Without getting into the controversial angle which closed Global Wars (off the top anyway - the Bullet Club "invasion" is symptomatic of a lot of their issues, so we will be talking about it in this post), it's worth pondering the state of Ring of Honor (ROH).
The promotion was born in the early 21st century, at a time when it looked like Vince McMahon had succeeded in turning WWE into the only wrestling company in North America. That was never really true, of course. There were developmental territories and international options and regional independents, but after years of alternatives on national television, the absorption of WCW and ECW into the McMahon empire felt kind of final.
For that reason alone, ROH would have a place in history. But not only did they give fans an alternative to "sports entertainment" just when the internet wrestling community was evolving from message boards, the promotion also helped launch the careers of CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, Kevin Owens and others who are now established worldwide stars.
Those names obviously left the company founded by Gabe Sapolsky & Rob Fienstein, and there were rocky days involving scandal for Feinstein, Gabe's ouster, WWE's signing of top acts and trouble maintaining a television presence. But the sale of the company from Cary Silkin to Sinclair Broadcasting Group (SBG) in 2011 brought stability, as Sinclair's primary motivation for investing was cheap content for their syndicated television channels - meaning ROH gained (some) money and a presence on screens in one fell swoop.
Today, SBG means the company's weekly show, ROH TV, is available in major markets around the United States. They've been able to sign many of their top acts and avoid the talent loss we've seen from TNA or New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). A partnership with New Japan puts their stars in that key Asian market, on NJPW's streaming network and means they can feature Japanese wrestlers on their house shows.
For a company that has everything in place to be the number two promotion in North America, if not the world, ROH doesn't seem to be moving the needle. At least judging by traffic here at Cageside Seats (by no means a comprehensive indicator, but as a popular wrestling site linked to mainstream sports coverage via SBNation, an interesting one) interest was minimal for their pay-per-view (PPV) this weekend. Critical reaction to the show from pundits is largely negative.
Neither seems primed to push ROH from the position it's occupied on the scene for the last five or so years... a company that fans know is there, which features a handful of stars they're interested in who will put on solid-to-good matches, but that doesn't stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
So, as Big Show famously asked Kane, "what's the problem?":
Second fiddle to partners
Last night, a ROH regular finally defeated a Japanese star on a ROH show. It was kind of a big deal.
Of course, Bobby Fish's Television title win over Tomohiro Ishii was immediately overshadowed by the Bullet Club angle, but it was still noteworthy. Since NJPW wrestlers became regular fixtures in the company, they have almost always gone over the home team - including some of Ring of Honor's most popular acts like Dalton Castle and Moose.
It's created the perception that ROH is New Japan West.
Last December, they announced a working deal with Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG), the hot West Coast indy, but so far that's just opened up guys like Adam Cole & Kyle O'Reilly to work both company's shows. Fans were excited for the possibility of some storyline crossover, and Cole in Bullet Club may lead to that, but PWG's schedule doesn't really lend itself to ongoing narrative - especially considering how ROH tapes their television (more on that in a sec).
So far, the partnership that fans were so excited for when it was kicked off has resulted in ROH being the sparring partner NJPW's championship contender works out with to warm-up for real competition.
Outdated business model
$35 - $45 for a three hour show? Again - without even diving into the issue of ending a traditional PPV with a schmoz - in a world where the WWE Network is $9.99 per month (and NJPW World is similarly priced) and Lucha Underground offers PPV-quality main events pretty much every week for $2 on iTunes, asking this much is no small issue.
Sure, you can become a Ringside member of their website, but that only gets you discounts on internet-PPV without immediate on-demand streaming of the event.
Combine this with the impression that the puro guys are all winning their matches anyway, and it's a tough sell.
Taping in advance is a necessity for almost everyone. But for some reason, ROH TV feels much farther behind than either TNA's Impact or NXT. To further save money, Ring of Honor gathers hours of footage around their major events. It means the weekly show feels like a greatest hits compilation more than part of a longer story, and more like fallout than build.
Global Wars was led into by material taped around the time of their last PPV in February, and headlined with two men who main evented Raw and SmackDown last week - which only adds to the perceptions of television as inessential, and ROH as a feeder promotion.
It's the booking, stupid
When was the last time a ROH angle felt fresh? The Jay Lethal/Jay Briscoe champion vs. champion angle was their last universally praised storyline, and they haven't been able to follow that up with anything that got the wrestling world buzzing since.
Cole to the Bullet Club is obviously an attempt to get some sizzle going, but all the above critiques can be leveled at the angle.
With the four men most associated with the stable currently working for WWE, any Club action feels a little poser-ish. Consider that, when Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks became The Elite, even the three most popular members felt the need to re-brand themselves within the group to counteract comparisons to Styles, Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows and Finn Bálor.
Then, the night before, Gabe's new promotion ran an invasion angle that got the wrestling world talking.
When Ethan Carter III showed up at EVOLVE 61, it felt like the culmination of "shoot" stories we've been following in the dirt sheets and something Sapolsky has been brewing with his WWE partnership and history with Drew Galloway.
Yes, there's some history between Cole and the Bucks as Mt. Rushmore from PWG, but it's not been an ongoing story, or even one with which many fans are familiar. None of which even gets into the complaints that this is a WCW-type angle. nWo fetishism has always been part of the Bullet Club schtick, but that's been true for a while, making running this angle in 2016 more Corre and less Nexus.
If TNA ended a show like this, there would be memes all over Twitter mocking it. Is it any surprise ROH is getting some heat?
None of which even addressed their unwillingness, or at least slowness, to pull the trigger on up-and-coming stars. Castle finally entered a title picture last night, after an interminable feud with Silas Young, who was working a dark match for this PPV. Moose is getting the supposed rub that comes from working with guys instead of beating them.
Meanwhile, guys they passed on like Tommaso Ciampa or didn't know how to handle like Michael Elgin are flourishing elsewhere.
Hunter "Delirious" Johnson has been head booker for a long time now. Like the NJPW partnership, fans were excited when he took over - thinking his history with Chikara would result in the kind of long-term storytelling for which that promotion is famous. But the company is largely in the same place they were in 2010, when he took over for Adam Pearce (now working for NXT, by the way). Much of that can be attributed to factors outside his control, but he's also had a lot of advantages - and it would be hard to say he's maximized those.
Those advantages - stable ownership, television presence, access to talent - are still there, and don't show signs of going anywhere. But without a more creative vision, someone to insist on more equitable booking with New Japan and a desire on the part of Sinclair to become something more than cheap content, it's unlikely their potential will be fulfilled.
Am I being too hard on ROH, or do they get a free pass from fans because of their place in history?
Are you excited for the Bullet Club angle, and where it might take other stories, or pissed you didn't get a definitive finish to Colt Cabana vs. Lethal?
Sound off below, Cagesiders.