Ring of Honor World Champion Adam Cole successfully defended his championship on Monday against YOSHI-HASHI at night two of Honor Rising.

Barely.

YOSHI-HASHI, a perennial New Japan Pro Wrestling midcarder took the world champion of (arguably) his company’s largest partner to the limit in a 16+ minute match.

Cole didn’t so much beat YOSHI-HASHI as he did survive. The whole match was a lesson in what’s wrong with this promotional partnership and the inequality is sinking one of both company’s best money makers.

Survival could be an OK result for the ROH World Champion in NJPW if it were against a higher caliber of opponent like Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto or Katsuyori Shibata—someone in NJPW with cache.

Honestly, I like YOSHI-HASHI.

His journey in 2016 was great fun, especially juxtaposed with the problems of CHAOS stablemate Goto throughout the past year. YOSHI-HASHI may have even earned a title shot at a visiting ROH World Champion for his performance lately. That being said, YOSHI-HASHI isn’t at the level of an ROH World Champion, and he has no business taking that title holder to the limit.

If the Cole/YOSHI-HASHI match had a model, it should’ve been Juice Robinson’s shot at Goto’s NEVER Openweight Championship at New Beginning on February 5.

Robinson took his shot, but he was punching well above his weight. Goto was never in danger, but the match still showed how far Robinson had come in NJPW and both guys walked away looking better for their efforts. And that was for the third-rate NJPW singles championship.

Given NJPW’s history of subtle storytelling, especially over the past 18 months, there’s no excuse for a lack of nuance. The little things matter the most in this company. This wasn’t an oversight, this was a conscious decision to say YOSHI-HASHI is just about as good as the top crop of their American friends.

Besides making Cole look like a dork, being slightly-above-YOSHI-HASHI has to hurt Cole’s standing in the sinking ship that is the Bullet Club. How are we supposed to believe there’s an impending civil war brewing between the Cole and Kenny Omega camps when the former struggles to defeat the likes of YOSHI-HASHI? With that kind of win, against that kind of opponent, Cole has no claim to Bullet Club leadership.





 

None of this is to say that the match was bad. Cole is probably more over in Japan than he is in the States and YOSHI-HASHI continues to show improvement and fire. For context’s sake, I probably had the match at about ***½.

The comparison is obviously exemplary to the well-established inequality in booking between the two companies. Ishii ran through Roderick Strong, especially in Japan, even when the ROH roster was in better shape than it is now. ROH could have done some roster rehab with these Honor Rising shows if they hadn’t sold their talent down the river for cheap pops when the Japanese team came to the states last year.

There’s no problem with NJPW being portrayed as the stronger of the two companies, especially with the state of the ROH roster lately, but you need to protect the top end of the roster on both sides to make this worthwhile. Even if that top end is Adam Cole.