One of the highlights of the recent WrestleMania weekend in the New York City area was the biggest non-WWE event in the United States since the demise of WCW: G1 Supercard – New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor’s joint show at Madison Square Garden.
The event was full of historic statistics: It was the first show not promoted by the McMahons at MSG since 1960. The paid attendance of 16,534 was the most for a non-WWE show in the United States since the July 5, 1999 edition of WCW Monday Nitro from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The live gate was over $1 million – a figure that WCW never reached for a single show.
My key takeaway of the event is, with landscape of professional wrestling changing in 2019 with the emergence of All Elite Wrestling, that Ring of Honor is in some serious trouble. Much like the July 6, 1998 Monday Nitro where Goldberg won the World Heavyweight Title from Hulk Hogan was the peak of WCW, I feel like G1 SuperCard was the peak for ROH.
Right away, you could tell this crowd was here to see the New Japan talent. In the preshow Honor Rumble, nearly every NJPW wrestler came down to a roaring ovation – namely Minoru Suzuki, Tomohiro Ishii and Jushin Liger. Even wrestlers like Chase Owens and Bad Luck Fale got big reactions. Aside from Cheeseburger, most of the ROH wrestlers came to the ring in silence.
ROH built its name on the solid no-frills in-ring work of talent like Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan), CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Tyler Black (Seth Rollins), Austin Aries and Nigel McGuinness.
With that being said, the promotion strangely – in front of a crowd that clearly wanted to see amazing wrestling matches – turned to sports-entertainment knockoff acts from other promotions on the biggest night in their history.
After Kelly Klein won the Women of Honor title from Mayu Iwatani in an underwhelming match, Velvet Sky and Angelina Love came to ringside, reprising their Beautiful People act from TNA. Mandy Leon turned on Klein to join the group (called Allure) and drew a symbol with lipstick on a fallen Klein. To say this didn’t get over would be an understatement.
Up next, rapper Mega Man came out to perform a song. Again, the crowd was here for great wrestling, not a musical interlude like you might see from Pitbull or Kid Rock at WrestleMania. Mega Man wasn’t given a chance and was booed vociferously. Bully Ray interrupted this and paved the way for a six-man hardcore match that was fun for about five minutes. Bully Ray getting the “Wazzup” headbutt at the finish was also a creative spot. Unfortunately, the match went 15 minutes, and when you add up the rapping, the entrances and everything else, it was a 25-minute segment featuring elements popularized over 20 years ago in ECW.
The next major angle was at the end of the ROH & IWGP tag team championship unification match.
Immediately after the Guerillas of Destiny won the titles, there was a commotion at ringside. The former Enzo Amore and Big Cass jumped the guardrail and were brawling with the Briscoes at ringside. To add elements of realism, Bully Ray came down to back his ROH brethren, and it was also clear that the TV cameras were ignoring the brawl while Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa were left in the ring with bemused looks on their faces. It was reported that G.O.D. did not know the angle was going to occur; Tonga later went on Twitter to criticize ROH, calling it their typical booking.
There were two things that hurt this “worked-shoot” angle. First, by doing this in front of some of the most hardcore wrestling fans in the world, every detail needed to be considered to make this come across as real. As soon as fans noticed that security was not breaking the brawl up and hauling Enzo and Cass away, everyone knew it was an angle. And, like Allure, this was the wrong crowd to debut Enzo and Cass in front of. They aren’t the kind of wrestlers that ROH and NJPW fans want to see. The other thing that took some steam out of this angle wasn’t ROH’s fault, but at nearly this exact same moment, word was getting to fans in attendance via social media that Bret Hart was attacked by a fan at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony taking place in Brooklyn. Fans were more interested in the real-life events taking place at another show than the worked-shoot going on in front of them.
At this point, the overall show was a major letdown. The two New Japan matches up to that point (Jeff Cobb vs. Will Ospreay and a triple-threat match with Ishimori, Bandido and Dragon Lee) were solid, but too short.
Thankfully, the final four matches delivered. Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. wasn’t Tana’s greatest match, but he was reportedly working with an elbow injury, and it was fun to see the legend in-person. Naito vs. Kota Ibushi delivered, garnering a “Holy S**t” chant before the two even locked up to start the match. The ROH World Championship three-way ladder match was solid, albeit a bit long at 30 minutes since the show was five hours old at this point. Okada received a superstar reaction for the main event, where he recaptured the IWGP Heavyweight title from Jay White. Okada played all the hits, delivering several dropkicks and Rainmakers, and the largely New Japan portion of the card successfully saved the show.
The event clearly would have been better with the wrestlers that NJPW and ROH recently lost – Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, the Young Bucks, Cody and Adam Page. However, New Japan held up its end of the bargain by presenting top-level matches and newsworthy results. I can’t say the same for ROH, even though they did crown a new champion in Matt Taven.
Once AEW starts up in earnest, and especially if they land the rumored television deal with a major channel like TNT, I fear for the future of ROH. There’s only so much wrestling someone can follow and support, and if the new ideas for ROH are WWE rejects and recycled TNA angles, I fear Ring of Honor will never again see the heights they enjoyed on April 6, 2019 in New York City.