BANKIE'S HOT TAKE #8 - Tony Khan's ROH Needs Identity
This past Saturday afternoon, Ring of Honor held its third event under Tony Khan - FINAL BATTLE 2022 in Arlington, TX. Similar to the other three ROH pay-per-views under AEW ownership, it was full of great wrestling, but it felt as if something was missing.
48 hours later, I sat down and truly pondered what exactly was lost on me during that event. Was it the multiple championship changes that were very prevalent on this card? Was it my perceived lackluster creative build towards the show? Is it the lack of true ROH programming helping to build up on these events?
Some of that, to me, is true. Most definitely is. However, about 45 minutes ago, prior to putting my finger to the keyboard, it hit me out of the blue.
Tony Khan’s ROH is missing its identity.
The same feeling that I have about All Elite Wrestling has started becoming more evident with this version of Ring of Honor.
Trust me, I’ve really tried giving it a shot. I’ve actually attempted to tune into AEW’s television to see all the ROH developments. I will also admit that I have enjoyed Chris Jericho’s reign as ROH World Champion and seeing him evolve as “the Ocho”. But other than that, to me, ROH and AEW are one and the same at this stage.
Although the talent are making the most of what they’re given and working very hard in between the ropes, the creative direction hasn’t been that strong. There isn’t one philosophy nailed down in the foundation of AEW, which now affects ROH.
Also, seeing all of the ROH titles on AEW programming waters down all champions in the promotion. Add in the frequency of title changes, while ROH is not on television (EDITOR’S NOTE: YET), scarily gives me a vibe of 2001, watching the WWF/WCW storyline. Watching the WCW World, United States, Tag Team, and Cruiserweight titles mixed in the established WWF championships and flipping them over more than a pancake on a skillet figuratively gave me, the wrestling fan, agita.
From what I’ve seen this year from AEW/ROH, the championships in general have been, in my mind, devalued in a similar vein. And it’s not out of disrespect, but just the sheer amount of championships are too overwhelming to get invested in one or the other due to this.
In spite of that, I truly believe the one thing Khan has to do more than anything else is honor the history of ROH’s past, which, for a long time prior, was its identity.
It didn’t matter who was in charge, from Gabe Sapolsky to Delirious, ROH’s vision was always state-of-the-art wrestling, less BS, and more about the wrestlers and their in-ring motivations.
Sapolsky always put emphasis on less sports entertainment during his six-and-a-half years as booker. The ROH style consistently evolved under his book, but the mentality remained the same. Sapolsky always tried to stay ahead of the curve, with both culture and image. From Low-Ki and his strong style, to the Reborn saga, to “the Summer of Punk” and ROH vs CZW, to even the resurgence of tag team wrestling and the rise of the Age of the Fall, ROH maintained a unique aura. Sapolsky also gave respect to wrestling’s past, including incorporating legends like Mick Foley, Ricky Steamboat, the Midnight Express, Jim Cornette, and Konnan in ways that enhanced the product instead of detracting from it.
History, from the onset of Ring of Honor, was the company’s identity.
Even as ROH grew, little things changed. Adam Pearce took over from Sapolsky in 2008 and began to bring out more characters and purpose for the performers, especially as ROH started on television via HDNet, while Jim Cornette mixed hard-hitting wrestling and a more professional way on how to produce the product. Many fans see the Pearce/Cornette eras of ROH as a low point in the company; I disagree. Both men stayed true to developing the next generation of the industry, even as owner Cary Silkin struggled to keep it afloat. The rise of Steen vs Generico, Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, the American Wolves, and the Kings of Wrestling are congruent with this time period, and both Cornette and Pearce deserve credit for their efforts and respecting ROH’s initial vision.
Delirious, in spite of fans’ criticisms, brought a lot to the table as the head of creative for ROH. He mixed Sapolsky, Pearce, and Cornette’s philosophies and added his own twist, emphasizing the importance of successful independent talent, international stars, and homegrown wrestlers from the ROH Dojo. Delirious also struck while the iron was hot and allowed the Young Bucks, Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, and Marty Scrull incorporate their “Being the Elite'' YouTube show into ROH programming, which led to ROH’s production assistance in helping them deliver the “All In” pay-per-view event. However, while the company was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Delirious’ crowning achievement, in my opinion, was rededicating the syndicated television show towards crowning a new Pure Wrestling champion via a 16 man tournament. This brought critical acclaim from the die-hard wrestling fan base and brought ROH back to relevancy with an injection of its HISTORY.
In my opinion, ROH’s identity was its history and staying true to its original roots as a wrestling promotion, while bringing state-of-the-art wrestling to the forefront. ROH was a breath of fresh air during a time of uncertainty of pro wrestling at its inception and a stepping stone to what AEW would become nationally.
I could go on-and-on about the previous 19 years of ROH, and maybe in due time I will again, but I really believe Tony Khan needs to find a true identity for his Ring of Honor. With the announcement that beginning in 2023, ROH will host its weekly television show on HonorClub, let’s hope and see if a vision comes together.
From a fan’s perspective, please do me one favor: respect the honor of ROH’s past creatively. That’s all I ask.