The History of the Ring of Honor Title
January 17, 2006 by Wes Cianchette
Hello wrestling fans of all shapes and sizes; this is my first official column for OWW, and for my first column I wanted it to be one that was well written and (hopefully) well received. I therefore decided to report on the well run independent promotion: Ring Of Honor. I personally am a fan of their product, not to say I'm not a fan of WWE, TNA, CZW or any other promotion, I am a fan of the sport of professional wrestling in general, and this just happens to be the one that I wish to report on first.
Since 2000, the public has been dominated primarily, by WWE programming. Without any form of opposition (WWE's main opponent for many years was World Championship Wrestling) the television offered very little in the way of a variety of wrestling shows. While many fans of the sport are content with watching WWE programming, you have others who enjoy the sport to such a degree that they wish to see other products. This is where independent promotions such as ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) IWA, AWA and other small promotions were king. Banking more on non television exposure and live arena attendance, to garner a profit these independent promotions offered a wide variety of styles, stars and performances that would have the head of any average wrestling fan spinning. Yet with the simmering out of ECW in 2000, and the total monopoly that WWE has on the American wrestling circuit, these promotions were hard pressed to find their niche in the publics eye. This is when three men came together and started a small Philadelphia based promotion with a different attitude to it. These men where Rob Fienstein, Gabe Sapolsky and Cary Silkin. These men had a vision to return wrestling to its basics, to make it more of a sport then an entertainment source. With a shared mission in mind, they poured money into the promotion that officially took off on February 23, 2002 at the Murphy Rec Center in Philadelphia.
The promotion took off quickly, showcasing stars such as Amazing Red, American Dragon, The Briscoe brothers, Low Ki, Christopher Daniels, Spanky and Da Hit Squad. Realizing that they needed a champion worthy of carrying the promotion into its beginning era, the promotion set up several round robin challenges to show case all of the superstars talents, and single out the one that could conceivably represent the promotion. On July 27, 2002 once again in the Murphy Rec Center, a champion was crowned, that champion was the intense performer Low Ki. With a stiff, martial arts based style, an intensity un paralleled and a tireless work ethic, Low Ki seemed the exact type of champion that would represent the best of what Ring of Honor had to offer, honor, pride and most of all athletic ability. Many people consider the match in which Low Ki won the belt to be one of the best in ROH history as he was able to beat Christopher Daniels, Spanky and Doug Williams for the belt. This set the pace for his inaugural title run, as he entered into intense feuds with AJ Styles. This feud actually spilled over into TNA, where both men were also feuding over the newly formed X division belt. With Low Ki entering further and further into superstardom, he also began taking more bookings in Japan that was limiting his time to make appearances in America, with this in mind, the booking committee of ROH, needed to come up with a new champion, the original idea was for a heel champion to come and take the belt and continue holding it until Low Ki could return to the States on a more full time basis to hold the belt again.
On September 21, 2002 Low Ki dropped the strap to Xavier, a heel wrestler and a member of the heel faction "The Prophecy" run by Christopher Daniels. The original idea was that Xavier would hold the belt for a short run, and have Low Ki tease a return, then in a final battle Low Ki would regain the championship that he had lost. Yet as time went on, Low Ki was becoming less and less visible at ROH, though returning as much as he could, he could not be at the amount of events needed to make him a champion. Also Xavier was beginning to become more of a despised heel, although churning out awesome matches with Jay Briscoe and AJ Styles, he was not taking the promotion to the next step as the promoters had wanted, and with Low Ki mainly committed to Japan (and TNA by this time) the promoters began to consider other contenders for the belt. The choice came to a new wrestler who had been in Ring Of Honor for only five months, his no nonsense style, stiff attack and take no sh**t attitude made him a competitor unlike any other: This man was Samoa Joe. The night came on March 22, 2003 once again in the Murphy Rec Center, where the title changed hands, with a vicious attack and a merciless finish, Samoa Joe announced the beginning of his title reign with authority as he choked Xavier into submission.
At this time, the promotion was beginning to get more attention, with additional superstars such as Paul London, BJ Whitmer and Homicide, Ring Of Honor was becoming more of a pro wrestlers promotion. A cult like following began amassing outside the arenas, and rabid fans filled the seats, hungry for action that only Ring Of Honor could deliver. At this time, Joe would begin a title reign that has been one of the longest in the last decade, 21 months. With the belt clutched firmly in his hands, and armed with an array of deadly maneuvers, Joe began solidifying himself as a champion that no one had ever seen before, moving easily and quite often back and fourth between the fans good graces he is one of the few that during his title reign could be simultaneously cheered and booed at the same time during his match. Cheered because of the quality of the matches he was having with opponents like Doug Williams, Homicide, Dan Maff, Bryan Danielson, both Briscoe brothers, AJ styles and Paul London. Booed because of the quality of his opponents whom he waged wars with, as they were worthy of the championship belt as well. With Joe firmly in place as champion, the under card of Ring Of Honor picked up its game quickly, creating match styles and exciting settings in which one Ring Of Honor event could entertain every type of wrestling fans fantasy. From cage matches, to scramble cage matches, from fight without honor matches to the survival of the fittest tournament.
Ring Of Honor charged into the rest of 2004 with a full head of steam, at this time people began to associate the promotion fully with Samoa Joe, as he was still the champion and turning back all the budding stars such as Colt Cabana and CM Punk, many people wondered if Joe would actually drop the belt sometime soon, he was now fully solidified as a true ROH legend, he was the first competitor to defend the belt in another country, thus making it a World title. The head booker, Sapolsky racked his brain for a passable champion that could possibly take the promotion even further then what Joe had done. The choice came and many people where somewhat surprised by the move, yet the move turned out to one of the best matches in ROH history.
Austin Aries was a relative newcomer to Ring Of Honor, his biggest accomplishment at that point was that he had a stellar feud with Bryan Danielson which was capped off at the first Survival of the Fittest tournament in which he lost to Danielson in the final round. He was also head of the top heel faction in Ring Of Honor at the time Generation Next. He earned a shot at Joe's title at the Final Battle show on Dec 26, 2004. Joe had just capped off a third match with CM Punk a week before, that had many people believing that "Da Champ" would lose the belt to Punk. Although the matches where amazing in style and intensity, the belt stayed firmly around Joe's waist and had many people doubting Aries as a viable victor, when he almost quietly took his place as next in line for Joe. Yet that one match changed everything, after one of the most dynamic exchanges, containing some of the most breath taking back and fourth action ever seen, Aries had his hand raised. The Murphy Rec Center was on its feet, as the old lion champion Samoa Joe shook the hand of Aries in a show of true sportsmanship, thus Joe took his place as a true wrestling legend, and the torch was passed to Aries. Chants of "Aries, Aries, Aries" ended 2004, and 2005 saw an even brighter future for ROH. By this time other budding stars had helped make Ring Of Honor a true attraction, with technical wizard John Walters holding the companies Pure Championship and BJ Whitmer along with Dan Maff holding the Tag Titles, it was a new scene that ROH fans where eating up. For the first duration of his title reign, Aries valiantly turned back all comers, including Colt Cabana in a phenomenal cage match, and Joe in rematches.
At this time, a former WWE superstar had come into the promotion and was making a huge name for himself, this was James Gibson (aka Jamie Noble). During this time we also saw the solidification of the other stars, namely CM Punk, who had become a widely popular with the fans. Punk then began teasing his bid for the championship, even while Aries was wrapped in matches with Gibson and Alex Shelly. One of the most memorable events in ROH history that helped Aries attain more superstardom was when a local news crew did a special on the Ring Of Honor Promotion. While demonstrating moves to the camera crew, Aries was attacked by a masked assailant, on national television, it was then revealed that the attacker was Low Ki. The stage was set for the Aries/ Ki showdown. Many people thought that Low Ki, the inaugural champion would regain his title, yet to many people's surprise, Aries showed to be a fighting champion and was able to save his championship. With stellar matches under his belt, Aries had moved easily into the fans good graces, though a heel, he was one of the most heavily cheered in the promotion. Yet one other contender was cheered just as much as him, and finally stepped into the challengers spot...CM Punk.
The stage was set for June 18, 2005, yet a wrench was thrown into the works. Punk was offered a contract by WWE earlier that year, he had accepted, and he was now being called up to go to their developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling. This news hit the internet world quickly, thus eradicating any hopes for the ROH fans of Punker ever winning the strap, how could he win the belt, if he was on his way to WWE" Once again the ROH booking committee proved they knew how to turn the tables, by having Aries lose the belt to Punk in Morristown New Jersey. With tears in his eyes, Punk got on the mic and began to express his love for the ROH fans and the completion of a dream by winning the belt. Yet in a twist, he then turned on the fans, in an unbelievable promo, he laughed at the ROH fans for believing that he would turn down the WWE's offer to wrestle for some small time promotion in his words. He even said that he would do the unthinkable, and place the belt on Vince McMahon's desk. This enraged the ROH fans, and instantly, Punk was a despised heel, representing everything the average ROH fan hated about corporate wrestling. He began to wear suits to his matches and groom himself, while teasing the fans in a cocky manner saying that he was the best in the world, because he was champion in ROH and soon he would be champion in the WWE too.
At this time, ROH had become nearly the hottest it had ever been, the booking committee therefore turned up the heat and was determined to make as much use of Punk before he went off to WWE, they then had several contenders bidding for his title at once, including Jay Lethal, Roderick Strong, Colt Cabana and even Christopher Daniels who had been exclusive to TNA up till this point. Punk's matches became the hottest ones on the card, as he proved he was a top tier talent. His most breath taking match was with James Gibson at July 16, 2005 in Woodbridge Conn. In which he and Gibson had engaged in what could be called a full out war for nearly 30 minutes. This match was interesting because it firmly set James Gibson as a viable contender for the belt. For his entire career in Ring Of Honor at that point, he had been working tirelessly and become one of the promotions top attractions. He was considered the companies MVP of 2005, and rightfully so, what he may have lacked in size, he made up for in skill and athletic ability. Although on July 16th, Punk was able to turn him away, then Punk came face to face with an old enemy of his: Christopher Daniels, it had been the first time the two had met face to face in nearly 18 months, and the crowd was hot, in a fury Daniels challenged Punk to a title match. The match took place on July 23, 2005 in Philadelphia, and ended in a 60 minute draw, both competitors called it one of the best in their careers.
On this card a final match was made with Punk, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels and James Gibson in a Four Corner Survival match for the title. On August 12, 2005 in Dayton Ohio the four men met, yet the outcome of this match was somewhat skewered by spectators. It was also announced that a bare three weeks before that James Gibson had been called back to the WWE, his performance in ROH had impressed WWE officials so much that they wanted him back. Therefore fans suspected that either Joe or Daniels would walk out with the title, being that he already made his mark as champion, Joe was less thought to win, so people where hungering for Daniels to finally realize the title dream that had seemingly eluded him for so long. Yet once again ROH bookers, turned the tide. When attempting to give Gibson his patented Pepsi Plunge from the top rope, CM Punk was stopped by Gibson, who reversed it into a super tiger driver. A bare three seconds later, Gibson had his hand raised and the belt clutched firmly to him. In an emotional after match speech, Gibson said that this moment meant so much to him, even more then being at Wrestlemania. Punk shook his hand, and after one more appearance left, in the fans good graces and was missed. With the knowledge that Gibson would soon be leaving back to WWE with Punk, the booking committee designed Gibsons reign to be a short one and be more of a thank you, then an impact in the wrestling world, however this did not affect his performance as he fought Homicide and Colt Cabana. He still garnered a huge ovation wherever he went. At this time, the booking committee had another superstar that they had wished to make champion, they now saw it as time.
American Dragon Bryan Danielson had been with the company since its inception in 2002. He was one of the three in the main event at the first show, along with Christopher Daniels and Low Ki, and he was considered to be one of the founding fathers of ROH. Yet in 2005 after a lost title shot to then champion Aries, American Dragon quite ROH and the wrestling industry altogether, citing some legitimate frustrations over the wrestling industry in general, American Dragon disappeared from the American Public eye for several months. In reality he was taking a vacation, and wrestling sparingly in Europe. When he had cleared his head, and felt good enough to return to the ring, he contacted ROH officials. Seeing a huge opportunity to put a new champion in the books, American Dragon was slated to take the championship. On his first appearance back on September 17, 2005, and a bare five weeks after Gibson took the belt, American Dragon and James Gibson engaged in a vicious technical match that saw Gibson bow to the skills of Dragon, even in defeat both men shared a hand shake and hug. Chants of "Thank you Gibson" and "Lets go Dragon" filled the air, as the fans said their good byes to the former champion and looked with high hopes to the new champion. The last scene in that arena was Danielson holding the belt high in admiration with a look of unmistakable pride on his face.
This is my chronicles of ROH's title reign as of so far, please feel free to comment, I welcome it. If this article does well at all, I will happily follow up with other title histories if anyone so desires.
by Wes Cianchette ..
Colm Kearns wrote:
Take it from someone who knows a bit about writing title history articles (shameless plug) this was a very well written and comprehensive piece. My ROH knowledge is fairly sketchy for some of the companies periods and you have answered a lot of my questions. Thank you and well done.
I'm a HUGE RoH fan and I'm a fan of wrestling as a whole I really enjoyed this and found it filled in the first few people that I did not know held the title thank you every much not only to you but OWW as well
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