When Ring of Honor went on “temporary hiatus” at the end of last year, the rumor mills were instantly awash with speculation that the company would never recover and that they were on the verge of being sold to the highest bidder. Considering their twenty-year legacy as a TV and PPV content provider, it was easy to imagine someone would want to scoop them up to pad their streaming service. It was easy to imagine WWE and Nick Khan dropping the cash for them. The presumption was that however much ROH’s owners wanted was probably chump change to a company like WWE, who clears an obscene check every time they visit Saudi Arabia.
With ROH’s tape library in hand, WWE could have access to the early years of a plethora of their biggest 21st-century stars (present or former), such as Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe, Cesaro, Seth Rollins, and more. Did WWE need the ROH library? No. Would they have done anything meaningful with it? No. Would they have treated it as a valuable commodity? If they didn’t even do that with WCW, they for sure weren’t going to do it for Ring of Honor. No, the only reason WWE was in the cards was because WWE wants a monopoly on pro wrestling history. Even if they don’t want to be known as a “pro wrestling” company, and even if every ROH talent to come through their doors had to have the ROHness stripped out of them, WWE would still want to own ROH just so they could own ROH.
A few months went by before any new developments were revealed but then, last week, the news dropped: Ring of Honor had indeed been sold, and while the name on the contract read Khan it wasn’t Nick who made the deal.
Tony Khan and AEW secured the rights to Ring of Honor’s name, history, legacy, and future use.
Though details are still leaking, one thing that became apparent from the jump was the fact that WWE could have bought ROH if they wanted to, but the price ended up being too much for them to justify it, even with the prospects of owning such a huge piece of modern wrestling history. WWE’s deal with Comcast/Peacock is locked-in, regardless of how much new content WWE secures, so when ROH’s owners made their offer, WWE decided it was too much.
AEW, on the other hand, was willing to pay it. Why? Probably because they looked at the number of stars who came through that company over the past twenty years, realized how many of them either work or are likely to work for Tony Khan in the future, and decided if AEW was to make itself attractive to a streaming company like, say, HBOMax, it would need more than just three years’ worth of content to barter with. Now, when the next round of network negotiations begins between AEW and Turner, Tony Khan will enter the room holding access to twenty years of the kind of wrestling content that hardcore fans are willing to pay money to access on a monthly basis.
What does it mean for the future of the brand?
While Tony Khan has yet to give more than vague replies to that question, it’s worth remembering this one thing about AEW’s energetic billionaire owner: He is a genuine fan of wrestling and grew up watching WCW, ECW, WWF/E, Ring of Honor, Impact, New Japan, and basically everything else he could get his hands on. If you ever wondered why AEW seems like a promotion that almost always gives the fans what they want, it’s because the promotion is run by a fan who watched a ton of WCW and WWE, two promotions that seemed to get their kicks disappointing their fanbases on a week-to-week basis.
Tony Khan has spoken openly about how he used to frequent internet chatrooms to complain about wrestling, just like the rest of us. As a youngster, he wrote down years’ worth of fantasy booked storylines and feuds for a pretend wrestling show called Dynamite. Tony Khan is any one of us, if we had hundreds of billions of dollars to dump into our own promotion instead of just playing make-believe on a worn-out copy of No Mercy 64.
With that said, I have a hunch that Tony Khan—like all of us—watched with a mixture of excitement and nervousness at the reveal that Vince McMahon and the WWF had purchased WCW. I’m sure he—like all of us—followed the tidbits of info as they leaked out, and grew with nervous anticipation to see how Vince and co. would relaunch the company. And I’m sure he—like all of us—watched with dismay as the relaunch bombed out of the gate, was quickly scuttled on a classic Vince McMahon knee-jerk reaction, and rebooted as the infamous InVasion angle.
If he is anything like the rest of us, I’m sure Tony Khan looks back on the 2001 booking in WWF as the greatest botching of the greatest “what if” in wrestling history, and I’m sure he had pages and pages of “what I would do” recorded on a computer somewhere, right next to all the ideas he’s currently implementing in AEW. All he needed was someone to play the role of WCW.
And now he owns Ring of Honor.
No, ROH in 2022 doesn’t compare to WCW. Even though WCW in 2001 was a shell of its former self it still had more than enough legacy behind it to make WWF’s purchase the biggest news in the industry for years to come. But, while ROH doesn’t compare, the fact is the whole wrestling industry has dropped in mainstream importance in the past twenty-one years. In terms of today, Tony Khan buying ROH, with its vast history and tons of available talent, is the closest thing we’re going to see to something like WWF’s buyout of WCW.
In that case, it’s not hard to imagine that Tony Khan—billionaire fantasy booker-turned-legit booker—is itching to do a “wrestling promotion buys comparable promotion” storyline in his own fantasy-booked way.
What comes next is up in the air. What we do know, based on recent history, is this: If the ROH buyout is handled as well as AEW’s early years have been, the Ring of Honor brand, and wrestling as a whole, is in good hands, and it’s okay to get excited about what might come next.