dark horse team could be Alabama Attitude. The team of Mike Posey and Corey Hollis has gotten an extended look in 2013, and their role could increase as a fresh challenger for the dick heel duo who has held serve for most of the year.

The Top Prospect Tournament will make its return as well, featuring eight up-and-comers in the indie world. Hollis will take part in the tourney, as well as Cheeseburger, Bill Daly, Andrew Everett, Ray Rowe, Hanson, Kongo, and a mysterious masked guy named The Romantic Touch, who looks like he might be Rhett Titus under a mask. Last year, Matt Taven won the tourney and ended up getting an extended run with the Television Championship. Whoever wins might get a big look. If I had to guess, I would pick either Romantic Touch or Rowe.

Five Wrestlers to Watch in 2014: Tomasso Ciampa - Ciampa is the current Television Champion, but he got an extended look in the World Championship tournament. I wouldn't be surprised to see him as the challenger at Final Battle, with a bevy of extended looks in showcase matches. Ciampa could be ROH's next big star, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's fitted for his crown all this week.

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A psychopath on the rise?
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Raymond Rowe - Rowe has a fantastic look and a big bruising style that I think works against the hard-hitting offenses found within the company. He can be a solid anchor for the midcard, as well as a spot challenger against Elgin in an indie wrestling HOSS FIGHT during ROH's excursions down South.

Barrister RD Evans - Evans is finally getting a shot to wrestle, which has been long overdue in ROH. Many regard him as the best in the world, or at least one of them, and I would be hard-pressed to disagree. His theatrical heel antics work well to get some portions of the crowd to hate him and others to worship him. He and Veda Scott can be a solid midcard/Television Championship attraction for a company that could use the middle of its shows to have a bit more flesh on their bones.

Mark Briscoe - I feel that ROH was right to kick the tires on the younger Briscoe in June. He's got a unique wrestling style, and arguably he's more charismatic than his big brother. ROH could do a lot worse than to have him feud with Ciampa over the Television Championship through to WrestleCon and then give him a few spot World Championship matches throughout the rest of the year.

Kyle O'Reilly - Both he and former tag partner Cole are heel now, but I wouldn't put turning O'Reilly into a feelgood babyface after reDRagon loses the Championships. I mean, they borrow so many other feud ideas from PWG, why not this one? Either way, ROH needs to figure out what they have with O'Reilly as a singles guy, and if they decide to delay pulling the trigger on Elgin again (or if Elgin gets signed), O'Reilly could be their man.

Three Things I Want to See Happen in 2014: 1. An end to contracts, or at least change the way they're done - The only company that should be offering ironclad contracts in wrestling is WWE. They can afford to offer them, and even then, the way they conduct business is still really disadvantageous to the wrestler in the grand scheme. A company like ROH that pays its talent, in the words of Colt Cabana, "worse than a janitor," and restricts their revenue streams through bookings or merchandise sales not approved through the office is offending on a similar scale. I understand the need to have continuous, reliable employment from persons for a weekly televised product, but precluding wrestlers from lucrative dates because of Internet pay-per-view (a medium where ROH has failed miserably) and cutting down their independent merchandising possibilities, while technically legal, is abusive and exploitative. ROH, or more importantly and accurately, Sinclair Broadcasting Group should be a little more understanding towards the wrestlers who put their bodies on the line every weekend for them in what amounts to some as a hobby, a passion, or a dream to be chased rather than a career.

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Ol' Chicken ready to bust out of big bro's shadow
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
2. Better policing/tempering of the crowd - I could talk about the sweaty assholes in the crowds who chant lewd bullshit and cross the line into abusing the talent, but the truth is that they are allowed to behave that way by ROH. If women are to be treated with respect by the crowd, then why was Cheeseburger introduced as a babyface through sexually assaulting Maria Kanellis? Why wasn't the fan who threw a quarter at Seleziya Sparx thrown out of the Armory at Death before Dishonor? Why is Nigel McGuinness, the matchmaker (and thus kayfabe boss of everyone) and apparent babyface announcer, degrading Veda Scott on commentary by talking about whether or not she's wearing underwear as if that's any of his fucking business? In this day and age, especially for a company who is trying to put on a televised product, exclusionary rhetoric and storytelling just does not cut muster. Those sweaty jerkoffs who go to every ROH show will continue to attend every ROH show whether or not their manchildish whims are catered to at every turn. Wouldn't cleaning up the product, being more open to other groups, especially women, make better business sense, in addition to it being the right and good thing to do?

3. Make the big companies copy you, not the other way around - Once upon a time, ROH was innovative for American wrestling, and that innovation is being seen in WWE today with how alumni like Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, and Tyler Black are revolutionizing the narrative. Instead of continuing to find new ways to conduct business, or at least finding other companies to import ideas from that aren't saturated all over the American airwaves. Invading stables, feuding authority figures, and the shoot owner of the company as a tangible character are all things that have been beaten the fuck to death by WWE and TNA in the last two decades. For a company striving to be known as a "third big company," they should not be looking to do a cheap imitation of either big promotion, especially since TNA is a cheap imitation of WWE itself, and since WWE isn't above returning the favor in terms of copying.