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Two years ago, at Final Battle 2016, Cody Rhodes made his debut for Ring Of Honor. He entered the arena as a beloved star, championed by wrestling fans for walking away from WWE of his own volition and reinventing himself on the independent circuit. Cody’s inaugural opponent was the franchise of ROH, Jay Lethal. But all it would take was one low blow and a series of barbs directed at the fans in attendance for Cody to leave that night showered in boos.
2018 was the year of The Elite. From the increased viewership for Being The Elite to Kenny Omega finally capturing the IWGP Heavyweight Championship to the massive success of All In to the Jericho Cruise to The Young Bucks making tag team wrestling a legitimate main event feature for ROH, you can’t talk about pro wrestling in 2018 without The Elite being at the center of the conversation. Now we stand on the cusp of 2019 with all signs pointing toward Cody, The Young Bucks, and Adam Page leaving ROH. How that vacuum will be filled will be the biggest story for ROH over the next four months. Of course at the end of that path sits a sold out Madison Square Garden and the G1 Supercard. This is not a doom and gloom situation.
At Final Battle 2017 Cody lost the ROH world title to Dalton Castle, Jay Lethal defeated Marty Scurll, and Adam Page & The Young Bucks retained the six-man titles over Flip Gordon, Dragon Lee, & Titán. After a year of waiting Cody finally gets his rematch for the top title.
1. Kenny King vs. Eli Isom
At Best In The World in June Kenny King lost a singles match to former friend Austin Aries after being unable to bring himself to hit a Royal Flush onto the apron. Aries claimed afterward that King was weak and would never be a main eventer if he continued to allow his conscience to hold him back. The words stuck with King and he entered the fall with a new “do whatever it takes” philosophy, using fake-outs, distractions, and other less than honorable means to steal victories over various members of Bullet Club. King set his sights on the world title and got his shot at Global Wars: Toronto on November 11 but failed to capture the gold.
Eli Isom is a product of the ROH Dojo. He’s made scattered TV appearances since December of last year working as enhancement, both as a singles act and as a tag team with partner Ryan Nova. His breakout moment was on July 15 TV when Isom teamed with King and Chuck Taylor in a six-man gauntlet match. Isom won the gauntlet for his team with a bridging pin on Christopher Daniels. Unfortunately he was also the one pinned when their team challenged The Kingdom for the six-man titles two weeks later. Since then he’s picked up a pinfall over Shane Taylor in a four-corner survival match but lost singles matches to Taylor, Jeff Cobb, and Flip Gordon. This led to Global Wars: Lewiston on November 7 where the trio of Isom, Nova, and their mentor Cheeseburger adopted a new look and re-branded themselves as Shinobi Shadow Squad.
Prediction: This is a “get everybody on the show” match. King’s push was a big focus of television through the fall so it’s a shame he’s not slotted higher on the card but hopefully it’s just a slight pit stop before he rises up again in the new year. Isom’s getting Burger’s plucky underdog role where the wins are rare but the crowd still supports him. King rakes the eyes and hits the Royal Flush for the win.
2. Jonathan Gresham vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
The battle of the submission specialists is the only other non-title, non-gimmick match on the show. Like Isom Gresham’s lost matches more than he’s won this year (7-12 is his singles record) but a trio of matches against Jay Lethal earned him a lot of acclaim and attention and sparked a friendship between the two. They’ve since been teaming regularly together and the two of them chasing the tag titles could be a great story to tell over the winter.
Despite his frequent losses Gresham continues to proclaim himself the best pure wrestler in ROH. On November 25 TV he issued an open challenge to any of the best technical wrestlers in the world to face him at Final Battle and Zack Sabre Jr. accepted via video message.
Prediction: Believe it or not this is Sabre’s first ROH match ever. On that basis you would expect the New Japan guest star to go over but Gresham is due for a big win on a big stage and Sabre can rebound with a victory at the next set of TV tapings. Gresham counters a submission attempt from the Brit into a backslide and gets the shoulders down for a three-count.
3. Flip Gordon vs. Bully Ray (I Quit match)
Bully Ray retired one year ago at Final Battle 2017 after teaming with Tommy Dreamer in a loss to The Briscoes. He was then offered an Enforcer role for ROH but quickly succumbed to the power. After abusing his position for a number of months he turned heel again at Supercard Of Honor in April by attacking Cheeseburger. His next target was The Boys, then Colt Cabana and Flip Gordon. Along the way Ray found an unlikely ally in Silas Young and managed to convince Young to dump The Bouncers and side with him.
Ray & Young defeated Gordon & Cabana in a tables match at Death Before Dishonor on September 28 but that wasn’t enough for the bully. On October 14 TV Ray and Young joined Shane Taylor in attacking Gordon with a steel chair. Two weeks later Gordon challenged Ray to an extreme rules match but Ray instead suggested a match wherein they both put up a proxy and the winner gets to do whatever they want to the loser. Ray’s proxy, Young, defeated Gordon’s proxy, ECW veteran Sandman, and Ray ordered Gordon to take ten lashes with a Singapore cane. Ray laid in a series of shots that opened up Gordon’s back and left him bloody as Sandman, Cabana, Cheeseburger, Gresham, SCU, the Young Bucks, Brandi Rhodes, and Cody surrounded the ring for support. But, rather than hit the tenth and final shot with the cane, Ray instead struck Gordon between the legs and he and Young ran away before the mob could grab them.
On November 9 at Global Wars: Buffalo ROH chief operating officer Joe Koff told Ray that he would be fired if he ever used a Singapore cane again and on November 11 at Global Wars: Toronto Gordon challenged Ray to an I Quit match. As a warm-up he also challenged Young to an I Quit match on December 9 TV but that one ended in a no contest when Ray choked him with a chain and Young speared him through a table.
Prediction: I Quit matches are by default no disqualification, ergo there’s no way Young doesn’t get involved here. There’s also a strong sense that new signee PCO will make his debut tonight and the wild west atmosphere of this match seems like the best fit for him. I’m admittedly not too familiar with the Canadian Frankenstein but his first ROH appearance will undoubtedly garner a huge pop. PCO disposes of Young and Gordon gets hold of a Singapore cane. Ray tries to flee but the ring is surrounded by Cabana, Shinobi Shadow Squad, Coast 2 Coast, Chris Sabin, and a number of other babyfaces. Trapped, Gordon unloads on Ray with the cane until Ray quits.
4. Matt Taven vs. Dalton Castle (The “Real ROH World Championship”)
On July 22 TV Jay Lethal, Cody, and Matt Taven each made their case for why they should be the next #1 contender to Dalton Castle’s world title. To put an end to the bickering Castle offered to defend against all three men in a four-way match. At one point, with the referee distracted, Taven had a visual pin on Castle for over eight seconds. But in the end it was Lethal pinning Castle to capture the world title. Following the “robbery” Taven declared himself the uncrowned world champion and went so far as to have his own world title belt created. The purple-strapped “real world title” was introduced and Taven has since refused to acknowledge Lethal’s reign as champion.
After losing the world title to Lethal Castle took three months off to heal and rest up a number of nagging injuries. He returned to action on the Chris Jericho cruise and made his ROH return as part of Survival Of The Fittest on November 4. Castle failed to advance in a three-way match when Adam Page pinned Colin Delaney and he and The Boys failed to capture the six-man titles when they challenged The Kingdom at Global Wars: Lewiston three days later. That match was enough to put he and Taven back on a collision course, however. At Global Wars: Buffalo on November 9 The Kingdom brutally attacked The Boys with Vinny Marseglia hitting a brainbuster on the concrete floor. On November 18 TV Castle called out Lethal and said he wanted his world title back. Taven responded and said that he was the world champion, not Lethal. The Kingdom attacked the trio again and delivered a three-way conchairto to Castle.
Prediction: This is the first official defense of Taven’s purple belt and for that reason alone I can’t see him losing. The six-man titles are the only championship not being defended on the show so obviously Marseglia and TK O’Ryan show up here, probably to jump The Boys again. That will provide enough of a distraction to allow Taven to hit the Climax on Castle.
5. Marty Scurll vs. Christopher Daniels (Scurll’s Survival Of The Fittest world title shot)
The annual Survival Of The Fittest tournament is one of the most prestigious traditions in ROH history with a lineage of winners that includes Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Eddie Edwards, and three members of The Undisputed Era. Scurll won the 2018 installment on November 4 after pinning Stuka Jr. in a qualifying match and outlasting five other men in the six-way elimination final. That match came down to Scurll, good friend Adam Page, and Christopher Daniels. After a long double-team sequence Daniels managed to pin Page but fell to a Graduation from Scurll. After the show went off the air Daniels confronted Scurll in the locker room and claimed he only won due to the double-teaming, that Scurll could never beat him one-on-one. Scurll took umbrage at this and agreed to put the world title shot that he earned on the line against Daniels at Final Battle.
Daniels pinned Beer City Bruiser to qualify for the Survival Of The Fittest main event. That would end up being his last victory. Since then he’s fallen to Juice Robinson, Jeff Cobb, Matt Taven, and Kenny King. All the while the clock was ticking down on 2018. See, the Christopher Daniels of December 2018 is far different from the Daniels of December 2017. That Daniels was a loathsome jerk who caused disruption and problems everywhere he went, running roughshod over ROH alongside Frankie Kazarian and later Scorpio Sky. It got so bad that ROH COO Joe Koff couldn’t tolerate it any longer. In January he reminded Daniels and Kaz that their ROH contracts expired following Final Battle 2018 and told them he would not re-sign them. After that show, they were finished.
Since winning the tag titles Kaz and Sky have been re-signed but Daniels has not. He hoped that winning championship gold would force Koff’s hand into re-signing him but he’s so far been unable. Holding a contract for a guaranteed future world title shot would do the trick, though. This is his last chance. If Daniels can’t defeat Scurll tonight the man who wrestled in the main event of the very first ROH event in 2002 may have wrestled his last ROH match ever.
Prediction: Scuttlebutt is that the rest of The Elite are finished with ROH after this weekend but Scurll remains under contract to April. As such expect him to get another big push and return to the world title scene very soon. As for Daniels, it really feels like his 25-year career is coming to an end here. The year-long “win or you’re fired” story coupled with the abundance of recent singles losses paints the portrait of a veteran hanging up the boots for the last time. A backstage role for All Elite Wrestling seems a likely next move. Scurll locks in the chicken-wing and Daniels struggles for what feels like ages. In the end, though, he has no choice but to tap out. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
6. Sumie Sakai vs. Kelly Klein vs. Madison Rayne vs. Karen Q (Women Of Honor World Championship)
The first woman to ever win a match in Ring Of Honor also became the first women’s champion in ROH history at Supercard Of Honor in April when Sumie Sakai pinned Kelly Klein in the finals of a tournament to crown the first WOH champion. Sakai has been undefeated ever since and holds the best record in ROH this year at 13-0. She’s beaten nearly every woman in the division and a lot of guest stars. So what better way to truly test her mettle than to make her defend against three other women at the same time in a match where she could lose the title without even being pinned?
Tenille Dashwood should have been in this match and may have been had she not been found injured backstage at Death Before Dishonor on September 28 following an attack by a mystery assailant. Madison Rayne qualified with a victory of Britt Baker at Survival Of The Fittest on November 4, Karen Q defeated Kaitlin Diemond at Global Wars: Toronto on November 11, and Klein beat Jenny Rose on November 25 TV.
Prediction: What I want to happen and what I think will happen are two different things. Sakai’s been a great first champion and I’d hate to see her inaugural reign end in a multi-person match. Like Cody Klein has continued to point out the failure of management to give her a one-on-one shot at the title that’s eluded her. My wishful prediction has Klein and Rayne taking each other out and Sakai pinning Q with Smash Mouth. Klein can beat Rayne in a #1 contender match on TV to set up her challenging Sakai at the 17th Anniversary Show in February. What I suspect actually happens is that Rayne pins Q to capture the gold. She’s the biggest name in the match to wrestling fans outside of ROH and she can defend the belt against Sakai and others until Dashwood returns from injury and remembers that it was Rayne who attacked her.
7. Jeff Cobb vs. Adam Page (ROH World Television Championship)
PWG World Champion, Olympic athlete, and former god Jeff Cobb made his ROH debut on August 19 TV when he interrupted a Top Prospect Tournament match, attacking both men. He did the same on September 2 and September 23 TV before getting in the face of television champion Punishment Martinez at Death Before Dishonor on September 28. This led to Cobb challenging Martinez for the title on October 21 TV. Cobb destroyed the monster in 1:27 and Martinez was so embarrassed he had no choice but to run away to NXT to avoid a rematch.
Adam Page has been a six-man champion with The Young Bucks but has never held singles gold in ROH. On October 28 TV he made it clear he wanted a title shot and he didn’t care which belt it was for. When no offer was made he decided to take action into his own hands and confronted Cobb on November 11 TV. Together they beat up some security guards. Page has been insistent that he’s just as strong and just as quick as Cobb and that Cobb’s not that impressive. On December 2 TV Page initiated a game of “anything you can do I can do better.” After Cobb beat Josh Woods, Page brought out Façade and beat him to prove that he can even squash jobbers better than Cobb.
Prediction: Page has been with ROH for almost eight years. He started as enhancement talent, became a young boy in The Decade under the guidance of B.J. Whitmer, Jimmy Jacobs, & Roderick Strong, and joined Bullet Club in May 2016. He’s always been a strong contender but has never really been given the ball to run with. For example, his singles record in ROH this year is 10-9. After tonight it will be an even .500. Cobb takes Page on a Tour Of The Islands and Hangman becomes the next… sacrifice to the gods!!! Wait, wrong show. But yeah, Cobb retains.
8. SoCal Uncensored vs. The Briscoes vs. The Young Bucks (Ladder War VII for the ROH World Tag Team Championship)
The very first Ladder War in ROH history was held in September 2007 and saw The Briscoes defeat the team of Kevin Owens & El Generico. Along with Owens and Generico, Jay Briscoe is tied for the current record of most ladder wars at three. With this match he takes the crown. It’s important we mark the difference between a ladder war and a ladder match. Lots of promotions have ladder matches. A ladder war is a different beast. The most violent match in ROH, this match only happens once every two years due to past installments resulting in so many people taking trips to the hospital afterwards. In 2016’s Ladder War VI The Young Bucks defeated Frankie Kazarian & Christopher Daniels and the Motor City Machine Guns to capture the tag titles. The Bucks have gone on the record as calling it one of their favorite matches of all time. Now they re-enter the fray against three other ladder war veterans (and first-timer Sky) in a match with so much potential for carnage that we may never see the Bucks or SCU ever compete in an ROH ring again after this one. (*cough*)
All three teams have been involved with each other since the summer. Hell, they’ve been involved with each other for the duration of their ROH careers. On November 18 TV it was set to be Daniels & Kaz and the Bucks challenging the Briscoes in a three-way for the titles but the chicken farmers attacked Daniels a week out and hit a Jay Driller on the entrance ramp that put Daniels into a neck brace. Instead Sky stepped up to team with Kaz. The match turned into chaos following multiple ref bumps and, when the smoke cleared, SCU pinned Mark Briscoe to capture the gold. The following week saw a Briscoes vs. Bucks #1 contenders match end in a double disqualification and it was Kaz’s idea to end this for good in a ladder war at Final Battle.
Prediction: The hot gossip has the Bucks starting a new promotion called All Elite Wrestling and SCU joining them there, despite Daniels stating on TV that Kaz and Sky have re-signed with ROH. By that logic the Briscoes have to win here. There are a set of TV tapings happening tomorrow night, though. The Briscoes held the straps for most of this year and already have the record for most reigns and most days as champions and it’s not even close. Let’s find a new story to tell. SCU retain and lose the titles to Bully Ray & Silas Young in Philadelphia.
9. Jay Lethal vs. Cody (ROH World Championship)
Cody debuted for ROH at Final Battle 2016 and turned heel in the process, stealing a victory over Lethal. They faced off again four months later in a Texas bullrope match that Lethal won. Cody then captured the world title from Christopher Daniels that June before losing it to Dalton Castle at Final Battle 2017. Lethal won the ROH world title from Jay Briscoe in June 2015 and held it until August 2016 when he lost it to Adam Cole. From that point on he always felt a little directionless and a little naked without the title. May of this year he outlined a path for himself that began with going back and defeating everyone who held wins over him in the recent past. This concluded with him pinning Castle in a four-way on July 22 TV to become only the third two-time ROH world champion along with Austin Aries, Jay Briscoe, and Adam Cole. Lethal now has the second-most days as champion at 594 behind Samoa Joe’s 645. He’s also three successful defenses away from tying the record of 38 set by Daniel Bryan and Nigel McGuinness. Behind the undefeated Sakai and Cobb, Cody has the third best record in ROH this year at 15-1 and Lethal is fourth at 20-2-1.
Since losing the title Cody had the opportunity to regain it in a three-way at Best In The World in June but Castle pinned Scurll. He was then in the aforementioned four-way on July 22 TV but Lethal pinned Castle. Despite not winning those matches he didn’t lose them either and insisted that he was still owed a one-on-one rematch. Now he finally gets it and it just so happens to be his final match with ROH. At least that’s if Cody and Joe Koff are to be believed. My co-host on the Tuesday PWTorch livecast Talking Honor, Emily Fear, outlined a strong case for Cody winning here and leaving ROH with the title, refusing to set foot back in the promotion until the G1 Supercard in April. It’s a compelling story she came up with and it’s worth checking out our episode from this week for more of the finer points. But Lethal’s talked a lot on recent TV and on The Pinnacle YouTube series about how much defending the title in Madison Square Garden means to him and there’s a good story to be told as he comes close to passing Joe’s record of most days as ROH champion. I can’t bet against the franchise.
Prediction: Cody pulls out every trick in the book from ref bumps to low blows to title shots to Brandi interference but Lethal won’t stay down. In the end it’s a Lethal Injection and the champion retains on the road to MSG.
Up next it’s Honor Reigns Supreme on January 13 in Concord, North Carolina. Let’s go with Jay Lethal & Jonathan Gresham vs. Marty Scurll & Matt Taven, Jeff Cobb vs. Luchasaurus, and PCO vs. Kenny King.
Find Harley on Twitter @talkinghonor and listen to he and Emily Fear discuss all things ROH every Tuesday on the PWTorch livecast “Talking Honor.”