SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
(Note: PWTorch policy is not to publish spoilers without warning for unaired matches and angles at TV tapings. This match, though, was aired on ROH’s streaming service today so it’s considered no longer a spoiler since it’s been “officially released and distributed.” That said, watch that match first if you are an Honor Club member if you want to see what happens and how it played out before reading analysis of it.)
ROH has a fresh start after their TV tapings last night in Fairfax, Va. Surprisingly, the company chose to put the ROH World Title match featuring ROH World Champion Dalton Castle defending against Jay Lethal and Matt Taven and Cody Rhodes on their Honor Club subscription service for fans to watch last night. Twitter began buzzing after word spread that there was a title change and it wasn’t long before a ton of conversation was going on about Jay Lethal becoming the new ROH World Champion.
The company needed a fresh start. Castle has had one of the most underwhelming reigns of any ROH Champion in the history of the company. It’s not entirely his fault, as he’s been battling through a nasty list of injuries including a really bad back and a broken finger.
Castle was held off of some events in recent months, but ultimately it became clear it was time for him to get some rest and move the title picture in another direction. Castle won the title at “Final Battle 2017” from Cody Rhodes, but his reign never got on track and he became the third wheel recently in a storyline based around the tension between Marty Scurll and Cody Rhodes leading up to his title defense against both of them in the main event of “Best in the World 2018.”
Castle managed to come out of “Best in the World 2018” as ROH World Champion, but it shouldn’t have been a surprise in hindsight. Cody Rhodes is set to face Kenny Omega at the G1 Special in San Francisco and ROH wasn’t going to have their World Champion lose to the NJPW IWGP World Hvt. Champion for the second year in a row at a G1 Special. Cody lost to Okada at last year’s G1 Special. Marty Scurll wasn’t a great choice either at this time being so heavily involved in the junior’s division in NJPW.
ROH had two choices going into the TV taping last night if the title was going to change hands. They could put the title on Matt Taven or Jay Lethal. Taven wasn’t the safe choice. He’s not a proven commodity as a main event talent, but he did win his recent feud with Cody Rhodes and he’s done a good job establishing himself as the face of the heel faction The Kingdom with Vinny Marseglia and T.K. O’Ryan.
It would have been fun to see if Taven could rise to the occasion as champion. He’s had a good storyline going that there’s a conspiracy against him in ROH, but he’s never been given the ball to run as a top guy in ROH. Taven can only go so long without being given some credibility before fans write him off as a mid-card heel for good. ROH didn’t choose Taven, but they did continue his ongoing conspiracy storyline in the match as the ref inexplicably checked on Jay Lethal while Taven had about a 7-count rollup on Castle for the visual pin.
Jay Lethal is the safe choice for ROH right now as champion. His previous reign as ROH World Champion didn’t generate a ton of buzz for the company despite the huge push he got as a double champion. Lethal was the face of the company the last time he was champion and hit the interview circuit hard for ROH, but business didn’t go up with him as the face of the company as heel champion.
This time around, Lethal is a babyface champion. He’s coming off the heels of an ongoing storyline where he’s avenged all of his recent losses on his path back to gold. Castle was the last loss he had to avenge, as Castle beat him at the “16th Anniversary” PPV earlier this year in a successful title defense. Lethal slayed the last dragon last night in that storyline by pinning Castle to win the ROH World Title.
Lethal is certainly a good choice to be champion of ROH. One of the things that hurts most ROH wrestlers is they rely on the company and booker Hunter Johnston to get them over and producer their interview segments. ROH’s non-“Being the Elite” top acts like Dalton Castle, The Briscoes, Punishment Martinez, and until recently Jay Lethal have done nothing to raise their own profiles outside of the confines of ROH.
Castle, The Briscoes, Martinez, Lethal, and all of ROH’s other acts sit in the same locker room as The Young Bucks, but they don’t seem inspired to raise their own stock using the same tools as The Young Bucks. None of them have leveraged social media and YouTube to raise their profile as The Young Bucks have done with their “Being The Elite” YouTube show.
The Young Bucks have gotten several acts over using Being the Elite. Most recently, they added Lethal to the mix and one has to wonder if it’s a coincidence that Lethal is trying to get himself out there and recognized as a brand after all this time in ROH where he’s been an afterthought. Lethal’s work has always been good and sometimes excellent, but until he recently began appearing on Being The Elite, he hadn’t done much to raise his profile amongst the hardcore fans that watch “Being the Elite” and sold out All In in under 30 minutes.
Without The House of Truth around in a supporting role, Lethal has the chance to cement himself as a top act in wrestling as babyface champion. This is a much-needed fresh start for Ring of Honor when it comes to the ROH World Title. The title has become an afterthought, as The Young Bucks and the cast of “Being the Elite” have become the focal point of Ring of Honor. Lethal has the potential to overcome that as a serious take-on-all-comers babyface champion.
Lethal’s storyline of avenging all of his recent losses on his way back to title contention didn’t set the world on fire, but it’s enough of a base to give him a strong push as the top guy in Ring of Honor. The issue is going to be whether or not ROH booker Hunter Johnston can make him a compelling champion with his booking or if The Young Bucks expand his role on “Being the Elite” and he takes off as a popular babyface thanks to his push on their show.
Johnston hasn’t built many memorable rivalries for the ROH World Title in recent years. The last really good feud in the ROH World Title picture was Adam Cole vs. Jay Briscoe. If Johnston can build up credible challengers for Lethal on the house shows and PPVs, it would be a shot in the arm for the overall product, which hasn’t been consistently producing great matches in the title scene. Although Castle’s matches were always good to very good on big shows, they weren’t particularly memorable.
It’s an exciting time to be an ROH fan with Lethal winning the ROH World Title and the title change immediately streaming on Honor Club last night. There are a number of fresh matches for Lethal as ROH World Champion and Lethal is good enough in the ring that he can raise the profile of young talent like Punishment Martinez by putting on really good in-ring matches surrounded by good storytelling.
Right now, it would appear that Matt Taven should be first in line for an ROH World Title shot. He is certainly deserving, as he missed out on a one-on-one shot against Castle earlier this year when Castle was held out of a show due to his injuries and last night he got a visual pin in the title match that the ref ignored for some unexplained reason.
ROH has some buzz right now thanks to airing a title change on Honor Club from their TV Taping in Fairfax, Va. How they capitalize on that buzz at this time is unknown, but with Lethal as their top champion and Taven lined up to resume his feud with him, there’s a reason for people to be excited about the product.
Contact Sean at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @sr_torch