The Indie Corner: ROH at a Crossroads

Adam Cole, photo by Scott Finkelstein

What does Adam Cole have in common with El Generico and the Briscoe Brothers? Like them, they're either out of Ring of Honor or were offered deals to leave the company. If reports are to be believed, and Sean Radican claims to have several well-placed ones, Cole and the Briscoes were shown interest by WWE for potential contracts that they were unable to offer because they were under existing contracts with the indie leader. Couple that with Generico's lack of contract leading him to work for former head booker and current honcho at Dragon Gate USA/EVOLVE Gabe Sapolsky, and ROH is looking to be out four guys who have been important to the company in the last six months or so.

Of course, the exodus of talent out of ROH is nothing new. Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli, Tyler Black, Bryan Danielson, Nigel McGuinness and Austin Aries all left within the last two years, and they were replaced by Cole, Tomasso Ciampa, Kyle O'Reilly, Mike Bennett, Michael Elgin and returnees Jimmy Jacobs and Jay Lethal. That seems formidable, but Bennett and Ciampa have been critical busts so far, Jacobs has been more a background player than anything, and Cole and O'Reilly, having formed a tag team together, have been mired in an all-too abrupt breakup angle to pair off with the newly separated American Wolves. Lethal and Elgin seem to be the only guys who have taken, but given the star power that had left? Yeah, it's a total step down.

Why has ROH struggled to find replacement value? Where are the names, at least the new names? Getting Lethal and Jacobs (and to an extent the World's Greatest Tag Team) is good, but the indies are more about creating new buzz. If anything, their main rival Sapolsky has done a better job at uncovering the new hotness and bringing them to the forefront. In fact, one could argue that Cole and O'Reilly were pretty much poached from Sapolsky, since he booked them first on DGUSA and EVOLVE cards in 2009 and 2010. The current angle with Chikara is also another idea taken from Sapolsky, who has booked guys like Jigsaw, Hallowicked, Mike Quackenbush and Gran Akuma among others. It's not a bad idea, but ROH clearly is a step behind DGUSA in terms of buzzworthy wrestlers that came through. In addition to the established Dragon Gate brand as well as names like Aries, Jacobs, Low Ki, and Finlay, Sapolsky has given the ball to guys like Johnny Gargano, Chuck Taylor, Akira Tozawa, Sami Callihan, Bobby Fish, Uhaa Nation, AR Fox and Rich Swann.

Sure, my guess is that if one would compare the financials of both companies that ROH probably does better. They have name recognition and a longer standing brand. That being said, critical success in wrestling a lot of times is a predictor for financial gains. Just look at the WWF and WCW in 1996 and '97. WCW had the names, one hot angle and an innovative new division, but they also rested on their laurels and looked to push guys like Ultimate Warrior over the younger talent instead of alongside the younger talent. The WWF built a more solid roster led by the next big thing in Steve Austin, and they shot ahead of WCW within a couple of years.

But making comparisons to older examples isn't as interesting to me as asking why it's this way. Why is it that DGUSA is getting the better prospects over ROH? What are they doing better than ROH? I really don't know without knowing the inner workings of each company. Maybe it's that Gabe isn't as protective of his contracts if WWE comes calling. Maybe Gabe is doing better homework on lower indies all around the country instead of focusing on the Northeast. Maybe it has to do with production values. Maybe no one wants to work for Jim Cornette. I don't know, but in my opinion, ROH is getting lapped in terms of human resources and development, and that's not a good thing for them as they look to press forward as a national brand with television.

For a company that still looks like it's growing, that's not a good place to be. We've seen the unsustainable model of teams that build through free agency against the more dynastic teams that build from within and make savvy moves to bring in the spare parts needed to supplement the homegrown stars. ROH right now feels like a team relying on its older stars to carry it to glory with no real future plan to replace them when they're gone. Unless Ciampa and Bennett have this hidden gear that no one knows about (and to be fair, Ciampa at least has shown flashes to me), then ROH, for lack of a better term, is f*cked if everything else stays the same. If not, when WWE comes poaching the half of the stars that fit their mold and the other half end up retiring due to injuries or burnout, then they're going to have a hard time keeping up not only with the DGUSAs of the world, but with the Chikaras, ACWs and Beyond Wrestlings of the world as well.

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