There was this internet pipe dream back in 2007. This little company with a cult independent following called Ring of Honor finally became popular enough to appear on television. It happened to be in the form of a taped pay-per-view called Respect is Earned, a live event held in New York City in May coming to your small screen in the middle of the summer. That brand of publicity wouldn’t work in today’s professional wrestling scene, but ROH did this for nearly two years before getting a TV deal with HDNet, now known as AXS TV.
The famed Briscoe Brothers vs. Kevin Steen and El Generico (now Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn) ladder match? From a taped PPV. The now-Seth Rollins’ breakout performance as Tyler Black from 2008 was too. Respect is Earned signaled a new frontier for ROH in reaching a wider audience. It created the notion that the company needed a champion who was recognizable to every wrestling fan. It was always a pipe dream, as ROH was very much still running glorified bingo halls at the time, but the biggest free agent in pro wrestling 15 years ago was Chris Jericho. That same “Demo God” just won the ROH World Championship this week.
Jericho, in an upset, beat Claudio Castagnoli to win the title and hand the former Cesaro his first post-WWE loss. It was a bit of a shock to see Jericho win because he doesn’t fit the mold of what Ring of Honor usually chooses as its champion. He’s only the third ROH champion since being under the same umbrella as All Elite Wrestling, but company CEO Tony Khan only bought the famed independent promotion because of its rich history and longtime success. From Ring of Honor’s two shows since Khan’s purchase, the style of wrestling harkened back to the message-board-enthusiast days.
Ring of Honor started as a proving ground for the best independent wrestlers hoping to be plucked by bigger companies. When Bryan Danielson left for WWE in 2009, even two years into ROH’s venture into broadcast media, he stated there’d be no reason to leave if he could be financially successful for life by staying. Before their chance in the limelight, Samoa Joe held the ROH title for 21 months. Others like Danielson, CM Punk, Austin Aries, Black, Steen, and Adam Cole — BAYBAY — held the company’s top prize.
By my count, including Jericho, only four wrestlers held the ROH title past their prime. Each took the spot by having a greater meaning to their reign, instead of just taking the glory away from an up-and-comer. ECW legend Jerry Lynn almost had to be the champion, taking the title from Nigel McGuinness when the Brit was falling apart due to injuries. Lynn only held the title for two months. Christopher Daniels was next and his three-month reign made true on a 15-year promise to win the belt as one of ROH’s founding fathers. PCO held the strap for less than three months as well right before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic when the quest to compete with AEW and WWE became oversaturated and Ring of Honor needed to do something strange to stand out.
Jericho is fourth with his most athletic days behind him. One common trait among that quartet is at the time of each reign, they all could still put on great matches. Fozzy’s lead singer isn’t in man-of-1,004-holds form now but he’s more than capable of entertaining at a high level. Jericho’s also the first super-veteran to be a heel with the title. Lynn, Daniels, and PCO were beloved underdogs keeping up with those whippersnappers. Jericho kicked Castagnoli in the balls right before winning the strap. His villainous persona works because of the long-term plans for ROH.
Ring of Honor will run more regular shows soon. And Jericho is the biggest appropriate name to be at the helm for that launch. Who did Tony Khan make the first AEW Champion? Jericho. It’s easy to understand why he’d want “Le Champion” to hold that role again with the ROH belt. Jericho can bring eyes to the product and be insufferable until the company has time to build up a legitimate challenger who can knock him down several rungs.
It makes all the sense in the world that the next ROH Champion is Eddie Kingston. Their feud never truly concluded, it plays into the long-term storytelling with Castagnoli and Kingston’s never been the top guy for a televised promotion, only doing so with Combat Zone Wrestling and being CHIKARA’s first Grand Champion. It might be 15 years later, but that 2007 dream has come to fruition, just with a little more seasoning to Jericho. His reign will be so tantalizing to watch.