Jim Cornette has been ousted as ROH booker, and replaced with the man that preceded him, Hunter “Delirious” Johnson.
I would have to think the recent house show in Rahway, NJ was the straw that broke the camel’s back, where a ‘no contest’ in the Kevin Steen vs. Jay Lethal main event that backfired badly and had fans pelting the ring with thrash. The angle was believed to be building towards a Steen/Lethal main event match at ‘Final Battle’.
I’m not sure Cornette, with the official title of Executive Producer, ever publically took over booking duties from Johnson to begin with, but the booking patterns had Cornette’s fingerprints all over them, and it was obvious Cornette was the one pulling the strings. Johnson was said to be involved heavily in the booking, but now the pencil is officially his once again.
If you recall, Johnson took over for Adam Pearce (whose failed booking reign looks fantastic in hindsight compared to Cornette) a few years ago, and the booking improved almost overnight. He’s got quite the task ahead of him this time, with about 10 weeks or so to build towards the biggest show of the year, ‘Final Battle’.
Cornette is staying with the company as a consultant of some type. A noted control freak, I wonder how long he can contain himself before he attempts to interject himself heavily into the booking again. Cornette joined ROH as a consultant to begin with, and slowly but surely somehow ended up the primary booker.
Let’s look at five key issues that sunk Cornette:
ROH failed to create new stars on Cornette’s watch, which is the biggest problem the company faces. Guys like Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Tomasso Chiampa, Mike Bennett, and most of all, Michael Elgin, have star potential (on this level, at least), but none have truly advanced above the mid card. It is hard to give Cornette credit for Kevin Steen, whose long storyline and push began two bookers ago, and you can argue he is a bigger star and more interesting personality for PWG these days. Cornette took too long to put the tag team titles on All Night Express, who were red hot after ‘Ladder Wars’, and Cornette has taken far too long to turn Michael Elgin face following what should have been a star making match against Davey Richards in Florida during WrestleMania weekend. That match feels like it was an eternity ago, and Elgin has lost his momentum as his slow burn turn has failed to generate any buzz.
Speaking of All Night Express, Kenny King jumped to TNA while one-half of the tag team champions. Some say this means very little in 2012, but to the hardcore fan base of a group like ROH, this was a very embarrassing blow and something that simply never should have been allowed to happen. Cornette booked King & Rhett Titus to win the tag titles, despite King’s contract coming due days later. King, unhappy with a lack of bookings from ROH, made no secret he would be shopping his services to other companies. Cornette & King had a handshake agreement, and while you can probably make a moral argument against King, you certainly cannot make a legal one. King showed up on a live episode of TNA Impact, and ROH was left egg on their face and vacated tag team titles.
iPPV disasters: Fairly or unfairly, the Cornette reign will be forever linked to numerous iPPV disasters that have severely threatened to kill the iPPV golden goose that has helped sustain other smaller U.S. promotions. Following the original round of issues, ROH fired original streaming provider gofightlive, but ROH streaming the iPPV’s themselves from their own website has not solved the issues, which is insane when you think about it, considering ROH is owned by a media company that owns dozens of television stations. One has to wonder if ego got in the way of business at some point, as former ROH booker Gabe Sapolsky offers a streaming service, wwnlive.com, which has to this point streamed dozens of wrestling shows with nary an issue. In fact, Sapolsky has told me directly that he has reached out to ROH in the past offering to host ROH iPPV’s. However, a contentious relationship lately between Cornette & Sapolsky may have prevented this from happening. According to Sapolsky, ROH never got back to him earlier this year after the two sides initially discussed the possibility of wwnlive hosting ROH events.
A boring product: Let’s face it, ROH is boring. It is unfair to expect current ROH to resemble 2005 ROH, because from a business perspective that style, while buzz worthy, did not get them beyond the level of high profile indie. The company had to try to evolve if it were to grow, so ultimately the firing of Gabe Sapolsky in 2008, while unpopular, made sense at the time if the goal was to grow and expand. In fact, Sapolsky is still following his old ROH booking ideals of fast action and progressive style, and his companies, Dragon Gate USA and sister promotion EVOLVE are basically at the same level ROH was at with him at the helm. Therefore, while ROH has attempted to escape niche status, first with Pearce, then with Johnson & Cornette, they now find themselves at an odd purgatory between smaller major league and larger indie. But that perceived growth has nothing to do with the product, and everything to do with new, richer ownership, Sinclair Broadcasting, which airs the ROH TV show on affiliates that cover somewhere between 30-40% of the United States. I have strayed a bit from the point here, but the bottom line is ROH has not grown due to anything that is going on in the ring. House shows are mostly flat, usually down. They run fewer markets. They have burned out former home base Philadelphia, which is unfathomable if not amazing when you stop to think about it. iPPV is down (but that can also be blamed on the technical issues). Buzz is way down. Buzz cannot carry you alone, but it doesn’t hurt to have some. ROH has none. ROH is boring.
Friends of Cornette: Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Hass seemed like a good fit for ROH in theory, but they failed to get over and Cornette continued to push them. There is probably no reason for The Headbangers (The Guardians of Truth) to be on a major league wrestling roster in 2012, particularly taking up space on a roster full of younger wrestlers with more long term potential. It’s not as if the Guardians of Truth were pushed hard, but it’s still a spot that could have went to younger wrestlers. Tons of effort was put into Mike Mondo, who while talented, is another recycled wrestler who took forever to start to get over, while a fresh talent like Robert Evans is totally wasted in a non-wrestling role as “The Barrister” RD Evans. Meanwhile, at the same time, Evans is one of the most charismatic and over performers in two other promotions, CHIKARA and Anarchy Championship Wrestling. The misuse of Evans, who is not only a top level talker, but can do comedy as well as anybody and is also a very underrated worker, is one of the great mysteries of ROH.
What does this do to the legacy of Cornette? His two previous high profile booking gigs were both considered successful.
Smokey Mountain Wrestling was a critically acclaimed regional group in the 90’s that featured the simple, yet effective booking that has always been the Cornette trademark. From an aesthetic standpoint, SMW worked. From a business standpoint, it existed for roughly a half decade but eventually folded.
Cornette was the primary booker of Ohio Valley Wrestling, which at the time was a developmental territory of the WWE. Again, Cornette’s simple, logical booking worked very well in this setting, working mainly with young wrestlers who were learning how to work, build characters, and build stories.
Cornette’s ‘logic first’ booking style frustrated people at times, including an incident where the Dudleyz did a guest shot for OVW and inadvertently caused a young Jillian Hall to be removed from a storyline and be taken off of TV. In Cornette’s view of the wrestling world, when a man puts his hands on a woman, if the woman does not sell it as if she is dead, it compromises the legitimacy of the male characters. Therefore, when the Dudleyz did their trademark spot of putting Hall though a table, Cornette was irate, because Hall was booked for a big match the next week, and in his mind, she absolutely had to be removed from the match. Probably extreme of a reaction for a small developmental territory, but to Cornette, these types of details matter and you cannot fault him trying to teach and sustain long-term logic in a business that in general has left that theory in the past.
A second similar incident ultimately triggered his dismissal as OVW booker from the WWE. Cornette physically attacked and slapped a young wrestler (the future Santino Marella) across the face who laughed at the ring entrance of The Boogyman. The wrestlers were instructed to react fearfully towards the character, and Cornette felt that Marella’s laughter worked against the direction of booking. Cornette was suspended, and would be fired outright by the WWE not long after.
Much of what made Cornette’s booking work in the past is what backfired in ROH. Simple, logical booking works just fine in a 90’s southern regional territory, where people just want to watch good ‘ol southern boys beat up the heels, or in a developmental territory with one hour of TV per week where the goal is to teach the basics. Booking is all about time & place. Paul Heyman’s ECW style would not get over today like it did in 1995, just as Verne Gagne’s style of running one shock angle on TV per year would fail miserably in today’s environment. Cornette inherited an ROH fan base that was used to sophisticated booking and angles, particularly during the Sapolsky era. There was nothing inherently wrong with Cornette’s ROH stories; they were just from another time & place. You could argue that simpler booking is a refreshing change from what the WWE & TNA have offered these days, but not when fresh and progressive is replaced with slow and simple, driving away old fans and failing to capture new ones. Jim Cornette’s creative vision in ROH was serving no masters, and the trash littering the ring in Rahway this past week was a not so subtle conformation of that message.