I haven’t talked about TNA in a long time. I honestly think the last time I spent any major amount of time discussing TNA in this column, I was venting my frustrations with TNA over having Rhino drop the NWA Title back to Jeff Jarrett a week after winning it from Jarrett at Bound For Glory last fall. So, I guess the question should be, “why?” After all, I do write a wrestling column, and it would only make sense to talk about all the major players, not just WWE. So why not talk about TNA? After all, if all I’m going to do is “complain” about the WWE, wouldn’t it be prudent of me to at least attempt to discuss other organizations? Of course it would! Unfortunately, I’m not going to talk about TNA this week. I’ve honestly been so uninterested in TNA lately that I’m amazed I’ve actually watched Impact at all! It’s not that the shows are bad. Hell, they’re better than SmackDown could ever hope to be! At the same time, it’s not entirely interesting, either. It’s like, “eh, whatever…” I mean, short of TNA pushing Joe against Jarrett, and possibly the whole “Nash hates the X division” thing, TNA is kinda boring these days. So, since I don’t want to bore myself silly while writing a column, and WWE isn’t really doing anything worth ranting about at the moment, I guess that just leaves me with… Ugh… Ring of Honor. Well, on the plus side, you will finally get the opportunity to understand what it is about Ring Of Honor that pisses me off so much.
It’s pretty obvious to the long-time reader that I don’t like Ring Of Honor. Conceptually, Ring Of Honor is supposed to be the promotion that stresses honor and tradition and all that jazz. Whatever. After good ol’ “7-11” Rob Feinstien decided to get busy with 12 year-old boys, I pretty much gave up on buying into the honor and tradition bullsh*t. To their credit, ROH was actually able to recover from Feinstein’s perversions and somehow avoid being labeled as NAMBLA’s Pro Wrestling Chapter, thanks, in great part, to Feinstien’s resignation from ROH. Unfortunately, Feinstien’s other legacy as King of The Super-Smarks made sure that Ring Of Honor would forever be the poor man’s National Wrestling Alliance.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a great appreciation for the legacy of the NWA and for pro wrestling in general, but I don’t love it so much that I want to go and re-create that era of wrestling in 2006 when that era no longer has any relevance to anything going on in today’s sports or entertainment franchises. Nowadays, the NWA is pretty much worthless, and has been for over two decades now. The only reason TNA (or any other wrestling organization that has been affiliated with the NWA over the past 20 years, for that matter) uses the NWA’s title belts is simply because of their history and the prestige that history has established. It’s an easy way for a promotion to establish titles that fans will see a value to and care about, which generally goes a long way towards building a company that will draw fans and make money. In other words, the NWA affiliates exploit the History of the NWA to establish themselves as a company. Once they do, most of the smart organizations ditch the NWA like rats from a sinking ship. The belts are the only thing of value the NWA, as an organization, has, and if it weren’t for the belts, the organization would be completely dead now. The NWA runs itself like a Confederation of Independent Federations, and has done so throughout its entire existence. It was originally built when wrestling was purely a territorial business. But, see, wrestling is no longer a purely territorial business. The top wrestling promoters in the world now work at a national and international level. While there are still small, territorial promotions, those promotions are simply territorial because the funding is not there for the company to expand their market. These are small, independently-run promotions that are growing and attempting to establish themselves in one market. At this level, the smart promotions, such as Jersey All-Pro Wrestling, Combat Zone Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Gorilla, and yes, even ROH itself, attempt to garner a national audience through DVD releases and the internet. While they are not in the leagues of the WWE or TNA, they are at least trying to expand their market by making their product available to an audience outside of their territory. The NWA not only does not seem to understand that wrestling is no longer purely territorial, but seemingly don’t care, thus the aforementioned exploitation by promotions that do get it, such as TNA. This sort of mentality leads to incidents such as Shane Douglas throwing the NWA title down in 1994. That was almost 12 years ago! If the NWA was lagging behind the curve of the business in 1994, how much more so is the NWA lagging behind now? Until the NWA realizes that it needs to establish itself as a singular promotion, rather than a confederation of territories, and gain control over its own belts, promotions will continue to exploit them and the value of their titles for their own purposes. In my mind, the NWA, as it stands in 2006, is a joke, a dinosaur that won’t die. And, in many ways, I feel that Ring Of Honor was trying to be that dinosaur, especially in its early days, before the Feinstien scandal.
After Feinstien’s resignation, Ring Of Honor began to change. At first, it was just sort of this annoying entity that pretended it was the NWA. Then, things got a little weird. ROH was infused with more and more Japanese influence, which tends to be lost on the average American wrestling fan, because of the cultural differences between the two countries. Nowadays, Ring Of Honor is no longer just the Mini-NWA that Feinstien envisioned. Now, ROH is trying to claim itself as the second-coming of ECW (minus the garbage wrestling), rabidly loyal fan base and all. Hell, it even started an “inter-promotional war” with Combat Zone Wrestling over, of all things, the ECW Arena, where both promotions have held shows! Thankfully, WWE is trying to get a contract with the New Alhambra to run shows there exclusively (for the “new” ECW), so now everyone and their mother can stop trying to make a name for themselves by laying claim to Viking Hall. As an ECW fan, I personally find it insulting that so many wrestling promotions go to so much trouble just to book the New Alhambra, trying to get a rub from the South Philadelphia wrestling fans. No, seriously. That’s why you do a show in the Alhambra, to get a rub off of ECW’s most loyal fans. Promoters and wrestlers seem to think that winning over this crowd earns them some sort of prestige, that it will build their company somehow. Promotions legitimately fight over the arena as if it were Holy Land, and the ROH/CZW angle is based, in part, on a very real conflict to book the same arena that both promotions see as a key market. There’s also philosophical differences (CZW is a hardcore fed, while ROH is basically a mini-NWA with heavy Japanese influences), and even some alleged heat between Chris Hero and Gabe Sapolsky fueling this feud, but as I don’t generally care about either company’s well-being (I’m all for making this a shoot and letting both ROH and CZW go at it in a literal fight to the death, to be perfectly honest), I’m only aware of small details. Someone reading this will complain that I should “write what I know.” To respond, I am. I know that I hate ROH, that they’re running an angle with CZW, that Chris Hero is the coolest f*cking person alive right now, and I don’t care if ROH dies, so f*ck you!
Another thing that annoys me about Ring Of Honor is that people actually believe that it is a national company. This, of course, is an unsubstantiated belief based on the idea that selling DVDs over the internet automatically qualifies you to be a national company. Note that a couple paragraphs back, I referred to JAPW, CZW and PWG as regional companies. Also note that ROH is also mentioned in that sentence. That’s right, kids, Ring Of Honor is a regional promotion, no matter what the ROH fans or anyone else tells you. Ring Of Honor has no national television deal, nor any syndication, in the United States. Meanwhile, the only television is does have is in Canada (on The Fight Network) and the United Kingdom (on The Wrestling Channel), where, surprise, surprise, they don’t hold shows! The only real claim Ring Of Honor has to any sort of paying national or international audience is through their DVD releases. Beyond that, Ring of Honor is a regional promotion, who, thanks to the lack of WWE participation on The Wrestling Channel, caught a lucky break (which eventually led to ROH getting on Canadian TV, as well). But, to give credit where credit is due, while many people believe that ROH is a national company, ROH itself does not actually acknowledge themselves as a national company. That credit goes to the ROH fan base, which brings us to the next reason I don’t like Ring Of Honor…
…The Fans. God, do I hate ROH fans! If there were any greater a group of elitist smarks on this planet, I’d have to kill them. Seriously. If there were any people I wish I never had to deal with, whether its through this column, or otherwise, it’s the hardcore ROH Fan. ROH fans are the type of fans who will say just about anything just so people will think they’re smart to the business. Things such as, “If you think Benoit is good now, you should have seen him in Japan,” or, “(Insert Name Here) has a great work-rate.” First of all, unless you have wrestled, or you work closely with wrestlers and actually know what the hell “working” is, you have no business assigning anyone a “work-rate”, much like you don’t have much business assigning match-quality ratings without actually knowing what all goes into working a match. That’s simply a matter of respect. Secondly, who cares?! When I watch a wrestling show, I want to be entertained. That’s it. I don’t want to think about the technicalities of it all. Hell, I deal with that sh*t all the time in USAW! After a while, coming up with marketing strategies, building a company image, deciding who’s where on the card and who could potentially draw money, it gets tiring! When I watch wrestling live or on TV, I want to watch a good show, and more often than not, the reason I’m thinking about the technical stuff is because there is an obvious glitch I can’t ignore (such as how John Cena is scripted to sound like a total bitch, or how WWE has treated Rey Mysterio in recent weeks). The Ring Of Honor fan, though, is so obsessed with the technical aspects of wrestling, such as work-rate and match quality, that they actually find it entertaining, to the point that it’s even more entertaining than the actual show. This, though, causes animosity between them and other sorts of wrestling fans, namely, causal fans, and guys like me, who just want to enjoy the show for what it is. So, you’re at a ROH show, trying to enjoy the show, surrounded by a crowd that’s basically too smart to the business for their own good. Combine that with the fact that Gabe Sapolsky basically books ROH shows to cater solely to ROH’s core audience (while ignoring elements that would draw other sorts of wrestling fans), and it makes it very hard for the average wrestling fan, who actually wants to get lost in the kayfabe fantasy for a while, to truly enjoy the show. ROH fans don’t care, though. To them, if you don’t like ROH, you’re not a real wrestling fan. I’ve even heard some Ring Of Honor fans go so far as to say that these sorts of fans shouldn’t even bother with wrestling shows at all, blaming them for the crap WWE books and so on!
Now, I like causal fans. When you’re sitting at a show surrounded by casual fans, you’re more than likely going to be surrounded by people who are going to mark out for the product (if its any good). When you’re sitting with ROH fans, though, you’re sitting around a bunch of guys taking mental notes for their blogs, message board posts, and/or wrestling columns. Casual fans will get into the show, while ROH fans (and smarks in general), will try to control the show. “How so?” you ask. Well, have you ever heard those dueling chants at a wrestling show? You know, the one where part of the crowd cheers on the heel while everyone else cheers on the face? Ring Of Honor fans came up with this, and, to their credit, it certainly had to seem like a good idea at the time. There has always been the section of people who cheer for heels (I being one of them), so, at some point, the dueling chant thing was almost inevitable. My problem with it, though, is that these chants take place for nearly every wrestler on a given card (especially in ROH, TNA, and Indy Shows), regardless of reason or stature. For instance, on the undercard, you’ll have Jobby McJobber vs. Joey The Curtain-Jerker, and the dueling chant will break out. In the midcard, you have Jay Lethal vs. Alex Shelley, and the chant breaks out again. In the Main Event, you have Sandman vs. Raven, and, despite the history between the two men in ECW and beyond, there’s that dueling chant again. Now, I can understand the dueling chants for the midcarders trying to establish themselves, as they both ought to have strong fan bases that will cheer for them regardless of affiliation (how the hell do you think Chris Jericho got over?), but who the hell is going to give two sh*ts about Jobby McJobber and the Curtain-Jerker? Then, just to add insult to injury, you have your Main Event between two guys with nearly a decade-long history of hating each other, and you have people cheering the heel? What the f*ck?!?! That’s just wrong! That would be like WWE fans starting a dueling chant between Austin and McMahon (and thus, one of many reasons why the dueling chant thing has yet to really take off in WWE)! Sometimes, the dueling chants are fun, and they can add a different element to a show, especially for up-and-coming wrestlers who have yet to truly establish themselves with wrestling fans. Other times, though, it’s stupid, and some cases, such as the scenario between guys like Raven and Sandman, it’s f*cking disrespectful as all hell! Smart fans often like to show off how smart they are, especially around casual fans and marks, but it’s also disrespectful, not only to these fans, but to the wrestlers themselves. There are situations where smarks have NO BUSINESS cheering for the heel, whether they like him or not, and a Sandman/Raven match would only be one of many examples. You might be the biggest Raven mark in the universe, but damn it, if he’s wrestling Sandman and he’s the heel, you don’t start a “Let’s Go Raven” chant! And even if someone else does, you and 50 other people shouldn’t join in! If some moron is being an ass, let him be an ass and don’t join in the chant! Have some respect for the men in the ring, and for the fans that want to see Sandman kill Raven for the 25 billion reasons Sandman has to kill Raven, okay?
Fan reactions that affect a wrestling promotion’s product is nothing new. Fans turned Austin, Bret Hart, the Rock, and Eddie Guerrero in the past decade, just to name a few. In each of these cases, though, it wasn’t the hardcore fan base trying to take control of the show. It was an overwhelming trend in which the majority of the audience reacted the same way, and that reaction happened to be the exact opposite of what the reaction should have been. Now, it appears that the fan base is trying to turn Cena heel. At least, it appears that way when you watch the shows on TV, or when you read the internet editorials. Here’s the funny thing, though. Despite the fact that Cena has been ritualistically booed by a growing section of WWE fans for the past 6 months, he has the highest selling merchandise out of any WWE superstar. Meanwhile, PPV buys are up, live attendance is up, and RAW’s rating is consistently in the 4.2 range (significantly up from last year). This year’s WrestleMania has hit nearly one MILLION buys, and the DVD is expected to smash all previous sales records. WWE is in an upswing, and that is due, mainly, to John Cena as a babyface. So, if Cena is doing such good business on top, which is clearly documented, why is it that a section of the audience is booing him? Well, part of that is because WWE scripts him to sound like a complete douche. I can understand people booing lame promos. But, beyond that, why is this happening? Well, first off, you need to realize that it’s not the entire arena booing Cena. Every time the boos come, there’s a section of fans ready to counter it. Some argue that it’s just girls and young kids. Not true, unless guys are now buying John Cena shirts and bringing Cena signs in hopes of getting laid. Yes, men like Cena. Men over the age of 12. I know that sounds crazy, but there are, and there’s more of them than you think. Of course, none of them are ROH fans. The ROH fan is the one wearing the Triple H shirt, booing Cena and cheering for Triple H, despite having spent the last three years on the internet doing everything he could to tear Triple H down. The ROH fan started the trend of dividing audiences for fun, and now, it seems like the entire internet community, ROH fan or no, has jumped in on the game, and have now decided to divide the WWE audience between John Cena and Triple H. The entire reason for a DX reunion is to ensure that a baby face Triple H gets over. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be one. Period. Neither H nor Shawn need it at this stage in their career, unless WWE is worried that their audience won’t accept H as a face. And that, right there, betrays the truth. Triple H is not as suddenly popular as the vocal ROH fan and their IWC co-conspirators would want you to believe. It’s a conspiracy, cooked up by a section of the wrestling audience to destroy a champion who’s actually doing more to help business than anything else, simply because he doesn’t fit their criteria of “good wrestling”. Triple H needs a DX reunion to ensure he gets over as a face (refer to H’s face run in 2002 as evidence that H has a hard time getting over as a face on his own), and WWE needs the DX merchandising revenue to make up for lost revenue if Cena were to turn heel. While this phenomenon has forced WWE to be more creative in recent months, it also needs to be resolved. That resolution, though, is bound to be disastrous. Why? Because the intent was to recreate a ROH phenomenon in WWE, the divided audience and the dueling chants. The problem is that WWE fans, on the whole, are a completely different creature than ROH fans. They are fans of wrestling for different reasons, and the majority of ROH fans simply don’t get it. This is yet another example of the “Raven/Sandman” situation, where you ought to not disrespect your fellow fans and the wrestlers by cheering the wrong guy. ROH fans, though, don’t care.
This sort of arrogance and elitism makes it very hard for me to deal with most ROH fans. Of course, these same people will accuse me of the same thing, because, after all, I act like I’m better than them. Personally, it’s not an act. I actually am better than these people, not only because I live out the career path they only fantasize about, but because I actually respect the business enough to know not to divide a wrestling promotion’s audience just because you don’t agree with them! Maybe if they pulled their heads out of their ass long enough to realize that wrestling is a business that survives and thrives through ticket sales, merchandising and/or PPV revenue, they might actually have something worthwhile to say about the state of the wrestling business! Otherwise, they should stick to what they’re good at, which is praising ROH and trying to convince everyone that they’re smarter to the wrestling business than everyone else.
As for ROH itself, I find the shows a bit boring. Now, I know, the whining will come, but see, I actually like stories and characters. I tend to take the Shane Douglas/Paul Heyman philosophy that gimmicks and characters ought to be somewhat realistic, or, at the very least, reflect the wrestlers’ actually personalities (all while avoiding the Vince Russo extreme of full-on “Reality TV” booking, as that sort of thing tends to confuse fans), but there ought to still be characters and stories. ROH doesn’t have that. ROH just has wrestling. That’s pretty much it. Any conflict that arises comes mostly from whether the fans think you fit their concept of “good wrestling”, and which section of the arena starts cheering you first. Gabe Sapolsky, to his credit, exploits that, and I can’t blame him. He’s obviously giving his fan base what it wants, which keeps him in business (for now), but it also keeps ROH from reaching a larger audience or expanding, which will ultimately hurt ROH. Outside of ROH’s war with CZW, though (which, I do have to say is a pretty interesting concept, considering the companies and the stakes involved) there aren’t really any major characters or storylines. So-and-so wants to win the belt from so-and-so-else because half the arena thinks he’s better than the other guy. Blah, blah, blah. Don’t care. To make things worse, most of the roster looks alike, and they even work the same damn style! Hell, most of the highspots you’ll see in a ROH show are inter-changeable. If Austin Aries didn’t do it that night, God knows Bryan Danielson will! Maybe the ROH fans like seeing a bunch of guys who all wear the same damn thing, who work every single match every single night the same damn way. I don’t care how many innovative gimmick matches and cool highspots you have on a show, they all start to blur together if you can’t tell one guy from the next! This sends yet another message to the newbie fan, on top of the ones already being sent by ROH’s core fans. That message, of course, is that you’re not good enough to be a Ring Of Honor fan. Gabe Sapolsky needs to realize how that can turn more casual fans off to his product. Then again, he ought to realize how much his core fan base already does that before the newbie fan ever hears the words “Ring Of Honor”.
Here’s the thing, if you like Ring Of Honor, good for you. Hell, the fact that you can even put up with the majority of its core fans ought to say something positive about you. At the same time, liking Ring Of Honor is not a license to ruin wrestling shows for other fans, casual fans, marks, smarks, or otherwise. I consider myself a mark, at least for shows I’m not personally putting together, and when I am booking, I try to book for the broadest possible audience. Why? Because I think wrestling ought to be fun for everyone who wants to watch the show. That’s why we became fans in the first place. Unfortunately, many ROH Fans either forgot about that, or don’t care. These people are why I hate ROH, above all else. The shows are simply not my thing. I was raised on WWE, for crying out loud, and I’m a big ECW fan, too. Character and Story are important to me. I like to care about the guys I cheer and boo. The wrestlers, on the other hand, have so much to offer, and I wish they stood out more. At the same time, I understand that this is how they’re booked. I believe that if ROH fans weren’t such pains in my ass, I might be more inclined to watch ROH shows, but even then, I wouldn’t be a big ROH fan. For one, I’m afraid of what I might become.
Thank God Austin Aries decided to rip off “Superstar” Billy Graham’s look (whether he’s aware of it or not)! Now if only he’d stop doing that ridiculous Pendulum Elbow and help Chris Hero kill ROH once and for all. That would be f*cking awesome! Then, Joe could focus full-time on being a top guy for TNA and thank his lucky stars he didn’t sign with WWE, or else he’d be Umaga right about now.