Impact Wrestling formerly TNA Wrestling recently unveiled their Wrestling Matters campaign. You see they are trying to win back the fans, fans like me who grew tired of the brand. They are doing it by being counter to the WWE who has decided to distance itself from the word wrestling like Democrats scurrying to distance themselves from Anthony Weiner. Well there is one problem with the plan Impact Wrestling, your product didn’t change, you still have two stooges at the for front, and have continued to push AJ Styles to the back. Seriously, he is so beyond Bully’s realm it was an affront to our very love of wrestling, he should be in title matches not taking a real life beating from a half-talent like Bully. The reason I’m writing this column isn’t to bash Impact Wrestling, but to push to the front a company that doesn’t need to rebrand itself, a company that is on the fringe of professional wrestling, a company where wrestling actually does matter. I’m talking of course about Ring of Honor.
Ring of Honor is the real EV2.0 (you know that terrible story line from TNA last summer). No Ring of Honor isn’t as hardcore as ECW. It isn’t as overtly sexual as ECW, and it certainly doesn’t have the outlandish storylines that ECW had. No, it is however as unique as ECW was in its heyday. Ring of Honor is unique because it does something no one else does, it cares more about the in ring product than anything else. It’s on the fringes of the business, it sort of feels like the Long Branch Saloon of Dodge City. A place where gun fighters went to prove how tough and quick on the draw they were. It was never domesticated, it was never tame, and it eventually died out not because the place burned down, or went down in a blaze of glory. No, it died out because the old west died, there were no more gunfighters left to walk through the doors. Ring of Honor has that same feel to me, where old gunslingers go because no one else wants them anymore, hoping for that one last drink of glory. Where young desperados go to become famous, a shot at immortality and something possibly beyond the “saloon”. So many amazing gunslingers walked through the doors of the Long Branch Saloon, it was a proverbial who’s who of the old west, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the infamous Luke Short. Just like Ring of Honor was home to some of the biggest stars of today, CM Punk and Samoa Joe had battles that spread by word of mouth that have now become stuff of legend.
Like ECW, Ring of Honor has a problem, and it isn’t the product. It has constant roster attrition because of the big boys coming in and offering a king’s ransom and a shot at something bigger. That problem eventually killed ECW, in name only because that brand will live in wrestling history forever. You see something truly unique that resonates with fans will never fully die. Ring of Honor keeps itself going by not being about the stars, but being all about the product. In that regard, it is the complete opposite of the rest of the entertainment world. Movies are sold on stars more than plot, you go to see a Leonardo Dicaprio movie because he’s an amazing actor, and it doesn’t matter what movie he is in ( I may be the only man alive willing to say Titanic was a watchable movie because of his talent and his talent alone, okay Kate Winslet getting naked didn’t hurt). Ring of Honor tries to buck this trend, sure they have stars but they come and go. The product is what has its fans coming back for more. Also like ECW, Ring of Honor has a rabid fan base that lives and dies with Ring of Honor and denounces all other forms of wrestling. To them Ring of Honor is the only place left in America to get real wrestling, the kind of wrestling they grew up on. I’m willing to bet much of the disenfranchised ECW fans wondered the wilderness of pro wrestling until they came upon Ring of Honor. No, it isn’t as brutal but at its core it is everything that made ECW special. Ring of Honor fans have made thousands of YouTube tribute videos, and the comment section reflects the rabid fan base. Go ahead, make a single remark about how much better Impact Wrestling or WWE is, I dare you. What will follow will be a ground swell of curse words and terrible things I can’t repeat here. Ring of Honor fans are protective of their product, coming at all challengers like a mother lion protecting its cub.
Ring of Honor had a run on HDNet for a while and even threatened in a way to break out from the fringe it’s lived on for so long. Even that didn’t feel right to me, no Ring of Honor seems better to me on the fringe of wrestling. Don’t get me wrong I want the product to succeed and flourish. I just like that, I have to go online and seek it out, to trade clips with people over email, and swap stories on message boards. It makes it feel like it is so much more mine than a global conglomerate like the WWE. The fact that it isn’t on TV (at least not in my market) makes it so much more approachable, so much more entertaining to me. I compare this feeling to old school fans of bands like Metallica and Bruce Springsteen, before Bruce made Born in the USA, and Metallica made Enter Sandman. Those bands suddenly became too big for the hardcore fan’s back pockets and they lost that sense of ownership. It is silly to think that I own any part of Ring of Honor, I don’t not at all, but watching Ring of Honor is such an intimate experience for hardcore wrestling fans like myself that I feel like own it. If they breakthrough to the main stream I want it to be on their terms, and not on the corporate terms. ECW failed at this, sure they got a television deal and it looked like they might make it. Paul Heyman was a maniacal madman/genius who changed a lot about wrestling. He never changed his product and eventually it died, but I’d rather see someone fail doing what they truly wanted to do than see someone succeed by doing what everyone wants them to do.
So, I guess that’s why I had to write this column. I wanted to get in touch with fans who loved wrestling as much as I do, and to let them know they are not alone. That while I write more about WWE than anything else isn’t because I’ve sold out to the glitz and glamour. WWE and Ring of Honor almost feel like two completely different worlds that live within the same solar system. One is where story and characters matter most (WWE), and the other is where the sport and tradition matter (ROH). Both may play the same game but trust me when I say they aren’t playing it the same way. This column was for the hardcore wrestling fans, the ones that still love to see the old gun slinging legends, the young desperados carving their way in the world, the ones that make a little company like Ring of Honor our own little Long Branch Saloon.
Thanks again for reading and if you want to get in contact with me you can do so by emailing me here: email@example.com or you can bug me via twitter @JaredGebhardt. As always, I try to get to every single email and tweet I get.
The Wrestling Genius: Jared Gebhardt