I became a fan of Ring of Honor during a very interesting time in the promotion’s history. I found ROH through their HDNet show in 2009, and watched on-and-off before fully becoming a fan in the latter half of 2010. Not too long after that, they lost that HDNet show, and were in limbo for a bit before the promotion was purchased by Sinclair Broadcasting in the middle of 2011. The next year-and-a-half or so featured many ups and downs (mostly downs) under the Jim Cornette regime, and after his departure at the tail end of 2012, it felt like the promotion spent the entire year of 2013 in recovery/rebuilding mode.

During that recovery year, Ring of Honor started to see some small crossovers with New Japan Pro Wrestling, who were only a year or two into their recent golden era which, in terms of pro-wrestling history, helped define the 2010s. The Forever Hooligans of Rocky Romero (who was on the ROH roster for many years during the golden era of the company) and Alex Kozlov were a fixture of the tag team division, both winning the ROH World Tag Team Titles for a brief period (the reign was a week long, but based on when that title win aired on television, they technically won the titles the same day they lost them) and defending their IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles. There were also appearances throughout the year from KUSHIDA and Karl Anderson, and when February 2014 rolled around, we got the announcement that Ring Of Honor and New Japan would be joining forces for two joint cards in May of that year….one in Toronto, and one in New York City.

As someone who had followed ROH through all the turmoil of the previous few years, it felt like the company was finally back on the upswing again. I had also started following New Japan in 2013 (that year’s G1 Climax was my true introduction to the product), so I was super pumped about these crossover cards. Couple that with AJ Styles making his return to ROH fresh off his departure from TNA, and it was an exciting time to be a ROH fan. Now, even though the rollout of the two cards wasn’t exactly smooth, at least in the circles that I was in at the time (dropping both cards at once didn’t help, and I think some people were expecting A LOT more than what we got, particularly on the Toronto show), I was still pretty hyped for the two shows.

While the first of the two crossover shows in Toronto, Global Wars, proved to be a solid card, it was more of an appetizer for what was to come the following week in New York City. The card from the Ted Reeve Arena saw both sides mainly keep to themselves, aside from one true ROH vs. New Japan match that saw Michael Elgin defeat Takaaki Watanable (the future EVIL), who was in the middle of his excursion. It still featured some really solid matches, including a ROH World Title main event between Adam Cole and Kevin Steen. The second crossover show, War Of The Worlds, would be a true ROH vs. New Japan card, with a number of interesting matches set to take place in the Hammerstein Ballroom.

The Wrestling HUB: Reviews: ROH/NJPW War of the Worlds Live/DVD Review

The first ROH show I ever attended was the 10th Anniversary Show in 2012. War Of The Worlds 2014 would be the second. Even though I had been following the New Japan product for less than a year at this point, I still incredibly excited to see the likes of Jushin Thunder Liger, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, and Shinsuke Nakamura (who had quickly become one of my favorite wrestlers). These shows were also the first time we got to see AJ Styles as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, as the new leader of BULLET CLUB had just won the title from Okada in controversial fashion (Yujiro Takahashi turning on CHAOS and joining Bullet Club by helping Styles win). The show kicked off with a promo segment that set up the main event (a three-way for the title between Styles, Okada, and Michael Elgin), and I still remember seeing various people in the crowd wearing the new BULLET CLUB shirt with their now-famous logo….even though I’m fairly certain those were all bootlegs.

The first edition of War Of The Worlds was highlighted by an incredible match between reDRagon and The Young Bucks which, to this day, is still one of the best bouts I’ve ever seen live. We were also treated to some really fun matches such as Kevin Steen vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, Adam Cole vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, Jay Lethal vs. KUSHIDA, and the aforementioned three-way main event with AJ Styles, Kazuchika Okada, and Michael Elgin. Something that stuck out to me at the time was that, out of the four major New Japan names (Liger, Nakamura, Okada, and Tanahashi), it was Tanahashi that got the weakest reaction of the bunch (though that’s not to say he got no reaction at all). As American fans became more and more familiar with New Japan, those reactions for Tanahashi definitely changed, but it’s interesting to look back and see which of the New Japan talents connected more with these crowds vs. others. Speaking of Tanahashi, he wrestled Mike Bennett on this show in a match that, as I recall (again, at least in the circles I followed), received a little bit of backlash when it was announced, as some felt Bennett didn’t deserve that spot against one of New Japan’s top stars.

When it comes to wrestling shows I’ve seen in person, the original War Of The Worlds show is one I still remember very fondly. Great wrestling combined with an awesome atmosphere inside the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. This first set of joint shows between New Japan and ROH also marked a major milestone in terms of setting up what was to come over the next several years. In the short term, the two promotions would continue to exchange talent and hold crossover events. The Global Wars/War Of The Worlds events would continue (always being a highlight of the year for ROH), while New Japan talent began appearing in ROH outside of that yearly mini-tour, including on TV Tapings, PPVs, and big cards like the shows at the (formerly known as) MCU Park in Brooklyn. ROH would also be the place where a number of young lions spent time during their excursions (Jay White was the easily the most prominent of the bunch, when it comes to how they were used during their time there). Meanwhile, ROH talents would begin making their way over to New Japan, including the likes of Michael Elgin, reDRagon, Adam Cole, The Briscoes, The Kingdom, and more. Eventually, we got crossover shows in Japan in the form of the Honor Rising events (not remembered quite as fondly). In the long term, the relationship with ROH further helped New Japan’s popularity grow in the United States as their own golden era continued.

It eventually got to the point where New Japan usurped ROH in terms of overall importance in the United States.

Granted, a good portion of the success of both promotions in the late 2010’s could be attributed to the success of The Elite, but there’s no question that New Japan had surpassed ROH by the time 2019 rolled around. The big G1 Supercard in Madison Square Garden was a joint show, but ROH was at best a very distant third in terms of who sold that show (New Japan as well as The Elite, who were still with both promotions when tickets first went on sale). ROH definitely gained from the relationship in the short term, as it helped them further get out of the doldrums of the Cornette Era, but as we closed in on the end of the decade, the promotion got lost in the shuffle as the popularity of New Japan, and later The Elite (ultimately leading to All In, the formation of AEW, and so on and so forth) continued to grow. As for New Japan, while they were already in the early years of their recent golden age, these original joint shows with ROH back in 2014 helped kick off their growth in the United States.