In the second year of the second millennium as we reckon time, a new kingdom emerged and professional wrestling was reborn. The monarchs who comprised the Ring of Honor realm were master craftsmen, world-class wrestling nobility, and young princes making their first moves toward the golden crown that would signify their regal stature. Here are the tales of the kings of ROH’s ring; those men who earned majestic status and will always sit at the mountaintop amongst the many greats who have battled before ROH crowds.
TODAY’S ISSUE: Ring of Honor royalty.
In February of 2002 when the Era of Honor Began, there were three young knights who would battle before the masses seeking to entertain, gain acceptance, and display pride in their chosen trade before an appreciative sovereignty of wrestling fans. American Dragon Brian Danielson, who would go on to be know as the “best wrestler in the world”, the Fallen Angel Christopher Daniels, who would be the first to eschew the code of honor, and a fierce warrior once known as Low Ki headlined the marquee, and a new dawn began. Although of these three, only two would go on to wear the Ring of Honor crown, they were the first czars to represent the new wrestling kingdom. Their incredible triple-threat match that main-evented the inaugural ROH event set the pace for the promotion that brought real professional wrestling back to prominence in the United States.
Before long Daniels formed ROH’s first heel stable, known as the Prophecy, and continued battling against Low Ki. At Glory by Honor, the devious Fallen Angel introduced Samoa Joe, one of the greatest kings in Ring of Honor history, as his “hired assassin” charged to eliminate Low Ki for good in a fight without honor, but I doubt Daniels realized just how much Joe would dominate ROH when he brought Joe to the new indy fed. Not only did Samoa Joe quickly claim the ROH championship and proudly carry it for nearly two years in 29 successful title defenses, he also “upgraded” the title to a world championship by defending it overseas against foreign wrestlers, improving the status of the belt, and by association the entire promotion. That’s a champion of legendary status, and a title reign of epic proportions.
While the Daniels/Low Ki arm of the original three-way rivalry begat Samoa Joe’s reign as ruler of the land of ROH, it was the third member of that triumvirate, Bryan Danielson, who would go on to take the wrestling world by storm. Trained in part by the legendary Shawn Michaels and the highly underrated and extremely skilled William Regal, the American Dragon wrestled all over the world and earned the respect of his opponents and the fans who paid to watch him perform. He raised the bar yet again while he sat on the ROH throne, not only successfully defending the belt as many times as anyone would to date, but he also unified and retired the Pure Wrestling title with his own ROH world championship in yet another MOTYC against longstanding rival Nigel McGuinness. Able to successfully work as a heel or a face, Dragon could do it all. His brawls with the likes of Homicide and Takeshi Morishima were violent symphonies of chaos and artistry, and his technical classics against men like Samoa Joe and Tyler Black will leave fans of the mat game with mouths agape, constantly wanting to see more from Danielson. His best-of-three series against Austin Aries stands as some of the finest wrestling I’ve witnessed in 25 years as a fan of the game, and there’s no limit to what he can accomplish in the realm of professional wrestling. Bryan Danielson might stand atop the list of ROH royalty as the king of kings, but that’s certainly a topic for another column.
Before Danielson’s reign, another member of ROH royalty reigned supreme. CM Punk shocked the indy world when he ended Austin Aries’ first occupation of the throne as Ring of Honor world champion. On what was scheduled to be his last night with the company before his departure for the world of sportz entertainment madness known as WWE, Punk unseated Aries in an emotional classic, but that was only the first part of the story. Earning the ROH world title was billed as the one accomplishment in the world of independent wrestling that hung like an albatross around Punk’s neck. According to the story, after three epic matches against then-champion Samoa Joe, and success everywhere else he’d worked, the former Second City Saint needed to get the ROH championship monkey off his back before leaving the indies, otherwise he’d never be able to live with himself. But as I mentioned, his journey to the ROH world title didn’t end with his victory over Aries. Moments after his hand was raised, with the crowd quite literally in tears, overwhelmed with joy over Punk’s crowning as champ, he turned heel via a brilliant promo, berating the “sheep” for following him and being manipulated by his guile. Instead of leaving right away and abdicating the throne as intended, he declared the “Summer of Punk” and stayed for two more months and four successful title defenses, lighting a fire under ROH that they rode straight through James Gibson’s fun title run and into the era of the American Dragon himself. Punk’s unlikely but well deserved success in the unpredictable World Wrestling Entertainment is a testament to his skill, ability to connect with a crowd, and his determination to continue climbing mountains, as he has throughout his career.
The only Brit to attain royal standing in ROH was Nigel “Desmond Wolfe” McGuinness, who held the Pure Wrestling title longer than anyone else and later reigned as world champion, tying Bryan Danielson for most successful ROH world title defenses at 38. Nigel unseated the dominant Takeshi Morishima, himself a proud ROH “emperor” who plowed through the roster during his 8-month run at the top, in a surprising turn at the Undeniable ppv before turning heel and having great matches against everybody. Nigel brought powerful striking, strong submission-based grappling and loads of charisma to the table, and he will no doubt impress in his TNA run, which began when he attacked none other than Kurt Angle in his recent debut.
Another ROH alumnus who achieved royal status was Homicide, although his Ring of Honor tenure was clouded by storyline controversy, including attacks on referees, friendships ending on violent notes, a long, bloody war against one-time partner Steve Corino, and even some kayfabe attempted murder. His rivalry with Bryan Danielson, which ran simultaneously with his feud against ROH commissioner Jim Cornette, culminated in an epic title match between Dragon and ‘Cide at Final Battle 2006, in which the Notorious 187 won the ROH world championship and avoided a self-imposed stipulation that would have forced him to leave Ring of Honor forever. His reign as champion was short as he yielded to the unstoppable force that was Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Takeshi Morishima after only three successful defenses, but his long history of high-profile feuds and the drama of his Stone Cold-like story against Cornette and Danielson ensure his inclusion among the most revered ROH performers of all time.
In the current era of the ROH kingdom, the old kings are all gone. Bryan Danielson will debut on WWE television soon, joining fellow former ROH champ CM Punk. Homicide, Samoa Joe, and Christopher Daniels have all been TNA mainstays for years, and Nigel McGuinness has recently jumped aboard the Hogan-express after a failed courtship by Vince McMahon which ended abruptly. Morishima has returned to Japan, making sporadic appearances for ROH but no longer in center court as he once was. Finally, Low Ki is wasting away in WWE developmental hell, with a new moniker, Kaval.
The current king of ROH is Austin Aries, the only man to ascend to the throne on two different occasions in company history. Aries is a man whose in-ring explosiveness is matched by his abundance of charisma, self-confidence, and wit. He consistently produces quality in-ring performances, and never fails to incite a live crowd in one manner or another. He’s a fine representative of the premier US indy fed, and a monarch of the highest standing. On his rule, His Majesty A-Double relies upon knights like Colt Cabana, Claudio Castagnoli, Chris Hero, and “court jester” Delirious (I mean that in the most complimentary way) to help defend his castle, with a new crop of young princes like Kenny Omega and Tyler Black making their cases to challenge for his throne.
Perhaps the greatest threat to Aries is a dangerous American Wolf who prowls the wilderness, salivating as he peers through the night beyond the moat, attentively watching as Aries plots and schemes another vile plan to ensure his grasp on the crown never weakens. This wolf, called Davey Richards, has been burned once already by the King and his deceitful ways; I’d wager he won’t be fooled a second time. Will the great kings of ROH’s past be looking down upon Aries as he staves off yet another challenge to the monarchy, or will a new ruler, a king in wolf’s clothing, be crowned?
Vin Sanity is not categorized as a psychological disorder… yet.
p.s. – “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” – William Shakespeare