To be perfectly honest with you, I can't see how any observer of the wrestling profession can objectively say, without hesitation, that 2012 was anything other than an outright awful year for the business as a whole. Virtually every company at every level of the business spent the year being crippled either by a bad economy, a shrinking number of venues, waning fan interest, a loss of talent (either to injury, or to another company), or due simply to their own laziness or incompetence. From the silver stage of the WWE to the Indy show at your local armory, just about everyone took a beating in 2012, and now, we're going to talk about it, company by company, starting with the internet's sacred cow - Ring of Honor.
Once upon a time, there was a wrestling promotion that made its name by respecting the honor and tradition of the sport. While it wasn't always as popular as that flashy TV show the McMahons produced, it held its own as a regional promotion, catering to a very dedicated base of fans. Unfortunately, as almost always seems to be the case with regional promotions that try to expand, a certain amount of financial insecurity comes into play. The company did what it could to try and appeal to a broader fanbase, getting a spot on a fledgling network, and, all seemed well on the surface. Behind the scenes, meanwhile, the company continued to lose money, despite an overall increase in attendance, ticket sales and the like. Production costs, as well as the need to compete against other promotions in order to keep and secure talent, were slowly but surely going to put the company out of business for good. Then, a savior comes into the fray, as a broadcasting company decides to buy the company outright, for the intended purpose of providing original content for their various television networks. Unfortunately, the broadcasting company, not really knowing how to run a wrestling promotion, nor able to work with those who could, eventually drove away the promotion's fans with poor booking, terrible production, malfunctioning pay per views, and, of course, wild publicity stunts that end up backfiring in the company's face.
Reading that last paragraph, most of you would assume that I'm talking about Jim Crocket Promotions, the company that would go on to become the ill-fated World Championship Wrestling, owned by the broadcasting conglomerate, Time Warner. And, until 2012, you'd be right. Unfortunately, now that 2012 has passed, and we have seen just how well the Sinclair Broadcasting Group has run Ring of Honor since buying it from Cary Silken in the summer of 2011, it's safe to say that ROH is now the new WCW, much to the chagrin of every internet wrestling fan worth his weight in Daniel Bryan merchandise.
So, exactly what went wrong with Ring of Honor? Hell, what
didn't go wrong with Ring of Honor this year? It begins with Davey Richards, the man who won the Ring of Honor Championship the night Sinclair officially took over as the new owner. Once considered to be the heir-apparent to Bryan Danielson, Richards spent the majority of 2010 being able to do no wrong in the eyes of wrestling fans. Coming off a strong run as half of the championship duo, the American Wolves, Davey spent 2010 as the wrestling folk hero who stood up against the corporate sell-out Tyler Black, who was just about to abandon ROH for greener pastures as Seth Rollins in WWE. Richards was even originally set to claim the ROH title from then-champion Roderick Strong at that year's
Final Battle iPPV, until someone stepped in and said that'd be a bad idea. Whoever that was, you can thank them for firing that first shot at ROH, because boy howdy was Davey Richards not a popular guy come 2012.
Ring of Honor has, unfortunately, had a very bad habit in recent years for pulling the trigger far too late on a guy when they're looking to make him a champion. In fact, the poster boy for ROH's trigger-shyness is the aforementioned Tyler Black, who spent the majority of 2009 failing to win the ROH Title from Nigel McGuiness, Jerry Lynn, and Austin Aries. By the time Black finally won the title from Aries in 2010, it was too late. He had already been branded a choke-artist by that point. When the time came and ROH finally saw fit to pull the trigger, fans turned on Black, all but forcing him to turn heel shortly before leaving ROH altogether to sign with WWE. With Davey Richards, however, it wasn't just that his big title win came too late, already coming up short at
Final Battle 2010 against legendary choke-artist Roderick Strong, who most ROH fans still believe only became champion because Davey Richards was booked in Japan and wasn't available to face Tyler Black in his final ROH match at
Glory By Honor IX. No, Davey's win had to come at the expense of his former tag team partner, Eddie Edwards, as well. Eddie Edwards, the first person to ever hold all 3 ROH championships, a man who fans were just beginning to accept as a top guy after defeating Roderick Strong for the title at
Manhattan Mayhem IV.
Just to make matters worse, ROH drags out the feud between Richards and Edwards into 2012 with an angle that, were you new to ROH at the time you saw it, you'd swear that Richards was supposed to be the heel. For those who didn't see it, Richards basically ditches ROH for a while after winning the title to work in Japan for a bit, which pissed fans off because he wasn't going to be in New York for the annual
Death Before Dishonor show to defend his title. Then, when he finally comes back, he gets all butthurt because Eddie Edwards, the former champ, actually wants a rematch. Oh, and for some reason, Davey also loses his sh*t because Eddie Edwards dared to train with former NWA Champion, Dan "The Beast" Severn. Therefore, fans who actually followed ROH before their debut on the SBG networks naturally assumed that Eddie Edwards was going to turn on Davey at the 2011
Final Battle. Meanwhile, for fans watching ROH for the first time on SBG, Davey Richards came off, quite frankly, like a selfish dick who didn't like the idea that his buddy actually wanted to, you know, be the World Champion. Fast forward to
Final Battle, Davey retains, Eddie doesn't turn, and yet, the issue continues. Why? Because Davey's real-life training partner, Kyle O'Reilly, doesn't like being in a tag team with Adam Cole, and thus, turns heel on Cole at the beginning of 2012. O'Reilly, the heel, then teams with, you guessed it, Davey Richards, who, by the way, is still supposed to be the good guy in all of this. Meanwhile, Adam Cole befriends Eddie Edwards, who's also still a babyface. Davey, being the good guy he is, takes issue with this, because how dare Eddie Edwards associate with the guy that his workout buddy beat up! Thus, the team of Richards and O'Reilly face the team of Cole and Edwards at ROH's 10th Anniversary Show, and no one, and I mean no one gave a right sh*t. Why? Because, for some reason, we're supposed to support Davey, boo O'Reilly, feel bad for Adam Cole, and think that, somehow, Eddie Edwards betrayed the almighty Davey, even though O'Reilly was the one being a jerk. If your brain just forced itself to reboot trying to figure all that out, don't worry, you're hardly alone.
Obviously, after all of that, you'd imagine that Davey Richards wasn't exactly Mr. Popular among the ROH faithful. With the Davey Richards Backlash in full swing just two months into the new year, a new element came into play - Kevin Steen, who had spent the previous year looking in to ROH from the outside, having "lost his career" against El Generico at the 2010
Final Battle. Over that year, Steen made it a point to let everyone within the sound of his voice know just how much he loved the new ROH Champion, Davey Richards. In fact, in the many, many times Kevin Steen's voice was allowed to be heard in 2011, he made it abundantly clear that he believed that Davey Richards was a hypocrite who sold out Gabe Sapolsky and EVOLVE in particular for more money and a guaranteed title run, that despite his big talk against Jim Cornette in his most recent Highspots shoot interview, Davey did nothing but kiss Cornette's ass, that he was a jerk and a bully to people in the locker room, and so on. If there was an evil thing to be done in the world, Kevin Steen accused Davey Richards of it, and despite being a heel in Ring of Honor, leading a group known as SCUM, with the expressed purpose of killing the company outright, Kevin Steen quickly became one of the most beloved figures in all of Independent Wrestling in 2012.
Now, imagine being the Creative Guy in ROH for a second. You have a babyface champion your fanbase has clearly rejected, and a heel contender that gets a hero's welcome every time someone hands him a microphone. It's February, and someone pitches you a plan to hold off this fight until December. Now, assuming that you're not retarded, you likely thought that idea was nuts. Even if you could hold that fight off for another 10 months, there's no way the characters could remain in their current roles. They'd both need to be turned, and if you want to build towards
Final Battle, the best way to do that is to have them swap roles, kind of like how Steve Austin and Bret Hart did at
WrestleMania 13. Sure, you could do that other ways, but it'd be kind of stupid, especially since the only guy you can really turn Kevin Steen babyface on is Davey Richards. Nobody wants to see Kevin Steen fight Roderick Strong, and you already killed the Eddie Edwards issue to death, so you can't use him to turn Richards. Meanwhile, the fans want to see this match. They want to see Kevin Steen and Davey Richards beat the holy hell out of one another. They love Steen and hate Davey. So, at some point, you have to give the fans that match if you want to make any money off of this. Plus, the Davey backlash is hurting business. Fans don't respect him as the champion. They don't want to pay to see him. They do seem to want to pay to see Kevin Steen. So, you're the booker - what do you do?
Here's what ROH did - they had Kevin Steen kill Davey Richards for the title at
Border Wars in May, just as soon as they realized that a good match with Michael Elgin over WrestleMania weekend wasn't going to save Davey's reign from the fan backlash. Then they had Steen kill Richards even deader at
Best in the World 2012 on iPPV, writing Davey out for the next several months so he could go wrestle in Japan, bury Jim Cornette and the ROH locker room in a Highspots shoot interview, and (allegedly) rip-off small-town promoters in Iowa because he didn't want to work a singles match that day.
That, of course, is not to say that Kevin Steen's reign has gone swimmingly. With the hope of a Davey Richards rematch at
Final Battle beyond dead, ROH had something of a problem finding a suitable replacement. Michael Elgin, while having perhaps the single best year of his career in ROH, wasn't seen as a strong enough draw, and thus had his big match with Steen for the title scheduled at
Glory By Honor. Potential prospects were made of Television Champion Adam Cole, as well as former tag champ, Rhett Titus, neither of which went anywhere. Former champion Eddie Edwards has since reunited with his fellow American Wolf, Davey Richards, taking him out of the running. Jim Cornette even managed to sweet-talk Matt Hardy into ROH, teasing the possibility of a match with Steen at
Final Battle, only to see Matt go after Adam Cole, instead. And then, there's Jay Lethal. Considered the favorite to fill-in now that the Richards rematch was off the table, Lethal saw his chances at
Final Battle die in New Jersey, when the
Killer Instinct event ended amidst controversy after the Steen/Lethal ended in a no contest following an incident between Steen and Lethal's parents. The finish, allegedly designed to set the stage for
Final Battle, backfired, as fans pelted the ring with garbage and demanded refunds. The incident went over so poorly that it even managed to get Jim Cornette relieved of his duties, both on-screen and off, giving former ROH competitor Delirious full creative reign over the company. Eventually, the decision was made to bring back El Generico, Steen's former partner-turned-rival who had left ROH after a short-lived Television title reign he was likely only given because Christopher Daniels was leaving the promotion for TNA. Surely looking to cash in on the past, the Steen/Generico match at
Final Battle would, of course, be a Ladder War, a stipulation Steen and Generico had helped make famous as a tag team against both the Briscoes and the American Wolves. And, of course, with
Final Battle being Generico's only scheduled appearance for Ring of Honor for the conceivable time being, it was only a forgone conclusion that Kevin Steen would retain his championship to end the year. Now, with no prospective contenders on the horizon, Kevin Steen walks into 2013 as a champion with nowhere to go but down, possibly taking Ring of Honor down with him unless, by some miracle, the ship can be righted.
Unfortunately, Ring of Honor's woes in 2012 weren't all centered on a failed creative direction. In fact, its most notable problems had nothing to do with the quality of the product at all. For most fans in 2012, Ring of Honor wasn't about the Davey Richards backlash or Kevin Steen's lame-duck title reign, it was about the fact that their damn iPPVs never f*cking worked! Throughout 2012, technical problems have plagued Ring of Honor's iPPVs, beginning over the WrestleMania weekend, when iPPV provider GoFightLive essentially dropped the ball on ROH, and fans missed out on massive portions of the
Showdown in the Sun events. Sinclair Broadcasting then took the initiative, following
Showdown in the Sun, to set up its own iPPV server, similar to efforts made a year earlier by rival promoters Gabe Sapolsky and Sal Hamaoui, and their iPPV service, WWNLive.com. It seemed like a smart move. After all, WWNLive has gone on to become the premier name in wrestling iPPV, and the go-to provider for wrestling promotions looking to draw internet fans to their products. Surely a broadcasting company like Sinclair could cobble together something along those lines, right? Not really. Over the next six months, the sheer inability to see a full ROH show on iPPV became a running joke, both in the industry, as well as among fans, to the point where Sinclair eventually gave up altogether, handing their iPPV duties over to Ooyala, who apparently must not be too bad at their jobs, because I've yet to see any major complaints from fans who watched this past weekend's
I'd also be remiss if I didn't take at least a moment to acknowledge Kenny King's departure from Ring of Honor. For those who don't know, Kenny King and Rhett Titus, collectively known as the All Night Express, won the ROH Tag Team Championships from Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin at
Best in the World 2012. Just short of two weeks later, no longer under contract to ROH, Kenny King appears on Impact Wrestling, competing for a spot on TNA's annual
Destination X PPV. He does so after violating an agreement he made with ROH saying that he'd not wrestle elsewhere before dropping his championship. He jumps to his Twitter to defend his actions, taking offense to those who questioned his integrity for not honoring his agreement, and then officially signs with TNA. He works the
Destination X show, then doesn't appear on TNA TV again until November, when he starts jobbing to Rob Van Dam because TNA ran out of X Division guys or something. Meanwhile, ROH thinks about pushing Rhett Titus as a singles competitor for about 15 seconds, feeds him to Kevin Steen, then puts him in a team with BJ Whitmer because.... Yeah, I don't know, either.
On the plus side, Michael Elgin likely had the best year of his career, cementing himself as a player against Davey Richards in a pair of Match of the Year contenders. Rhett Titus actually got the push he really, really deserves for about 15 seconds before Kenny King f*cked it all up for him. Adam Cole's managed to finally stop being life's towel boy long enough to man up, kick the sh*t out of Kyle O'Reilly, and get himself the TV Title. And, of course, you have Mike Bennett, the perfect heel for Ring of Honor, a body guy with a smoking hot girlfriend who practically takes a sh*t on just about everything ROH stands for simply by existing. Sure, he's not the ideal wrestler, but he sure is fun to hate, as is Maria, who's really gone above and beyond in the past year to show everyone just what she brings to the table. Why WWE never pulled the trigger on a heel Maria, I'll never know.
Overall, Ring of Honor is certainly not a perfect show, by any means, but it's not like SBG is intentionally trolling you or anything, either. The in-ring product is as good as it's ever been, and the roster itself, while lacking in star power, is still pretty solid. The main problem is Sinclair, who, like Time Warner, simply doesn't know what the f*ck they're doing with a wrestling company. Of course, it means that ROH is more than likely going to die, sooner or later, and yes, it's going to be all SBG's fault. Unfortunately, there's not really a whole lot that can be done about that at this point, either way. Either ROH uses 2013 to find a way to finally get something going at the top that can draw and reassure the fanbase that they're worth supporting, or they'll end up in the same boat that TNA is in now, which is basically existing on life support depending on how willing the owner is to keep you alive, and the network is to keep you on the air. With Ring of Honor's sugar daddy and network being one and the same, I don't imagine they'll enjoy the same privileges TNA has.