It’s so obvious. Look at who’s on top, coming up the ranks and getting signed in the WWE. It seems to be all Ring of Honor guys lately. As someone who works for ROH, I think it’s great. Am I sad, upset or worried because many Ring of Honor wrestlers are on the WWE’s radar? Nope.
At one time, not too long ago, Ring of Honor wrestlers were stamped with a scarlet letter of sorts. Too small, too “Indy”, don’t know how to work, sell, draw money…
In 2002, when I was in the Talent Development department for WWE, we hosted a camp in Cincinnati (and I’ve told this story here before) with AJ Styles as one of the featured invitees. Because of his size and wrestling style, more of a favor to Bill Behrens to than anything else really, AJ came to the camp and did great as I knew he would. Great comments and feedback from Dreamer, Raven, Bill DeMott, Les Thatcher, etc. No big surprise there, right?
Did he get hired? No. Johnny Ace gave AJ Styles a lowball offer and that was that.
The guys that got hired out of that camp were Matt Morgan, Seven, Rene Dupree and Travis Tomko. No sleight to any of them but ten years ago, size mattered above all else.
It took ten years for things to change. But what has changed? In no particular order…
1. The Grand Experiment is a Failure – the belief that they can teach “anyone” to wrestle always was a joke and has finally been exposed as such. While they’ll never publicly admit it, this horrible decade is in large part to blame because of this corporate decision that has finally been aborted. Now, they believe in wrestling and wrestling skill. Passion for the business and a workable set of skills has replaced height and resume as the dominant requirements needed for opportunity in WWE.
2. Deaths in wrestling – so many tragedies of premature death caused by their own hands. Substance abuse and their related deaths have thinned the ranks of available wrestlers. No one ever replaced Austin/Rock/Hogan and the business hasn’t started to move on until they pulled the trigger with Punk. While many of the dead would now be in their late 30’s to early 50’s, most would be viewed above unproven, untested Ring of Honor stars they’ve turned to starting with CM Punk.
3. Tensai was a bust – the move to bring the former Prince Albert back and its subsequent bombing as a projected main-eventer means that they can’t go back and hire back some of the previous generation that was let go, with the assumption they’ll get over. I’m sure the WWE mismanaged him somehow but Tensai’s disappointment, I’m sure, is mutual.
4. Ring of Honor has TV – each week, ROH TV airs on over 70 stations and the most important one as a factor for the WWE’s move toward Ring of Honor wrestlers is in Tampa, Florida, home (for now) to the WWE Developmental team. They all watch the show, know who everyone is and it’s made scouting very easy.
5. CM Punk – the biggest reason of all. He never ran from his roots in ROH; he embraced them. Everyone who knows Punk says he’s a believer in what he says and is a very convincing guy. With the office showing they respect the wrestlers of Ring of Honor, they show their respect for Punk.
6. Brian Danielson is the second biggest reason because he has great matches, delivers on promos and always does what he’s told. On time, prepared and an example of how to act as a professional. Word is a number of “projects” in developmental throughout the past 10 years have been difficult to work with and ill-prepared for life as a WWE Superstar.
7. Money – They can get Ring of Honor guys on the cheap because they’ve never been anywhere, done anything and can live on sandwiches and hostels. Why pay MVP when you can get five ROH guys and get ten years out of them?
8. Don’t forget about Claudio – I think Claudio Castagnoli has the most ability of all the ROH guys and is one of the most likeable people I’ve ever met. Tyler Black too. Good dude.
And there’s more but I should wrap this up. Point is, today the WWE is hot for ROH guys. Tomorrow, it could be snowboarders. Again, this is Vince McMahon and his merry band of yes-men. Minds in Stamford change like the wind on the Sound but for now, they like Ring of Honor.
If you’re a fan of ROH, be happy for the guys who’ve busted their asses who are finally getting to make money. Don’t worry… new stars will be created. You see, for a wrestling company with TV and a great track record of success for developing talent, Ring of Honor is stocked with young wrestlers that haven’t even seen the light of day.
It’s going to be an interesting time for the company that says it presents the best pro wrestling on the planet.
Any thoughts on this or Lance Armstrong and Manti T’eo as a tag team at Mania this year? Send me a note on Twitter @RealKevinKelly