The next challenger to the ROH Title Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Once upon a time, Ring of Honor (ROH) was the most critically acclaimed wrestling promotion in America. Part of this was the newness of the style taking a wrestling landscape that had just lost WCW and ECW by storm. Part of it was an inherent hipsterism that pervades any independent scene. Part of it was that with or without that groundbreaking style pervading, the way it was promoted was different. One trope of that "difference" involved how seamlessly a wrestler could move into a title match without seeming out of place. The environment in the company always engendered a feeling that if a wrestler was good enough to wrestle for ROH, they were good enough to challenge for the Championship, even if the card structure dictated that not everyone was worthy of winning that title.
Over years, that attitude gradually wore away as the roster depleted itself through a combination of attrition, WWE poaching and falling out with management. The grind got so bad that in 2011, the title scene was dominated by three men - Roderick Strong, Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards. While Chris Hero and El Generico got token shots here and there, but the title picture was DOMINATED by the Wolves and Roddy. I don't think the company's stagnation in the last year is coincidental with that fact. Would it have been better if the personalities involved were more colorful? Maybe, maybe not, but a full year of overkill with any main event players will grate, whether it's Steve Austin vs. CM Punk or Lance Storm vs. Brent Albright.
That being said, things are looking up for ROH in 2012, starting with their first card tomorrow night, their long-awaited return to Philadelphia after a year of being away and the first non-TV taping in over two. It's not Strong nor Edwards receiving the first Championship opportunity at Richards, but current Television Champion Jay Lethal. Kevin Steen, after being reinstated, also claimed that he wouldn't rest until he took the title, and wherever Steen is, Generico isn't too far behind. That injection of talent into title matches is a good start, assuming that neither Edwards nor Strong is going anywhere (and they shouldn't, really, despite all my protestations).
With that in mind, I want ROH to go further. I want to see a vast plethora of challengers for Richards (or whoever defeats him) in 2012. Hero may only be biding his time before he joins his former partner Claudio "Antonio Cesaro" Castagnoli in WWE, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't get a shot before he leaves. Either one of the Briscoes would make sense as a title challenger. For that matter, so would either Shelton Benjamin or Charlie Haas. Jimmy Jacobs, Steve Corino or even Jimmy Rave would be great challengers as well.
Why stop there though? Michael Elgin won Survival of the Fittest, so he's got the chops to step into the ring with Richards. Kenny King shouldn't really have to waste on the sidelines while Rhett Titus recovers from injury. TJ Perkins definitely would have a memorable match in the main slot of whatever card he got his opportunity. Hell, I would love to see defenses against the elite talent-guest stars from other promotions, whether they be stateside (Mike Quackenbush or Joey Ryan) or abroad (KENTA or Naomichi Marufuji).
I know the that there are apparent minuses to spreading around title shots to everyone and anyone, especially those who aren't in ROH full time. I also think that they'd be pedantic reasons not to do it up in that style, or at least the positives outweigh them. Any feelings of undeservedness can be explained in one of two ways. For the ROH roster members who might not have the "strongest" cases, the rationale would be that the Champion wants all the competition he can handle from all angles. For those outside the company, the explanation is that those challengers would have proven their worth as the best their company has to offer and want to put their best against the Best in the World.
Of course, the biggest positive out of all of this would be the variety of matches. Rather than seeing Edwards and Richards (or Edwards and Strong, or Strong and Richards, or all three) trying to recreate something special on several occasions from a limited vocabulary, the Champion, whoever it may be, now has several canvases to work from. Having variety is never a bad thing.
Obviously, I'm not advocating that Mark Briscoe should be seriously considered to win the title, or that anyone other than the top main event guys in the company get the title shots at the iPPVs. However, it couldn't hurt to spread the love around for TV tapings or for secondary "house" shows like the one in Philadelphia tomorrow. A strictly rigid main event scene is something closely associated with the mainstream, and ROH, television deal aside, is something that still very much has an independent spirit. Doing things differently should be their MO.