Fresh off their weekend in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania watching World’s Finest and the Royal Rumble, Justin Rozzero, Steve Wille and Mark Poirier discuss all the goings on in Ring of Honor. For more Ring of Honor coverage, check out Justin’s weekly television recaps and, of course, our new Kevin Kelly section at the Place to Be Nation.
Who do you predict will leave Final Battle 2014 with the ROH World Championship?
JUSTIN: It is so tough to predict a full year ahead for ROH because so much can change on a weekly and monthly basis. You never know who will get called up or signed back into the fold. I think they are going to hitch their wagon to Chris Hero for a while, but this time next year, I will say Michael Elgin will finally be World Champion, because he has to win it sometime soon or he is going to become their Lex Luger.
STEVE: I’ve vacillated so much on this question since I initially wrote it. If AJ Styles stays on as more than a temporary attraction, I can see him knocking off Adam Cole at some point. Ultimately, I think that Elgin has to win the belt. He’s had a few chances at Cole over the past months but never in a straight one-on-one match (the tournament finals occurred after both had semifinal matchups). So, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Elgin defeats Styles for the belt late in 2014.
MARK: I’d go with Chris Hero walking out of Final Battle as champion. Think ROH will slowly build on him coming off his NXT run and give him the push that he should get. From all accounts, he has put the work in to get in/stay in shape and is a very good wrestler who can use his time on NXT TV as momentum and carry that to ROH.
Who do you think is poised to have a breakout year?
JUSTIN: My heart says Silas Young, but I don’t know what his ceiling is. He seems to be in line for a nice push, but I am not sure he will ever be a franchise player for them. With the breakup of C&C Wrestle Factory, they seem to be wanting to push Caprice Coleman, so he is a name to watch out for as well. I think Adam Page is another name to watch for in the back-end of the year.
STEVE: Piggy-backing off of Justin for a moment, I think that the former C&C Wrestle Factory members are a great choice, but I’d lean more towards Cedric Alexander getting the break. He impressed at the World’s Finest show in Pittsburgh, having the match of the night in the eyes of the Place to Be Nation members in attendance, and many in the locker room have publicly stated their support for him. Michael Bennett looks poised to take a step up the card, maybe he’ll make a run for the television title.
MARK: Michael Bennett is who I believe will have a breakout year for ROH. I think he may have a chip on his shoulder about being passed up by WWE and will want to show them that they made a huge mistake. I really enjoy his act along with Maria and think that he will make the breakout to the next level this year for ROH.
Who do you think is likely to take a step back this year?
JUSTIN: Kevin Steen. The top of the card is so loaded right now that I have a hard time seeing him fitting back into the title picture at the moment. Matt Taven for sure as well. He had a great 2013 on the surface but struggled to consistently deliver in the ring on a weekly basis. When he was in with a great opponent, he could hang, but he struggled to be the one carrying things. He also was given so many gimmicks to help him get over that it was starting to hurt him by the end of his reign.
STEVE: Towards the end of 2013, I thought that a feud was burgeoning between Jay Lethal and Michael Elgin after they tagged on a couple of occasions and had some miscommunication, but nothing came from it. To me, Lethal is stagnant, not in the ring, but from a storyline perspective. I foresee him continuing to have solid matches with whomever they place in front of him, but not really progressing up the card.
MARK: As a fellow Canadian, it pains me to say Michael Elgin, but I will. I feel like they didn’t pull the trigger on him when they had the chance. It took me a while to jump on the bandwagon, but after being at SuperCard of honor VII in New York for his match with Jay Lethal, I was of the belief that he could be World Champion. Since then it just seems that with new talent coming in like Hero and AJ Styles that he is getting pushed aside for them and getting lost in the crowd.
What are some outside talents you’d like to see in ROH, and what current roster members do you see leaving the company?
JUSTIN: I would like to see ROH open a working relationship with TNA again. I think both promotions could benefit from a talent share to help freshen up their programs a bit. With AJ Styles returning, I think Samoa Joe having another run with the promotion could be a lot of fun as well. I am not sure where Mike Bennett is headed, but he supposedly signed a long-term deal to stay, so it seems like he will be around for a while. Maybe Steen leaves at year’s end as he may have maxed out, but I am not sure he would find a home with WWE. I could also see Matt Hardy head for greener pastures now that he has cleaned up his act and gotten himself back into shape. I think reDRagon ends up in TNA by the end of 2014 too.
STEVE: Chris Hero and Roderick Strong are booked in both ROH and Dragon Gate/Evolve this spring, and I hope that’s a sign that relationships are cooling off between the two companies. Independent wrestlers need has many open options as possible to make a living, and I also believe that’s best for the product. Fans aren’t stupid; we can separate characters from one company to another, and we already do so on the American independent scene with PWG, ROH and DGUSA. I’d like to see Trent Baretta get a look in ROH, and perhaps Green Ant or Jigsaw. I’m always open to talent from Japan and/or Mexico coming in as an attraction, as I rarely get a chance to view non-American promotions these days. Unless Chad Campbell makes me a swank comp.
There aren’t many wrestlers that I can visualize leaving for the WWE right now. Lethal and Roderick Strong might be possibilities for TNA; I’m a huge Roderick Strong fan after this year. Every time I’ve watched him in 2013, I knew I was in for a solid match, and I still gush about his bout with Paul London I witnessed in Chicago.
MARK: I would like to see ROH bring in more talent from New Japan like a Shinsuke Nakamura for example. New Japan is probably the best promotion in the world right now when it comes to in-ring action and I think if there is a talent exchange or some kind of partnership (which is rumored) it could lead to some great action in the ring that ROH could use it to draw bigger crowds and maybe try this iPPV thing again. When it comes to someone leaving the company, I will say that Roderick Strong will be the one to leave. With TNA looking to save costs, they are looking to bring in guys like Strong into the company. He’s been with ROH for a long time and I feel he deserves the chance on the national stage.
Do you have any bold predictions in terms of storylines?
JUSTIN: I would say Michael Elgin turns heel when he finally wins the title, but we just saw that with Adam Cole, so it is unlikely. Perhaps Steve Corino relaunches a version of SCUM with Cole and Hardy leading the way? I think Chris Hero will be world champion at some point, the man who unseats Cole. Elgin defeats him at Final Battle.
STEVE: Kevin Kelly loses a bet with Justin, and, as his prize, Justin gets to sit ringside at a live event in Providence, making goo-goo eyes at Steve Corino for three hours. This one’s out of left field, but how about the Briscoe Brothers joining with the members of Decade, feuding with the returning Styles, Hero, Young Bucks and Paul London?
MARK: Time to play fantasy booker, which is something I do here. Sorry for the cheap plug. Who doesn’t like an invasion angle? I know I do, so with that I predict that there will be an ROH invasion with TNA. Both companies need a shot in the arm and what a way to get people talking by doing this. Maybe have the Wolves comes back to ROH preaching to the fans that going to Dixieland was better than being with ROH. Who wouldn’t love seeing Kevin Steen package piledrive Magnus.
From an outside of the ring business perspective, what do you hope Ring of Honor focuses on in 2014?
JUSTIN: Staying in their lane. Pick up more syndicated channels to air their TV. Return to PPV with a steadier, more trustworthy model. Continue to be successful and stay ahead of getting stale, which happened to them for a bit in 2013 before they turned over the roster.
STEVE: I’d like to see more effort placed in their Ringside Membership program, making it more of a value by adding more events from the past. I would like them to continue to add channels to their syndicated deal but not try to compete on a national stage. The glitches with live iPPV never really affected me, as I rarely, if ever, watch shows as they air. I do enjoy that all shows are now posted rather quickly if they’re not airing on television, so there’s not as much confusion keeping track of storylines.
MARK: I hope ROH can once and for all focus on getting back on iPPV without any problems. They have had countless issues with the stream going down, but if they want to generate more money and make the company grow, Sinclair needs to pony up the money for a good stream and get fans back to buying these iPPV’s. The landscape of wrestling is changing with the birth of the WWE Network and people might not want to pay $9.99 for one iPPV when they can get 1500 hours of wrestling on demand for that same price a month. If ROH can get the fans trust back and put out a great product then I’m sure they will buy the iPPV’s and continue to grow the company.