ROH Death Before Dishonor 2022 kickstarted a new era with a bang

This past weekend the wrestling world experienced its biggest news event since WCW and ECW folded and its remnants were scooped up by the WWF. Vince McMahon is out, and Stephanie (with Nick Khan) is in. Also Triple H is back and is overseeing creative. Old standbys like Kevin Dunn and Bruce Pritchard are probably about to be gone. One thing’s for sure: Business may or may not pick up (time always tells) but it is about to change forever.

The news of Vince’s departure from WWE greatly overshadowed the other big story of the weekend, which was the return of Ring of Honor.

Tony Khan purchased the struggling company several months ago and, in that time, has featured talent on AEW programming here and there, presumably while working out a deal with Warner Bros (the company that airs AEW Dynamite and Rampage) for a weekly TV show. AEW fans, who were at first overwhelmingly supportive of the move, have since grown mildly annoyed: The AEW roster is overstuffed and there aren’t enough hours in the week to showcase everyone, even with several key names out with injury. Added to that is the small but noticeable influx of ROH-branded talent like Johnathan Gresham, Samoa Joe, and Jay Lethal, and an already cramped TV playground has become even more cramped.

There’s a plan in place, and it will culminate in a weekly ROH show, but we’re not at the endgame yet. Right now we’re still in the early stages.

Fortunately, Tony Khan is not panicking. He’s working the process and is clearly confident that it will pay off when the time comes. In the meantime, Ring of Honor hosted their first PPV of the new era this weekend, Death Before Dishonor, an event so smoothly run, so tremendously packed with great wrestling, and so full of optimism for the future, you can’t help but overlook the frustrations over how bloated the AEW/ROH roster has been lately.

A new day has dawned for the once-fledgling promotion and if Death Before Dishonor is a tease at what the future holds, then rest assured the future is in good hands. Here are three key takeaways coming out of the PPV weekend.

1. WRESTLING IS STILL THE HEART AND SOUL OF THE COMPANY

AEW Forbidden Door 2022: Claudio Castagnoli

As one would expect from a Tony Khan-booked show, wrestling was 99% of the event. While WWE has emphasized stories outside of the ring over the in-ring product, and AEW has tried to strike more of a balance (with a tilt toward the wrestling side of things), Ring of Honor has always, historically, been a mat-first show. They were always a distant third in popularity behind WWE and TNA, being unable to secure the biggest young stars or the vets with name value. ROH was the place for up-and-coming nobodies to make a name for themselves, getting over solely by being some of the best wrestlers in the world. While overall in-ring skill has improved across the board in all promotions over the past twenty years, it’s nice to know you can turn on a ROH show expecting good wrestling and getting exactly that.

The new world champion and their TV Champion are two of the most respected pro wrestlers out there, Claudio Castagnoli and Samoa Joe. The Pure Champion is one of the most popular young wrestlers Tony Khan has on his payroll, Wheeler Yuta. The six-man tag titles are held by eccentric characters who can go in the ring, Dalton Castle and The Boys. And the tag champs are FTR, who put on one of the greatest tag team matches, if not one of the best wrestling matches period, not once but twice this year in a Ring of Honor ring vs The Briscoes. Whenever a weekly show finally launches you can be sure it will have all the quality wrestling fans of the promotion have come to expect going back twenty years.

And speaking of a weekly show…

2. THE FAN SUPPORT IS THERE FOR A WEEKLY PRODUCT

Roh Young Bucks

Is wrestling dead? Is the pseudo-sport no longer popular? I’m not going to pretend like wrestling ratings on TV are anything close to what they were when the WWF and WCW were going at it. Even with the decline in ratings across the board, where a popular show today might pull in a few million viewers vs a popular show in 1997 pulling in fifteen million viewers, the fact is Raw, Smackdown, and Dynamite aren’t bringing in the kind of mainstream attention that Raw and Nitro did back in the day. And yet, despite that, between Raw, Smackdown, and Dynamite, wrestling almost always has one, often two, and sometimes three of the number one shows of the night on TV every single week. Wrestling might not be mainstream like it was, but there is a stable foundation of fan support on which to build a successful promotion. There is room in the marketplace for a fourth big TV show (sorry Impact, you stopped being a big name when you lost Spike).

It was a legit worry that Tony Khan did nothing more than buy three letters and a tape library back in March. It was a reasonable worry that he would not be able to spin the ROH brand off into its own rebooted promotion. Now? Death Before Dishonor brought thousands of paying ticket holders to see the show, and it scored one of its biggest PPV buyrates in company history. This is no longer a struggling promotion running out of dimly lit bingo halls in front of a few hundred people. This is a company with top-notch production quality, professional management and talent, and enough paying customers to sustain a weekly show, something ROH has basically never had (running on Sinclair’s syndicated network was as bad as Impact being on Pop TV or Destination America or whatever channel they’re on now). If they end up on TBS or TNT on Tuesdays, going head-to-head with NXT 2.0, I think they will overtake it almost immediately. If they end up on a smaller channel like TruTV or something, I think they’ll have less success but will probably still end up being the most consistently popular show on that channel. Wherever they land, ROH will be fine. They’ve got the support.

And they’ve got something worth supporting, too…

3. TONY KHAN IS PUTTING TOGETHER A GREAT ROSTER OF TALENT

RoH Supercard of Honor XV: FTR and The Briscos hug

I said this in the first article about the ROH purchase, but Tony Khan has the chance to do what the WWF failed to do when they bought WCW: He can restart a promotion by leveraging the success of the original brand, spinning it off while respecting what made the newly acquired company different and beloved to its most dedicated fans, and supplementing the shortcomings with key talent that’s already on the roster. That’s what Vince failed to do with WCW. Instead of respecting the history of WCW, he belittled it. Instead of trying to woo WCW’s millions of fans, he mocked them as losers. Instead of creating a show with WCW mainstays and a few key WWF guys to fill in the gaps, he tossed out Booker T vs Buff Bagwell during the main-event of RAW to a chorus of boos and then instantly pivoted to an InVasion angle that ran out of steam almost as soon as it started. Why did it fail? Because it wasn’t a true company vs company feud. It wasn’t Rock vs DDP, Stone Cold vs Goldberg, nWo vs DX, Sting vs Undertaker, or any other dream matchup people salivated over. It wasn’t WCW vs WWF. It was Vince vs Steph/Shane. Vince didn’t want to invest in the big name WCW talent (at least not at the most critical point after the purchase) and the whole thing died on the vine.

Tony Khan, on the other hand, is building Ring of Honor around vets like Jay Lethal and the Briscoes. He’s being careful about non-ROH guys he’s moving over, like FTR and Wheeler Yuta, making sure they are extremely popular and extremely talented. To date, the only snag he’s run into has been with former ROH Champ Johnathan Gresham, who lost the title to Claudio and immediately asked for his release. Apparently he’s not happy about the direction Tony Khan is taking things, specifically with the plans for his own character. Gresham is a really good wrestler but he’s also very short and not very charismatic on the microphone. In the title match at the PPV, Claudio dwarfed him. It was like watching a dad wrestle his child. If Gresham thinks Tony should have given him more input on his future post title-run, that’s fair. If he thought he should have remained champ over Claudio I don’t know what to say to him. Claudio is the right man to carry the title in the beginning of the Khan era, in the same way a respected vet like Chris Jericho was the right man to first hold the AEW World Title.

RoH: Jonathan Gresham

When the promotion finally starts airing weekly we’ll get our first full look at what kind of roster the show will have. If the PPV is a hint, then we can expect a healthy mixture of talent familiar to ROH fans, talent beloved by AEW fans, and talent just starting out, who might not be well known, but who know how to wrestle. That’s the real legacy of Ring of Honor, and that aspect of the company remains alive and well.

Here’s to the future.

PS: If you missed FTR vs Briscoes II, you owe it to yourself to watch it. You can’t call yourself a fan of pro wrestling and not see that match, and when you see it you will be amazed, guaranteed.