Ring of Honor has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a starting point for young wrestlers to become a viable destination for the athletes as the second biggest wrestling promotion in the United States. ROH returns to Buffalo for a joint event with New Japan Pro Wrestling on Nov. 9 at Buffalo RiverWorks.
When ROH debuted in 2002, it quickly became known as the top independent promotion thanks to its roster of young, talented wrestlers like AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, CM Punk and Samoa Joe, all of whom went on to become main event superstars in the WWE. In its early years, ROH was similar to many small regional wrestling promotions, generating buzz from hardcore wrestling fans who traded tapes and DVDs of previous events. After it was purchased by the Sinclair Broadcasting Group in 2011, ROH was given a platform to broadcast a weekly television show, introducing new audiences to its wrestlers and storylines. It airs at 11 p.m. Sundays on WUTV.
Christopher Daniels wrestled on those early ROH shows, and is now one of the veterans as a former champion and current partner of Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky, collectively known as SoCal Uncensored. They’re all headed to Buffalo, sure to continue their gimmick of labeling each location they visit to be “the worst town I’ve ever been in.”
“It’s been great to see that Ring of Honor has been on a steady upswing,” Daniels said during a recent phone interview, adding that Sinclair has done a great job expanding the fan base. "It’s awesome to see the growth of the company and to see Ring of Honor become synonymous for and a destination for great wrestling.”
Dalton Castle grew up in Rochester and spent much of his early wrestling career in Western New York. A former ROH champion, Castle’s persona is flamboyant as he “peacocks” around the ring with his entourage, The Boys, to the delight of fans. Wrestlers continue to develop and hone their personalities based on audience reaction, as if they were they were actors in the world’s longest running stage play.
“I continue to do what I find comfortable, what I find entertaining and what I like to do,” Castle said. “I’m just very fortunate that the rest of the world enjoys it and speaks out and also says they’re a fan of who I am. Nothing I do is to rub people the wrong way or pushing limits, I’m just being myself.”
The partnership between ROH and New Japan has been fruitful, increasing brand awareness for both companies by sharing talent and promotion around the world. Like ROH, New Japan has expanded into North America with a weekly television show on AXS-TV and its streaming service NJPW World, both of which include English commentary.
“Mixing the New Japan wrestlers with Ring of Honor, you’ll get new matches and every show is special and different for the crowd we’re putting it front of,” Daniels said.
When New Japan joins the tour, Castle said, "it’s like multiplying what we present times two. It’s fun, the locker rooms get along and the crowd benefits the most.”
The two companies are looking at another landmark in 2019, with a sold-out joint show in Madison Square Garden the same weekend as WWE's "Wrestlemania." It will be the first non-WWE wrestling show in MSG in decades.
“All of these new developments have (meant) a gradual climb upward,” said Daniels, who returned to ROH in 2014. “For the professional wrestling scene as a whole, I feel there’s more excitement for a non-WWE product than there has been for a long time. It’s cool that Ring of Honor is one of the first places that they go when they’re seeking an alternative.”
Wrestlers also are finding creative ways to get noticed independent of their promotions. A small group of ROH and New Japan performers, including Cody and the Young Bucks, have bonded together as a group, and produce the weekly YouTube show “Being the Elite.” Two months ago, Cody and the Bucks self-promoted their own event “All In” that drew 10,000 fans, a number previously unheard of for an independent wrestling show. The cross-promotional tactics are feeding and informing each other, increasing the enthusiasm from fans used to companies operating in their own silos.
“It’s been an amazing roller-coaster ride that keeps getting better,” Castle said. “I’ve been very fortunate to see it grow so quickly. As wrestling in general continues to grow, everything gets (better) for people involved in wrestling: Fans, wrestlers, promoters, and anybody involved.”
“The continued success of Ring of Honor has a lot to due with the fan base, especially the fans in Buffalo,” Daniels said. “For 17 years, the greatest fans in the world have helped Ring of Honor stay where it’s at. The wrestlers don’t always get a chance to say it, so I will: Thanks to (the fans) for supporting us, and we’ll reward you with a great show.”
Ring of Honor/New Japan Pro Wrestling Global Wars
7:30 p.m. Nov. 9 in Buffalo RiverWorks, 359 Ganson St. Tickets are $30 to $100. Info: rohwrestling.com