Friday, July 20, 2007
WRESTLING WORTH WATCHING: RING OF HONOR
This week, we'll be taking a look at TV wrestling as it currently stands. If you’re a wrestling fan who finds WWE programming to be, for the most part, silly, uninvolving and frequently insulting, there are several programs The Fight Network has to offer that will cause you to rejoice. In no particular order, they are Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling NOAH and Superstars of Wrestling: Past, Present and Future. We’ll look at all three of them over the next few weeks.
In view of the fact that the very first Ring of Honor pay-per-view debuts on Viewer’s Choice Friday, July 20, it only makes sense to start with them. If you enjoy professional wrestling and watch it on The Fight Network, then chances are good you’ve long since discovered Ring of Honor for yourself. If you haven’t, please consider this to be a gentle but firm nudge in that direction. What you’ll find is a throwback to a time when the action in the ring told a compelling story that rivaled a great movie or, dare I say, literary work.
ROH is quite different from the stuff WWE churns out. The first thing you’re apt to notice is that the matches aren’t rushed. In ROH, it’s not about a couple of “superstars” hitting their signature moves and going home in 3 – 5 minute exhibitions that lack development or cohesion.
Unlike other sports entertainment programming found on Monday night television in Canada, ROH provides a genuine sense of excitement and creativity by building matches to satisfying conclusions that aren’t always predictable.
All of this conspires to invite the thinking wrestling fan to mentally and emotionally jump right in and partake in the proceedings. Yes, there’s actually a sound, rational reason for most everything that takes place, and it’s usually done very, very well. What a radical concept!
Ring of Honor places the accent where it belongs. Often, we’ll find mat wrestling displays that are fluid and beautiful in the same way figure skating can mirror ballet. Frankly, the only obvious difference is that ROH is a hell of a lot more butch!
With ROH, the application of holds and counterholds is their primary strength. That’s important, for that is where both the art and the skill of wrestling are to be found. When properly presented, such exchanges create a breathtaking spectacle to the viewer and, as a result, are captivating.
The knowledgeable ROH fans in attendance, rather than restricting themselves to cheering and booing based on preposterous story lines and angles, respond in the same way as do the educated Japanese wrestling fans. Their exuberant approval (and vociferous disapproval) is based on the aptitude, athleticism and timing on display. It is precisely those elements that earn the fan’s respect, regardless of whether or not the individuals involved are portraying themselves as babyfaces or heels.
Ah, but don’t be misled by that description alone. There’s far more to be seen in ROH. The hardcore fan will have no problem finding the excesses that are so prevalent in modern pro wrestling. Thanks to the triumph of ECW, which launched in the U.S. in 1993 and over time became a cult favorite by imitating Japan’s FMW furniture-smashing style, it’s now standard operating procedure in most promotions. For better or worse, ROH is anything but shy when it comes to using chairs, tables and other miscellaneous accessories on a semi-regular basis. The trick, and ROH generally succeeds, is to keep it within a reality-based context. (This is a subject we’ll place under the microscope in the near future).
In Ring of Honor, there are engaging characters to be found that don’t, as a rule, transcend believability by too great a margin. When someone with an obviously outrageous gimmick does appear, it’s usually for the purpose of mocking the absurdity inherent in the guise. The fans instantly recognize when something or someone is extraordinarily silly, and they will react by hooting and ridiculing it or him in a raucous but good-natured manner. This, of course, is precisely what ROH intended.
But that’s all window-dressing and the mileage varies. Where ROH truly shines is in their ability to tell the story of a match in a believable back-and-forth, give-and-take manner. Yes, it really is that simple. To depend upon juvenile antics and foolishness that adds nothing but an unnecessary distraction would be to mimic WWE.
Somebody’s girlfriend gets caught cheating on him. Perhaps a zombie-like figure has come back to life. Or take any one of a montage of moronic backstage skits that removes any chance for the willing suspension of disbelief. You may see that sort of thing on Monday night, but they’re not happening in ROH.
Instead, viewers are invited to settle in for matches that run, on the average, between 10 minutes and an hour. And when the bouts are over, if you’re one to appreciate encounters that have all the appearance of a genuine contest, you’re likely going to feel exhilarated at the tremendous display of athleticism. After having witnessed demonstrations of in-ring storytelling and wrestling performances designed for people that don’t enjoy being told that they’re idiots, you shouldn’t be too surprised to find yourself hooked on ROH for good.
One last aspect of Ring of Honor will likely impress you to a very large degree. Happily, there are many matches that don’t depend upon a “hate-filled issue” to give them purpose. While the action doesn’t become muted in those instances, nor does the use of heelish tactics disappear completely, it’s more about showing one’s ability to wrestle from start to finish. And when all is said and done, it’s not uncommon to see handshakes, accompanied by a show of respect with the raising of the victor’s hand by the vanquished.
By presenting wrestling in such a realistic fashion, the organization lends authenticity to the proceedings. Again, the ROH philosophy of what constitutes pro wrestling gives us permission to suspend our disbelief despite the worked atmosphere. While it may take a misstep every once in a while, ROH understands what it is selling and avoids insulting the viewer’s intelligence. Compared to things like RAW, it is refreshing and proof positive that wallowing in a preposterous WWE fantasy-land is unnecessary.
Ring of Honor is a company that knows how to sell its product with agility, wit and panache. Professional wrestling is at its best when it’s about who wins and who loses, and of how close one can come to acquiring the championship. To that end, ROH gets the job done by seamlessly blending entertainment with muscular expertise. And while showmanship is indeed a vital part of the mix, it is rarely, if ever, the point.
Programming note: A new episode of Ring of Honor wrestling debuts every Monday on The Fight Network at 9 p.m. EDT and repeats at 12 midnight. It is shown intermittently over the next six days, with the final airing Sunday night. Previous episodes of ROH can be seen during the week at various times.
Richard Berger is a freelance writer and editor with an extensive background in professional wrestling. His career includes media production for Stampede Wrestling, ring announcing, regular columns for WOW Magazine and IGN.com, and special feature work for other publications. Between June, 2007 and June, 2008, he wrote a weekly column for The Fight Network and Live Audio Wrestling. To discuss Richard’s articles or just about anything else, contact him at: WriterGuy1A@hotmail.com.
The small sampling of his work found here was originally published at The Fight Network and Live Audio Wrestling. The majority will appear in a soon-to-be-released book along with new material. Stay tuned for information as it becomes available!