Like WWE, Ring Of Honor (ROH) over the weekend officially removed their head writer Jim Cornette, but rather than a ruthless axing, this was a mutually agreed upon demotion, where Cornette's deputy Hunter "Delirious" Johnston got his old job back, but will still work with Cornette, who will take up a more advisory creative position. Which begs the question whether this booking reshuffle will lead to any fundamental changes in the ROH product in the future?
In an interesting move, Mike Johnson of PWInsider.com reported earlier today that Jim Cornette had been replaced as Ring Of Honor's (ROH's) head booker. His former assistant Hunter Johnston, aka Delirious, was the man chosen to take over the position.
He's actually no stranger to the job, as he held the top creative spot in ROH from August 2010 - May 2011 before Sinclair Broadcasting Group bought the promotion from Cary Silkin. At that time, Cornette, who had been Johnston's booking deputy, snared power, which wasn't surprising given that his good friend and former WCW Baltimore promoter Gary Juster was the conduit to ROH's sale to Sinclair.
It should be made clear that Cornette has not been fired by ROH, merely demoted and will continue to hold considerable power and creative influence within the organisation. He will work in a more advisory capacity, helping Johnston to write ROH's future storylines and also being heavily involved with their television production and other logistics. Basically, this is a booking flip flop and both Cornette and Johnston will be in the roles they had before the Sinclair takeover.
To the best of my knowledge, Cornette has maintained a very positive working relationship with Joe Koff, ROH's COO, and this was a change that both had agreed upon together.
In recent months, whether rightly or wrongly, Cornette had become a toxic company asset in the eyes of both ROH's hardcore fans and their performers, blaming him for continuing down the wrong path of making the once cutting edge promotion into a dated, stilted throwback to Southern territorial rasslin'.
In April of this year, former ROH wrestler and current TNA World Heavyweight champion Austin Aries called the promotion "a shell of it's former self" and came up with the nickname Smokey Mountain Of Honor, referring to the old-school, money losing Smokey Mountain Wrestling (SMW) company Cornette ran in the Appalachian region of the United States from October 1991 - December 1995, before throwing in the towel and taking a more lucrative full time booking position with the WWF. Unfortunately the jibe resonated with disgruntled fans who agreed with Aries' sentiments that ROH's heyday was when Gabe Sapolsky was booking the promotion in the mid 2000s and that Cornette's tired influence was ensuring that ROH failed to recapture their lost spark and vibrancy.
In late July, ROH wrestler Davey Richards poured oil on the smouldering fire of discontent when he bashed his boss for his clichéd ideas:
"And then we started this thing with [Dan] Severn and the whole thing got, in my opinion, stupid and it got ridiculous. Now [Eddie Edwards] is doing his thing and I'm doing my thing. We should still be tagging in my opinion, but I don't book things I guess.
You know, I love Jim [Cornette], but if you want an honesty and honesty is something I strongly believe in, I think he's outdated."
Such open insubordination from arguably ROH's top performer probably helped Cornette eventually arrive to the conclusion that he was starting to get the dreaded go-away heat as the company's management figurehead and it was time to pass the poisoned chalice back to Johnston, someone who gets on with the boys in the back better and who fans view as a more progressive creative force.
Personally, I blame Joe Koff more for the dated feel of the promotion. He's the out of his depth, mid-1980s territorial wrestling mark that runs the whole shebang, and the most important thing for any booker to do is to keep the vanity owner happy. One really questions whether this booking reshuffle will lead to any fundamental differences when he's still calling the shots and he's still working with the exact same people in his creative team, just in a reversed order. Indeed, PWTorch.com's sources gives credence to this hypothesis, as they've been told that "the product won't change that much, as Johnston has been making key decisions for a while now".
A bad omen for the future was the conclusion of the ROH "Killer Instinct" house show in Rahway, NJ, this Saturday where Johnston was officially unveiled as the new booker. The fans there completely crapped on the no-contest finish in the main event between ROH World Champion Kevin Steen and home town challenger Jay Lethal, where Steen spat at Lethal's mum leading to a chaotic pull apart brawl where ROH officials, including Cornette, split them up. In days gone by this would have been a tremendous personal angle to set up for a rematch at the Final Battle iPPV in New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom on Dec. 16th, but today ROH supporters felt ripped off by the non-finish. And boy, did they let them know it with loud chants of "bullshit" and "refund", lots of trash thrown into the ring and plenty of expletive filled muttering amongst the fans about how they were done with the company.
Meet the new booker everyone, as tone deaf as the old one.
The angle did have a further purpose, which was to write Jim Cornette out of ROH storylines, for the time being at least, as they ran an angle after the event on their website where a crazed Lethal had assaulted and seriously injured Cornette:
"While Lethal was looking for Steen backstage he continued to assault officials and apparently attacked ROH Executive Producer Jim Cornette. Cornette was sent to the local hospital suffering a severe back injury and his diagnosis is unknown at this time."
They obviously needed to get rid of Cornette as a live performer to give the false impression of a new dawn for the promotion, but the manner in which they did it meant that a dark shadow was cast on Johnston's coronation, when it was imperative that they showed fans light at the end of the tunnel, after a very stormy 2012 beset with several unforgivable iPPV cock ups. Don't expect this thin veneer of change to stop the obvious thunderstorms still on the ROH horizon.