A look back through history: The Ring of Honor World Championship - Part Two
Part two of the history of the Ring of Honor World Championship sees us look over the careers of two of the most iconic champion in its history. Paul is here with all the information
Welcome back to our look back at the history of the Ring of Honor World Championship.
When I wrote the opening article of this series, I never realised just how much research would go into something so recent, but it has taken time to get everything in place for this, and I have decided that in order to give you, the fans, something worth reading, I need to allow time to get it right. So, although most of my articles have been weekly, this one will be fortnightly so that I can make sure I get it right.
Now, unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that I am a belt collector. I have been for about seven years. My collection started with the oval Intercontinental Championship, and my second was the original NXT Championship. And I remember my third one vividly, as it is still one of the favourites in my collection.
One night, sat in my room with around £400 burning a hole in my pocket, I looked at my wall where my belts were hung, and decided “There's room for a third one there...” and I immediately started looking online at which one I was going to get.
Now, at the time, I mostly looked on eBay, as I would always look for a bargain, and to be honest, I was enamoured with the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship (which I eventually got, and love!) but at this time, there were no good “bootleg” ones I could find, and official ones were, to the best of my knowledge, not available.
My dreams crushed, I moved on and thought that maybe the ECW World Title would be a nice addition to the collection, but while searching for that, I happened across this beauty.
At the time, I hadn’t watched Ring of Honor in around three years, so I was out of the loop, but seeing this title belt made me think about the days of Bryan Danielson, CM Punk and more. Immediately I snapped up this belt, for a bargain £215, which for an official replica is a ridiculous price, and once it arrived, I was blown away by the quality of it. Compared to the WWE replicas, it blew them away, and it was from that point I was hooked.
Fast forward to today, and as I mentioned it is still one of my favourite belts, even with all the others I own. And writing this article series made me want to get the belt out and put it on display for all to see once again. I often wonder if that’s how a champion feels whenever they win a title.
But anyway, I digress. Time to get back to business.
Last time, we left off at the legendary “Summer of Punk” (which I have gone back and watched again following writing about it, incredible stuff!) and it seemed as though CM Punk was going to leave with the Ring of Honor World Title. Fortunately for ROH, there was a Noble man waiting in the wings to dethrone the champ.
So, let’s dive back into the history books as we look back at the ROH World Title.
If June 18th, 2005 was a dark day for Ring of Honor, then August 12th can be considered the day that the sun broke through the clouds and shined rays of happiness down upon them. On that day, CM Punk would defend the Ring of Honor World Title for the last time against Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe, and a man named James Gibson, but we all know him as Jamie Noble.
Given his portrayal on WWE television, it is amazing to think that Jamie Noble is a former World Champion, but on that night in Dayton, Ohio, Gibson bested his competitors and walked away with the ROH World Championship in his possession.
Gibson would debut in 1995 on the indies, having been trained by the legendary Dean Malenko. In his time on the independent circuit, he won the Independent Professional Wrestling Light Heavyweight Championship, before being signed to WCW in 1999, and would become part of the Cruiserweight Division. He would be renamed “Jamie-San” in 2000 as he became part of the Jung Dragons, but seeing as the stable was predominantly Asian, he wore a mask to hide the fact that he was not.
His time in Jung Dragons was short though, as he left towards the end of 2000 to form a team with Evan Karagias, and it was then that he first adopted the name Jamie Knoble (WWF/E would later drop the “K”). When WCW was bought out by WWF in 2001, Gibson’s contract was part of that, and he would be assigned to the development territory at the time, Heartland Wrestling Association. While there, he won the Heartland Wrestling Association Cruiserweight Championship, before debuting on the main roster with Nidia in 2002. Upon joining the main roster, and under a “trailer trash” gimmick, Noble would win the WWE Cruiserweight Championship from The Hurricane and hold it for 147 days. It would be the only title he would hold in WWE.
After bouncing around the card for a while and turning face after becoming “rich”, he would later turn once again and became embroiled in a feud with his former “girlfriend” Nidia, which ended in a blindfold match that Noble would win. After this though, Gibson was implicated for steroid use after it came to light during treatment for a staph infection. Rather than being pushed, Noble jumped and requested his release in order to “take some time off”.
That time off would not last though as he would sign with NJPW, performing under his real name for a period of six months, teaming with Bryan Danielson, who was wrestling at that time under the “American Dragon” moniker. He would soon join Ring of Honor, and, as well as facing people such as Colt Cabana, Rocky Romero, and Roderick Strong, this would be where he would achieve the biggest Championship success of his career, capturing the World Title from CM Punk in August of 2005.
Shortly after winning the title, Gibson was re-signed by WWE, but unlike Punk, he vowed to not leave ROH as long as he held the title. He would hold the title for a month, losing to Bryan Danielson, before returning to WWE.
Upon his return to WWE, he was mostly used on Smackdown and its “sister” show, Velocity, teaming with Kid Kash as The Pitbull's. The selling point of the gimmick? They wore dog collars and barked at people.
WWE creative everybody!
Following this, Noble was mostly used in Cruiserweight matches, and as an enhancement talent, and he was the last person to be pinned with the Cruiserweight Title on the line, as he was pinned by Hornswoggle. Shortly after Swoggle’s win, the title was vacated and quietly deactivated.
Noble would then kick around ECW and Raw for a couple of years, before sustaining a back injury in a match with Sheamus in 2009, and announcing his retirement from wrestling. He would remain with WWE though, as he became a producer, but would return in a limited capacity as part of the memorable J&J Security with Seth Rollins, during his initial WWE Championship run. Noble is still seen on WWE TV occasionally, as part of backstage angles. Gibson’s Ring of Honor World Title reign lasted just 36 days, but he made three successful defences in that time against Brian Kendrick, Colt Cabana, and Roderick Strong.
Gibson’s loss to Bryan Danielson at Glory by Honor IV in September of 2005 would catapult the former American Dragon into the spotlight, and make him the darling of the internet community.
Bryan is a wrestling legend, no doubt about it, and it would be insulting of me to assume that people do not know who he is. He’s the leader of the “Yes” movement, the man who in many ways put Ring of Honor on the map, and the man who would unify the ROH Pure Championship with the World Title.
Training under Shawn Michaels in his short lived “Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy”, Bryan proved that he was an absolute natural in the squared circle, and it is no surprised that he would become world renowned on the independent circuit. He was signed by WWF in 2000 to a development deal, and assigned to Memphis, where he won the MCW Light Heavyweight and Tag Team Championships. While with MCW, he would also receive training from William Regal, furthering his already impressive skills learned under the tutelage of the legendary HBK. He was released from his development deal in 2001, and it was then that he would begin to truly build his name and brand through appearances in America and internationally in places such as Japan and the UK.
When he joined Ring of Honor in 2002, he slowly fought his way up the card, winning the inaugural “Survival of the Fittest” tournament in 2004, and after an unsuccessful attempt at taking the title from then champion Austin Aries, Bryan would win the title from James Gibson in 2005.
Bryan’s ROH Title reign was legendary, as he held the title for 462 days, defending the title an incredible 38 times, beating just about every person put in front of him. Austin Aries, Chris Sabin, Roderick Strong, KENTA, Nigel McGuinness, Lance Storm, Colt Cabana... He beat them all!
During this time, Bryan made himself the biggest heel in ROH, and possibly even in independent wrestling period. When Nigel McGuinness challenged Bryan for the World Title, he was the Pure Champion at the time, and the match was made a unification match. Bryan walked away victorious, and increased his popularity even more. When he eventually lost the ROH World Title in his 39th defence, he would embark on a tour of the world circuit, wrestling all over the place, but it wasn’t long until WWE came calling once again. He was assigned to development, and was part of the first season of the reality-based NXT show. During this run, he fought then World Heavyweight Champion, Chris Jericho, in the main event of the first show. The most memorable thing to come out of that run was his long running feud with his NXT Pro, The Miz.
Despite being released briefly following the Nexus invasion angle, where he was held accountable for strangling ring announcer Justin Roberts with a tie, he would return at Summerslam, and from there he just got better and better.
Despite some serious injury and concussion issues, forcing him to retire for around three years, Bryan still won five WWE/World Heavyweight Championships, one Intercontinental Championship, one United States Championship, and two Tag Team Championships, as well as a Money in the Bank win in 2011. His list of Championship wins is so long, it is impossible to fit it all into this article, and he will without a doubt be a Hall of Famer in the future.
The next holder of the ROH World Title was something of a transitional champion, as his reign was short at just 56 days. But he is without a doubt one of the most memorable performers of the 2000’s; Homicide.
When Homicide won the title from Bryan Danielson at Final Battle in December 2006, he had already had a stellar career on the indies for thirteen years. Starting in Jersey All Pro Wrestling, he would win their Heavyweight and Tag Team Titles seven times each throughout his career, moving on to Ring of Honor in 2002, and appearing on their first ever show.
At Glory by Honor in 2002, Homicide put out an open invitation to anyone to be his partner, to which Steve Corino responded. Part way through their match that night, Corino turned on Homicide, beginning a near four-year rivalry between the two.
This wasn’t all though. He had memorable feuds with AJ Styles, Colt Cabana and Jay Lethal during that time, as well as facing people of the calibre of Matt Hardy, Samoa Joe and Chris Hero. Homicide would split his time between ROH and TNA, much like AJ Styles, and experienced great success in TNA as part of LAX, winning three World Tag Team Championships with his LAX partner, Hernandez, as well as an X Division title along the way.
He was also part of the short-lived “World Elite” stable run by Eric Young, leaving the stable in 2010 when he turned on stablemate, Kiyoshi. Some time on the independent scene would follow this, as well as appearances for Dragon Gate in Japan, but he would always end up back in the arms of either TNA or ROH.
Upon winning the Ring of Honor World Title, Homicide made three successful defences in his time as Champion, defeating Chris Hero, Samoa Joe, and Jimmy Rave.
Much like Bryan Danielson, it is impossible to sum up Homicide’s many career highlights in these pages, his Championship record again reads like a long list of achievements, but it is safe to say he has had a fantastic career. Recently, he returned to ROH for the third time, as well as re-joining NWA and a brief second run with Impact Wrestling in 2017. At 44 years old, Homicide still has plenty to offer, and can easily be considered one of the biggest names outside of WWE.
Homicide’s short run as Ring of Honor World champion coincided with ROH’s talent sharing initiative with Japanese promotion, Pro Wrestling NOAH, and as such, he would defend his Championship against one of their top stars at the Fifth Year Festival event in Philadelphia.
On February 17th, 2007, Homicide’s run as ROH World Champion would end, when he was beaten by NOAH’s Takeshi Morishima.
Whilst Morishima was not overly well known in America, he was a huge draw for Pro Wrestling NOAH, the offshoot promotion formed by the legendary Mitsuharu Misawa in 2000. Morishima, as well as almost all of the All-Japan roster, followed Misawa to the newly formed NOAH, following the death of AJPW owner, Giant Baba, and the subsequent transfer of power to his widow, Motoko. He had begun his career with AJPW, being trained by Misawa himself, and felt a loyalty towards his trainer, hence why he followed him to NOAH in 2000. Morishima spent almost his whole career with NOAH, only leaving in 2015 when he retired from in ring competition, initially feared to be due to diabetes, but he later confirmed it was more to do with poor mental and physical health.
In NOAH, he was a three-time GHC Heavyweight Champion, five-time GHC Tag Team Champion, and the winner of the 2011 Global League. He is also a former World League Wrestling Heavyweight Champion, which was Harley Race’s promotion.
When he joined up with Ring of Honor in February of 2007, it didn’t take him long to win the ROH World Title. In fact, just 24 hours after his debut, he would beat Homicide and become the World Champion.
Upon winning the title, Morishima made twenty successful defences in a 231-day reign as Champion, beating the likes of fellow NOAH standout KENTA, Austin Aries, and even Bryan Danielson, among others. In terms of defences, he is tied fourth on the list of most successful defences, with just a handful of men above him, all of which held the title for a considerable length of time more than he did. It could be argued that his defence to reign length ratio is greater than any of the other champions.
WWE had seen and heard about Morishima’s talents, and so in August, 2008, he was invited to try out in a couple of dark matches. He would beat both Charlie Haas and former ROH World Champion, Jamie Noble, in those matches, but ultimately, a contract was not offered.
As mentioned earlier, Morishima retired in 2015 due to poor health, however a return was on the cards as recently as 2018, when he agreed to appear at a show being put on by former IWGP Heavyweight Champion Riki Choshu. Unfortunately, this was cancelled as Morishima required surgery on his foot due to arthritis. Since then, nothing has been said about Morishima returning to the ring, but it is safe to say he has quite a legacy to be proud of, and I am certain that his beloved trainer, Mitsuharu Misawa, would be very proud of what he achieved.
Morishima’s run as champion had been a fast paced, and profitable one. His holding the championship raised the stock of ROH in Japan, and with that achieved, ROH seemingly wanted to increase their reach in another lucrative part of the world that was mostly untapped for wrestling; Europe, and more specifically, the UK.
With this, the next holder of the ROH World Championship was a man from London, who we all know these days for his commentary skills in NXTUK, Nigel McGuinness.
McGuinness is the quintessential Brit abroad. In 1998 he travelled to America to pursue a career in wrestling. He had no idea how he was going to make it; he just knew that he wanted to try. He rocked up to Cincinnati, Ohio, and joined up with Les Thatcher’s Heartland Wrestling Association, and got himself into quite a bit of debt by doing so. This didn’t deter him in the slightest though, as after a year of training, he made his debut in September 1999, with his debut match featuring in an ABC television program on human interest stories.
McGuinness would then spend a year wrestling for the mid-west territories, honing his craft and learning as he travelled the roads. He would wind up back in England working for Brian Dixon’s All-Star Wrestling, as well as working two jobs in order to save the money required to go back out to America. All in all, McGuinness spent the best part of six years working for HWA, where he would win two HWA Tag Team Championships, two HWA European Championships (a title he both inaugurated AND retired), and two HWA Heavyweight Championships.
What is unique about McGuinness’ career is that, in terms of Championship wins, his time with Heartland was easily his most prolific. In gaining the HWA Triple Crown, McGuinness made his name synonymous with the now defunct promotion. And when you look at some of the names that have held the HWA Heavyweight title, it is a who's who of the best of independent professional wrestling of the time. People such as D’Lo Brown, Matt Stryker, Jon Moxley and BJ Whitmer all held the very same gold that McGuinness held and went on to make their names in other places.
For McGuinness though, his next stop was Philadelphia, and Ring of Honor.
He would debut with ROH in 2003, and worked his way through the ranks, eventually earning a Tag Team Title shot with his then partner, Colt Cabana. Ultimately, they would be unsuccessful in capturing the titles, but what stemmed from this was a rivalry with Cabana that ended up with McGuinness coming out on top and getting a shot at Samoa Joe’s Pure Championship.
Although he would lose initially, McGuinness would beat Joe at the second attempt and claim the Pure Championship. He would hold the title for just shy of one year, making seventeen successful defences, before losing it to Bryan Danielson in their aforementioned unification match in Liverpool on 12th August, 2006. Ironically, in losing this one, it would be the second title that McGuinness has a hand in retiring, as the Championship was dropped from ROH entirely until its revival in August of 2020, a little over fourteen years since it was retired. McGuinness’ reign was also the longest reign in the title’s history.
After losing the title, McGuinness would feud with Jimmy Rave and Chris Hero, having turned face, and would also challenge Naomichi Marufuji for the GHC Heavyweight Championship in 2006. But the ROH World Title was what he wanted, and he made all necessary strides to get to it. He would have two matches against Morishima for the ROH World Title in April and July of 2007, but both times he came up short. It wasn’t until he beat Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli, and Naomichi Marufuji at ROH’s Man Up PPV in September of that year that he would get one more shot at the title, and on the night of 6th October, 2007, McGuinness beat Takeshi Morishima to become the new Ring of Honor World Champion.
As great as it was that McGuinness had finally claimed the World Championship, it was not without cost. McGuinness had a very physical style of wrestling, one which fit in incredibly well with ROH at that time, and this caused him to suffer a torn biceps, ruling him out of action until Final Battle of that year. He would appear at the Glory by Honor event, beating Chris Hero after Hero’s manager, Larry Sweeney, complained about McGuinness not defending the title. So, out he came in his civvies, and beat Hero to retain the title.
In a 545-day reign as champion, McGuinness successfully defended the title 38 times, tying him in first place with Bryan Danielson, and cementing a legacy in Ring of Honor. But again, this was not without cost, as McGuiness had sustained multiple injuries, taking time out to recover before returning to in ring competition.
By September of 2009, it was rumoured that McGuinness had agreed to a deal with WWE, subject to passing medical testing, but this was not to be. The previous bicep injury he had suffered was deemed to require surgery if he was to sign with WWE, so he refused this and signed with TNA instead, becoming Desmond Wolfe in the process. Accompanied by a beautiful valet named Chelsea, he immediately made an impact (excuse the awful pun) by going after Kurt Angle from the off.
It looked as if he would go on to major success with TNA, and in some respects he did. He wrestled some of the biggest names of the time in AJ Styles, Rob Van Dam, Jeff Hardy and many others, but Championship gold would elude him during his time in Orlando.
He would form a team with Magnus, now of course known for being the NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion, Nick Aldis, and they were due to challenge the Motor City Machine Guns for the TNA World Tag Team Championships at No Surrender, but this was pulled last minute due to “personal issues”. Some years later, McGuinness would confirm that this was due to him testing positive for Hepatitis B, an issue which since then, thankfully, has been cured.
McGuinness never truly recovered his place in TNA after this though, and was released in 2011. He would go on a “farewell tour” wrestling at events in America, England and Germany, before hanging up his boots. He became the on-air commissioner and colour commentator for ROH, playing the role for five years, until he finally got his contract with the WWE, signing on to be the colour commentator for the upcoming UK Championship tournament, and subsequently, NXTUK.
Almost no one has a bad word to say about Nigel, and everyone says how entertaining he is, given that he is a magician and a member of the Magic Circle also. He may not have held dozens of Championships in his career, but he certainly made the ones he did count.
And that is where we will wrap up this chapter in the history of the ROH World Championship. Thank you for reading, and I’ll be back in two weeks with part three!