In the aftermath of Vince McMahon buying WCW in March of 2001, there was a relative void in competition, whether direct or indirect, to WWE. The ground was not dry, however, it was actually fertile for the development of companies that would either try to serve as competition to WWE, a la TNA, or serve as an alternative/breeding ground for potential future WWE talent. One of the things that really set ROH apart from WWE was its Code of Honor. Wrestlers had to shake hands before and after matches. There was to be no outside interference, no sneak attacks and no harming the referees. Any DQ would result in a violation of the code. This led to more defined heel/face dynamics and much more clean finishes that most of its rivals at the time, and definitely a far cry from WWE.
Now, if you are a fan of any of the following wrestlers, then you have been impacted by ROH. Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens, and Seth Rollins have all been ROH World Champions. Look at that list again, Punk, Bryan, Owens and Rollins have all also been either WWE Champion, World Heavyweight Champion, Universal Champion or WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Punk has the longest world title reign in the modern era. Daniel Bryan had one of the best longform stories in the last 20 years in WWE.
Rollins was the first NXT champion, the first WWE champion who was also NXT champion and the first Money in the Bank winner to cash in at Wrestlemania. Kevin Owens beat John Cena in his first match on WWE ppv.
Think about the accolades shared by these four men alone. What WWE realized with a company like ROH was that their biggest stars were guys who had experience in the ring, and brought a built-in fanbase, no matter how large or small, with them to WWE. Not only that, WWE borrowed heavily from ROH when they recreated the Summer of Punk in WWE. WWE’s storyline mirrored much of what Punk had done in the leadup to his departure from ROH. So, no matter how much WWE will admit it, Ring of Honor has had a genuine impact – specifically on the last six to seven years.
The most interesting result of a potential WWE purchase of ROH would be how it would affect the wrestlers. When you think back to WWE’s purchase of WCW, one of the main issues was the contracts of WCW’s wrestlers. Many of WCW’s top talent either were not brought in by WWE, were not interested in WWE or were happy being paid via their contracts with WWE until the end of that time. This led to guys like Sting, Goldberg, Kevin Nash not being immediately brought in. Now, the purchase of ROH may be a very different approach. It’s possible that ROH would continue to be run like an independent and separate organization – which one would imagine would mean that most guys are retained with the potential to be called up to WWE’s main roster or NXT. If it’s more like the WCW purchase, then it is possible that many of your favorite independent wrestlers may be out of one of the top indie promotions which could potentially limit their opportunities both for work and for exposure and development. The guess at this time would be it’s more likely to be the former than the latter.
If WWE lets ROH continue to run as a non-independent independent, then it would likely mean a greater opportunity for growth and development for ROH’s contracted wrestlers. One of the main concerns HHH has stated in interviews is that the guys from indie promotions don’t always have the experience of working in front of WWE-level crowds, in front of a live TV audience and in cutting promos. As such, with the WWE machine behind it, many of these guys would be able to further develop their craft. That’s a pro for both WWE and ROH.
Another pro would be that WWE has a new source of talent to recruit to its main roster. They essentially would double their development crop without needing to invest in too much additional infrastructure. Also, this new crop of developmental talent would be similarly skilled in the ring like the previous generation of guys WWE pillaged from ROH. Essentially they could run ROH as the NXT of the north.
Which leads to a third potential pro, which is ROH could act as competition for NXT. *Unpopular opinion alert* Think about, in some ways, NXT is the spoiled brat of WWE. They get to work smaller, hotter crowds most of the year. Most gimmicks work in NXT, especially in front of their home town Full Sail University crowds. They get to operate under the banner of “this is HHH’s show” where people get legitimate opportunities to sink or swim without a lot of fear. Some may say that at this stage, NXT has gotten a little complacent. What better way to light a fire than to bring in ROH as a competing brand similar to the brand split between Raw and Smackdown. They can draft talent back and forth between the two and mix the talent in a way that puts experienced indie wrestlers with WWE developmental talent in NXT even more so than it already does.
The cons of this mostly have to do with if WWE is purchasing ROH to absorb it into its current setup and abandon the brand, the history and some of the existing talent of ROH. The absorption model will more than likely leave a lot of talent out of work. There is only so much space available in NXT and the most likely move would be to get rid of any ROH talent WWE isn’t interested in.
The other route would be to use incoming ROH talent to replace unwanted NXT talent. The one major con whenever one promotion buys another, particularly when the buyer is of WWE’s size, is that some people will inevitably end up out of work. With as much physical, mental and emotional sacrifice that wrestlers take on for their craft, losing a gig like WWE is rarely a positive.
Even if WWE maintains ROH, one of the biggest potential drawbacks could be ROH losing its soul, so to speak. When you look at what made ROH special for so long, it was and is the fact that its approach is definitively non-WWE in many ways. Being bought by WWE and then being slowly turned into WWE would be a blow for a lot of indie fans. As seen in the past, having an alternative promotion that gives wrestlers an opportunity to grow outside of the largest spotlight and develop their craft outside of the pressure cooker that is WWE could lead to potential greatness. Would Punk, Bryan, Joe, Rollins and others have had the run they’ve had so far in WWE if it wasn’t for ROH being what it was? Maybe, maybe not, but it is a scary thought to think of ROH losing its very essence.
Ultimately, I don’t think the deal will go through, at least not at this stage. There has already been pushback saying that there is no truth to the rumors. While I don’t think that is the case – there has been too much smoke around this topic off and on in the last two years for it to not be something there – I do think that we may be a way off from a deal ultimately happening. I think the purchase can be a good thing for all involved but it all depends on how WWE approaches it. And that is usually the rub when it comes to things like this with WWE – are they just going to screw it up. They did it with the invasion angle, they did it with the Nexus and other situations. If they approach it with a view to use ROH as another proving ground in tandem with NXT and as a way to bring more independent guys into the WWE style while maintaining most of what makes them great, then it works. But the last thing anyone wants to see is the Young Bucks getting neutered or discarded due to WWE purchasing ROH. Hopefully if the deal goes through, WWE does right by the workers in ROH and at the end of the day everybody wins.