A look back through History: The Ring of Honor World Championship - Part Four
Slightly later than planned due to shuffling the schedule, Paul is back with part four of our look back at the ROH World Title.
Hey everybody, welcome back to our look back through history at the Ring of Honor World Championship.
The eagle eyed among you will have noticed that this latest installment is actually three weeks after the last; this is due to the fact that I am on holiday when this article goes out, and had I posted it last week, the next one would have been due to come out the day I come back, had I stuck rigidly to the schedule.
Fortunately, being my own boss affords me the opportunity to make changes on the fly, and so I decided to postpone it by one week to ensure that very problem doesn’t become an issue.
On to business though, and we move further into the 2010’s today as we continue our journey through the timeline of the Ring of Honor Championship, and it’s fair to say that as we move on from here, the majority of former Ring of Honor World Champions have gone on to have amazingly successful careers, either within the confines of Ring of Honor, or elsewhere. Whilst we will explore some of those, it is not my intention to insult your intelligence by writing an essay on someone that you will most likely know all about.
So, with that said, lets pick up from where we left off last time out.
As I alluded to last time out, Eddie Edwards ROH World Title reign lasted just 99 days, before he would lose the title to his long-time tag team partner, Davey Richards.
Davey was a big part of ROH at the time and a huge star among the IWC, and of course, the independent circuit. Many people believed it was only a matter of time before WWE came calling for him, but aside from a try-out match on NXT some years later, it never happened. In fact, in the ensuing years, Davey would actually reject WWE’s advances in favour of remaining with TNA and the independent circuit, before taking significant time off to continue his studies to become a doctor.
Before all that though, Davey Richards made his debut in 2004 having trained under Tony Kozina and Paul Orndorff. Given his status as an accomplished amateur wrestler, his transition to professional wrestling seemed to be seamless. He started out in Tony Kozina’s Pro Wrestling War promotion as “Mr Sexy”, before moving on to Pro Wrestling Guerrilla in 2005.
During his time with PWG, he would establish himself as a heel and team with Super Dragon to win two of his three PWG World Tag Team Championships, with the third being won with Roderick Strong between those. Richards was also able to claim the PWG World Championship, beating Kenny Omega in February of 2010. His reign ended though when he was stripped of the championship due to being unable to defend it as he prioritised other bookings. Richards would remain with PWG on and off until 2013, but it was on signing with Ring of Honor that his career would take off.
From debuting as KENTA’s protégé, to joining Roderick Strong, and later Rocky Romero, to form the No Remorse Corps, Richards went from strength to strength in the early days of his ROH run, winning the ROH World Tag Team Titles with Romero. But it was teaming with Eddie Edwards as the American Wolves in 2008 that really increased his stock. The Wolves were hugely popular, and responsible for putting on some stellar tag team matches, and as a result, it seemed only right that they would win two ROH World Tag Team Championships.
Prior to winning the ROH World Title, Richards had a number of opportunities to win it, but was unsuccessful each time, and the prospect of him taking on his tag team partner was something of a dream match.
Ultimately, he would be successful, and would embark on a 321-day reign as champion, making thirteen successful title defences against the likes of Tommy End, Trent Seven, Colt Cabana and a certain Adam Cole.
Following this, Richards would continue working on the independent scene, as well as making appearances in Japan for NJPW, winning two Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles with Rocky Romero. He would later set the rumour mill ablaze when, after an appearance on NXT, he announced his time on the independent scene was “coming to an end”. Many people took this to mean he and Edwards had signed for WWE, but actually, they had signed with TNA.
Five World Tag Team Championships and a feud over the Impact World Title later, Davey Richards would leave TNA/Impact, and stated that he would be taking the entirety of 2018 off to focus on his studies and become a doctor. In fact, Davey was away from the ring for a lot longer, only making his return earlier this year when he signed with MLW.
At 38 years old, and with a championship record which currently includes five world titles (1 CZW, 2 FIP, 1 PWG, 1 ROH), there is plenty of gas left in Davey Richards tank, but it is commendable that he would choose to focus on his studies rather than be pulled in completely by the bright lights of professional wrestling. Whilst he was an asset before, as a now fully trained paramedic, he is surely a major asset not only to professional wrestling, but the world as a whole.
Now, Davey’s reign as Champion was incredible, he put on many fantastic matches, and without a doubt increased the prestige of the title. But the man he would lose the title to would go on a legacy defining run of his own, on his way to making a huge splash in NXT and WWE. Nowadays, we chant “Fight Owens Fight”, but back then, it was “Kill Steen Kill!”
Richards would lose the title on May 12th, 2012 at Border Wars to the one and only, Kevin Steen.
Born in Marieville, Quebec, Canada, Kevin Steen played many sports as a child, but it was pro wrestling that was always what he wanted to do. Growing up in French Canada, he even learnt English from listening to and mimicking the commentary of WWE Raw.
At 14 years old, his parents allowed him to begin training to be a wrestler with local trainer Serge Jodoin, and a year later he would also begin training with Jacques Rougeau and Terry Taylor. On his 16th birthday he made his debut for Rougeau’s promotion, and would wrestle for them for four years before branching out into other Canadian promotions.
With his next move taking him to the International Wrestling Syndicate, based in Montreal, the young Steen would take his career to new heights there, as in a seven-year stint with them between 2003 and 2009, he would win three IWS World Heavyweight Championships, and it was during those early days with IWS that he began to tag regularly with a certain masked luchador by the name of El Generico. Sadly, El Generico no longer wrestles, as he moved to Mexico to run an orphanage, but there is a man in WWE by the name of Sami Zayn who is apparently his protégé...
By 2004, Steen had begun making appearances in America for Combat Zone Wrestling, and within a year he had won the CZW Iron Man Championship, and since the title was retired in 2009, he is the longest reigning champion in its history, with his reign clocking in at just shy of one year at 364 days.
Steen’s initial stay in CZW only lasted until 2006, but he would make appearances later in 2008 and 2014, but by 2005 he was also appearing for PWG, and, somewhat unsurprisingly, he started racking up titles there too.
Combining his initial run from 2005 to 2008, and his return in 2010, which lasted until 2014, Steen won a record setting three PWG World Titles, and three PWG World Tag Team Titles, twice with El Generico and once with the legendary Super Dragon.
It was around 2007 when Steen found his way to Ring of Honor, and his character really began to be more widely known to the wider wrestling fanbase. Initially teaming with El Generico, they unsurprisingly won the ROH World Tag Team Titles when they beat The Age of the Fall in September of 2008, which they held until April of 2009 before losing to the American Wolves. Just eight months later, Steen did the unthinkable and turned heel on El Generico, bringing about a feud that is still talked about to this day. After a yearlong feud, they settled their differences at Final Battle 2010 in a Fight without Honor, where Steen put his career on the line against Generico’s mask. Generico won, and Steen was gone from ROH.
Following some contract controversy (which unsurprisingly involved Jim Cornette...) Steen returned to ROH in July of 2011, initially siding with, but ultimately turning on Steve Corino, and going through a tumultuous journey to earn back his ROH career, which he did by defeating Steve Corino at Final Battle 2011. It turned out to be an eventful night for Steen, as he would later confront ROH Champion Davey Richards, and promised him he would be ROH World Champion in 2012.
He wasn’t wrong. He would defeat Davey Richards for the title on May 12th at Border Wars, making history as the titles first Canadian Champion. That night he would also form S.C.U.M (Suffering, Chaos, Ugliness, Mayhem) with Steve Corino and Jimmy Jacobs. It was during Steen’s 328-day reign that the Championship changed to the third design, which in my opinion was the best design the belt has had (I’m not biased just because I own a replica of it...), and Steen would make sixteen successful title defences, with Eddie Edwards, Eddie Kingston, El Generico and Mark Briscoe among the names who were unable to take the title from him.
But lose it he did, at Supercard of Honor in April of 2013, and shortly after his S.C.U.M team mates would turn on him, leading to one of his final feuds before he departed the independent scene in 2015, having signed with NXT.
As we all know, he would debut as Kevin Owens, and defeat CJ Parker at NXT Takeover [R]Evolution, despite sustaining a broken nose in the match, and by the end of the night, after running out to celebrate with Sami Zayn after he won the NXT Championship, turned heel on him, viciously assaulting Generico’s protégé. He would win the NXT Championship just a couple of months later, and from there he has gone on to become a top star in WWE, winning the Universal Championship, two Intercontinental Championships, and three United States Championships. It would also be criminal not to mention his absolutely stellar storyline with Chris Jericho, culminating in his first United States Championship win at Wrestlemania 33.
Since then, he has become one of the top stars on the Smackdown brand, and at 37 years old, there is still plenty to come from KO, with more title wins surely only a matter of time away.
But going back to Supercard of Honor, his ROH World Title reign was ended by a man who has been with Ring of Honor since day one; Jay Briscoe.
Briscoe is one of only a handful of men to have held the Ring of Honor World Title more than once, and so will always have a legacy within Ring of Honor, but his career began with East Coast Championship Wrestling, and Pennsylvania Championship Wrestling in 2000.
In 2001, he began making appearances for CZW, as well as Impact Championship Wrestling, Jersey All Pro Wrestling, and Maryland Championship Wrestling, as he began to build his name and reputation alongside his brother, Mark. He proved himself to be a proficient tag team wrestler, winning four separate tag team titles between 2001 and 2002, picking up the CZW, JAPW, NWA Wildside and USA Pro Tag Team Championships. In fact, throughout his career, the majority of his title wins have been in tag team competition, mostly with his brother Mark.
In 2002 he began his long association with Ring of Honor, wrestling on their first ever show, where he lost to Amazing Red. In those early days, he would be on the losing side mostly, and due to child labour laws in Pennsylvania, as Mark was still underage, was not able to tag with him initially. They would eventually be able to tag with each other, and picked up their first ROH Tag Team Championship victory at Main Event Spectacles on 1st November, 2003.
Their first reign lasted 175 days before losing to the Second City Saints, Colt Cabana and CM Punk, but this left them with a taste for tag team gold, and over the years, the Briscoe brothers have won a total of eleven ROH World Tag Team Championships, which perhaps unsurprisingly is a company record. They also hold a single reign as ROH World Six Man Tag Team Champions with Bully Ray, cementing them as possibly the greatest tag team in ROH history.
Eventually though, after a decade of tag team dominance, Jay began to branch out on his own, and would target the World Championship, and just one month after losing their eighth Tag Team Championship to reDRagon, (Undisputed Era’s Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish for those of you who were unaware) he would defeat Kevin Steen at Supercard of Honor VII on April 5th, 2013, to become ROH World Champion, winning his first major singles title.
His reign would last just 89 days, taking in seven defences against Adam Cole, BJ Whitmer, Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards, his own brother, Mark, twice, and Matt Hardy, before he was stripped of the Championship, reportedly due to his contract expiring, but also allegedly due to being injured and potentially being out of action for up to six months. He would appear at Death Before Dishonor XI on 20th September, 2013, handing the title to the winner of a tournament to crown a new champion, and after that champion attacked him, he would return to ROH and introduce what he dubbed the “Real World Title” since he had never officially lost it.
We will come back to Jay Briscoe later, seeing as he would hold the championship again, but for now we will move on to the man who would win the title in the aforementioned tournament, and a man who is VERY well known today, and in somewhat high demand; Adam Cole.
Adam Cole is, quite simply, a master of the squared circle. The man is an absolute superstar, and to deny that would be, at best, foolhardy, and at worst, just plain f*cking stupid.
In terms of career accolades, Adam Cole has achieved a hell of a lot in his still relatively young career. Whilst he is not the youngest champion in ROH history (that particular honour goes to Low Ki) Cole was just 24 years old when he won the big one. His journey through the independent scene had prepared him well for this, with title wins in CZW and PWG, as well as a string of independent companies, prior to winning the big one in Ring of Honor. It’s crazy to think that, despite all this, Cole is still only 32 years old.
Cole started his career with Combat Zone Wrestling, being trained by DJ Hyde and John Dahmer, becoming an official trainee while still a high school student. After making his debut in 2008, Cole would work his way up the ranks until he began challenging for, and subsequently won, the CZW World Junior Heavyweight Championship. His reign of 554 days is the record setting longest reign in the title’s history, which, since the title is now retired, is a record he will not lose. Cole would also win the Best of the Best Tournament before leaving CZW.
In 2009, with Cole on the independent circuit, he inevitably wound up signing with Ring of Honor, and initially competed in singles matches before he formed Future Shock with fellow ROH newcomer, Kyle O’Reilly in 2010. Surprisingly, despite winning a Tag Team Championship number one contender tournament in 2011, the duo never won the ROH World Tag Team Titles, and by early 2012, they had disbanded as a tag team, with Cole venturing forward in his attempt to win singles gold.
It didn’t take him long. By June of 2012, Cole won the ROH World Television Championship, defeating Roderick Strong (anyone else seeing a pattern here?) on an episode of ROH TV. He held the title for 246 days, losing it to Matt Taven at the 11th Anniversary Show on March 2nd, 2013. At the time, he was also the reigning PWG World Champion, having won that on December 1st, 2012 and so was splitting his time between the two promotions.
In fact, Cole would end up achieving something, that, to my knowledge, has rarely, if ever, been repeated, as he held both the PWG and ROH World Championships simultaneously (feel free to correct me here if I am wrong!)
As we mentioned earlier, Cole won the Ring of Honor World Title on September 20th, 2013, and would hold the Championship for 275 days, making thirteen successful defences against the likes of Roderick Strong, Jimmy Jacobs, Kevin Steen, Jushin Thunder Liger, ACH and Tommaso Ciampa, before he would lose the title on 22nd June, 2014 at Best in the World.
But this would not be Cole’s last time holding the gold, as he is the current record holding three-time ROH World Champion, and so we will come back to him later. For now, we move on to the man who beat him at Best in the World, although in fairness, in light of the allegations that have come out about this man since, I’m not entirely sure I want to write about him; Michael Elgin.
For the sake of holding up the integrity of this article series and indeed the championship itself, I will cover this period of time in the title’s history. But let it be known that given the allegations and the demeanour of the man since, well let's just say I am not a fan. That said, it is his body of work here that we are looking at, and not his questionable morals.
Elgin began training in 2004, at an unspecified training school before moving onto the Toronto based Squared Circle Training school under Rob Fuego. He was a regular on the independent circuit by the age of 16, and often had to travel out to Montreal and the United States to wrestle, as the Ontario Athletic Commission did not allow under 18’s to wrestle professionally.
Between 2005 and 2010, Elgin had competed for World League Wrestling, Combat Zone Wrestling, IWA Mid-South, and Alpha-1 Wrestling, as well as attending a try-out camp for WWE.
Despite winning a number of titles in Canada, most notably for Great Canadian Wrestling where he won two GCW National Championships and the first of four GCW Tag Team Titles, Elgin had to wait until 2008 before winning what could be considered his first major singles title when he won the IWA Mid-South Strong Style Championship. This opened the floodgates somewhat as he would then go on to win a great number of titles across the independent scene. He would win the Canadian Wrestling Revolution World Heavyweight Title, holding it at the same time as the Canadian Junior Heavyweight Title, as well as the PWG World Tag Team Championships sometime later with Brian Cage in 2013.
Elgin first competed for Ring of Honor in 2007, taking on Rhett Titus in a try-out match, which ended when Jimmy Rave attacked both men. Elgin faced Rave immediately after this in a losing effort, and was not seen in ROH again until April 18th, 2008 at Tag Wars when he teamed with Danny Daniels and Michael Nakazawa in a losing six-man tag team match against Pelle Primeau, Mitch Franklin and Ernie Osiris.
Elgin was then not seen in ROH until 2010, when he became a full-fledged member of the ROH roster, joining Truth Martini's House of Truth stable, along with Roderick Strong and Zach Gowan. He competed mostly in tag team matches, often turning on his partner and beating them down until stopped, but he was also instrumental in helping Roderick Strong to retain his ROH World Title on occasion.
In 2011, Elgin began to branch out on his own, wrestling on both nights of the Honor Takes Center Stage event, defeating El Generico but losing to Christopher Daniels on night two. He would compete at Best in the World 2011, defeating Steve Corino.
By November, he won the Survival of the Fittest Tournament, earning himself a title match against then ROH Champion, Davey Richards. Whilst he was unsuccessful in winning the title, the match was given a five-star rating by everyone’s favourite wrestling journalist, Dave Meltzer.
Elgin eventually turned his back on the House of Truth in June of 2012, and began relentlessly pursuing the ROH World Title. He would lose one such opportunity to Kevin Steen, and can be considered somewhat unlucky to have lost an opportunity as number one contender when the title was vacated by Jay Briscoe.
After Adam Cole won the title, Elgin became embroiled in a feud with him over the World Title, with the feud escalating when Cole cut off his hair. Elgin would get the ultimate revenge though at Best in the World on June 22nd, 2014, when he beat Adam Cole to win the ROH World Title. Elgin’s reign was a short one at 76 days, but he still managed to make seven successful title defences against Matt Hardy, Roderick Strong, Kyle O’Reilly, Cedric Alexander, Silas Young, and Tommaso Ciampa in singles competition, as well as retaining in a fatal four way against Adam Cole, AJ Styles and Jay Briscoe.
Elgin’s title reign came to an end on September 6th, 2014 at All Star Extravaganza VI, and following his loss, it was reported that he had fallen out with ROH management, but also that he was having problems obtaining a work visa to wrestle outside of Canada.
He would return to ROH on October 6th, 2014, but would quit ROH just hours later claiming he had been promoted for a show he was not going to appear at. He returned as a disgruntled heel, walking out on interviews and refusing to wrestle people, and later in 2015 would win the Survival of the Fittest Tournament again, making him the first person to win the tournament twice. During this time, he began regularly appearing for NJPW, and in 2016 stated that aside from joint shows, he would no longer be appearing for Ring of Honor.
During his time with NJPW, Elgin won the IWGP Intercontinental Championship and the NEVER Openweight Championship, as well as appearing in several singles and tag team tournaments. In this time, he was also competing for CMLL and The Crash in Mexico, before signing with Impact Wrestling in 2019. He would debut for Impact at Rebellion on April 28th, 2019 when he attacked Brian Cage moments after he had won the Impact World Championship. Over the course of the next year, Elgin would face multiple opponents as he pushed on to contend for the World title, but ultimately, he was unable to before his time with Impact was cut short due to being first suspended, then released over the Speaking Out allegations. Elgin has maintained his innocence despite this, but there seems to be overwhelming evidence against him, not least since his arrest just one month ago for violating a protection order set out by his ex-fiancée. Whether he is ever able to return to wrestling, or if he even should remains to be seen, but purely from a body of work perspective, there can be no doubt he was an excellent wrestler.
His issues with Ring of Honor management ended up working out well for the man who would take the World Title from him, and next time we will look further into that as well as others as we continue our look back at the ROH World Title. Thanks for joining me for this one, and I will be back in two weeks with Part Five of our look back through history!