I’m not the biggest fan of Ring of Honor, nor do I pretend to be a historian of the promotion. But when I attended the G1 Supercard at Madison Square Garden to see New Japan Pro Wrestling’s best in action, I could tell that I was witnessing a major moment in ROH history.
I was there the night Ring of Honor let everyone down, especially its partners in New Japan.
And I don’t even need to start with the return of WWE’s castaways to explain it, as some of TNA’s worst did it first.
Still not allüring
Those who didn’t know anything about how Ring of Honor’s Women of Honor division is run might have been fooled by the sheer mass of talent in the Women of Honor pre-show 6-woman tag, which featured Stardom’s Kagetsu, Hazuki, and Hana Kimura facing WOH’s Jenny Rose, Sumie Sakai, and Stella Grey.
If only the Women of Honor title match that followed it — ROH’s Kelly Klein vs Stardom’s Mayu Iwatani (the WOH champ) was as even or ended well. Not only did the slower and more labored Klein win, but the post match angle was so bad that I started laughing, loudly, once it happened. In a sign of trouble on its way, two of the last wrestlers I expected to see that night, Velvet Sky and Angelina Love, walked down the ring, looking intimidatingly at Klein.
Then Ring of Honor’s Mandy Leon, who is like fetch in that she’ll never, ever happen, came down to seemingly even the numbers. But it was a SWERVE and they all ganged up on Klein, drawing the Anarchy A on her forehead in lipstick. A giant title card on the monitors alerted us they’re supposed to be “The Allüre.” Anyone who stuck through TNA through its harder days knows better than that, as this is just the latest version of the weakest Mean Girls Posse ever: The Beautiful People.
Not only have neither Sky nor Love ever been anything on the mic, but they’re also just not that great at wrestling. I hate to say that because I try to be positive in my writing, but this is not the time to be nice. Ring of Honor built its name on excellent pro wrestling, and while the night had featured many decent-to-great women wrestlers, it capped all of that by signalling that the Women of Honor division was pivoting in the direction of TNA’s Knockouts division’s low point.
Not completely unhonorable
I will give ROH some credit for signing Tracy Williams and giving the former stalwart of the north-east independent scene a nice moment in the pre-show “Honor Rumble,” squaring off with Minoru Suzuki. As a fan of both who wanted each to have a real spot on the card, it was better than nothing. Not the phrasing I want to use when talking about Madison Square Garden, but whatever.
Unfortunately, Honor Rumble gave the promotion another moment to be the new, depressing ROH, as The Great Muta’s surprise appearance and face-off with Jushin “Thunder” Liger was cooled by the hot, brash … and I guess comparatively young … Kenny King. I blinked a bit, but who knows? Maybe Ring of Honor will do something good with a heel King screwing with legends. While it really didn’t make sense, it was the kind of moment I could excuse.
To be fair to Ring of Honor, their night wasn’t all bad, as ROH TV champ Jeff Cobb did well by his promotion in a match against Will Ospreay. I just don’t think anybody actually associates the now dual-champ with Ring of Honor, as he appeared in New Japan first. However, looking back, I can barely remember the result of this match because of the subsequent whiplash moment: the blink and you missed it squashing of Dalton Castle by Rush.
A big dud
Which brings us to another TNA reject: Bully Ray, who had no opponent as video evidence showed “someone” (lol) injured Juice Robinson, who he was set to face in a New York Street Fight. Even though the former Dudley is a defacto heel, someone decided he should come out as a “face?” to save us from a cringe-worthy performance from the actually-good rapper Mega Ran, who was seemingly sent out to get booed.
To make the subsequent long, convoluted story bearably short, Bully would … bully the MC, who was saved by … Flip Gordon, before Shane Taylor and Silas Young made it a 3-in-1 against the doof who really wanted to be friends with his Elite buddies who are absolutely nowhere to be found. Then the lights hit and Juice Robinson showed he’s still alive, bringing Mark Haskins with him to go after Bully Ray’s trio.
The following descended into a 3 on 3 schmoz where … the best thing I can say is that it was a brawl with lots of plunder and Mark Haskins was there. It all lasted about twice as long as it should have, and I don’t know who goes to a wrestling show in 2019 to see a segment built around Bully Ray. The last time I saw a segment built around Bully Ray, he was chasing Dixie Carter around the Manhattan Center, trying to powerbomb her through a table.
And all throughout that clusterf- I thought to myself that Ring of Honor was giving the Junior Heavyweight division of NJPW (and ROH’s Bandido) a hell of a dive to save them from. And that’s exactly what happened, as the IWGP Jr. title match returned the night to the quality we last saw in Cobb/Ospreay.
And here we are, the moment we all knew I was building towards. No, not the decent fourway tag match where Ring of Honor’s PCO and Brody King did stuff you don’t expect from dudes their size. No, not Guerrillas of Destiny becoming champ-champs. The moment The Poison Got Injected Into Ring of Honor. Back when Enzo was air-dropped into 205 Live, some were worried, but few knew how much of a cancer he’d be to that division. That was before we knew the phrase “consensual penis”.
So when the pro wrestlers formerly known as Enzo and Big Cass jumped the railing, nobody really knew what to do with it. For as much as Velvet Sky and Angelina Love don’t fit Ring of Honor, this Dumb-namic Duo are an even worse match. The nicest thing I can say about these two, who have convinced me to never buy a Ring of Honor ticket again, is that they’re somewhat self aware. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, the larger one said “This isn’t about proving how good we are in-ring ... This isn’t about having great matches,” — which is just a sad thing to say when you’re signed to a promotion that used to be about great matches.
In the moment, it felt a huge “fool me twice” moment, except that we weren’t sure whether we were fooled or not. The camera crew avoided the rail jumpers, the ROH teams fought with them and the NJPW teams skulked off. Word is that NJPW was as caught off guard by this moment as anyone else. Whether that’s true or not is up for debate, but it led the victorious Tama Tonga to go backstage, throw a Ring of Honor tag title across the room and say “Nobody gives a f*** about no ROH,” in a tone that was about as as disgusted as I was when the terribly-coifed one appeared at Walemania.
The nicest thing I can say about Ring of Honor’s decision is that they’re clearly becoming self aware with their new place in the American pro wrestling scene. That place is not where it used to be, as their former position is being filled by Impact, which rose from TNA’s ashes and now puts on pretty OK-to-great matches, and AEW which seems poised to become known for workrate once it evolves from T-shirts.
But this isn’t the Ring of Honor that once was, and not the one that NJPW probably planned to bring to MSG. Gone are The Elite, and while Bandido, Brody King, and Jeff Cobb are good signings, they’re all being used as puzzle pieces by a company that would rather get questions asked on Twitter than anything else.
After I sat through Marty Scurll, Jay Lethal, and Madison Square Taven’s interminable ladder match for the ROH World Championship, I knew I had spent far too much of my life watching Ring of Honor. For all the good in that match, it felt three times as long as Batista and Triple H’s never-ending No Holds Barred match that took place the following night at WrestleMania. I probably would have left that bout mid-match, or left the show hours early, were it not for the top three matches from NJPW.
Yes, the combination of Ibushi/Naito, ZSJ/Tanahashi and Okada/White saved G1 Supercard from being an outright failure. Without those matches, the nonsense that preceded wouldn’t be able to hold a candle to the rest of the weekend, as NXT set another improbably high bar on Friday night.
At the end of the G1 Supercard, my WWE-focused buddy Dave (who I was sort of a tour guide of for WrestleMania weekend) told me he wanted to keep up on NJPW, and we began to wax gloriously about Ibushi vs Naito and the Junior Heavyweights match. However, Dave didn’t say anything about ever wanting to watch ROH again. And since he’s more used to Sports Entertainment than pure wrestling, I see ROH’s experiments here as a failure. Sure, we spent time trying to figure out if Enzo and Cass appearing was a shoot or a work, but — as always — that doesn’t translate to eyes wanting to follow the product.
Sure, WWE didn’t run a flawless game during WrestleMania 35 — which ran too long and started off with Surprise Hulk Hogan (which annoyed me for sure) — but that show felt true to WWE and its own brand of sports entertainment. Ring of Honor’s decision to spend its biggest night reheating the dregs of TNA and WWE didn’t feel right at all, and probably left NJPW wondering how soon it could get those executive VPs from AEW on the horn.