My eighteenth birthday (in February of 2012) came at a pretty critical time in my life. I was only a few months away from graduating high school, and I had just been accepted to Penn State. On top of all the normal school assignments and college preparations that preoccupy a high school senior, I was all wrapped up in extracurriculars, which included participating in my second high school musical (The Sound Of Music, if you’re wondering) and becoming an Eagle Scout.
Now that at this point in my life, I was a pretty bad procrastinator, and I was cutting it close in terms of finishing all of the stuff that comes with an Eagle Scout (which is something you need to achieve either before your turn eighteen, or right around your eighteenth birthday).
How does any of this relate to wrestling?
Well, my parents told me that if I managed to become an Eagle Scout, then I could go to my first Ring of Honor show a few weeks later in New York City. The show in question? ROH’s 10th Anniversary Show: Young Wolves Rising (yes, the Cornette Era featured a lot of the bigger shows getting these subtitles, don’t ask me why). If that story sounds familiar, that’s because it’s very similar to the story that Tony Khan has told about how he got to go see ECW in Philadelphia for the first time. I didn’t even realize the similarities until I was putting this together, so it was truly a complete coincidence.
What’s crazy about my ROH fandom is that, even though I’m considered the “ROH expert” on the Voices of Wrestling staff, and even though I have the reputation of knowing an insane amount of information about ROH history (not quite at the same level as Garrett Kidney’s knowledge of TNA, but on a similar wavelength), I only became truly aware of ROH in 2009. I became a fan of the promotion via the HD Net show, and it was around 2010 when I started to get fully invested in Ring of Honor through things like hearing about the hype surrounding the Tyler Black/Davey Richards ROH World Title match from Death Before Dishonor VIII, learning that Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin were reuniting their team in ROH, and ordering the Final Battle 2010 iPPV to see the conclusion of the Kevin Steen/El Generico feud. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was witnessing the final months of the original ROH, before the promotion was purchased by Sinclair Broadcast Group in 2011 (I know you can split up the different eras of ROH in many ways, but I feel we’re far enough removed from 2011 to broadly split the company’s history in Classic ROH and Sinclair ROH).
Now the Sinclair Era of ROH has seen many ups and downs, and I went through many of those ups and downs as a fan. I followed the promotion through the absolute rollercoaster that was the Jim Cornette Era, the rebuilding year of 2013, the rise back to prominence from 2014 to 2016 (which saw the arrival of AJ Styles from TNA and the formation of the partnership with New Japan Pro Wrestling), the era of The Elite through the end of the 2018, the post-Elite rebuilding period, and the COVID era. There were plenty of great moments and matches, but there were also moments that were disappointing, and sometimes downright frustrating. While Ring of Honor will still be owned by Sinclair for the foreseeable future (barring a dramatic shift in plans), it appears that this December will be the end of this larger era, or this version, of ROH.
The End of Ring of Honor As We Know It
To sum up the situation more generally, the version of Ring of Honor that we see today will cease to exist at the end of the year.
After this month’s television tapings (which were already underway as I type this) and the Final Battle PPV on December 11, the company plans to go on hiatus for the first quarter of 2022. All contracted ROH talents are free to work anywhere they’d like to right now (as long as they don’t conflict with the aforementioned tv tapings and PPV), and all of them will be free to sign wherever they’d like once their deals expire, which is either at the end of the year, or in March of 2022 (I believe this depends on how much time was left on a particular talent’s contact).
Obviously, we’ve seen many ROH talents take bookings in a number of notable places since this news broke. The current plan on the ROH side of things (based on what’s been reported) appears to be that they will return with a big Supercard Of Honor show during WrestleMania Weekend in Dallas, and if/when the promotion does return in 2022, it’ll be more like an indie promotion, where there are no contracted wrestlers at all. The television deal with Sinclair remains intact (the latest word was that they’d be airing archival footage). In terms of ROH’s extensive video archive, that is not up for sale at this time, though it was a major area of debate for a few days before we got word from multiple sources (Wrestling Observer and PWInsider). While there’s a chance that certain aspects of this story will change in the coming weeks and months, the bottom line is that ROH is finished as a major promotion with the ability to offer big contracts to name talents. That version of the company is dead.
I don’t believe there was one singular event that caused Ring of Honor to get to this state. In situations like this, it’s almost never one particular moment of event. It’s really the culmination of several different factors and events that got ROH to the point where they’ve had no choice but to go on hiatus and release all of their talents.
Out of all the factors in play, the biggest one (to me) is the COVID-19 pandemic. ROH deserved all the credit in the world for being, by far, the safest major wrestling promotion in the United States when it came to handling the coronavirus. They waited longer than almost anyone else to return to running shows, and when they did start running shows again, they did so through a UFC-style bubble for their TV Tapings. Various levels of COVID-19 testing, quarantining in a hotel in the leadup to the tapings, and so on. They also paid all of their contracted talent while the promotion was shut down, including the talents who have been stuck in their home countries overseas, in places like the UK and Australia. Despite the fact that they weren’t taking in any money from live events, they still paid their talents.
Again, they deserve all the praise in the world for how they handled the pandemic, but it inadvertently put them on the back foot going into the summer.
With pretty much every other notable American promotion returning to shows in front of fans, ROH was the lone holdout (aside from their Best in the World PPV in July, which did have fans), and that absolutely contributed to them losing whatever buzz (which probably wasn’t a lot to begin with) they might’ve had. Their three live events at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia didn’t draw particularly well, especially when compared with other promotions that ran the same building, like MLW and New Japan of America. One of those three shows was originally scheduled to take place in Lakeland, Florida at the same venue that hosted Supercard of Honor in 2017 (headlined by a Hardy Boys/Young Bucks Ladder Match), and while a massive spike in COVID cases in Florida was certainly a legitimate reason to move the show, it’s not like those tickets were selling like hotcakes before the chance. As the wrestling scene slowly started to get back to a state of normalcy during the summer, ROH’s overly cautious approach absolutely hurt the promotion with regards to gaining attention in a crowded marketplace.
Sinclair Brodcast Network
There have also been recent issues with Sinclair itself that definitely contributed to ROH ending up in this position. Not only did they experience a major hack recently (which actually caused changes to a recent episode of ROH TV, as they instead aired a Best of episode focused on Jay Lethal), but some poor investments in regional sports networks have put Sinclair in a precarious position financially.
I’ll fully admit that the business side of ROH is not my area of expertise, so what I will do is direct you to follow Lavie Margolin (@Laviemarg on Twitter). He’s done an excellent job covering ROH and this story as a whole, but if you want to know more about what’s up with the Sinclair side of things, and their ongoing issue, definitely check out his work on this story.
The Elite Departure
Another major aspect of this story dates back to the end of 2018, when The Elite (Cody, The Young Bucks, and Adam Page) and SCU (Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, and Scorpio Sky) departed Ring of Honor to be part of All Elite Wrestling.
Now anyone who knows the history of ROH knows that wrestlers moving on from ROH to bigger roles in bigger promotions has been ingrained in the history of the company dating back to its earliest days. From the early years, through the golden age, through the early 2010s, and through 2016/2017, when we saw a number of notable ROH talents make the jump to NXT. People leaving ROH to go elsewhere has always been a part of the history of this company, but they always managed to have talents that were ready to step up and fill those spots. That really wasn’t the case when The Elite left. ROH had been riding high on the popularity of The Elite since 2017 (and before that, BULLET CLUB since the start of the New Japan relationship), and they took ROH to new heights. They deserve a large amount of the credit for drawing over 6000 fans to ROH’s Supercard Of Honor event in New Orleans back in 2018 (with Cody vs. Kenny Omega being the featured match), and the popularity that The Elite garnered eventually led to All In, which ROH helped to facilitate.
At the time, it seemed like ROH were the only ones who were oblivious to the fact that these guys could leave them someday, and that they didn’t really have that next set of talents built up underneath who were ready to replace them. I specifically remember discussions on podcasts, forums, and Twitter that dated back months, or even to the year prior, that would bring that very topic up. When The Elite and SCU did eventually leave, it really felt like ROH got caught with their pants down. Over the next few months, they scrambled to sign new talents to deals, now that we were in an era where WWE and AEW were both throwing around big-money offers in an all-out arms race. They were able to sign some notable names (Bandido and RUSH were probably the most prominent new signees), but ROH definitely felt the impact of The Elite’s departure throughout most of 2019, as attendance declined as the year progressed.
Not having a deep bench when The Elite departed was definitely a big factor in the declines that ROH saw in 2019 in terms of tickets, but there were creative decisions that certainly hurt the perception of the company that year. Of course, everyone knows that ROH largely didn’t deliver on its half of the Madison Square Garden show with New Japan in April of 2019. Now while I think it’s wrong to suggest that their portion of that show killed the promotion, it absolutely hurt the perception of ROH at the worst possible time. They were in front of their largest audience ever (an audience that mainly bought tickets based on New Japan and, to a large extent, the belief that The Elite would be on the show), and they just didn’t deliver on their end of the card, with long, drawn-out matches and bad angles.
Even with that big perception blow to the company, and the various lulls, missteps, and bad creative decisions the company saw in 2019, 2020 promised to be a fresh start. ROH managed to score a big win in the talents market in the form of Marty Scurll, as they not only signed him to a new deal, but they gave him a large role in creative as the new head booker.
Early 2020 feels like an eternity ago due to COVID-19, but there was definitely a lot of optimism and promise with the dawn of the Marty Scurll regime in ROH (it was nice to have a fresh face leading things after Delirious had been the head guy for so long). Of course, we never got to find out how things would’ve turned out with Scurll at the helm, as the COVID shutdowns cut his reign short. The Speaking Out Movement soon followed, and it wasn’t long before Scurll was completely done with the company due to the allegations against him. When looking back at the history of ROH, where the Marty Scurll regime would’ve gone is certainly one of the biggest What If questions in recent memory.
All Elite Wrestling?
One argument I’ve seen some people make is that AEW is responsible for killing ROH. Now while I see that argument as being absolutely ludicrous, I do believe there’s a very small kernel of truth in there. What the emergence of AEW did is that it put companies in that second tier (ROH, Impact, and MLW primarily) in a position where they had to find a way to stand out. For years, companies like ROH would promote themselves as being all about pro-wrestling, as a counter to WWE. When AEW came to prominence, they solidified themselves in the role of being the pro-wrestling alternative to WWE, but on a much bigger platform.
For the last year or so, I’ve been of the belief that space for a second-tier television wrestling promotion had become too crowded with ROH, Impact, and MLW all fighting for the same real estate. The big issue was that they were all fighting for the same spot, but neither was really distinguishing itself to the point where it was truly unique enough to stand out. ROH had that for a brief period after their return with the ROH Pure Title Tournament, but that interest quickly faded after the conclusion of the tournament. GCW (while not a television product) has risen to such heights in recent memory in part because they’re completely different from every other notable promotion in the United States. For all of the NWA’s faults (the product is largely not good right now, to say the least), they at least stand out as something unique. Something was going to have to give in that fight between the second-tier companies with television, because that space simply wasn’t big enough for all three. To be clear, this isn’t me advocating for anyone to lose their jobs, but I do believe that if you took the best parts of two of these promotions (with competent leadership), you would have a very strong company in that next level below WWE and AEW. That would be the ideal situation, but as we know, life is far from ideal.
What’s Next for Ring of Honor?
So as I mentioned earlier, Final Battle on December 11 will be the final show for ROH as we know it today. Sinclair still owns the company, still has a TV slot for ROH, and still owns the ROH video archive. Of course, all the talent is set to be released from their deals, and those are the people who I feel for the most. The wrestlers who’ve busted their asses in these empty arena shows to put on the best product possible, and now they’re left looking for a place to work. I feel bad for Ian Riccaboni (one of the best play-by-play guys in the business) and Caprice Coleman, who make a great commentary team. I feel bad for Quinn McKay, who’s excellent in her role. I feel bad for people like Bobby Cruise and Todd Sinclair, who’ve been ROH guys for ages and ages. It’s just a horrible situation for the people who’ve put so much effort into ROH.
In terms of where people could end up, I’m sure most of the top names from ROH will certainly get signed by other companies, while it’s harder to say from the middle tier on down (who may end up back in ROH come April). AEW will certainly look to sign some of these people, as will Impact, New Japan of America, and MLW. NXT would’ve certainly been going after a lot of these talents two years ago, but their recent makeover and philosophy change (coupled with who they’ve released this year) makes it an unlikely destination. Who will end up working for ROH in this new era remains to be seen, and whether or not ROH even makes it to that point come next April remains to be seen.
The bottom line is that we’re losing a promotion that offered guaranteed money and a stable place of employment for wrestlers, which obviously sucks.
In the absolute worst-case scenario (the promotion doesn’t come back next year in its new form), then we lose a promotion with so much history, most of it positive. ROH could’ve easily died in 2011, but the Sinclair purchase kept it going for another decade. Who knows what happens to people like Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, The Young Bucks, and many others who used ROH to elevate their careers. If there’s no ROH in the middle part of the 2010s, who knows how New Japan’s expansion into North America would have changed, as ROH absolutely played a key role in New Japan’s explosion in popularity on our side of the globe.
December 11 will be the end of an era for ROH, and whether the company will be able to survive into 2022 and beyond remains to be seen.