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BANK ON HISTORY - Generation Next: 20 Years Later



In this edition of BANK ON HISTORY, on May 22, 2024, I decided to do a piece on ROH’s greatest faction.


Twenty years ago today, Ring of Honor got a jolt in the most unexpected of ways. On a night where fans prepared to vote on the next big star for the promotion, four men hijacked the event and began a crusade to become main event players. Four men began their reign of terror of the promotion, and in turn, became ROH’s biggest homegrown stars over a two year span.


Twenty years later, their impact on wrestling is still felt, yet doesn’t get the proper respect it deserves for doing so.


This is GENERATION NEXT: 20 Years Later.





—--


On May 22, 2004 in Philadelphia, PA, Ring of Honor was turned on its head. 


Leading up to the event, the origins of the Generation Next concept wasn’t going to be a faction at all: it was meant to be a series of matches, chosen at random by the fans.


According to the event listing in 2004, the headline read: "Generation Next" will see a series of matches drawn at random the night of the show pitting the top, hungry talent against each other in a series of bouts that could steal the show!!! Fans will be given a ballot at the end of the night to vote on who was the most impressive. Careers will be made in Philly!!!


Participants listed were as follows:


Austin Aries

Jack Evans

Hydro

Alex Shelley

Roderick Strong

Jimmy Jacobs

Nigel McGuiness

Izzy


However, Shelley, as per the ROH Newswire on May 18, hated the vision of what Generation Next entailed.


May 18th: Alex Shelley is protesting the "Generation Next'' concept. Shelley is saying that he shouldn't have to prove anything because he is "talent on loan from God." He says he sure doesn't need the fans voting to prove that he is impressive. Shelley has stated that he has big plans for "Generation Next" that will change the whole face of ROH and it's not anything anyone can expect. 


Understatement of the year.


From the beginning of the Generation Next event, Shelley’s plans came to fruition. Along with Aries, Strong, and Evans, they hijacked the entire show. Within one evening, they jumped the Christopher Street Connection and Dunn & Marcos, dominated Special K, outwrestled Hydro, attacked John Walters and Jimmy Rave, and subsequently defeated Walters, Rave, and the Briscoes in a forty-minute epic.


In fact, Shelley stole the Generation Next name for these four men.


Why did Generation Next ultimately form? As it was reported on ROHWrestling.com back in 2004, it was all business. 


These four aren't looking to dominate ROH as a group like The Prophecy or Second City Saints. They aren't friends with each other or outside the ring associates. They look at themselves as business partners in a business venture. The goal of the business is to take the top spots. If/When they get there even they aren't sure what's going to happen.


Over the next six months, they picked fights with Matt Stryker, Jimmy Jacobs, CM Punk, Steve Corino, and Colt Cabana. They attacked absolute legends in Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat and Mick Foley. No matter who they went up against, they were all trying to rage against the machine.


However, one man stood out immensely: AUSTIN ARIES. 


Aries became a made man at Survival of the Fittest on June 24, 2004, when he and Bryan Danielson were the final two competitors in the six-man elimination tournament final, putting on a clinic for twenty-plus minutes. Although Aries lost on that night, he got his revenge at Testing the Limit on August 7, defeating “the American Dragon” in a two-out-of-three falls classic that lasted 75 minutes! Ironically, both matches took place in Philadelphia, which plays heavily into the story.


“The Wrestling Machine” continued onwards in great battles with Punk, Cabana, and tag team wars against opponents picked out by Steamboat. Finally, at All Star Extravaganza II on December 4, 2004 at the RexPlex in Elizabeth, NJ, Aries went to a twenty-minute draw with ROH Legend Low Ki. ROH management was so impressed that they gave Aries a World Title match against Samoa Joe at Final Battle 2004.


At the last show of ROH’s year, Austin Aries officially arrived as a top guy. First, he, alongside Strong, excommunicated Shelley from the faction, claiming a lack of focus from the objective. Then, he said that if Shelley had “talent on loan from God”, then he was his “Personal Jesus”.


Then, in the main event, Aries, now coming out to “Personal Jesus” by Marilyn Manson, shocked the world and pinned Samoa Joe after a kick to the head, a brainbuster, and a 450 Splash to win the ROH World Championship, subsequently ending Joe’s 645 day reign.


Ironically enough, this night transpired in Philadelphia. From debut as a brash, young athlete to ROH World Champion, Philly bared witness to Austin's rise to fame in eight short months.


With Aries claiming THE top spot in the promotion. Strong and Evans began their ascent.


2005 was the breakout year for “the Messiah of the Backbreaker”. Primarily seen as a tag team wrestler, due to his fantastic tandem with Evans, the enforcer of GeNext began to wrestle more singles against Corino, Homicide, and James Gibson. 


After a breakout contest with ROH World Champion Punk during the infamous “Summer of Punk” on July 9 at Escape From New York, Strong arrived as a major player in August, defeating Matt Hardy, fresh off his return to WWE, clean at PUNK: The Final Chapter. He followed that up with winning Survival of the Fittest 2005 on September 24, and submitting Gibson in his final ROH match before going back to WWE on October 2 at Unforgettable.


Evans became the premier top high flier in wrestling. He made his first major moment winning the insanely dangerous Scramble Cage Melee on August 28, 2004, lastly eliminating Trent Acid after a 630 Splash off the top of the cage through a table. After picking up more losses than wins throughout the first half of 2005, the resident of Parkland, WA took a sabbatical in the Summer to find himself, and came back a more dedicated performer, defeating Homicide in a major upset at Joe vs Kobashi on October 1 in Manhattan, NY.


It was a great thing that Strong and Evans were able to level up at this time: Generation Next was preparing for war.


Aries held the ROH World Championship for six months, dropping it to the aforementioned Punk at Death Before Dishonor III on June 18 in Morristown, NJ. In the midst of his workhorse reign, he repeatedly fought off Shelley, who wanted revenge from being kicked out of the faction. However, with no one seemingly coming to his aid during his “redemption”, Shelley finally “bought in”, joining Prince Nana’s Embassy at Homecoming on June 23, 2005.


The evil dictator from Ghana, alongside Shelley and “the Crown Jewel” Jimmy Rave, began its assault on Generation Next. Throughout the rest of the year, Nana spared no expense, even negotiating a deal with Total Nonstop Action to purchase the rights of “the Monster” Abyss to destroy the trio.


Thankfully, Aries was able to bring in some reinforcements, adding innovative aerial wrestler Matt Sydal to the group at Redemption on August 12, 2005. But it was going to take all their energy to thwart the Embassy once and for all.




On December 3, 2005 in New York City, Generation Next defeated the Embassy in Steel Cage Warfare. The match was an absolute spectacle. At one point, Evans delivered a double backflip off the top of the cage to the arena floor, bouncing off Abyss and Nana and hitting the plywood HARD. It was a miracle he wasn’t seriously injured. 


There was blood spilled, fists flying, and violence showcased, but in the end, Aries and Strong were the sole survivors, eliminating Rave, Shelley, and Nana in quick succession to win the match. At the end of it all, GeNext stood tall, celebrating in the ring as a complete unit.


At Final Battle 2005, Aries and Strong capped off an incredible year, winning the ROH Tag Team Championships from Tony Mamaluke and Sal Rinauro. Meanwhile, Evans had a Winter tour of the incredibly innovative Dragon Gate promotion in Japan, impressing fans and critics alike with the ability to fly with the greatest of ease. Generation Next was never more unified.


Matt Sydal, seeing Aries and Strong as Tag Team Champions heading into 2006, decided to rebel a little against the faction, forming a duo with AJ Styles and attempting to make a run at the belts. Against the wishes of his stablemates, Sydal main-evented the 4th Anniversary Show in Edison, NJ with “the Phenomenal One” against them. 


Yet, Sydal was humbled, losing the fall for his team. He tried again during Weekend of Champions: Night One on April 28, this time with Samoa Joe as his partner, but again fell short, taking the fall in defeat.


Unlike Shelley’s excommunication and subsequent blood feud with the faction, this was strictly business. Sydal’s business relationship with Aries, Strong, and Evans remained intact.


Meanwhile, Jack Evans became a full-time wrestler for Dragon Gate throughout 2006, stealing the show and becoming a more polished wrestler each and every time out.


Aries and Strong proved to be, at the time, the best ROH Tag Team Champions ever, putting on classic contests with former champions BJ Whitmer & Jimmy Jacobs, Homicide & Ricky Reyes, Dragon Gate’s CIMA & Naruki Doi, and the returning and more dominant Jay & Mark Briscoe.


Following their successful defense against the Briscoes at Destiny on June 3, 2006 in East Windsor, CT, Aries took the microphone and announced that Generation Next was no more. They were the top competitors in Ring of Honor, and they no longer wanted the top spots; they had them.


On July 29, 2006 in Cleveland, OH at Generation Now, Austin Aries, Roderick Strong, Jack Evans, and Matt Sydal competed one last time under the Generation Next name, facing four top prospects in ROH - Irish Airbourne of Dave & Jake Crist, Jerrelle Clark, and Davey Richards. In a twenty-minute sprint of hard hitting wrestling, Richards pinned Evans after a DR Driver.


After the match, all four men raised their GeNext t-shirts to the air and laid them on the canvas, sharing handshakes and hugs with one another.


Generation Next was no more.


—--


It has been twenty years since Generation Next formed in a huge tent outside of the National Guard Armory in Philadelphia, PA. The success of the men associated with the group is unparalleled. Look at these statistics:


ALEX SHELLEY: TNA World Champion, TNA X-Division Champion, 3-Time TNA World Tag Team Champion and ROH World Tag Team Champion (with Chris Sabin), 3-Time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion (1-time with Chris Sabin, twice with KUSHIDA)


AUSTIN ARIES: Two-time ROH World Champion, ROH World Tag Team Champion, Three-Time TNA World Champion, Six-Time TNA X-Division Champion, TNA World Tag Team Champion (with Bobby Roode)


RODERICK STRONG: ROH World Champion, Two-Time ROH Television Champion, ROH World Tag Team Champion, Three-Time FIP Heavyweight Champion, Two-Time NXT Tag Team Champion (with the Undisputed Era), NXT North American Champion, NXT Cruiserweight Champion, current AEW International Champion


JACK EVANS: Dragon Gate Open the Triangle Champion (with CIMA and BxB Hulk), AAA Cruiserweight Champion, Four Time AAA World Tag Team Champion (once with Extreme Tiger, three times with Angelico), Lucha Underground Trios Champion (with Johnny Mundo and PJ Black)


MATT SYDAL: Dragon Gate Open the Brave Gate Champion, ROH World Tag Team Champion (with Christopher Daniels), WWE Tag Team Champion (with Kofi Kingston), Two-Time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion (with Ricochet), TNA X-Division Champion


By success alone, Generation Next was a faction built for dominance.


In wrestling lore, Generation Next is vastly underrated. 


The group, in my opinion, is largely overshadowed in the annals of wrestling history. However, Ring of Honor does not survive 2004 without the group’s formation. Aries, Strong, Evans, Sydal, and Shelley carried the promotion through tough times, and unlike the majority of wrestling stables, there was no animosity once the group’s time was up (save Shelley’s excommunication, of course).


As stated in the article in 2004, the sole goal was to take the top spots. Once they got there, there was no more purpose to keep the faction going.


To me, Generation Next might very well be independent wrestling’s greatest faction ever. And, on the 20th anniversary of its foundation, I salute them. They made Ring of Honor fun. More importantly, they made wrestling exciting.



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