A look back through History: The Ring of Honor World Championship - Part Five
In this penultimate part of the story of the Ring of Honor World Championship, we explore the title reigns of some of the biggest names to hit the sport in recent years.
Hello again everybody and thank you for joining me once again as we throw open the history books to look back at the Ring of Honor World Championship.
First of all, apologies that this next instalment is a week late, I had to prioritise my work/home life due to the madness that happens after a two-week break. However, I am here now and we are going to pick up where we left off last time out. We are nearing the end of this series now and as we go into these last two parts, the majority of these names are going to be people that are more well-known names than some on this list.
So, with that said, let's get straight into this week’s instalment of our look back through history.
When we left off, Michael Elgin was the man holding the championship, but his issues with ROH management led to him dropping the title and, for a time, leaving the promotion altogether.
This ended up working out nicely for a former champion who was given the chance to shine again, and seeing as he didn’t actually lose the title the first time, he was ready to take this opportunity with both hands.
Next in line was the second 2-time ROH World Champion, Jay Briscoe.
As you may remember, Briscoe was stripped of the ROH World Title as a result of his contract expiring or due to injury depending on who you believe, but he returned to ROH in September of 2013, just three months after being stripped of the title.
His initial return would see him hand the title to tournament winner Adam Cole, and after Cole attacked him, he would enter into a storyline where he created his own World Title belt and called himself the “Real World Champion”.
This for me is where I started to really tune back in to Ring of Honor, and I remember this storyline well. During this “reign” Briscoe was involved in a feud with Matt Hardy, who at the time was part of the S.C.U.M stable if memory serves, and in fact it was Hardy who had a hand in Briscoe’s “Real World Title” being unified with the ROH World Title at Supercard of Honor VIII in April of 2014.
With his “Real World Title” now gone, Briscoe would focus on winning back the ROH Title that he never lost, and it came to fruition in September of 2014 when he beat Michael Elgin to become ROH World Champion for the second time.
What then followed was a 286-day reign as champion with twelve successful title defences against the likes of Tomasso Ciampa, ACH, Adam Cole, and Samoa Joe. Briscoe was finally getting the title run he surely would have wanted first time round, and taking on quality opposition to boot.
In the lead up to Best in the World 2015, Briscoe was involved in a feud with the ROH World Television Champion at the time, Jay Lethal.
Lethal, for his part, had been on a roll as TV Champion, and had even dubbed himself the World Champion, to the point that he had customised the TV title to remove the word “Television” so it just read “ROH Champion”. This led to ROH matchmaker at the time, Nigel McGuinness, making it official for Best in the World, that Briscoe and Lethal would face each other for all the gold.
Best in the World 2015 is one of my all-time favourite Pay-Per-Views, not least because of this match, but also due to the solid undercard that went with it. The match itself was a brilliant back and forth brawl, with so many close near falls and so much quality action. It was very difficult to decide who was going to win in that moment, but come the end of the match, Jay Lethal stood tall as the new Ring of Honor World champion.
For his part, Jay Briscoe would go on to have success in Japan, winning two NEVER Openweight Six-Man tag Team Championships with his brother Mark and Toru Yano, as well as the ROH Six-Man Tag Team Titles with Mark and Bully Ray. He would also win three more ROH World Tag Team Championships with Mark, and is still a prominent figure within ROH today. At just 37 years old, he still has plenty of gas left in the tank.
Going back to Best in the World though, Jay Lethal had done it. He had ascended to the top of the ROH mountain, and what a journey it had been to get there.
Few people in the fandom of professional wrestling are unaware of Jay Lethal. Whether due to his successful exploits in Ring of Honor, or from his time with TNA Wrestling, Lethal has been a well-known name to many for some time.
Lethal would begin his training in 2001 with Jersey All Pro Wrestling, and the best part for him was initially, he didn’t pay a single cent for his training, as he had won a competition for free training for life with JAPW. Unfortunately, the school closed down after six months, so Lethal would move on to train with ECW alumni's Dan Maff and Mikey Whipwreck. Training under Dan Maff and Mikey Whipwreck gave him a solid base of knowledge, and he would debut on October 26, 2001, at JAPW's "Class Of 2001 Student Show". Just over a year later, he won his first championship, the JAPW Television Championship, becoming the longest reigning champion in its history with his eleven-month reign, and also winning the JAPW Light Heavyweight Championship in 2004.
In fact, over the course of his career, Lethal has won all of JAPW’s main titles, winning two JAPW Heavyweight titles.
But in 2003, Lethal would join ROH as Hydro, and over the ensuing years built himself up, becoming Samoa Joe’s protégé, and dropping the Hydro name in favour of Jay Lethal once more. By 2005, and after several notable feuds and matches within the confines of ROH, he had a 63-day reign as ROH Pure Champion under his belt, and was whisked away to pastures new to the bright lights of TNA.
In many ways, TNA is where he truly made his name. After initially pursuing the X-Division Championship, he would soon reinvent himself at the back end of 2006 as “Black Machismo” Jay Lethal, parodying the late, great, Macho Man Randy Savage.
And it was brilliant! Lethal played the part to perfection! Coming out in brightly coloured ring gear, doing the voice, he embodied the macho Man perfectly, and it was no surprise that he won his first X-Division title just a few months later at Slammiversary.
Sadly, his first X-Division Title reign lasted just two days, as Samoa Joe won it from him during the huge feud with Kurt Angle over all the gold in TNA, but it didn’t matter. Jay Lethal had arrived, and over the course of his time with TNA added five more X-Division Titles and one World Tag Team Championship with a certain member of the New Day who, at the time, went by the name Consequences Creed...
Black Machismo was an outstanding piece of character work, but in 2010, Lethal took it a step further, as he began to imitate the legendary Ric Flair, after being given his Hall of Fame ring by Hulk Hogan, who had been given it by Abyss... I know, I know...
With Fortune at his side, Flair was an integral part of TNA programming, and Lethal was there to parody ol’ Naitch, copying everything from his ring music, down to his signature strut and garish robes, and even his over-the-top theatrics when elbow dropping his jacket!
Lethal became a great entertainer in TNA, showing that he had the character work to go along with his stellar in ring work, but the time came when ROH came calling once again, and return he did.
Lethal made his return to ROH in May of 2011, and within three months had won the TV Title. On this first run, he held the title for 231 days before losing it to Roderick Strong. Lethal slowly descended into a ruthless wrestler, and having discovered his killer edge, he turned heel and joined the House of Truth in April of 2014, and almost immediately regained the TV Title. He would become the longest reigning champion in the title’s history at 567-days, combining it with his World Title win mentioned previously.
When Lethal won the World Title from Jay Briscoe, he would defend both titles, until he lost the ROH TV Title to Roderick Strong on 23rd October, just one month after winning the World Title. His 567-day reign saw 36 successful defences.
His World Title reign was impressive too though at 427 days, with successful defences against some of the best names in the business such as Roderick Strong, AJ Styles, Doug Williams and many more. But his first reign would end after 27 successful defences, and it would be the third 2-time champion in the title’s history, Adam Cole.
Adam Cole’s second run with the ROH World Title was only 105-days in length, but in that time, he had some quality defences. At the time, Cole was seemingly on a face run, having teased reuniting with his Future Shock tag team partner, Kyle O’Reilly.
After winning the title, his first defence was in a four-way match with Jay Lethal, Tetsuya Naito and Hiroshi Tanahashi at Field of Honor, before heading to Japan a month later and defending the title against Will Ospreay at an NJPW show.
Back in America, between September and November, Cole defended the title against Michael Elgin, Silas Young, and once more against Jay Lethal. During this time, it seemed as though Cole was having issues with his Kingdom stablemates, but he showed his true colours when he turned on Kyle O’Reilly once again.
This in turn set up their match at Final Battle 2016, with the title on the line. Adam Cole, the two-time Ring of Honor Champion, facing off against reDRagon’s Kyle O’Reilly. Many thought this match would be a foregone conclusion, but as we have seen in the last few months ourselves on NXT, Kyle O’Reilly is good enough to hang with the very best!
The match was brutal. As it was a no DQ match, all manner of shenanigans took place. From belt shots, to chairs, trash cans, table and thumb tacks, these two declared all-out war on each other for fifteen minutes. It was an intense, bloody, battle but come the end of the match, having suplexed Cole into the thumb tacks then locking in a deep arm bar, while lying in the thumb tacks himself, Kyle O’Reilly forced Adam Cole to tap out and we had a new Ring of Honor World Champion.
There is one more stop on the Adam Cole express, but before we get to that, let's take a look at possibly the most improbably of the ROH World Champions, Kyle O’Reilly.
Canadian Kyle (and no, he doesn’t have a baby brother named Ike...) began his career in 2005 for ECCW, with his first title win, the NWA Canadian Light Heavyweight Title coming in 2007. During his time with ECCW, which spans twelve years, he also won the ECCW Championship.
O’Reilly also extensively worked the independent circuit as well as bookings across the world, with stints in Dragon Gate USA, Evolve and Full Impact Pro, as well as over here in England with WCPW and PROGRESS Wrestling in later years
It was teaming with Adam Cole as Future Shock in ROH in 2009 that brought him to people’s attention though, and despite the fact that the duo never won tag team gold in ROH, they were one of the more popular and successful teams in terms of win/loss record. However, O’Reilly would experience enormous success in tag team wrestling with his long-time partner Bobby Fish.
As reDRagon, the duo won three ROH World Tag Team Championships and two IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Championships. In addition to this, as they were still an active tag team at the respective times, reDRagon also have an ROH World Television Championship reign to their credit, as well as Kyle O’Reilly’s 203-day reign as PWG World Champion.
Between 2009 and 2017, O’Reilly’s main promotions were ROH, PWG and NJPW, giving himself a well-known name and collecting many accolades along the way, such as winning the Super Jr Tag Tournament with Bobby Fish in 2014, and being number 32 in the PWI 500 in 2016.
Of course, as we all know, O’Reilly joined NXT in 2017, becoming part of the hugely successful Undisputed Era, winning three NXT Tag Team Championships, holding the gold with each member of Undisputed Era at some point.
WWE would of course have their own version of the Cole/O’Reilly feud, which only ended a couple of weeks ago, and Kyle has come out looking like a million bucks, and is surely considered one of the top stars on NXT right now (although with the upcoming changes who knows how long that will last. More on that on another article later!)
Despite all of this success, O’Reilly’s Ring of Honor World Title reign is not a well-remembered one, as he lost the title just 33 days after winning it, back to Adam Cole, at Wrestle Kingdom 11 no less, on January 4th 2017. Shortly after this, his contract expired and he signed with NXT.
There is a lot more that could be said about Kyle O’Reilly, and there has been talk in the past that he is not someone who could be considered a top star. But for my money, and I’m sure I am not the only one, there can be no doubt that he is one of the best in the business, and at 34 years old, is only going to get better.
So that brings us back to that man, Adam Cole (Bay Bay!)
As the now record setting 3-time Ring of Honor World Champion, Adam Cole was back atop the mountain in Ring of Honor, and his first defence of this new reign took place here in England for WCPW, defeating Jay Lethal and the now disgraced El Ligero in a three-way match on 29th January 2017. A month later at Honor Rising, he successfully retained the title against YOSHI-HASHI, before defending the title back in the States a month after that at Manhattan Rising against Bobby Fish.
As it stands, that was Cole’s last successful title defence of the Ring of Honor World Title, as not long after this, his contract also expired, and he would debut at NXT Takeover to a deafening roar when he attacked Drew McIntyre at the close of his match.
As the de facto leader of the Undisputed Era, Cole and his cohorts ripped through the NXT roster, making countless memories, and at one time, with them holding all the gold in NXT with O’Reilly and Fish as Tag Team Champions, Roderick Strong as North American Champion, and Cole himself the NXT Champion, a championship he would set the longest reign record of at 403 days.
Not only that, Cole was also the inaugural NXT North American Champion, and also held the NXT Tag Team Championship under the Freebird Rule, making him the second NXT Triple Crown Champion behind Johnny Gargano.
Cole’s time in NXT ended recently as he departed the black and gold brand having lost his final match to Kyle O’Reilly on the way out, and rumour has it he could be turning up in AEW any day now. At time of writing, this hasn’t happened, but with All Out just 24 hours away, it could be just a matter of time.
Going back to ROH again, Cole’s final defence of the title came six days after beating Bobby Fish, when. The man he was due to defend against is a legend of the squared circle, and somehow had never before won the big one. But his time had finally come, and so Adam Cole walked into the ROH 15th Anniversary Show for the final time as Champion. When he walked out, he was no longer in possession of the title.
That honour (honor?) had been passed on to the “Fallen Angel” Christopher Daniels.
Whether through his time in TNA, ROH, elsewhere on the indies or now in AEW, Christopher Daniels has and always will be a true superstar of this business.
Having debuted in 1993, he won his first title very quickly, as he captured the Windy City Pro Wrestling Light Heavyweight title in May of that year, and then quickly won the WCPW Tag Team Championship with Kevin Quinn.
Titles seemed to be attracted to Daniels early on, as in in 1995 when wrestling for World Wrestling Council, Daniels and Quinn would win their World Tag Team Championships, but would only hold them for a month before dropping them to Val Venis and Shane Sewell.
This attracted the attention of WWF, who signed him to a development deal, and he debuted in January of 1998 in a dark match loss to Mick Tierney. He would be used mostly as a jobber on shows such as Heat and Shotgun, while appearing to continue with his independent bookings, with the next title to fall into Daniels's lap being the NWA Midwest Tag Team Championship, which he won again with Kevin Quinn in 1998 at NWA’s 50th Anniversary show.
This would be a blessing for Daniels as he was never anything more than enhancement talent in WWF, and so when he received an opportunity with WCW in 2000, with his contract with WWF seemingly up, he went for it. After a couple if initial matches on WCW WorldWide, he made his debut on Monday Nitro on January 2nd 2001, but botched a moonsault in a match with Mike Modest, injuring his neck. He would still receive a 90-day contract with WCW, but he was released before he was able to have another match for the ailing company.
With his contracts all ended, it was back to the indies where he continued to rack up title after title, and when Ring of Honor came into existence, Daniels was on the first show, losing a triple threat match to Low Ki and Bryan Danielson, then refusing the customary handshake the Code of Honor demanded, making himself an instant heel.
He would then form The Prophecy with Donovan Morgan, eventually adding several more members, and eventually picked up his first taste of championship gold in ROH when he and Morgan won the World Team Titles from Bryan Danielson and Mike Modest. Given that Prophecy member Xavier was the ROH Champion at this time, that meant that The Prophecy controlled all the gold in ROH.
Daniels ended up being written out of ROH after he signed with TNA, and TNA not allowing their talent to work ROH shows due to the scandal surrounding ROH owner and promoter, Rob Feinstein.
Daniels time in TNA is both well documented and well respected. In his time with the company, he was part of countless memorable matches and moments, not least the fantastic triple threat match with AJ Styles and Samoa Joe, but he was initially part of the S.E.X stable, teaming with Low-Ki and Elix Skipper as Triple X. Over the years, Daniels left and returned to TNA a few times, and also took on the guise of Suicide at one point, as well as his well-travelled Curry Man character. In many ways, Christopher Daniels is synonymous with TNA.
In all honesty, going through Daniels whole time with TNA is an article in itself, so let's summarise his accomplishments there;
- 4-time X-Division Champion
- 2-time TNA World Tag Team Champion
- 6-time NWA World Tag Team Champion
- TNA Wrestling World Cup 2013
- 2004 World X Cup
He also twice won a briefcase in TNA’s Feast or Fired match, but ended up receiving the pink slip in successive years, in 2008 and 2009.
Returning to ROH in 2005, Daniels would attempt to take the ROH Title away from CM Punk, but was ultimately unsuccessful. After a feud with Matt Sydal, the two became tag team partners, and eventually won the ROH World Tag Team Championships from The Kings of Wrestling, Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli, but in 2007, after a time limit draw with Erick Stevens, Daniels turned heel and quit Ring of Honor. He wouldn’t return to ROH for three years.
When he did finally return, he set out to win the ROH World Title, but again it still eluded him. He was however able to take the Television title from Eddie Edwards on December 10th 2010, a title he would hold for 198 days before losing it to El Generico at Best in the World 2011. At this point he rejoined TNA once more, and was not seen in ROH again until 2014, when he formed The Addiction with Frankie Kazarian.
This was easily Daniels most successful team, as they won three ROH World Tag Team Championships, one World Six-Man Title, and both of his TNA World Tag Team Titles came with Kazarian as well.
But it was the big one that he wanted, and he finally got it on March 10th 2017 when he defeated Adam Cole at the 15th Anniversary show. His reign as World Champion was relatively short at 105 days, but he successfully defended the title eight times during that, with defences against Adam Cole and Zack Sabre Jr in a triple threat, El Ligero, Dalton Castle, Jay Lethal, Andrew Carter, Matt Taven, Cody Rhodes and Jay Lethal, and lastly Jay White and Punishment Martinez in two more triple threat matches.
At ROH Best in the World 2017, Daniels would lose the World Title, but this was far from the end for him, as he remained with ROH until signing with AEW in 2019. He remains with them to this day, where he is often seen on AEW Dark or Elevation helping the next generation of talent make their way in the crazy world of professional wrestling.
And it's interesting that he is with AEW now, as it was one of the founding members of AEW that he would lose the ROH World Title to, “The American Nightmare” Cody Rhodes.
What can I say about the son of a common plumber that hasn’t been said already a thousand times before?
It’s been one hell of a ride for Cody to get to where he is now. Going back fifteen years no one would ever have guessed that he would be one of the figureheads of a wrestling revolution.
Cody was always going to follow in his father's footsteps. Being the son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes afforded him a foothold into the business that few others before him could dream of. Cody didn’t have to ply his trade on the indies for years hoping for a sniff of interest from the “big leagues”, his foot was already in the door, and it came as no surprise to anyone when he was signed to a WWE developmental deal in 2006.
He was assigned to Ohio Valley Wrestling, where he was trained by Al Snow, Danny Davis, Randy Orton, Ricky Morton and Shawn Spears, and within a year he was called up the main roster after winning every title OVW had to offer and becoming only their fourth Triple Crown Champion.
On joining the main roster, he was teamed with the experienced hand of Hardcore Holly, and the two of them progressed through the tag team ranks until they became World Tag Team Champions. The two would hold the titles for over six months, until Ted DiBiase debuted on the main roster, and his mystery partner in the tag team title match at Night of Champions in 2008 turned out to be none other than Cody Rhodes himself, turning heel and stealing the titles away from an unsuspecting Hardcore Holly.
Rhodes and DiBiase would then join up with Randy Orton to form Legacy, and the two would be Orton’s stooges in his battles at the time over the WWE Championship. Over time, Cody began to branch out on his own, and in 2010, he was drafted away to Smackdown, where he reinvented himself and became “Dashing” Cody Rhodes.
Playing the pretty boy gimmick ended up being the making of Cody, as he played the cowardly heel not wanting his “beautiful face” to get hit, else he would end up “undashing”. He would regularly be seen in vignettes, offering grooming tips, and became extremely protective of his face to the point of checking a mirror if he did get hit. He would win the WWE Tag Team Championship with Drew McIntyre at Night of Champions in 2010, losing them just a month later to The Nexus partnership of John Cena and David Otunga.
But it was late January of 2011 where everything changed for Cody. In a match with Rey Mysterio, he legitimately broke his nose, and this led to quite possibly the most significant character shift in his career.
Declaring himself “undashing” and in need of facial reconstruction surgery, Rhodes began wearing a protective face mask, debuted a grungier entrance theme, and placing paper bags over the heads of “ugly people”, making himself one of the best heels on Smackdown in the process. This led to him winning the Intercontinental Championship from Ezekiel Jackson on an episode of Smackdown on August 12th, and two months later he would ditch the oval design belt in favour of the more classic designed belt with a white strap. Honestly, in my opinion, the best-looking Intercontinental Title ever and a crown jewel of my collection, but I digress.
Cody would lose the title to Big Show at Wrestlemania XXVIII, but regained it just four weeks later, before losing it again to Christian at Over the Limit. From here, he would be left in the tag team division, first with Damian Sandow as Rhodes Scholars, then with his brother Goldust, taking on the Stardust persona and having more tag team championship success with both.
Having grown frustrated with his role in WWE, Cody requested his release on May 21st 2016, which was granted, and for the first time in his career, Cody hit the independent circuit.
And boy did it pay off! He was in huge demand, wrestling for Evolve, Northeast Wrestling, PWG, the short-lived Global Force Wrestling, where he was the NEX*GEN Champion, as well as WCPW here in England. Cody signed with Ring of Honor shortly after, and immediately set his sights on the World Title, and within a year he had won his first ever World Championship, when he beat Christopher Daniels at Best in the World. He had a short spell with Impact Wrestling, as well as taking in tours with NJPW, but in many ways his crowning glory was when he defeated Nick Aldis for the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship, the very title that his dad held, at the All-In event that he and the rest of the Elite put on in may 2018, an event that sold out over 10,000 tickets in less than thirty minutes.
This of course led to the formation of All Elite Wrestling, where Cody is now an EVP And a former two-time TNT Champion.
But going back to his ROH World Title win, Cody had a successful run with the belt, with seventeen successful defences in a 195-day reign against names such as Willie Mack, Scorpio Sky, Frankie Kazarian, Kushida, Rocky Romero and Jay Lethal. Cody was also the last person to hold the “red” version of the Ring of Honor World Championship, as he was given the new and current belt going into 2017’s Final Battle.
Sadly for Cody, he didn’t get time to become acquainted with the new title belt, as no sooner did he receive it, than it was handed off to a new champion, and the era of the “Party Peacock” had begun...
Thank you for sticking with me and reading this large instalment in the history of the Ring of Honor World Championship. Next time out will be the conclusion of this series, where we wil bring it right up to date. I hope you will all join me for that. Until then, stay safe, and I’ll see you next time!