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What’s next for ROH and New Japan?

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Earlier this month during the jam-packed WrestleMania weekend, Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling co-promoted an event at the legendary Madison Square Garden, a building associated with the fabric of the foundation of the WWE. After the announcement of the joint venture last year, WWE’s legal team attempted to block the Ring of Honor booking, but Sinclair’s legal team cleared the way for the show to happen, and tickets sold out in minutes. Much happened to ROH, New Japan, and the wrestling world as a whole since that MSG announcement. The biggest story being the formation of All Elite Wrestling and the ripple effect it had on everyone involved in those promotions.

The Elite trio used ROH as their biggest platform in the United States while New Japan provided them international exposure that created a lot of buzz around the brand that ultimately led to the AEW project today. At the same time, the scenario was mutually beneficial for everyone, as the popularity of the Bullet Club members helped draw some of ROH’s biggest crowds in its history and the North American stars helped in the New Japan expansion in recent years. That goes along with the situation that Cody, The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, etc. are tremendous in-ring athletes as well that deliver quality bouts.

As I’ve written previously, it’s a little concerning that the vast amount of talent among the current landscape might be spread too thin for any one company to make a major impact, which is why I hope that some type of working agreement can be reached to allow for occasional special appearances from certain talent for the biggest matches possible. However, as of right now, AEW has its announced partnerships, and the ROH/NJPW deal is solid. That being said, it creates a situation where both ROH and New Japan have to add depth to the roster and elevate some key talents on the card, which was a primary narrative at the MSG event. For All Elite, they will have to make new stars from some of the stellar independent talent that they inked to deals in the past few months and look to promote a successful product without the ROH and New Japan talent that played an important role in the success of the All In pay-per-view last year.

With a dozen matches on the card, it would be difficult to discuss each match in-depth from the G1 Super Card so I want to generally discuss some of the more important aspects of the show that might be an indication of the direction of both groups in the future.

Jeff Cobb defeated Will Ospreay to retain his ROH TV title and claim the New Japan Open Weight belt, making him a double champion within each company. This was a tremendous opening contest that set the tone for the event and these two athletes are great assets for the rosters. Cobb is a more recent addition to ROH, but he had the skills to be there for at least a few years so it’s good to see him get this platform to showcase his ability. Ospreay is one of the best aerial wrestlers of the modern era and that covers a lot of ground, considering how many in the sport use high-flying offense as compared to previous years. Another key aspect for the British grappler is the noticeable improvements to his style, still risky, but a much more measured approach to his offense, which will add years to his career. Both Cobb and Ospreay are exactly the type of competitors that can be used to add more depth to the roster as they are pushed further up the card.

The Women of Honor title match was more or less an average match and didn’t exactly stand out as a pay-per-view quality contest. The post-match attack from The Beautiful People went too long and stalled much of the momentum that the opening bout generated. The impromptu six-man street fight that followed was a little overbooked, but maybe that was just the nature of the match. Still, that match with all it’s pieces added right after the tedious Beautiful People segment didn’t help the pace of the show. Regardless, the Bully Ray angle works well because it adds variety to the product, something that the group didn’t have until the past few years. It was explained well on a recent edition of the Talk is Jericho podcast when Bully talked about how his feud with Flip Gordon allowed for Flip to get over as a persona instead of just the moves that are done from a lot of wrestlers on the roster.

The IWGP Jr. Heavyweight title bout was a short, but great match that provided a lot of great action. More specifically, the Lucha addition to Ring Of Honor gives the organization something unique to promote for events. If a full-fledged Lucha libre company could get off the ground in the United States remains to be seen, but there’s undoubtedly a value to the “special appearance” aspect of Lucha talent booked for American shows.

It’s somewhat odd how Sinclair reacted to the shift and bid for talent in 2019, considering that the first few years that they owned ROH, it was strictly a way to provide programming to its syndicated network. Earlier this year, they put down the cash to sign Bandido and Rush to contracts that make them exclusive to ROH in the United States and still allows them to work Mexico. In some ways, this is more or less an extension of the previous working agreement with CMLL, as the former Mistico and other CMLL stars worked the ROH tour two weeks ago. At the same time, All Elite recognizes the draw of lucha competitors and has a working agreement with AAA in Mexico. Bandido is a tremendous aerial athlete and has a character that can get over with the audience. Rush is a polished performer that brings the potential to be a major piece of the puzzle for the Sinclair-owned league. Bandido and Rush could be big stars in the United States under the ROH banner. Still, it remains to be seen if Sinclair Broadcasting will want to spend the money to maintain its roster if there’s a bidding war for talent in a few years.

The tag title match was brief, but had its moments. The bigger story was the post-match “invasion” by Enzo and Cass, a confrontation that wasn’t shown on the broadcast, but made news on social media. The attempt to “avoid” the run-in on camera made for a choppy presentation of the show as the announcers were left to stall for time. Footage of the “fight” that surfaced online looked staged and it was obvious that this was a work to attempt to garner attention during the Wrestlemania weekend. But, I have to ask, was this really needed? What purpose did it accomplish? Ring Of Honor sold out Madison Square Garden at an event that featured The Great Muta as a surprise in the battle royal. Why exactly did they need a worked shoot run-in from Enzo?

The Zack Sabre Jr./Tanahashi and Ibushi/Naito matches were tremendous. It was authentic New Japan quality and it spoke well for the company on a big stage. More than anything, it gave a North American audience a sample of the quality of the major matches that the NJPW product brings to the table.

The ladder match for the ROH title was probably the best ROH match on the card, but it was a little too long with just under 30 minutes on the show. With as popular as Marty Scurll is, I’d say that he should’ve won the title, even for a short run despite his contract expiring later this year. Since Marty had a different contract than the rest of the Bullet Club, he still had nearly a year on his deal prior to the AEW talent exit so he’s somewhat in limbo. That being said, it still makes sense that Sinclair doesn’t want to invest too much stock into a talent that will almost certainly sign with All Elite when his contract expires. I’m not sure Matt Taven is at an ROH World Champion level, which isn’t a jab against him, but rather that the role has a lot that goes with it. It will be very interesting to see how his run as champion goes because it’s definitely an opportunity for him to make himself a bigger star.

The IWGP Heavyweight title match was solid, but the logic of how the belt was booked is a little puzzling. Since Kenny Omega finished up with New Japan at Wrestle Kingdom, the switch had to be made to Tanahashi. At the same event, Jay White pinned Okada in under 15 minutes. In February, White shocked the wrestling world and defeated Tanahashi to claim the title at just 26 years old. Less than two months later, White dropped the title to Okada at MSG, which doesn’t help add depth to the roster of a promotion that saw Kenny Omega leave a few months ago.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the logic of Okada winning the title in Madison Square Garden because he’s the top athlete in the roster and earned that spot through the incredible matches he had in the past few years. At the same time, I don’t think it helps establish Jay White as a main event level talent when he dropped the belt without successfully defending it. Despite several Okada/Tanahashi matches already, it’s considered a legendary series of matches so I think it would’ve been a suitable main event to bring the match to America in Madison Square Garden. After that, perhaps it would’ve been better for Jay White to win the title at Dominion in June as a better way to push him to the main event. Okada is a top level star, but the problem is that he’s already defeated every major challenger on the roster so it might be difficult for New Japan to book his current reign as champion if his opponents aren’t considered a threat to the championship.

Overall, the G1 Super Card was a quality event, but New Japan proved to have a better night than Ring Of Honor in almost every category. As mentioned previously, the sports entertainment landscape has a lot of groups trying to get their piece of the pie and it might be a matter of time until certain organizations get pushed out. For example, regardless of the quality of the product, I don’t see how Impact Wrestling maintains any status within the industry because of its lack of distribution. With All Elite and ROH basically marketing toward the same demographic, it will be very interesting to see if ROH maintains its spot or if AEW will have enough star power to get off the ground on a national level in the next few years.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta

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