The Age of the Fall: The fall of Ring of Honor

Ring of Honor looks like its in for a tumultuous time, with no clear future in sight. Paul looks at what has happened to the once renowned "SuperIndy", and where they go from here.

The Age of the Fall: The fall of Ring of Honor

Long ago, in a land far away (2007), a stable took hold of Ring of Honor, and began to systematically tear the promotion apart. In terms of storyline booking, it was brilliant, and brought a lot of exposure to Ring of Honor at a time when it wasn’t as easy to search your favourite shows online as it is now. 

The group gave rise to a whole host of stars within Ring of Honor, as well as a handful that would go on to superstardom such as Tyler Black, now known of course as Seth Rollins, and the late great, Brodie Lee. 

That is what ROH is, or was, all about. Giving rise to new stars in the business that needed an opportunity to shine as they began to make their way in this crazy business that we love. Over the years, we have seen countless stars from Ring of Honor head to pastures new, with the majority going on to great success in major promotions. You certainly don’t need me to rattle off a list of names, as I’m sure the majority of you know who I am talking about. 

So, it’s with this in mind that the events of the last week have shocked many a wrestling fan, casual and hardcore alike. 

Who would have thought, after fourteen years, that ROH would be re-living “The Age of the Fall” in such a disastrous way? 

Just a few days ago, on October 27th, 2021, Ring of Honor announced that they will be “going on hiatus” after the Final Battle Pay-Per-View in December, to the shock of almost every professional wrestling fan. 

As if this wasn’t bad enough, it then came out just hours later that they had released EVERY SINGLE MEMBER of their roster from their contracts, thereby flooding the market with top quality talent primed and ready to head to places like AEW, WWE, Impact, and many more. 

Conflicting reports then stated that they had been trying to sell their tape library for some time, but to no avail, before another statement was made saying that, upon their return from hiatus sometime around April 2022, they will be returning with a “new, fan-focused product” and utilizing non-contracted talent. 

This is all far removed, a major step back, an absolute flip-flop, from what they had currently been doing, and leads you to ask; “Just what went wrong in ROH?” 

On the surface, it’s very easy to blame the events of the past two years. COVID-19 has an awful lot to answer for far beyond the realms of professional wrestling, but in the context of this world, its effect on Ring of Honor is arguably most prominent. 

Whereas most companies made significant cuts and found ways to welcome back a modest number of fans to arenas, Ring of Honor stuck steadfastly to protecting the people. Everyone under contract continued to be paid, and they would eventually return to programming with empty arena shows, which if you ask our ROH reviewer Joshhausen, made it very difficult to get invested in the shows due to the lack of atmosphere. But that isn’t the point, the point is they were looking after their people, giving them a safe space to work and earn their keep at a time when the majority of the world was finding ways to save every penny. For that, ROH should be commended and respected, but more on that later.

While this of course took its toll, and gives us an understandable reason for shifting to non-contracted talent, this alone is not what has caused ROH’s downfall. Over the last few years, the management of the company has been questionable at times. 

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When Sinclair Broadcasting Group bought Ring of Honor in 2012, many people justly assumed that, with a big broadcasting corporation behind them, Ring of Honor would become one of the major players in the wrestling business. With the talent they had at their disposal, this was not out of the question.  

Adam Cole, Adam Page, Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards, the Briscoes, the Young Bucks, Jay Lethal and countless more were making waves every week, showing the world the level of ability and talent that they had. 

Or at least, they should have been.  

ROH sadly never got that big breakout TV deal that would have catapulted them into the mainstream. Instead, they would have a syndicated television show, which meant that they were only viewable in certain markets. When compared to the television deals of say, AEW and WWE, this represented a massive missed opportunity. 

As a UK fan, watching Ring of Honor from 2005 onwards was, and still is, quite a struggle. Although now it is much easier thanks to FITE TV, before that we would have to rely on either the short-lived Wrestling Channel on Sky TV, which would show occasional re-runs of ROH shows, or trawl the internet looking for some dodgy site where someone had recorded the show and uploaded it for our viewing pleasure. Quite honestly, it just wasn’t worth the effort. 

Eventually, they made the decision to make their weekly TV show available on their own website, and whilst this again made it somewhat easier, it was not without its share of problems. For instance, if you missed a week, you couldn’t just go back and watch it without signing up to Honor Club, which was fine if that’s what you wanted to do anyway, but for some who just didn’t have the space in their finances to add another subscription (such as myself) this represented an unsolvable issue. 

The uploaded show was often poor quality in terms of streaming, and on occasion would either buffer constantly throughout the show, or in some cases just not work at all, once again depriving fans of being able to watch the show easily. 

With a major broadcasting company behind them, ROH should have been able to make giant strides in securing a credible National TV deal, as well as securing viable overseas deals in places with larger markets such as the UK, and burgeoning markets like Australia. But instead, they struck deals with places like France where maybe the market wasn’t quite as large as they had hoped, leaving the bigger markets to struggle to get their weekly fix.  

Another thing that would end up playing a part in their downfall was not being able to retain talent. Whilst this isn’t 100% their fault. It’s arguable that the aforementioned television issues, had they been resolved, might have led to increased talent retention, rather than people leaving for Impact, WWE and now AEW too. These larger companies had the resources to court and poach ROH talent with their better financial deals and mainstream exposure.

2017 seemed to be one of the worst years for ROH in terms of talent loss, and would bleed into the next year too. Names such as Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish, Punishment Martinez, Cody Rhodes, Hangman Page and the Young Bucks would all leave, the first four heading to the bright lights of WWE and NXT, the latter four doing the unthinkable and breaking away to form their own promotion, All Elite Wrestling, something that ROH can claim to have helped with when they helped produce All In, which would be the precursor to the launch of AEW (Which by the way, if the ROH tape library WAS up for sale, surely AEW would want...). 

These were the biggest names to leave, but other talents would also set off for pastures new, such as Hanson and Rowe, Lio Rush, Scorpio Sky, Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian and Colt Cabana. This decimated the ROH roster in terms of star power, and although talents such as Dalton Castle, Matt Taven and Jay Lethal all filled the gaps, as well as the additions over time of people such as RUSH, Rey Horus, Flamita and Bandido, the loss of their biggest names would cause significant issues in drawing people to the product (Although Joshhausen would insist that Danhausen would have revived them all by himself). 

Loss of talent to bigger competitors made things difficult for them, but possibly the biggest thing that would hurt them were the allegations set out by former WWE Tag Team Champion, and ROH Producer, Joey Mercury. 

Mercury alleged that he quit his role as ROH Producer over security and safety concerns relating to the company, such as Bully Ray having to intervene in an altercation between a fan, Velvet Sky, and Angelina Love, as well as their treatment of former Women of Honor Champion, Kelly Klein. When she was sent to work in South Africa despite having suffered a concussion, it brought to light that ROH had no head injury protocol, all of which was confirmed by Klein’s husband and also former ROH Producer, BJ Whitmer. 

Mercury had become severely disillusioned with the company, and putting them on blast publicly caused significant damage to a brand already suffering. In the following weeks, both he and Kelly Klein would file a lawsuit against ROH. Mercury for alleged forced resignation and the definition of his independent contractor status, Klein for breach of contract, unpaid royalties, and discrimination among other things.  

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When offered a new contract by ROH, worth $20,000 a year, Klein asked if there was a possibility for it to be increased to $24,000, which was rejected by ROH GM Greg Gilleland who insisted that all women were paid the same, and that if he paid her what she wanted, he would have to pay everyone the same. 

This was their Women’s Champion, asking for what most consider to be a fair raise, on account of being the face of the division at the time, and it was outright rejected. Klein would make her frustrations known, and soon after she was released while still suffering from post-concussion syndrome and while still holding the Women of Honor Championship. This again highlighted that the level of care, at least at that time, towards their performers was below the standard required. As it stands, it seems the lawsuit is ongoing, and Klein is seeking $75,000 in damages. It remains to be seen whether she wins this case or if a settlement is made. 

What we can see from this is that, despite the in-ring product seemingly being consistently good, things behind the scenes in ROH have been going downhill for some time. Whilst it is commendable that they continued to pay their talents during a time when there was no fan generated income through ticket sales, and most likely reduced merchandise sales as a result, examining the details surrounding the Kelly Klein case does make you wonder if it is all to set them in a good light ahead of any trial. I hope that is not the case, as I have been an ROH fan for years and I would hate for this to be true. 

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So, what lays ahead for Ring of Honor now? Well, that entirely depends on this whole “reimagining and re-conceptualization" of the company. 

Focusing on non-contracted talent brings with it potential issues in the fact that anyone can leave at any moment. Whether it’s the opening guy or the World Champion, downgrading from a “Super Indie” to just a regular indie means that there is no security in ROH storylines and also in their Championships. Imagine if they bring someone in, put the World Title on him, and then 2 weeks later he is signed by AEW or WWE? That then puts ROH in the position where they either have to vacate the title, or hot shot it on to someone else really quickly. Neither of these things are good for the prestige of the company, or for the title. 

While it will inevitably keep costs down, it feels like this is a knee jerk reaction to the current situation. No one could have predicted this pandemic coming, and the likelihood of it happening again soon, at least according to most experts, is relatively slim, but it feels as if ROH are preparing for exactly that, so that if it does, they’re not caught short with legally binding contracts once more. (Maybe they know something we don't?...)

Not only that, but ROH despite the issues outlined here, ROH had built up a significant reputation as well as brand awareness over the last two decades, and whilst some of that is diminished due to the legal battle with Kelly Klein, and the allegations set forth by Joey Mercury, it will now diminish further as it loses ground on its competitors by taking this four-month break. Hopefully they can come to some sort of settlement with the ongoing lawsuits and learn lessons from them going forward. If they can put in place procedures and protocols to ensure that talent don't feel that they are unprotected again, this would help them begin to shed that brand destroying image that has been working in the background for some time.

Whether Ring of Honor can recover from this remains to be seen, but for the sake of the business, I truly hope so. One thing is for sure though, The Age of the Fall has come around once more, and just like last time, Ring of Honor will never be the same again.