2017 RING OF HONOR RETROSPECTIVE

By Luke Dorsch @Luke_Dorsch

What started out as a very uncertain year for the company turned out to be the most commercially successful year of the promotion’s history with an increase in PPV buys and attendance across the board. At Final Battle 2016 ROH crowned a new world’s champion in Kyle O’Reilly when he defeated his longtime nemesis Adam Cole, and as the show closed we were treated to a teaser of things to come with (at the time) the hottest act in professional wrestling Broken Matt Hardy making his Ring of Honor return via the big screen challenging the “Bucks of Youth” to a future match up and the show closed with “DELETE” chants echoing thru the Hammerstein Ballroom.

Less than a month later the ROH World Championship was defended at the Tokyo Dome on 4 January 2017 at Wrestle Kingdom 12 when Adam Cole was given his rematch against Kyle O’Reilly and in a result that surprised many of us fans Adam Cole defeated his former (and future) tag partner O’Reilly cleanly in the middle of the ring becoming the first ever three time ROH World Champion. O’Reilly would shock the ROH audience by not re-signing with the promotion and would take a brief hiatus from in-ring action returning a few months later taking independent dates such as PWG and AAW until his eventual signing with NXT later in the year.

On 19 January Matt Jackson confirmed via his Twitter that he and his brother Nick would be facing and defending the ROH Tag Team Championship against the TNA Tag Team Champions The Broken Hardy’s on 1 April at Supercard of Honor XI.

ROH would return to Japan for the second annual “Honor Rising” two day show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo on 26 and 27 February 2017. There would be three title matches at the shows, Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, and SANADA) defended the NEVER Openweight six man tag titles against Delirious, Tiger Mask, and Jushin Liger on night one; while on night two Hiroki Goto would defend the NEVER Openweight Championship against Punishment Martinez (Punisher Martinez as he is billed in NJPW) and Adam Cole would defend the ROH World Championship against Yoshi-Hashi. The biggest thing to take away from night one is the initial dissention in the ranks for the Bullet Club concerning Kenny Omega and Adam Cole who were partnered together in the main event against the Briscoe Brothers. The main event on night 2 was the eight man tag team main event which saw The Bullet Club (Young Bucks, Cody, and Kenny Omega) facing CHAOS (Briscoe Brothers, Kazuchika Okada, and Will Osprey).

4 March was one of my favorite ROH shows of the year which was the sixth annual Manhattan Mayhem emanating once again from the Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC. Sonjay Dutt made a rare ROH appearance facing Marty Scurll for the Television Championship in a pretty solid match as well as the match of the night which saw Dragon Lee facing Will Osprey. These two tore the house down in a hard hitting aerial masterpiece that left the fans clamoring for more from both men. Tag Champs the Young Bucks defended against the team of Jay White and Lio Rush in another solid match, but the real story is what happened afterwards. After a successful title defense from the Bucks the house lights dimmed and an eerily familiar piano tune played thru the arena and when the lights came back standing face to face with the Bucks of Youth were the Broken Hardy’s. Brother Nero and Broken Matt made it to the “Honorable Ring” (we knew they’d come) and the fans exploded. After dueling “DELETE” and “Suck It” chants the challenge was made and accepted and we were treated to an impromptu title match. After going for nearly 15 minutes in a real fast paced hard hitting match already once that night The Young Bucks had the odds stacked against them as the TNA Tag Champs continued their “EXPEDITION of Gold”. A Twist of Fate by Broken Matt and a swanton from Brother Nero onto Matt Jackson and the Hardy’s could add one more promotion’s tag titles to their ever growing collection of belts. That wasn’t the only debut that night, after Adam Cole successfully defended the World Championship from his future “Undisputed Era” partner Bobby Fish a beat down commenced on the downed Fish. Who would make the save? New York’s own Bully Ray appeared and choke slammed Cole brutally thru a table as his Bullet Club brethren looked on in fear.

Six days later on 10 March in Las Vegas, NV was the 15th Anniversary Pay-Per-View, which was a pretty solid show and the stand out matches in my opinion were Jay Lethal taking on Bobby Fish, the Television Title Match with champion Marty Scurll defending against Lio Rush (his final ROH PPV), ROH Tag Champions The Broken Hardy’s successfully defending the titles by taking on Roppongi Vice and The Young Bucks in a Las Vegas Street Fight in one of the most memorable matches of the entire year. Tables, Ladders, Tacks, Chairs, etc. were used and if you haven’t seen it do yourself a favor and take the time to watch. The Main Event saw Christopher Daniels winning the Ring of Honor World Championship by defeating Adam Cole. The next night at the tv tapings we saw the beginning of the angle involving Cole and the Bucks where Adam Cole, angered by the Young Bucks not assisting him in retaining his belt attempted to fire Matt and Nick from the Bullet Club, a decision he would later regret…ahhh KayFabe.

The day before WrestleMania 1 April 2017 in Lakeland, FL saw another solid ROH PPV, former ROH World Champion Adam Cole took on the ROH World Television Champion Marty Scurll in a very solid match, Jay Lethal defeated Cody in a violent Texas Bullrope Match, and in the match of the night The Young Bucks regained their ROH World Tag Team Championship from the Broken Hardy’s in a Ladder Match in what would be Matt and Jeff Hardy’s final match for the promotion as they would have a surprise return to WWE the next night at WrestleMania in another ladder match.

May would kick off the War of the Worlds tour kicking off in Toronto followed by Dearborn, New York for the Pay per View, and culminating in Philadelphia at the TV Tapings. The Toronto show at the time was one of the fastest sell outs in ROH history as it marked the ROH return of Kenny Omega. Omega and the Young Bucks headlined the Toronto show when they faced The Addiction and Tanahashi. ROH World Champion Christopher Daniels kept busy as he defended against Matt Taven in Dearborn, MI and facing both Cody and Jay Lethal in New York in a Triple Threat match. Will Osprey and Jay White may have had the best match of the entire tour as they locked up at the PPV in New York. The only 3 time ROH World Champion Adam Cole bid farewell to Ring of Honor during the War of the Worlds Tour as well; facing his “dream” opponent Hiroshi Tanahashi at the PPV in New York, and as the crowd was sending Cole off to a hail of “Thank You Cole” the leader of the Bullet Club appeared on the big screen and expressed his own remorse for not being able to attend the show in person but assured everyone that Cole’s absence in the Bullet Club would not be felt for long. As the Superkliq embraced in the ring the house lights dimmed and when the lights came on the newest member of the club was in the ring…ROH TV Champion “The Villain” Marty Scurll. The Bucks Super kicked their former friend and lifted his lifeless body up as Marty smashed his brand new Bullet Club umbrella over the face of Adam Cole, effectively firing Adam from the Bullet Club. Cole would make one more appearance for the promotion two days later at the television tapings in Philadelphia, facing and losing to Hangman Page in a singles match, then facing Marty Scurll in Philadelphia Street Fight Dark Match, thus ending the run of one of the most successful wrestler’s to ever work for Ring of Honor. One more thing of note from the War of the World TV tapings was the big TV title change, when KUSHIDA surprisingly defeated longtime ROH TV champion Marty Scurll.

Just about a month later was Best in the World 2017 in Lowell, MA. This was another pretty solid PPV for ROH, with the headliner going to Champion Christopher Daniels defending against Cody, and we could all see the writing on the wall for what it was. Daniels was the place holder champion or transition champion if you will to bridge the gap from Adam Cole to Cody Rhodes. The Fallen Angel has been on the ROH roster since basically the beginning and he should have been the champion well over a decade ago taking a back seat to guys like Samoa Joe, Low-Ki, Bryan Danielson, and Austin Aries. So, the least they could do was let Daniels run with the ball until Cody was established enough in the Bullet Club to take Adam Cole’s spot. Another title changed hands at this show, the trio of Dalton Castle and the Boys defeated the 6 Man Tag Champs of Bully Ray and The Briscoe’s, in what was essentially a handicap match with Dalton working 90% of the match for his team. Miscommunication between Bully Ray and The Briscoe’s is what led to the title changing hands and also was the start of a feud between them which would eventually culminate later in the year at Final Battle. Marty Scurll received his rematch with KUSHIDA for the TV title, but KUSHIDA retained with the hover board lock, and Chuck Taylor made his debut with the promotion as he and his partner Trent were surprise entrants in the Young Bucks and War Machine Tag Team Championship match.

The next time we would see ROH stars in action would be for the New Japan G1 Special in Long Beach, CA when we saw Jay Lethal and Hangman Page take part in the IWGP US title tournament. Lethal would defeat Page in the first round then go on to face eventual winner Kenny Omega in the second. Also on Night 1 of the special ROH World Champion would face IWGP Heavyweight Champion as Cody and Kazuchika Okada would lock up. Okada defeated Cody to no one’s surprise in an ok match.

On the September 5th edition of ROH television ROH World Champion Cody unveiled the “ring” of honor. It’s an actual ring resembling the old school ROH Championship belt that he began wearing at all ROH appearances from that point on. Getting wrestler’s and fans alike to “kiss the ring”.

September 22nd was Death Before Dishonor XV from Sam’s Town Live in Las Vegas, NV. The matches that really stood out for me were the Las Vegas Street Fight between Jay White and Punishment Martinez, the Last Man Standing Match between Silas Young and Jay Lethal, and The TV Championship match when long time ROH star Kenny King would finally win a singles strap by defeating KUSHIDA in what would be the performance of Kenny King’s career. In addition the long teased heel turn of Jay Briscoe would finally happen as Bully Ray and the Briscoe’s were defeated by the Hung Bucks and Jay attacked and laid out Bully Ray in a brutal assault with…of course a table after the match. Later in the card, the Bucks would return to defend the tag titles against their longtime nemeses the MCMG and in quite the upset, the MCMG would pick up the win and become the new tag team champions. One other thing of note was the first U.S. appearance of Minoru Suzuki in 25 years as he and Cody squared off for the ROH title in a completely forgettable match.

The best ROH shows of the year in my opinion came next which had the Global Wars tour running in Buffalo, NY, Pittsburgh, PA, Columbus, OH, and Villa Park, IL. The Punishment Martinez and Will Osprey match from Buffalo was fantastic as was the main event featuring The Elite facing The Kingdom for the ROH 6 man titles. In Pittsburgh the matches that stood out were the fantastic Jay Lethal and Jay White matchup, and the Luxury Trio of Cody, Kenny Omega, and Marty Scurll defending the ROH 6 man titles against Chaos members Toru Yano, Will Osprey, and Yoshi-Hashi. My personal favorite was the show in Columbus which had Jay Lethal facing Hiromu Takahashi in one of if not the best match of the tour, Colt Cabana and Kenny King facing Marty Scurll and Adam Page and The Elite facing The Best Friends and Flip Gordon. Finally, in Chicago we had the first ever meeting between Colt Cabana and Toru Yano, Will Osprey against Flip Gordon in the match that officially made Flip Gordon, and in the main event IWGP US Champion Kenny Omega defeated long-time rival Yoshi-Hashi in an IWGP US Title match.

Finally returning to the Hammerstein Ballroom was Final Battle 2017 the last ROH show of the year and the main event going into this year’s Final Battle was Cody defending the World Championship against Dalton Castle. These two have had quite the bit of history going back to Supercard of Honor when Castle was defeated by then champion Christopher Daniels, and after the match Cody entered the ring and as Dalton so eloquently put it “He kicked me in the dick….the dick.” Later Cody would pose as one of Castle’s boys and once again hit him with a low blow in the dick. Cody would pack Dalton’s Boys up into shipment containers and “ship” them away. The Boys would be off of ROH Television and shows for almost 2 months, finally Castle would get a measure of revenge and at Global Wars Chicago as Cody was taking pictures with fans, a masked fan entered the ring only to unmask and reveal himself to be Dalton Castle, who later issued a challenge which was accepted by Cody and the two would meet for the title at Final Battle. The match itself was nothing special; but all the stuff around the match made it feel cool. Cody was now blonde, he wore a Jedi-like hooded robe to the ring, Cody bladed then was busted open legitimately in the match, the Boys returned, and Dalton Castle won the strap.

On the undercard we saw Matt Taven defeat Will Osprey in one of the night’s best matches, in my favorite match of the night we saw Jay Lethal defeat Marty Scurll, and the feud between Bully Ray and the Briscoes finally came to a head when Bully Ray recruited his longtime friend and ECW alumni Tommy Dreamer to tag with him at Final Battle. It was a New York Street Fight which resembled an old school ECW match until….Dreamer and Bully broke out the light saber’s…it also happened to be the day that Star Wars was released in theaters. The match ended when the Briscoe’s put Bully thru a table for the win. In a match that got a lot of people talking, 6 Man Tag Champs The Young Bucks and Adam Page known as “The Hung Bucks” defeated the team of “Flip’s Army” Flip Gordon, Dragon Lee, and Titan in a fast lucha style match.

Looking back 2017 was a time for change for ROH, as the promotion lost its head booker Adam Pearce, its entire commentary team (Kevin Kelly, Steve Corino, and Nigel McGuinness) two of which went to WWE and Kelly went to work for NJPW full time. They lost Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish, Adam Cole, Lio Rush, and Donovan Dijack all to NXT/WWE. Others decided to remain on the independent scene like Veda Scott or work with Impact like Moose. Any way you look at it 2017 was about rebuilding, and boy did they rebuild, with A LOT of help from The Young Bucks and their You Tube show Being the Elite. More ROH storylines were weaved around the Bucks and their You Tube show than on ROH Television itself. The entire gimmick with Adam Cole, Marty Scurll, and Kenny Omega was played out on Being the Elite much like the Bullet Club “Invasion” of WWE’s Monday Night RAW and the “Where’s Hangman” WWE stooge gimmick. 2017 ended up being the biggest year in ROH’s history both in attendance and Pay Per View Sales. Not to mention merchandise and exposure. Whether they sell out a 10,000 seat arena or not (which they very well could if a certain American Dragon were to make an appearance for the company) this new year of 2018 looks to be even bigger and better for ROH and I as I have been since the promotions inception am proud to call myself a fan of Ring of Honor, maybe forever doomed to be number two, but for the ROH faithful they’re always the Best in the World.

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