State of Honor: How AJ Styles and Others Changed the Goals of Wrestlers Around the World

The 2300 Arena was the stage for Ring of Honor's Final Battle Pay-Per-View. That venue may not sound familiar to most wrestling fans. That's because they might know the now-renovated building as the former ECW Arena. The building was known for hosting hard-hitting, sometimes violent battles, but has become a regular stop for a variety of wrestling promotions and styles.

You could say Ring of Honor has gone through a similar renovation over the last few years.

In 2011, Sinclair Broadcasting purchased Ring of Honor and moved their weekly television show to their affiliates around the country. The show continues to makes new clearances in more markets with Sinclair reaching about 37.5 percent of American television households. For those without Ring of Honor television in their market, the show can be viewed for free every Thursday on the company's site.

In June 2015, Ring of Honor began running on Destination America in addition to Sinclair affiliates as part of a wrestling block with TNA Impact Wrestling. However, that partnership with Destination America was short-lived and the show ended up moving to Comet last December. Between Comet, Sinclair affiliates and the company site, fans have the chance to catch the weekly show at their convenience.

While ROH has made quite a name for themselves on their own in developing from an independent promotion to what they are today, they’ve had to deal with some of their best talent leaving along the way. WWE Superstars like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn, Cesaro, Austin Aries, and now A.J. Styles all spent significant portions of their respective careers in ROH and helped build the company. To ROH’s credit, they’ve embraced this with the “Creating Excellence” slogan that is seen at the beginning of their programming and YouTube videos featuring some of those aforementioned names.

The success of those former ROH stars in WWE and around the world has been a huge boost to the value of the ROH brand, which is why they’ve become not a stop in the careers of wrestlers, but the desired destination.

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16 A.J. Styles: Has your career opened the door for others to adjust their goals with WWE not necessarily being the end game? 

via 411mania.com

A perfect example of that excellence is A.J. Styles. I spoke to Styles about a month before the news of his WWE signing happened. Obviously, Styles has made huge waves in 2016 with his long overdue debut in WWE at the Royal Rumble. Styles was with ROH at the beginning, but is likely best known for his time in TNA, but after leaving that company at the end of 2013, he returned to Ring of Honor. His match against ROH World Champion Jay Lethal at Final Battle was his final one for the company before joining WWE. He was also part of the main-event scene in New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW with his final singles match there coming against Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental Title at NJPW’s biggest event of the year, Wrestle Kingdom 10, on January 4. Nakamura has also signed with WWE and has been announced for NXT TakeOver: Dallas in April. Because of his commitments with NJPW, Styles wasn’t on every ROH television show or live event. However, he was a big part of the working relationship between the companies, which was announced in February 2014 and culminated in the first joint show, War of the Worlds, in May 2014. That relationship has grown and continues to be beneficial to both companies.

“I hope so. You can’t let your ego get in the way. For me, it’s about supporting my family and I’ve said this in countless interviews that I’m going to go wherever the business takes me. My business is making sure my family doesn’t need a lot. I haven’t been to WWE and I’ve been doing well. You have to go where the business takes you, as Seth Rollins, CM Punk, and Kevin Owens have (jumping from ROH to WWE) and we’re all happy for them. The type of wrestlers we have now can wrestle anywhere and make a living at and don’t have to worry about living paycheck to paycheck because people love independent wrestling and they’re going to pay to see you.”

15 Christopher Daniels: What changes have you seen in ROH, specifically as it relates to television? 

via 411mania.com

Ring of Honor wasn’t always a television product, but now that it is, there’s clearly an effect on how the companies operates, both from a creative and business standpoint. “The Fallen Angel” Christopher Daniels, a 22-year veteran, was part of the company’s first main event back in 2002 and has been in and out of the company multiple times with stops in TNA in between. His latest stint with ROH started in 2014.

“One of the things that being on television has brought us is that there has to be something for everybody. If everybody was doing the same hard-hitting style, then sooner or later it would get pretty repetitive. Being on TV, it made the people in charge of who’s here and who’s not broaden their horizons in terms of what constituted a good fit for Ring of Honor. At the same time, the more popular Ring of Honor became, the more guys that are striving to make an impact on the pro wrestling scene, the more it became a goal for them to get to Ring of Honor. One of the big things about ROH now is that the name signifies a certain level of excellence. That’s a goal for a lot of these guys, to get to be good enough to be on ROH TV, to be in ROH’s locker room.”

14 Adam Cole: What does the relationship between ROH and PWG mean to you? 

via business2community.com

In December 2015, ROH announced a partnership with Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG), which is one of the most popular independent promotions in the world based out of Reseda, California. That agreement came after Adam Cole, who’s signed the first exclusive contract with ROH, made a surprise return to PWG at All-Star Weekend: Night One, just days before the agreement was announced.

Cole has been wrestling for nearly eight years, but started with ROH in 2009 and later joined PWG in 2011, where he was the longest reigning PWG World Champion until he lost the title on May 23, 2014, his last appearance with the company until his December 2015 return. And you can tell, it meant a lot to him when asked about it.

“I’ve always been a good solider when it comes to me working for a company, especially for ROH. That was the one thing I said, ‘Please, I’d really love to work for PWG.’ And at the time it just didn’t fit trying to get the exclusive contracts going, but now the fact that it’s opened back up, I mean to tell you that I’m ecstatic would be an understatement. PWG was a big reason the fans took to me the way they did. Because the creative freedom you have there, how crazy that audience is, getting to come back there to me has got to be up there in top three moments of my wrestling career. I’m so happy to be back in PWG and it kind of gives the Adam Cole brand and character a different flavor now that I get to go out to Reseda once a month.”

13 Adam Cole: Do you like the idea of cross-promoting between ROH and PWG? 

via insidepulse.com

Cole’s return to PWG wasn’t the only one by a member of the ROH roster. His opponent at Final Battle, Kyle O’Reilly, showed up just a day later at All-Star Weekend: Night Two, which made for an interesting face-off considering the two would be facing off less than a week later in a different promotion.

Clearly, there was an acknowledgement of what was to come at Final Battle for ROH, but to meet in a PWG ring across the country blurred the lines a bit.

“I like the cross-promotional kind of stuff. To me, the moment where Kyle O’Reilly appeared in the ring and we had the face-to-face and we had the people going nuts and knowing that less than a week away we were going to face each other one-on-one at Final Battle to me it made the feud seem that much more special. And if we can cross-promote like that, that’s a big reason why ROH allowing these exclusive guys to go work for PWG is a benefit to ROH.”

12 Kyle O’Reilly: What have you seen change during your time with ROH? 

via en.wikipedia.org

While O’Reilly made his big return to PWG in December, he’s been spending the majority of his time teaming with Bobby Fish as part of reDRagon in both ROH and NJPW. The 28-year-old is a native of Vancouver, but knew he had to come to America to get his chance in ROH, where he’s been working under contract since 2010.

“It still sort has that mom and pop shop feel to it. It’s not bigger beyond its means. Everybody believes in it. Everybody works hard. Everybody has their role to play. It doesn’t feel like this huge company. It feels like a family. I first started wrestling in ROH in 2009. I moved my life out to St. Louis just to get in ROH, strictly because I wanted to get in and make ROH my thing. I started driving to every show, getting on a dark match here and there, but after a year of that, they signed me to a deal and that was right around when the HDNet show was going on, so I had my first TV match. It’s just been growing and growing ever since. It’s pretty unreal to look at how known ROH is now.

11 Kyle O’Reilly: How do you feel the ROH/NJPW relationship has helped your career? 

via cheap-heat.com

O’Reilly is a two-time IWGP Junior Tag Team Champion with Fish and went to the finals of the 2015 Best of the Super Juniors in NJPW, so he’s certainly been helped by his time in Japan.

“Immensely. It’s given me so much confidence and it’s a dream come true because I’ve always loved Japanese pro wrestling. It was always a dream of mine to make it in Japan. When I first started wrestling, I thought, “I’m ready to go to Japan. Why am not getting this opportunity?” I was not ready then. I’m glad I didn’t get that opportunity. Finally, last summer, is when me and Bobby (Fish) got the call. We went out there for the G1 (Climax) Finals and they have just treated us so well. The fans have treated us so well. We’ve been given great opportunities. It’s just been an absolute blast and I love wrestling in Japan.”

10 The Young Bucks: What’s your philosophy when it comes to social media? 

When it comes to blurring the lines, no one does it better than The Young Bucks. The Bucks consist of real-life brothers, Matt and Nick Jackson, and whether it’s promising to hit their most devastating finishing move, The Meltzer Driver, if they sell enough t-shirts or explaining to their families why they’re such big stars, you won’t find a more polarizing pair in wrestling.

Traditionalists hate them for their so-called lack of psychology and abundance of high spots. Those who want to have fun, flock to The Young Bucks. You can call them brash, cocky, or arrogant, and they’d probably agree with those descriptions. Or would they? Ask Matt on Twitter.

Matt Jackson – “I feel like social media is such a tool that people don’t take advantage of. We don’t have the luxury of being on TV every Monday night on a channel like USA. We don’t have that. But we do have a Facebook. We do have a Twitter. We have Instagram. Our characters work too because it’s not black and white. It’s a shade of gray. You want to get the boys, you want to get the fans to second-guess and wonder, ‘Did the Bucks really say that? Do they mean that?’ And to tell you the truth, I don’t even know if I mean it. I think I do. I don’t care. Is it interesting? Are people talking about it? Then it’s fun.”

9 The Young Bucks: How important was the PWG relationship with ROH to you? 

via lastwordonsports.com

During his return to PWG, Cole re-aligned himself with The Young Bucks as part of the Mount Rushmore 2.0 faction. The Bucks are a big reason why relationships between ROH and NJPW and ROH and PWG exist. Both brothers knew their worth when entering negotiations with ROH.

Nick Jackson – “When ROH approached us to sign another contract, we said we need a working agreement with NJPW and PWG and if you don’t want that, then we’re done talking.”

Matt Jackson – “They’re (ROH) hip to it. They realize there’s something big with these companies. It gives us street credit. It helps them out. It gives everybody a positive rub. If we all become one team, we’re actually an alternative.”

8 The Young Bucks: Are your unique contracts yet another homage to The Kilq? 

via mediaspo0rt.com

When The Young Bucks re-signed with ROH in October 2014, their deal set new precedents. In addition to letting them work for NJPW and PWG, ROH also let them keep their store at ProWrestlingTees.com, which is a huge revenue source for the brothers.

The unique deal reminded me of the guaranteed contracts Scott Hall and Kevin Nash got when they left WWE for WCW in 1996. Those members of The Kliq paved the way for negotiations for years to come. Nick and Matt agreed with my comparisons.

Nick Jackson – “It’s on a smaller scale, but you’re right on the button there.”

Matt Jackson – “We throw up the too sweet sign because we want to be like The Kliq in the ring and outside of the ring. They changed the business. If we have the power and we’re cool enough to help the guys out, these guys are our buddies. These are our friends. I see these guys more than my family. I’m going to help these guys out. We have to work together here. We have to make as much money as we can. We have to save our money. Then, we have to get out when it’s time. We think about each other. I think this era is less selfish than the others. It’s just a different crop of guys. The ProWrestlingTees thing is revolutionary. This is a gold mine. This is how you make money.”

On this night, The Young Bucks tore it up with the All Night Express and The Briscoes in the opening match. Cole and O’Reilly had a different, but equally exciting grudge match as part of their bi-promotional feud. Styles left a lasting impression on the crowd after a memorable performance in the main event against ROH World Champion Jay Lethal.

7 The Young Bucks: Can wrestlers look to you guys as examples of WWE not being the end game? 

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Matt Jackson – “We created this. This wasn’t ever a real option. Colt Cabana, AJ Styles are the pioneers of this. There are very few people who can do it. We’re trying to make it more possible for everybody. We want it to be another place for everybody to work.”

Nick Jackson – “In this day and age, you can come to ROH and make an actual career out of it. You can make good money. I’m talking the same money these guys in NXT are making, possibly more. Even people on the (WWE) main roster, in our case. And with the contract we just signed, we’re going to be home more. That’s a big bonus.”

Matt Jackson – “That’s a big gripe about pro wrestling. You have to live on the road. Maybe not. Maybe it can be a little bit different. We’re going to be home more next year than we have in the last four or five years.”

6 The Young Bucks: What else do you want to see from ROH? 

via wrestlingrevealed.com

Matt Jackson – “I think the way the trends are going with the houses being up, more people watching the product, I’m just excited to see what happens maybe with the NJPW thing. They’re (ROH) going out there to Japan. I think that could be a really cool thing. Maybe we can keep going out there. I love the partnerships.”

Nick Jackson – “I want the three companies (ROH, NJPW, PWG) to grow more. I want the relationship to grow more. I think it would be a hell of an angle to involve all three of them somehow. I don’t know if that’s possible.”

Matt Jackson – “We’re trying to sway a few of our big-name friends to sign here. I would love to see CM Punk come back. Maybe in the next couple of years. In wrestling, anything’s possible nowadays.”

Nick Jackson – “This is the cool thing right now, and I think it’s going to continue to be the cool thing.”

5 Frankie Kazarian: How do you think the PWG/ROH relationship will work going forward? 

via baltimoresun.com

Although he’s been wrestling for almost 18 years, Frankie Kazarian spent only six months in WWE with the majority of his career happening in TNA. With both of those companies in his rearview mirror, Kazarian has been a mainstay in ROH for almost two years and is back on the independent scene, including PWG. He’s certainly enjoying the freedom that comes along with that.

“The thing about this business is that we’re independent contractors and we’re not employees. We are and should be free to wrestle wherever we want. I personally live my life by a strong independent code, both politically and professionally. For the fans of Southern California where PWG is based, for them to not get to see guys like Roderick Strong, Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish, or Adam Cole, was unfortunate and the whole product suffered. For them now to be able to see those guys again and going forward is beneficial to everybody. I know the guys love wrestling in PWG. I know the fans love seeing the guys that came up in PWG like Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly. It’s a great relationship and it’s a great door that’s been opened.”

4 Frankie Kazarian: Considering all the places you’ve wrestled, does it feel different working at a ROH or PWG show compared to TNA or WWE? 

via rohwrestling.com

“It does because there’s that independent, spontaneous nature about it. Everything from in-ring stuff to promos isn’t micromanaged. A lot of people would hear me say that and think that would have a negative connotation and it really doesn’t it. WWE is always going to do good business and they’re very good at what they do because they’ve been doing it longer than everyone else. However, there’s more of an off-the-cuff, anything-can-happen, violent, realistic feel to a PWG or ROH show. A lot of that has to do with the crowd. The crowd at a PWG and ROH show is another characters on the show. The crowd is its own thing. The feeling being at a show like this (ROH Final Battle), where every match from the first to the main event is basically trying top each other. It’s a can-you-top-this mentality. A lot people think that’s not how you build a show, but a lot of people really love that style. Obviously, fans of PWG and ROH have really gravitated toward that style. There’s huge backlash right now with what’s accepted as status quo in professional wrestling on television.”

3 Christopher Daniels: Can the alternatives to WWE change the general perception of wrestling? 

via rohwrestling.com

If you’re looking for an alternative to what you see on Monday and Thursday nights, anyone you talk to in ROH believes they have the answer. Daniels sees plenty of options.

“With the success of ROH and the success of TNA and other independent companies that are going in some sort of stature, there’s more of a variety of style then just what the WWE style is. If people are disenchanted in what is the WWE style, then there’s more of an opportunity to find ROH, find TNA, find Dragon Gate or Evolve or any of them myriad of professional wrestling styles, Chikara, any of those. The thing that people love with professional wrestling, if they’re not finding it with WWE, hopefully they still have the initiative to seek out what they did love whether it’s with us or a different company.”

2 Adam Cole: What do you want to see in wrestling in the future? 

via rohwrestling.com

Cole loves the direction of the business as a whole and likens it to what’s happening outside of the wresting genre. And he wants to be part of making it even bigger.

“We’re really close because we’ve already made the one big step of wanting to accept a certain style of pro wrestling and I also think that we’re totally capable of telling really, really intriguing and fascinating stories. I remember being a kid and following certain indie promotions and even stuff in the WWE and being really captivated by all the subtleties, the storylines. No doubt in my mind, the wrestling landscape is the best it’s been in years. And now if we can really turn it up because you see TV shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead with all these really captivating stories, if we can get to a point, where wrestling on TV comes to that can’t-miss, weekly TV, like whether it’s WWE, TNA, ROH, NJPW, I think at point, no form of entertainment or no sport can touch us. That’s my goal.”

1 The Young Bucks: Why is there some much negativity from fans when it comes to the wrestling business? 

via insidepulse.com

There’s probably too much negativity when it comes to wrestling fans criticizing the product, and many say if you don’t like what you’re seeing on Monday Night Raw, then don’t watch. But what about those that want that wrestling scratch itched? Nick Jackson says they are finding ways to satisfy their need.

Nick Jackson - “People are just searching for an alternative right now. Every show we go to, no matter where it is, the attendance is rising. People are buying merch. People are buying the autographs to meet you. I think people want this. People are sick of what they’re seeing, possibly on Monday nights. I think they’ve found something they like. And I think that’s why ROH is growing like crazy.”

The growth will continue in 2016. ROH had a presence on NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 10 in multiple matches, including an ROH World Title contest featuring solely ROH wrestlers in Lethal, the champion, and Michael Elgin, the challenger. In February, the companies will run join shows in Japan, called Honor Rising. Later in the month, NJPW stars including Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tomohiro Ishii, and IWGP Intercontinental Champion Kenny Omega will appear at ROH’s 14th Anniversary PPV. In May, the companies will come together yet again for the War of the Worlds Tour.

If you want a different flavor of wrestling, ROH provides many flavors and their relationships with NJPW and PWG will only create more in the future. It’s a great time to be a wrestling fan if you know where to look.

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