FanPost

One Night in Philly: An Inside Look at Ring of Honor

Scott Finkelstein, Ring of Honor

The 2300 Arena looks deceptively ordinary from the corner of Swanson and Ritner Street. Tucked away on one of the many narrow side streets that make up the city’s South Philadelphia section, the building’s grey façade emits a vibe more reminiscent of an industrial warehouse than a sporting arena. As you approach the main entrance, the infamous blue collar town stimulates each of your senses in a way unique to the City of Brotherly Love. The smell of motor oil and mechanic’s grease originating from a large garage across the street permeates throughout; the sound of a regional rail train can be heard clanging in the near distance and a slight breeze can be felt from the banks of the Delaware River less than a mile away. Travel a few blocks in one direction and the subtle lure of man’s oldest vices await you, travel a few blocks in the other direction and find yourself in the heart of the city’s upscale Penn’s Landing waterfront district. The rectangular building at 2300 Swanson Street occupies a space of its own, right in the middle.

As you cross the threshold of a tall glass door, tinted to prevent pedestrians from peaking in, tons of cooled air provides immediate relief from the humid summer air. The constant hum of the air conditioning system echoes throughout as it works overtime to condition the building for an afternoon in August. The smooth concrete floor and seemingly freshly painted walls of the concourse are astatically neutral, yet warmly inviting. Under this soft shell designed to make guests feel comfortable and welcome lies the rough and jagged history of the building’s past life as the notorious ECW Arena. The history of the building is not lost on the wrestlers of Ring of Honor nor does it ever get old returning to such a special place. "I was a really big fan of [ECW] growing up and this arena was the Mecca for them and the Mecca for smart wrestling fans," said former ROH World Champion Adam Cole. "To train here, to have my very first professional wrestling match here, to win the world championship for Ring of Honor in Philadelphia…this building and this city has a lot of special places in my heart." Later in the evening, the arena and the city will occupy yet another place in his heart, when he competes against one of, the greatest wrestlers in the world, Shinsuke Nakamura of New Japan Pro Wrestling, for the first time in his career.

Walking from the concourse to the main arena floor, it is impossible not to place yourself  two decades back in time. A time when the deep cracks of the concrete floor became bloody estuaries on a weekly basis. A time when the only relief from the sweltering summer air came from the breeze created by the violent swing of a steel chair seconds before it crashed into someone’s skull. For the slightest of moments, if you listen carefully, you can almost hear the faint sound of hundreds of raucous Philadelphians still chanting E-C-W, E-C-W, E-C-W, before the strength of the present overpowers that of the past. Today, a series of banners swaying from the rafters are the lone reminders of the innovative and controversial brand of pro wrestling that took place from 1993-2001. The names of legends like Terry Funk, Tommy Dreamer, Shane Douglas and Sabu are permanently enshrined as members of the Hardcore Hall of Fame. Banners memorializing Chris Candido, Johnny Grunge and Rocco Rock serve as solemn reminders of the many who, like ECW itself, died far too young.

Less than ten years after the brainchild of Paul Heyman transformed from a floundering independent promotion into an underground wrestling juggernaut, it was gone. Financial instability and the lack of a television deal ultimately sealed ECW’s fate before it was consumed by WWE. ECW’s sudden departure left an empty void in the American independent wrestling scene. From that void, Ring of Honor was born. When WWE purchased the rights to ECW’s brand it also acquired the promotion’s extensive video library, which had been previously distributed by the firm, RF Video. Ring of Honor was specifically created to replace the significant content RF Video lost to WWE forever. In February of 2002, The Era of Honor Begins, which took place at the ECW Arena, was the first video release under the new ROH banner. The event featured relative unknowns, at the time, like Christopher Daniels, Low Ki and Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan) as well as established veterans like Eddie Guerrero and Super Crazy. Over the next several years ROH remained primarily a northeastern promotion, running live event up and down the coast. Its growth was slow but steady. By 2004, under the new ownership of Carey Silkin, the brand continued to evolve, entering into working agreements with both TNA and Ohio Valley Wrestling. In 2007 the company began a successful partnership with Japanese-based promotions Pro Wrestling NOAH and Dragon Gate, taking advantage of a market no other American promotion had thought to explore. Pay per view deals in that same year increased the company’s exposure even further, before ultimately landing a weekly television deal with HDNet in 2009. The first episodes of Ring of Honor Wrestling took place, where else, but at the ECW Arena.

WWE’s opportunistic acquisition of ECW didn’t just leave a void in the independent wrestling circuit; it also left a significant void within the cathedral of violence and pain that housed ECW’s product from day one. In the years following ECW’s untimely demise a number of small, local promotions attempted to cash in on the history of the building to no avail. In 2003, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission banned the use of barbed wire and fluorescent light bulbs, among other things, from all pro wrestling performances within the commonwealth, making it virtually impossible to recreate the ECW style with any degree of success. WWE exploited the building’s history in the summer of 2006, running  a single house show featuring its new corporate version of the ECW brand. Naturally the event sold out in minutes but it ultimately lacked the authenticity of the original brand, much to the surprise of, well, no one. A series of name changes, failed promotions and marketing ploys gone bad slowly ate away at the once lively identity of the arena, which eventually transformed into a depressing shell of its former existence by the end of the decade. That is, until ROH showed up.

The original TV tapings for Ring of Honor Wrestling would go on to sell out, creating an energetic vibe for ROH to broadcast and instantly breathing new life into a building on the verge of being completely forgotten by wrestling history. As it turned out, the pro wrestling community wasn’t ready or willing to turn its back on independent wrestling, WWE’s global dominance notwithstanding. Likewise, the loyal wrestling fans of Philadelphia weren’t ready to turn their back on their building just yet either. Before long other promotions, not the least of which being NJPW, began running events in the building with similar success. A few more name changes and a complete renovation later, and the 2300 Arena has proudly reclaimed its standing as one of pro wrestling’s most prized venues. Since 2009 ROH has continually returned to 2300 on a regular basis. The last remaining remnant of ECW and the authentic, no-nonsense style of ROH will forever be linked by the brick and mortar situated on Swanson & Ritner. "Ring of Honor is very much in that niche part of the marketplace right now, where ECW was," said Todd Smith, who wrestlers under the name Hanson as half of the tag team, War Machine. "We have a hardcore fan base, just like ECW did, and to be, in this moment in time, back in the ECW Arena is magic."

Ring of Honor, like ECW before it, is forced to exist amidst the ever expanding shadow of WWE. Unlike, ECW, however, ROH has managed to transform that once baron wasteland, responsible for the deaths of so many hopes and dreams, into a self sustaining pro wrestling utopia, where dreams are fulfilled and legends are born. Stars like Daniels and CM Punk, Danielson and Samoa Joe, AJ Styles and Kevin Steen (Owens) among others, reintroduced the basic tenants of pro wrestling to an industry on the verge of total transformation from wrestling to sports entertainment. "When I started training, Ring of Honor was just starting out and you saw that they were just a little bit different than anything else," said ROH stalwart, Michael Elgin, fresh off his first appearance in the G1 Climax in Japan. "I wanted to do that. That’s what I wanted to take part in because that was the style I really enjoyed watching and it’s how I always perceived that I would wrestle." Over time the ROH style would become synonymous with fast-paced action, clean finishes and compelling storytelling without the hindrance of lengthy promos or scripted backstage skits- an old school approach with plenty of modern twists that make the brand unlike any other American promotion on the market today. The current success enjoyed by the promotion and its performers did not happen overnight nor has it reached its peak. Like any good wrestling story, the story of ROH is one that continues to evolve on a weekly basis.

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It is an especially hot and humid day in Philadelphia and as afternoon gradually transforms into evening, a steady line of eager Ring of Honor fans ignore the stifling conditions and begin to surround the 2300 Arena, patiently waiting for the doors to open. It’s been 3 months since the promotion last visited the city and its loyal fans can hardly wait for the last leg of the Aftershock Tour to get underway. Meanwhile, inside the arena, an organized chaos is taking place. Crew members scramble to finish assembling the ring before testing it for safety multiple times. Cameramen carefully place their instruments in the proper position. Lighting and sound checks provide momentary glimpses of the impending performance. Wrestlers scatter in all directions, making certain to shake hands with each employee of the hosting arena, a traditional courtesy sure to incur unwanted heat if ignored. By night’s end, the promotion will have four hours of programming in the proverbial can, which will be quickly edited into four different television episodes scheduled to begin airing just three weeks later. Amidst the hustle and bustle, one man paces the arena, taking turns conversing with wrestlers and crew and answering calls on his cell phone, which appears to never stop ringing. Watching Joe Koff travel back and forth around the arena, it is clear he is in charge, though his body language more closely resembles that of a proud parent than an authoritative executive.

One conversation with Koff, the President of ROH, is all it takes to understand his unadulterated enthusiasm for the wrestling business and its fans. "My interest in wrestling goes back to my childhood, as someone who just watched it growing up," said Koff. "I always loved it. I loved the sport, I loved the stories and I always loved, just the weekly process of the storytelling. I’m actually just one of those kids that just never grew out of wrestling…you run into any male at any time and you just mention that you’re in wrestling…if you just mention it to them, they’ll start talking about a time when they were watching wrestling. There’s a group of us that never really stopped watching wrestling."

On the surface, it seems inconceivable that a promotion the size of ROH could occupy any significant portion of the pro wrestling market. Many promotions have tried to cohabitate the same atmosphere dominated by WWE but few have survived to tell about it. Koff is no stranger to that slippery slope. His experience competing with WWE predates his involvement with ROH, in fact, it predates Ring of Honor altogether. The year was 1985 and Vince McMahon was three years into his unprecedented power grab to make the World Wrestling Federation the preeminent wrestling promotion within the United States. In March of that year, McMahon risked it all to produce WrestleMania. The success of the event paid dividends WWE continues to enjoy to this day.

Though the success of WrestleMania would ultimately prove to be the beginning of the end for the National Wrestling Alliance, many promotions around the country continued to battle for survival after the event took place. One of those promotions was Championship Wrestling from Florida, the promotion Koff fell in love with while attending the University of Miami. As fate would have it, after college Koff landed a job at WTOG, the television station responsible for producing the promotion’s TV in the midst of McMahon’s hostile takeover. "I said, why don’t we fight? Why don’t we produce a live primetime wrestling show…we’ll call it Battle of the Belts…and I’ll get television stations all over the country to run it. " It was a bold proclamation but one Koff ultimately backed up. The first Battle of the Belts aired in syndication on 20 stations across the country in September 1985. The star-studded card originated from The Sundome in Tampa, Florida and featured names like Rick Rude, Billy Jack Haynes, Harley Race, Stan Hansen, The Road Warriors and a main event of Ric Flair vs. Wahoo McDaniel for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in a two-out-of-three falls match.

The success of the event, in spite of a significant tropical storm that forced a large portion of the city to evacuate up until the day of the show, prompted Battle of the Belts II and III to take place in 1986 and 1987 respectively. The main event of Battle of the Belts II, Ric Flair vs. Barry Windham for the NWA title, would go on to earn Match of the Year honors among all the major wrestling publications of that time. As successful as the events were, the avalanche of momentum created by WWE, not the least of which being the monumental success of WrestleMania III in 1987, ultimately proved too much for Championship Wrestling from Florida and the rest of the NWA. Koff, whose career path was in television and not pro wrestling, would go on to have a successful career working for Sinclair Broadcasting, the largest television station operator in the nation today. In 2010, the opportunity to get back into pro wrestling presented itself when WWE removed its presence from the broadcast television picture altogether, choosing instead to relocate Smackdown to the SyFy cable network. By 2011 Ring of Honor was, by far, the largest and most secure independent promotion in the nation. Sinclair Broadcasting owned and operated upwards of 75 stations nationwide, today that number has grown to well over 150. It was a perfect match. "I went to our ownership at Sinclair and I told them, I think we have an unbelievable opportunity…I said, we should go into professional wrestling," said Koff.

Pro wrestling is a niche market, you either love it or you hate it. On average, between four and six million Americans watch some form of pro wrestling programming every week, the majority of whom are watching WWE-related products. To put that in perspective, the National Football League averaged 17.6 million viewers per game in 2014. Premium advertising dollars are not easy to come by in pro wrestling for a slew of reasons, many of which are unfair but a reality nonetheless. As a result, television executives aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to get pro wrestling on their networks, let alone purchase a promotion outright. Koff’s enthusiasm and background was the wildcard that allowed him to pursue the concept. "I went to see Carey Silkin…and I knew at that point that [Ring of Honor]was a company that Sinclair Broadcasting should buy…there really wasn’t anything as advanced in terms of an independent promotion, other than Ring of Honor."

The purchase sprung ROH from an independent promotion, to a promotion with the full resources of a corporate owner, not the least of which was distribution – the lifeblood of any successful wrestling promotion. Not since WCW has that kind of scenario existed for a pro wrestling brand not named WWE. That said, Ring of Honor wasn’t the immediate success Koff and other believed it would be. "One of the biggest hurdles, looking back from 2011, probably was that I thought it was going to [succeed] much quicker than it did," Koff said. "I thought, just putting it on television would instantly raise the level of the promotion and maybe I was a bit Pollyannaish about that." Nevertheless, Koff and his team refused to panic. The ROH product remained true to itself and its core of established fans. Slowly but surely, it began to grow in popularity as more wrestling fans learned what it was and where to find it. Through Koff’s leadership, the company exercised both a fiscal and creative discipline almost unheard of in the business of competing against WWE. Then again, no one at ROH, most of all Koff, is in the business to compete with WWE, or anyone else for that matter. Instead, they are in the business of making ROH the best promotion it can be – a common sense approach few independent promotions have had the foresight to execute in the past.

It is appropriate that the word Honor is in the name of a company led by Koff. The adjective is not just superfluous rhetoric to him, in wrestling or in life. In a notoriously cutthroat industry known for backstabbing and less than forthright behavior, Koff is living proof that there is another way to do business while still achieving success. Whether it’s taking care of talent, its fan base or the way the company conducts business with partnering promotions, like NJPW, ROH’s reputation is something Koff and his team can be proud of. Earlier this year, much to the surprise of everyone within the wrestling community, ROH announced a deal that placed their syndicated program on the cable network, Destination America. The deal provided yet another level of exposure for the company, allowing them to have a presence on both broadcast and cable television, a fete no other American promotion can tout at present date, WWE included. The increased exposure has allowed fans in every major American market the opportunity to invest in the ROH product, a testament to Koff’s dedication and unwavering belief in his brand.

Two men have had the opportunity to ride the ROH rollercoaster throughout the entirety of its evolution, Jay and Mark Briscoe. Less than a year after first becoming a pro wrestler, Jay wrestled on the debut Era of Honor Begins card in 2002. Weeks later Mark made his debut. In the 13 years since, the brothers have become trusted centerpieces of the promotion. Together they’ve held the ROH Tag Team titles on eight different occasions and Jay is a former two-time world champion. Through it all, they remain laser focused on both the present and the future, leaving no time to rest on the accomplishments of the past. "It’s been a heck of a ride," said Jay. "It’s kind of hard to sit back and reflect, we just never stop moving forward. We do our thing, and just keep looking forward. It doesn’t matter what anybody else is doing. " While reflection may not come easy to the Briscoe brothers, understanding the importance of the journey they and ROH have taken together is essential in continuing to make the company grow. "When ROH first started out, it was more like an All-Star game," explained Mark. "Now, we’re like a fine-tuned machine, like the New England Patriots or San Antonio Spurs. We’re much more of a unit now, we’re a more efficient product…it’s much more of a team effort."

Every team needs a core of strong leaders at different levels in order to be successful. As trusted members of a tight locker room, the Briscoes serve on the front lines in the ring and behind the curtain. Likewise, the focus and leadership of Koff at the highest level ensures the work and dedication of his performers is not squandered. "I’m very proud of the way we conduct our business," Koff said. "It’s something that is important to me personally, and all of us, really."

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Pro wrestling is at its best when, through the medium of storytelling, both the wrestlers in the ring and the fans in the audience achieve an organic alignment that joins them together as one living and breathing entity. Ring of Honor’s ability to produce this magical moment is what has fans filing into the 2300 Arena with no end in sight. 30 minutes before show time, It becomes glaringly obvious that the anticipated attendance of approximately 1,000 people is about to be surpassed. These determined fans will not be denied. Crew members scramble to arrange additional seating throughout the already sold out arena. When all available seating finally does run out, a standing room only section is established. Undeterred by the idea of having to stand on their feet for the better part of four hours, the section quickly floods with fans until all available space is spoken for. The crowd is a unique blend of opposing generations, one old enough to have experienced the history and tradition of the building first hand and another, cognizant and respectful of the past but excited about the present.

Despite the wide range in both age and background, an impressive symmetry exists between the two groups. They are here to experience the thrill of a live ROH show together. For the next four hours, nothing else matters. Groups of friends merge with other groups of friends. Strangers waiting in the refreshment line together strike up conversations without thinking twice. Parents watch their children gaze in awe at the spectacle around them, eager to witness the special reaction to that first high spot only a child can have. Unlike the edgy and often disorderly crowds of ECW, a familial aura is ever-present throughout the arena. The crowd is united as one singular unit, brought together by its mutual admiration of the ROH product.

A buzz is in the air as show time draws near and a focused anticipation begins to take hold throughout the arena. Chants for the Young Bucks emanate from a particular section before the rest of the arena joins in, further proof of the unspoken fraternity connecting the audience. A rumbling begins to build; one that gradually gets louder and more forceful until the full effects can be felt reverberating through the concrete floor. Finally, almost on cue, as the rumbling reaches its apex the lights dim, the music hits and the crowd explodes in a visceral and joyous release. The Ring of Honor audience is unlike any other live audience in pro wrestling. It does not simply watch the show, cheering babyfaces and booing heels, but rather, like the Great Chorus in a Shakespearian play, it’s part of the show itself.

Watching on television, the passion of ROH fans is one of the first things that noticeably sets them apart from anyone else. Experiencing that passion first hand is something entirely different. Only the most jaded and cynical wrestling fan could withstand the infectious bliss this crowd radiates. Jubilant though they may be, the unfiltered affection of this crowd comes with a heavy price. They have come to expect a certain level of performance, one that distinctly sets ROH apart from the rest of the pro wrestling world. They do not hand out cheers or chants of, ‘This is awesome,’ and the more audacious ‘This is wrestling’ without them first being earned. There is no sense of irony in an ROH crowd the way there is within other promotions and ROH wrestlers wouldn’t have it any other way. "That’s what makes Ring of Honor so special," said Elgin. "The fans have a lot to say as far as what goes on…they can make or break someone. You can come in, maybe as just a guy that’s getting a tryout but then the crowd reacts, that makes Ring of Honor as a promotion go, well the crowd is reacting to this guy, we gotta get him a position…that’s how wrestling is supposed to work."

As the night unfolds, there is no evidence of the brash or overbearing antics held against many east coast fans, particularly in cities like Philadelphia or New York. The infamous, ‘You f@cked up’ chant was nowhere to be found, but for a moment of jest between the audience and a ringside crew member as they watched a podium just assembled in the ring crash to the canvas. Instead, the audience is appreciative of the effort on display and they are all too willing to express their gratitude in their own unique way. "The fans know what they’re going to get at one of our shows," said Jay Briscoe. "You can almost feel it before the show; you know it’s about to on. There’s that anticipation that their getting ready to see a great show and you can feel it in the back and we appreciate it.""I can’t tell you how many times I talk to a fan and they say, I remember when you wrestled on this show or that show back in 2002, and I’m just like, good grief, that’s so long ago I don’t even know where it was or who I was even wrestling…but they remember," adds Mark. "It’s such a dedicated fan base we have, their so appreciative, and it means a lot. We’re never going to mail it in and we’re never going to take a night off, if the fans are going to be there for us then we’re going to be there for them."

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The Ring of Honor universe is currently dominated by the braggadocios and underhanded, House of Truth. Led by the faction’s namesake, the charlatan manager Truth Martini, the trio of heels (J. Diesel, Donovan Dijack and Jay Lethal) have been causing havoc all summer. Lethal, the reigning ROH World Champion as well as the ROH Television Champion, likes to call himself the greatest first generation wrestler in the history of the business –at least on TV. In reality, the New Jersey native, who grew up idolizing Ric Flair and Randy Savage, is much more humble and down to earth than the character he currently portrays.

Like so many of the talented athletes that make up the ROH locker room, Lethal’s journey from an adolescent fan to a world champion was anything but ordinary. At the age of 16, Lethal attended a live event promoted by Jersey All Pro Wrestling. During the intermission of that show a contest was held, in which the winner would receive six months of free instruction at the Jersey All Pro Wrestling Academy. Lethal sprung at the opportunity. After taking a flat-back bump in the center of the ring and several minutes of running the ropes, he was declared the winner. Before he knew it, pro wrestling was no longer something he enjoyed watching on television but a means to making a living. Like the Briscoe Brothers, Lethal’s history with Ring of Honor dates back to the early 2000s, having made his debut less than a year into the company’s existence. In 2005 he left the promotion for a successful six year run with TNA, before ultimately landing back where it all began in 2011, the same year Sinclair purchased the company.

It didn’t take long for Lethal to realize a lot had changed since he last stepped into an ROH ring, himself included. "When I was there before, you had guys like CM Punk, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles… amazing athletes and amazing main event wrestlers…I felt like I didn’t even belong there," explained Lethal. "I was still kind of new in the wrestling business, I had gotten to wrestle guys like Bryan Danielson, guys like Punk, and I just knew that those guys had something that I didn’t. I almost felt like I was slipping through the cracks by being able to stay there. Luckily I was able to stay there and getting in the ring with those guys actually helped me tremendously."

All wrestlers must undertake a tough journey required to find that which makes them unique or special in a business where both attributes are a must. It is during this sometimes lonely and frustrating journey that the majority of talent ultimately come up short, for a variety of reasons. The ones that are able to find their way to the other side have the incredibly ability to captivate an audience like no other form of athlete or entertainer is capable of doing.

Lethal returned to ROH having completed that journey and ready to take on the world. Much more confident in himself and his abilities, it was as if the Jay Lethal of now and the Jay Lethal back then were two entirely different people with different psyches, different motivations and different goals. "Part of me wishes that this Jay Lethal, that I am now, could have been in Ring of Honor before," Lethal said. "I would have felt like I fit in and I could have had these awesome matches…before I was like, oh no, I have to wrestle with these great wrestlers, oh no, I’m gonna get exposed, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m so nervous. I have such a different mindset now. Now I feel like I do fit in…I feel like I fit in and can really appreciate anything any one of our past champions has ever done for Ring of Honor. I was there and got to see all these guys have their moment, thinking, wow, what an honor it would be for me to have my moment someday."

Lethal’s moment finally arrived in June of this year at the Best in the World ppv in New York. That night he became the first man to pin Jay Briscoe in nearly two years, dethroning him of the world title in the process. Despite his current role as a heel, not to mention Briscoe’s role as an ultimate babyface, the audience serenaded the new champion with a chant of, ‘You deserve this!’, erasing any remaining doubt about his place in ROH or pro wrestling as a whole. "It was an extreme honor…I really put my all into that whole story and I know Jay put his all into that whole storyline…myself and the rest of the guys in the locker room were just as surprised as everyone else when the whole deal with Destination America went down, and then to have that match around the same time, I know it hyped me up a lot and it hyped everyone else in the locker room up even more than we already were. It’s something I’m very proud of."

Lethal’s character is unlike any champion in pro wrestling today. Instead, it is a welcomed throwback to legendary heel champions of the 1980s, like his heroes Flair and Savage. Though not afraid to break the rules to gain an unfair advantage, Lethal’s character is, above all, a ruthless competitor. A man obsessed with being the absolute best. He does not run away from a fight, like the majority of heels in the industry today, as evidenced by his refusal to relinquish the TV title he earned prior to winning the world title. Having to defend both titles, independent of one another, does not frighten this heel, it motivates him. "Most of my fans know I grew up idolizing [Flair and Savage] but even if they didn’t you can see it by the way I wrestle and the things I do." In his first world title defense against Roderick Strong, Lethal took his affection for Flair a step further, enduring a sixty minute draw, a finish forever associated with The Nature Boy. "I watched my idol do it several times but that was my first time having a singles match that went an hour. It was such a cool experience getting to have a sixty minute match, knowing that [Flair] had so many."

As the sun begins to set beneath the horizon, there’s an electricity inside the 2300 Arena. Lethal, world title proudly resting on his shoulder, methodically walks to the ring as members of The House of Truth flank him on both sides. The rematch between he and Strong is only moments away from taking place. It is impossible to think how the two could top the match from a few weeks before, yet everyone in the crowd knows it’s a real possibility. The two stand nose to nose in the center of the ring as the bell sounds. Fans hold their breath during the lengthy stare down as each man refuses to be the first to look away. As they finally engage, the crowd explodes and the fight for the ROH title is on. Right then, at that exact moment, the special bond aligning wrestler and fan takes place. They are linked as one and all is right in the wrestling universe. That, above all else, is what Ring of Honor is all about.

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All Photos courtesy of Scott Finkelstein, Ring of Honor

The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Cageside Seats readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cageside Seats editors or staff.