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Internal frustration at Ring of Honor's New Japan-centric booking

Is #LowMorale spreading? Like TNA, Ring of Honor is facing its own issues with disgruntled talent, unhappy with Hunter "Delirious" Johnston's New Japan-centric booking.

Roderick Strong's great ring work last year wasn't rewarded with a New Japan tour.
Roderick Strong's great ring work last year wasn't rewarded with a New Japan tour.
Wikimedia Commons

In recent weeks, Ring of Honor has come under increased criticism from fans and parts of the wrestling media, like our very own Sean Rueter, for their booking, scheduling (airing TV shows that were taped months ago), outdated business model and kowtowing to the whims of their partner New Japan Pro Wrestling too much, making their performers come off secondary in the process.

Despite these obvious flaws, business may never have been stronger for ROH with their recent ROH/NJPW War of the Worlds tour selling out all of the 1,000-1,700 seat arenas they ran, and Bullet Club/Young Bucks merchandise apparently selling like hot cakes at these events.

Thus, ROH is in a strange "Tale of Two Cities" position where it's the best of times, it's the worst of times, it's the age of wisdom, it's the age of foolishness, it's the epoch of belief, it's the epoch of incredulity, it's the season of Light, it's the season of Darkness, it's the spring of hope, it's the winter of despair, depending upon which camp you fall into.

Indeed, the frustrations aren't isolated to ROH viewers, but also some of their wrestlers too. According to, there is dissatisfaction with head booker Hunter Johnston's recent matchmaking within the ROH locker room, which has led to changes to their booking team to relieve the tension:

"Among wrestlers, there is a mix of internal feelings about Ring of Honor heading into the big "War of the Worlds" tour.

Most of the mixture centers on how certain wrestlers are booked and whether their ideas are valued behind-the-scenes. This points back to head booker Delirious, whose management style led to veteran wrestler Christopher Daniels being added to the mix as an agent/liaison for talent.

Plus, wrestlers wanting to see the benefits of the relationship with New Japan, but wondering why they keep being booked to lose matches, especially on U.S. shows."

Wade Keller, the owner of the Torch site, later elaborated on the reasons for the internal discontent with Johnston's work on a recent audio show of his:

"There's a lot of consternation behind the scenes with Hunter Johnston and the way that he is booking and almost this casual, steady, slow and steady wins the race as far as booking goes that is frustrating some of the talent right now. I think his booking is taking a bigger hit because on a personal level there's people who feel that he's playing favourites and he is not engaged in communication with talent, and so I think some of his booking maybe is getting an even worse rap because of it. But I think that there are people within the company who are now very critical of him because there is a feeling that his presence is a little toxic right now to morale. It seems like something that he isn't addressing or feels he needs to address and that's where Joe Koff comes in. But the feeling is that he's burnt out and he's just riding this out and not communicating or acknowledging what isn't right as far as ROH goes."

Around the same time, rival reporter Dave Meltzer also eventually admitted that there was indeed frustration with Delirious' booking on his message board, after several posts playing down rumours of a potential talent exodus over unhappiness with ROH's creative direction:

"There is some frustration with Hunter as booker because he's sometimes difficult to get in touch with, and sometimes he changes plans (nothing like WWE which does it weekly) but when he does, if a guy getting a title doesn't, of course he's going to be mad. There was an issue with people on the low end of the card needing take after take on doing promos and high card guys who could nail it on the first try were waiting for them to not get it right.

There is the obvious second guessing of how often they use the New Japan guys. I think it's too much, especially because they come across as the bigger stars. But the argument is that the New Japan connection has led to this being the biggest year by far in company history, even with losing AJ [Styles] & [Shinsuke] Nakamura, as gates and merch are both usually up even on shows without the New Japan guys right now. I saw [Jim] Cornette do that in SMW and while it wasn't the reason for its decline, I warned him as soon as he did it and it was a factor in the sense the crowds in his biggest markets stopped coming unless WWE guys were on the show, whereas before when there were no WWE guys, his guys alone were enough to draw."

Going back to that Dickensian theme, this is the worst time for ROH to have disgruntled talent when WWE is much more openminded about their hiring practices and is always on the lookout for skilled workers to replenish their NXT roster with, plus EVOLVE has been strengthened by their loose affiliation with WWE, which creates another alternative option for wrestlers seeking a new home whilst they wait for interest from the big leagues.

One wrestler has already chosen EVOLVE over ROH, Cedric Alexander, who announced his departure from Ring of Honor a few days ago, and has already been booked to appear on EVOLVE 62 and 63 on June 10th and 11th, respectively.

More may follow. As the Torch reported, both Moose and Roderick Strong are considering leaving the promotion when their contracts expire shortly. This is unsurprising as both would fall into the camp who haven't seen much benefit from ROH's relationship with New Japan. Neither have worked full tours for New Japan and both have been marginalised at times in favour of New Japan's favourites. Indeed, sources told the Torch that "Strong was not pleased with how his ROH TV Title run abruptly ended when he dropped the title to Tomohiro Ishii in February in Japan." It must also be particularly galling for a veteran like Strong to see Gedo handpick the inexperienced Adam Page for a spot in the Bullet Club, which will lead to him working regularly for New Japan starting in the summer, when he has been overlooked for similar opportunities time after time.

The risk for Ring of Honor is that they may push talent into WWE's and EVOLVE's hands that they haven't treated well recently, whilst those they have rolled the red carpet out for won't show loyalty if WWE makes a big play for them in the future. It is known that WWE is heavily interested in Adam Cole and that they will likely make him a strong offer when his ROH contract expires in April 2017. The Young Bucks' contracts expire later this year too, so ROH have clearly left themselves exposed to a predatory raid, should Triple H see value in snatching up more Bullet Club members for WWE's take on that gimmick. We live in very interesting times and it will be fascinating to see how this all plays out.

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