I think that most of ROH’s problems stem from two main issues, one of which is creative and the other is more corporate-philosophical.
The major creative issue, I think, is an inability to tell anything other than the absolutely most simplistic and basic of stories. How many of ROH’s feuds over the past few years has it required more than two sentences to summarize? Almost everything has been “I don’t like you so we fight” or “I want your title so we fight.” The only ones that have even needed two sentences to summarize are Cole vs. O’Reilly O’Reilly (“Adam is jealous of Kyle so he betrays him and vows that he will never win the title. Then Adam wins the title to try to keep it away from Kyle”) and Silas vs. Castle (“Silas doesn’t like the way Dalton and the Boys live. He wins the Boys in a match to try to make them live his way but they choose Dalton in the end”). Maybe the only feud with any more depth than that was Cole vs. Lethal, and even there I think it wasn’t ROH so much as the wrestlers themselves that did most of the work in getting the nuance of that feud (i.e. the role of anger) across.
(Yes, there is also the Corino/Whitmer/Sullivan/Martinez/Cody bullsh*t, but that doesn’t count because no one could possibly explain that if they were given a trillion sentences to do it in).
Don’t get me wrong: this sort of thing isn’t bad all of the time. It’s okay to occasionally have a feud like this. Lethal vs. Briscoe and Lethal vs. Roddy are excellent examples. But having feuds that are this simple all of the time makes the product feel like it lacks any sort of depth… and I do mean any. The promotion feels like it is being booked at a first-grade level. Their stories are just the same thing over and over again, and not just in terms of the same angles up and down the card, time after time, but ninety-nine times out of a hundred they show an inability to understand how to make the events of the story matter. This, itself, causes several major problems:
1. The stories don’t feel like they ever move forward. The idea with The Addiction seems to be to turn them babyface by having them be humbled by Ladder War. That’s a great idea. They started out by having them show others respect verbally. Then they went on a losing streak, and after each loss they would reluctantly shake hands with their opponents. The problem is that it’s been four months now (thirteen shows, counting each TV taping as one show) and it really doesn’t feel like they’re progressed at all since day one. Compare this to Jimmy Loves Lacey, where it took them eight shows (two months) to get from “Colt is f*cking Lacey, making Jimmy both sad and jealous” to “Colt is now being an ass to the already depressed Jimmy” to “Colt feels bad about the way he and Lacey are treating Jimmy” to “Colt treats Jimmy more nicely and tries to get Lacey to do the same” to “Colt dumps Lacey because of the way she treats Jimmy and tries to get Jimmy to see that she is a bad person and not worth his love” to “Jimmy attacks Colt for insulting Lacey.” See the difference?
How many times did anything The Cabinet said or did ever matter? And yet they kept having pointless match and cutting pointless promos on every show, doing the same thing. How long did Daniels run around claiming that there was a “conspiracy” against him and Kaz before Nigel actually did anything to shut him up? Or the whole Cedric Alexander “unsafe working environment” angle? How long were ACH and Sydal teaming together doing absolutely nothing? How many times did The Addiction jump MCMG after a match and hit Sabin with Celebrity Rehab? How long was Prince Nana giving out envelopes for before anything ever came of it? How many times did Corino almost stab a jobber with the golden spike? It felt like it happened on every show for months. Even War Machine vs. Lee & Taylor was just them fighting over and over and over again.
The result of this is inevitably that people stop caring because they lose faith that anything will ever happen, and that’s a major problem because that’s when people tune out.
2. Related to the above point but separate from it is the fact that ROH’s creative doesn’t seem to know how to make the events in a story matter. Silas won the Boys from Dalton, but we never saw it affect Dalton at all and then they just went back with Dalton and the fighting continued until the feud was booked to end. Cabana turned on Dalton so they had a match which Dalton won, and yet they continue to feud, with Dalton costing Cabana matches. This is bad enough on its own, but the real problem comes when you let it trickle down to the most basic building blocks of a story: the matches and their results.
Take Jay White, for example. His “story” seems to be that he is a great prospect who keeps getting big wins and hasn’t been pinned, made to submit, knocked out, or even counted out or disqualified yet. Well it’s been seven months of this. How has this kid not yet earned a singles title shot? Or Dalton and Cabana breaking up because Cabana doesn’t think that he can have success with Dalton as his partner… and yet they have won two of their last three matches when Colt decides this… which he does immediately after a match in which Dalton pinned a guy in less than a minute.
Or how many times have guys been given title shots or been put in #1 contendership matches even though they’ve been losing recently? How many dirty finishes have we seen that are not followed up on in any way? When the results stop mattering, then there is no reason to care about them. Most ROH cards nowadays just feel like they are matches randomly thrown together with finishes that won’t matter. Even if you book random stipulations it doesn’t make the show feel important enough to go run out and buy. You can partially overcome this with an extremely high workrate, but ROH doesn’t do that anymore, and even if they did, that will only help you so much when you’re putting out almost forty live-event DVDs a year (and that assumes you are mixing up your talent pool well to create interesting match-ups, which ROH isn’t).
3. When all you are booking is “I don’t like you, therefore we shall fight” you really have no way to integrate new talent into the product. There’s only so many times someone can just show up to fight with someone else, and even if this is the case, it often makes it hard to care about the new guy. Lee and Taylor got away with it because they’re physically impressive, and White and Kamaitachi because they had buzz from Japan (and ROH did something on the website to make a big deal about White). New talent nowadays almost exclusively enters ROH via getting booked in the Top Prospect Tournament, at which point the winner and maybe one other guy are ever seen again. Maybe a few of the others are randomly brought back, but no effort is ever made to do anything with any of them. Even the TPT winner never does anything after the tournament. Lio Rush is just a guy. After two years Donovan Dijak is still just a guy. Will Ferrara feels like has been around forever and is still just a guy. The only other guys I can think of aside from the aforementioned Lee, Taylor, White, and Kamaitachi to come into the promotion without going through the TPT and then disappearing for a while are the New Kingdom, and they just come across as Taven clones. This makes it basically impossible for fans to get behind new talent. Compare this to the rise of a guy like Darby Allin in Evolve. Or even Chris Dickinson and Jaka. Fans got to watch these guys on a quest to try to earn a WWN contract, so when they finally did so, the people cared.
4. Similarly, when you have a bunch of undercard guys not really doing anything because you don’t want the whole card to be “I don’t like you, therefore we are fighting” angles, it makes it very difficult for fans to care about those guys, and the more someone languishes in the mid-card without doing anything of note, the worse that becomes. ACH, Sydal, Cedric, Dijak, Rush, and Ferrara have all spent the large majority of their time in ROH not really doing much of anything. If you don’t do anything with them the people won’t get behind them and as a result you never have any real buzz about the “next guy” in the company. Back in 2012 the feeling was that if/when a guy like Davey, Roddy, or Steen left, you could push an Adam Cole or Kyle O’Reilly into their place and things would be fine. Nowadays that feeling isn’t there. We know that guys like Rush and Page and Dijak and Dalton and Kenny King have the ability to step up and fill one of those slots, but when you’re watching the product it doesn’t feel like they’re ready to take that next step (Jay White might be the one exception here).
Not only does this leave ROH without an underlying buzz of its own, but when one of the wrestlers have had enough and have decided that they want to try their fortunes somewhere else like ACH and Cedric have done and like the rumors are that Dijak will do, that creates the overall feel that ROH isn’t the place guys go to get “made” anymore.
5. When all you’re focused on is guys fighting, you never get any of the little detail segments that push the angle home from a different direction. For example, a few weeks before the big Lethal vs. Briscoe match, they booked show where the gimmick was that there would be two three-ways on the undercard, with the winner of one getting a TV Title shot and the winner of the other getting a world title shot. They just kind of… announced the matches and they happened and that was that. But what if they announced the one for the world title first (they had been doing similar things to set world title shots recently) but then had TV Champion Jay Lethal insist that he was the top champion in the company and thus he could do anything Jay Briscoe could do, so he demands that they also book a similar three-way to set up a challenger for him on that show. Then, on the show, when it is time for the TV Title match to go on in the semi-main event, have Lethal come out and demand that he be given the main event spot instead because he is the top champion. Jay Briscoe would then come out and be a good fighting babyface champion and say he doesn’t care if he is the main event or not; he only cares that he gets to defend his title, and have Briscoe agree to be the semi-main and let Lethal be the main event. Segments like that are little things, but those are the type of segments that make people stand up and take notice of how crisp the booking is.
6. When all you’re doing is “we don’t like each other, therefore we are fighting” it is tough to have someone doing two things at once because, ultimately, both things are going to be the same. This makes for shows that feel either repetitive (because it’s the same guys fighting each other all the time (how many times did we see Sabin, Shelley, and/or Jay White in the same match with Daniels, Kaz, or Kamaitachi between February and October?), or unimportant (because you’ve made the results of the matches not matter). It also makes the title picture much less interesting if you’ve only got one or two viable challengers at a time. With the exception of the last three months of this year, when was the last time that it felt like ROH was building to more than one world title match at the same time? Early 2014? This makes the product a lot less exciting.
All of these things, in their own ways, contribute to the product not having any buzz, and it’s buzz that draws eyes. In terms of consistently good wrestling, ROH is usually right up there with the best, but promotions like Evolve, LU, and occasionally even New Japan and (less frequently) WWE manage to make their matches feel more important- to make their shows feel more must-see. In terms of in-ring quality I’d put ROH’s 2015 up against any year any promotion has ever had, but no one was paying attention if it didn’t involve New Japan or it wasn’t a PPV because ROH failed at making the matches feel important.
The other big problem that I think ROH has is the corporate-philosophical one, and that problem is that ROH doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to be. The way they hype themselves up is like they’re a televised version of the must-see, awesome workrate super-indy of old; the “real” wrestling fan’s alternative to yucky WWE sports entertainment and TNA’s Russo-mania, but they don’t book themselves that way at all. Instead they book the TV as an odd hybrid of an old territorial show where it’s all about “hey, wrestling fans! Come see ROH live when it’s in your town!” except that the matches they put on their TV are building to the PPV instead of the local shows like you would in a modern televised promotion… except that the presentation is still stuck in that 1970’s friendly “come see us live in your town” atmosphere, so a lot of things feel kind of out of place.
Then there are those live shows which, with the exception of a few major shows, instead of booking them to be relevant like an indy promotion or a territory would, they book them to be mostly irrelevant like WWE would. Meanwhile, they try to promote them like they’re New Japan “road to” shows with usually mix-and-match undercards and one big main event tag match PWG spot-fest that they’re counting on to both draw the house and send the people home happy after an almost forcibly bland night of random twelve-minute matches, and giving them the “tour” names. But then, instead of having them either only for the live crowd or using that as the TV show to build up the PPV like New Japan does, ROH instead tapes them for DVD/VOD release and tries to sell them to you as these exciting nights of must-see action like the ROH of old would... but then they do a pathetically half-hearted job of pushing them in a way that convinces you that they are worth seeing (instead their efforts all go into coloring books, backpacks, and Cheeseburger/Women of Honor shirts).
Then they’ve got these contracts that they want everyone to sign that seem fairly exclusive, except that, as the PWG situation has shown, ROH has fairly little leverage as far as making people feel like they should be picking ROH over everywhere else. They pretend that they can be WWE but they have TNA’s leverage, and a chunk of their sales pitch revolves around them being a feeder system for New Japan… but one with limited opportunity due to the limited number of spots New Japan has for gaijin. Then the booking comes into play again and they book people to progress so slowly that it feels like these guys haven’t done anything for years when they could have been spending time being used well in Evolve or making a name for themselves and trying to get noticed on the mid-sized indies that are getting buzz now like AAW and Beyond so people become hesitant to sign the contracts, which results in them being booked into a further purgatory because ROH doesn’t seem to feel comfortable with using someone regularly on a per-appearance deal and giving them any sort of an angle. This results in them limiting their talent pool. Then they try to be WWE about it with these “tryout camps” but 90% of the guys getting picked up seem to be guys who have some connection to the New England area- i.e. they’re often getting signed because they know someone rather than because they’re a talent that ROH should be aggressively trying to sign.
Quite frankly, ROH needs a change in leadership because the current leadership, both corporate and wrestling-wise, seems to have no vision.
Tell it to the world!!
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Hold #712: ARM BAR!
FIP in 2005
PWG All-Star Weekend V: Night 2
DGUSA Open the Northern Gate
CHIKARA Hot Off the Griddle
FIP in 2005
PWG All-Star Weekend V: Night 2
DGUSA Open the Northern Gate
CHIKARA Hot Off the Griddle
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