Fans of professional wrestling, mark September 24th on your calendars.
There is finally a weekly alternative for fans of pro wrestling.
As has been discussed ad nauseum, the WWE product has been stale for years. In particular, I believe, the start-then-stop pushes of so many would-be stars (Jack Swagger, Ted Dibiase, R-Truth, Wade Barrett, Sheamus, Kofi Kingston, Dolph Ziggler, Drew McIntyre, and countless others) has led to many fans refusing to invest in the product.
Sure, WWE was briefly rejuvenated with the CM Punk angle, but has now reverted back to "The Triple H Program." Triple H is now the main star who constantly one-ups all of the other Superstars ... where have I seen this before?
As for TNA, they stopped being a decent alternative a long time ago. Well, let's be fair. TNA is an alternative in this way: it's so bad that it's completely different from any other wrestling product.
ROH, on the other hand, has slowly built a devoted audience, and improved their product every year of their existence. In particular, they improved creatively when Jim Cornette joined the company in 2009.
Very smartly, ROH does not over reach. They utilize a pretty simple model that has transformed them into the best value in pro wrestling.
They produce around four $15 internet PPVs per year that showcase some of the best wrestling in the world, and oftentimes, the culmination of their major feuds. Then, the results of those matches naturally lead to the subsequent matches at their house shows and the next iPPV. What a crazy concept!
They run semi-regular house shows in their most devoted markets, and sell DVDs of the iPPVs and house shows at their online store.
You can now add weekly TV to the other ways (iPPVs, DVDs, house shows, etc.) in which you can consume the ROH product.
Sinclair Broadcasting purchased ROH from Cary Silkin in May, and then announced that a weekly show will be broadcast in several U.S. markets on 40 Sinclair (Fox, MyNetwork TV, CBS, ABC, and NBC) affiliates. (I believe the Buffalo Fox affiliate is available in Toronto and other Southwestern Ontario cities.)
Perhaps more importantly -- especially for those who live outside of the 40 Sinclair markets -- is that the show will also be available worldwide each week on rohwrestling.com.
The first TV tapings will take place on August 13 in Chicago Ridge, Illinois, and will begin airing on the Sinclair stations on September 24.
What wrestlers can you look forward to seeing on the new TV show?
ROH has assembled a fairly diverse roster that is deep in tag team talent, but pretty lean when it comes to main-event level singles wrestlers:
Jay and Mark Briscoe
Lance and Harlem Bravado*
(*I included only those announced to have signed contracts with Sinclair Broadcasting. Here are some fairly major names who could potentially play big roles in the company if they sign with Sinclair, or if Sinclair decides to utilize non-contracted workers on their TV:
Jay Lethal - He appeared at their last iPPV (Best in the World 2011) and is booked for the first ROH TV tapings against El Generico for the ROH Television Title. However, Lethal is also involved with the TNA-connected All Wheels Wrestling project, and may want to keep his options open before signing with ROH.
Kevin Steen - He is currently involved in an ROH storyline where he is banned from the company. He is the current PWG Champion.
Colt Cabana - Although he too wrestled at Best in the World, Cabana recently stated in an interview that it's his goal to return to WWE. In addition, CM Punk's recent references to him on WWE TV, as well as Cabana's dark match at Tuesday's SmackDown tapings, make it seem like a WWE return is imminent.
Homicide - He wrestled at Best in the World as well, but signed an exclusive contract with the Urban Wrestling Federation. He could be available once that contract expires.
Rhino - He wrestled Homicide at Best in the World, but has not signed a contract with ROH.
The Young Bucks - The tag team is available after being recently released from their TNA contracts. I expect we'll see them in ROH at some point.
Claudio Castagnoli and Chris Hero - It's been widely reported that the Kings of Wrestling are close to signing with WWE. They will, however, wrestle Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin for the ROH Tag Team Championships at the inaugural Sinclair tapings on Aug 13.)
Is all perfect in ROH? Of course not. As I said, their roster is not flush with top-level singles talent, and a few of their major names have not signed new contracts.
However, ROH are constantly scouting for new talent, and I am confident they will bring in guys who can contribute. Not only that, but over the past year, they've brought in several young talents, and have slowly built them up (Mike Bennett and Michael Elgin are two of the best examples). And I think most ROH fans would now consider Eddie Edwards a legitimate main event player after his recent run with the ROH Heavyweight Championship.
It will also be imperative that these wrestlers and characters are not only introduced to viewers who may be tuning into the ROH product for the first time, but are made to look like stars. (I believe this may be one of the reasons non-contracted performers are being brought in to work with the Tag Team Champions and TV Champion on the first set of tapings. Don't be surprised if the Kings of Wrestling put over Haas and Benjamin, and Lethal puts over Generico.)
Other issues? A wrestling fan normally accustomed to watching WWE may be turned off by the production values. Certainly, the ROH on HDNet production left a lot to be desired. The iPPVs, too, are not technically slick, but they have improved which each one. Hopefully, with Sinclair invested in the product, the quality of TV production will improve.
ROH is peaking at the right time. They set their all-time records for attendance and iPPV buys with Best in the World 2011 back in June. Moreover, the announced card for the first TV tapings in Chicago Ridge, Illinois on August 13 is impressive.
I'm all in on ROH. I want a wrestling product that makes sense, tells long-range stories, and has great wrestling.
Finally, it appears that that's not too much to ask for.