The Sinclair Saga: September 2011

With the recent news about Ring of Honor, I had an urge to create some content. Against my better judgment, I’m an Honor Club subscriber and so, let’s hop in the time machine. Now, I could relive the classics but let’s be honest, that’s too easy. In addition, I kind of already do that, watching ROH’s greatest hits every week on The Distraction Channel. Instead, this ‘series’ will be a look back at Ring of Honor TV, an element of their model that always fascinated me.

Though the weekly product consistently featured action worth watching, I think you can reasonably argue that they never quite figured this thing out. With that in mind, I’ve decided to find out for myself, going back to the very start…well, kind of anyway. Rather than revisiting the HDNet programming, I’ll pick up where this streaming service allows: their Sinclair debut. Indeed, September 2011, mere months after the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s acquisition.

This moment follows a tumultuous time for Ring of Honor and unsurprisingly, they’re a distance away from steadying the ship again too. Jim Cornette has allegedly been at the helm for a year, booking alongside Delirious who replaced Adam Pearce. As you’re probably aware, this regime has already been impressively divisive but let’s see how they handle broadcast TV, a step that was expected to transform ROH business or something like that.

To be clear, this is intended as an informal look back and nothing more. I’ve decided to watch this stuff anyway, this content will simply accompany the ride. I’ll generally go month by month, writing in broad strokes but for this particular entry, we’ll bleed over some and also cover the October 1st 2011 edition of ROH TV. That’ll still leave four episodes for next time but allow this premiere to expand beyond the…well, premiere itself.

September 2011

As we go here, I intend to keep track of the programme’s production, presentation and overall feel. Famously, this time was defined by a throwback vibe, as Ring of Honor looked to provide a grainy, rough alternative to the flashy mainstream scene. Those visuals carry over to the product itself, with traditional formatting that’d prove incredibly polarising among ROH’s established fanbase. In fear of oversimplifying things or pointing the finger in any particular direction, it feels like old school territory TV but with Ring of Honor talent.

Now, if your response to that is “all hail,” I understand. As many of you will know, this take on television is a personal grin for me too, but that’s not really the point. In this case, the question is about whether or not this approach maximises this particular product at that particular time. History suggests no, absolutely not but I can only judge things one month at a time and thus far, I don’t have much negative to say. Unquestionably, this thing feels dated, even for a decade ago but there are absolutely elements I appreciate.

For example, this product feels immediately episodic through two weeks and I seem to recall that being an ongoing occurrence in this initial era. It sounds silly, but that was far too uncommon as ROH TV evolved, simply feeling like an hour of content at times rather than a genuine showcase of the current angles and arcs. That part of the puzzle feels like an undeniable triumph, I’m just unsure if it locks them into some other stylistic choices that we’ll get into here shortly.

The Voices of Honor

Look, I’m all for grittiness, but the initial visual of this product isn’t exactly flattering. Unfortunately, gritty would be the generous description of this opening shot and that’ll be a never-ending challenge as these tapings unfold. Cornette claims that his plan was a television studio, avoiding such violent swings in presentation but even a decade later, that never came to fruition. Don’t get me wrong, this particular look isn’t even bad by the promotion’s own relatively low standards, it’s just not exactly ideal.

Regardless, episode one starts with Kevin Kelly in centre ring, swiftly introducing his new colour commentator: Nigel McGuinness. This team would soon become awful familiar for wrestling fans, with McGuinness really improving tremendously in the coming years. McGuinness had been released from TNA only months prior, bringing a merciful end to his frustrating time as Desmond Wolfe. Unfortunately, McGuinness’ in-ring career was basically over, concluding things with a retirement tour shortly thereafter.

Clearly, the ROH audience is delighted to have McGuinness back, reacting raucously to his standard in-ring promo. Unfortunately, the sound of said promo isn’t great, a problem that’d somehow worsen in episode two, when Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team opens things up. They’re interviewed by Cornette himself, progressing their programme with The Briscoes and giving the ‘executive producer’ an ultimatum.

Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team Division?

With episode one featuring two tag matches, the promotion’s tandems were an immediate focus here. That begins with Future Shock, the combination of a young Kyle O’Reilly and an even younger Adam Cole. I’ve always loved this team but I must say, the comedy of their presentation here was somewhat lost on me beforehand. When Kyle O’Reilly is described as “an outdoor adrenaline junkie,” it’s impossible for my brain to go anywhere but those infamous Thrillseeker vignettes from almost two decades prior.

Ultimately though, Future Shock make the most of their time, defeating The Bravado Brothers in a nice tag team opener. This is a case where I completely understand the logic behind this choice, but wonder if it immediately tells a tale of some kind. Whereas this was slightly restrained and more of a neat, steady introduction, I wonder if the real play was the modern tag sprint that left nothing to spare. Clearly, that’s not what Cornette wanted then, now or forever, but it crossed my mind considering where we’re at these days.

In truth, those options probably produce the same results as commercially, true growth would be limited regardless. Ring of Honor was chasing the very few wrestling fans that’d ever be interested in their product and if the last decade has taught us anything, that number may be frustratingly low. Don’t get me wrong, things get better and as the promotion heats up, their television allegedly gains success but it’s just worth noting: this isn’t me saying that if someone else had the book, ROH is on NBC in primetime right now.

Either way, episode one is headlined by Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team, defending their titles against The Kings of Wrestling. This would be Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli’s final time teaming together in ROH, with the latter signing for WWE and staying there ever since. As you’d expect, this was objectively good but unfortunately, it was also my first reminder of Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin’s slightly weird ROH work. I actually like much of it, but their presence is symbolic of the ongoing styles clash.

Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Teams work in a way that was somewhat at odds with the promotion’s prior house style. Personally, I seldom have a problem with it but when paired with the change that this regime had brought in the year before, it made them the faces of that transition. This match encapsulates the conversation really: enjoyable, well-executed stuff that never explodes into the kind of crazy action that you’d want to truly define what this brand is. It’s good, but is that enough?

Pacing & Prodigy

I must say, even with two relatively lengthy TV main events, I’m stunned that neither episode featured three matches. Honestly, I remembered the exact opposite, recalling three matches as the consistent format. Instead, these shows are packed with video packages, explaining the promotion’s stars as well as things like the ‘Code of Honor.’ It’s hard to dismiss such ventures, doing the detail work that admittedly, I do think that modern wrestling lacks at times. These packages aren’t perfect, but I’d say they’re generally effective.

With the ‘Inside ROH’ pieces, fans get an insight into things as throwaway as Eddie Edwards’ nickname as well as the main event dynamic between Davey Richards and Roderick Strong. It’s all engaging enough, even if not executed expertly by the performers in question. Again though, was this the correct choice overall? When trying to sell a product on hard-hitting, exciting in-ring action, are so many pre-tapes really the play? It’s hard to say but the lack of wrestling stood out for me, weakening the programme’s most obvious strength.

Speaking of such, poor Mike Bennett is at the peak of his infamous Prodigy push here, an apparent personal project for Cornette. It’s hard, as I really do like Bennett but not unlike the above example, he just didn’t make sense as a focal point of this particular product. In truth, that’s the answer, as the plan was to use talent like Bennett to alter the identity of said product, but live crowds were understandably reluctant to accept that change. Bennett isn’t bad here, but immediate “you can’t wrestle” chants probably aren’t ideal.

That doesn’t change the direction however, as Bennett beats Jimmy Jacobs who alongside Steve Corino, is in the midst of his recovering babyface act. It’s worth noting that each episode features a ‘Tweet of the Week,’ with one gentleman claiming to be Batman. It was a different time, maybe, not really though I guess.

TV Time Allowed

Like most, I remembered that early on here, Jay Lethal dethrones El Generico, claiming the ROH Television Title. Indeed, that’s the main event of episode two, an immediately divisive decision that set a precedent for that kind of thing re: Generico. Lethal had returned to the promotion only months prior, rebuilding after years as a comedy character in TNA. An obvious priority of this new era, Lethal’s win made sense and set the stage for a decade of dominance but in this case, perhaps wrongly came at Generico’s expense.

Though I recalled the result, I had forgotten this particular presentation, as the pairing initially reached a time limit draw. Naturally, the live crowd groaned and I made a note to myself that this was another case of an outdated playbook and philosophy. I must say though, that when Cornette restarted things, the place suddenly exploded into action, making their most noise yet as Generico and Lethal went back and forth until the eventual conclusion.

I remembered a red hot finishing stretch and that’s what I got, but I’d forgotten how in this case, the booking actually enhanced that. At least there was an actual winner I suppose, even if the choice itself caused a conversation or two at the time.

Conclusion

Well, that was September, a fine start to Ring of Honor’s time on television. Early days of course and we’ll see this develops but my initial read is that this product is better in hindsight than in real time. Basically, it has many elements that objectively, you can appreciate but ultimately, were probably in the wrong place at the wrong time. Time will and actually did tell, but I’m looking forward to what’s next, as Davey Richards defends his ROH Title against Roderick Strong in episode three.

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