It’s pretty standard now, bordering on canon, that Tony Khan will spit out a great pay-per-view whenever he needs to. And now it’s with multiple companies. Last Saturday, it was Ring of Honor’s turn, with “Death Before Dishonor.” And by any measure, it was a banger. Not perfect — rarely a show ever perfect — but certainly highly entertaining with some classic matches. You know you have something when Claudio Castagnoli, likely the most beloved “underdog” in the industry — you’d be hard pressed to find a fan who thinks he’s ever been used to his potential — winning his first singles title opens the show. But when you have a second FTR vs. The Briscoes tag team match in your holster, that’s always going to close the show.
Even the two “filler” matches — Dalton Castle and The Boys vs. The Righteous and Wheeler Yuta vs. Daniel Garcia — rocked, though the latter suffered a little from what the Castagnoli-Jonathan Gresham match did in that it simply didn’t go long enough. But a feeling of wanting more is always preferable to the feeling of something dragging on. Tony Khan-produced shows almost never have a match that feels too long, and hence never do the shows even when they get up to around four hours as sometimes AEW’s PPVs do.
But watching Death Before Dishonor — and in the aftermath — one couldn’t help but wonder what exactly the plan for ROH is. Because watching the PPV, it didn’t feel all that different from an AEW PPV. But is ROH just going to be a different arm of AEW or is it going to be something that has its own particular feel and style?
It’s important to remember what ROH was before it started its downturn that eventually led to its folding and availability for Khan to purchase. It was the company, back when Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Kenny Omega, and even Seth Rollins were there, that was about the in-ring work, or work rate. It was the place where smaller guys could flourish; the type that would never get the time of day from WWE (at least before HHH remade NXT). It was focused on guys who could just put on great matches first and foremost, and worry about the other stuff later.
It was the company that had wrestlers from Japan and Mexico and everywhere coming in to show fans all the types of wrestling that were out there. It was able to maintain its popularity for a while by being the American wing of Bullet Club when Bullet Club became ubiquitous, where Omega, The Young Bucks, and Finn Balor would wash up on these shores after making all their headlines in Japan.
Except…AEW is all of those things now, and it’s all of those things with a major TV deal that the old ROH never had. ROH started to run out of oxygen when all the guys it could count on to keep it relevant instead were part of the AEW roster. AEW’s charm is that it’s the work rate company; it’s the company that’s only concerned with putting on great matches and telling clean stories. It’s that alternative. Where does that leave ROH?
It’s hard to know what it will be when we don’t know exactly what its schedule will be. Khan is still searching for a TV deal for the company. He has ruled out making it AEW’s version of the old NXT, claiming that “Dark” and “Dark: Elevation” on the company’s YouTube channel serves as that. But it’s hard to see how a series of squash matches — basically what those two shows are comprised of — work truly as developmental. That idea shouldn’t be truly ruled out, as it will give ROH a unique identity alongside its sibling AEW. On the other side, it’s hard to do that when Samoa Joe and Castagnoli are running around with the two biggest titles. They’re not going to anchor a developmental show.
That said, Khan kept both of ROH’s shows in 2022 under the three-hour mark, and Death Before Dishonor only had seven matches on the main card, which did ring of old NXT that was famous for keeping things short and tight when it came to its biggest shows. It made the matches and feuds that got to a PPV feel even bigger.
If Khan just sees ROH as a place to run the same matches and stories with different names and different labels and different titles, there’s a chance of just being too much. If it’s essentially the same product as AEW, and does sort out some sort of TV or streaming deal, Khan risks the problem that most of his fans laugh at WWE for — filling four or five hours of television per week instead of the three he can overstuff now. While FTR-Briscoes II was indeed a classic and a match that fans will talk about for a long time, it wasn’t too much different than Young Bucks-Lucha Brothers from All Out or the triple threat just a couple of weeks ago that saw Swerve In Our Glory take the AEW tag titles. They are all in the same genus. Which is fine when all of them are at that stratospheric level, but is that all ROH is going to be and has to be?
Then again, maybe fans will take as many great matches as they can get. Maybe there can be two work-rate companies and those that love it will love as much as they can get of that. It’s all coming from one guy after all, so it’s not a huge shock that it might look the same. Will fans want someone else to run ROH just to have a sense of variety? Do we know if Khan can delegate?
He’s already erred in that he’s lost Jonathan Gresham, who asked for his release after leading off the show and losing to Castagnoli. It’s not that Gresham isn’t the type of performer we see on AEW — highly technical while being small but surprisingly powerful — but he was decidedly ROH. He kept that top title alive while ROH was in the wilderness, going anywhere he could to defend it. And then once ROH came alive again, he was pushed to the side. We didn’t even see him on AEW TV nearly as much as Jay Lethal or Satnam Singh or Sonjay Dutt, and all those guys are as interesting as an ironing board. It doesn’t seem fair.
There’s still plenty of time, and a TV deal to find for Khan to define ROH. It’ll be curious to see what other cards he has to play, or if he does at all.