I know that I said that I was done giving money to Ring of Honor after missing a majority of the Death Before Dishonor X Pay Per View back in September, and thus far I’ve kept my word. I’ve still been watching the weekly TV programming thanks to my Ringside Membership which doesn’t expire until March (and also allows me to see every event from 2011). So between that and the fact that I know more about ROH than pretty much any other columnist on this site, it still allows me the right to do a year-end look at Ring of Honor.

Overall, 2012 was one of ROH’s worst years. Not nearly as bad as 2009, but still pretty low. We’ve discussed the iPPV technical difficulties ad nauseum, so I would like to look at some other issues that plagued the company this year. ROH ran only 20 live events in 2012 (29 if you count the TV tapings). To put this in perspective, during ROH’s “glory years” from 2005 to 2008, they ran 40 shows per year. A drop-off like this cannot be ignored. Even with Sinclair Broadcasting’s backing, ROH isn’t as profitable as it once was. They no longer have the ability to fly out guys from out west like the Young Bucks or TJ Perkins, let alone international stars, which used to be an ROH staple.

Another ROH staple that has been missing this year is the plethora of high-quality, ****+ matches. In years past, my MOTYC list would be 15 or 20 deep. This year, despite seeing more than half of the live events and all of the TV shows, I struggled to generate a Top 10 of matches I would consider to be **** or higher. Don’t get me wrong, the wrestling quality overall hasn’t dipped, and you still get the most wrestling action for your dollar than any other company in North America. But the amount of must-see MOTYC caliber matches is at its lowest. We have one clear-cut winner this year, and then a steep drop-off to the next round of contenders. Fans these days are being smarter about what they spend their money on, and if the independent wrestling scene isn’t providing blow-away matches, fans will keep their money in their pocket.

But perhaps the biggest knock on ROH in 2012 is the most disappointing part of all for me, because I had the highest of hopes for it. Kevin Steen’s title reign, which I thought was going to change the game, ended up being just another heel title run. Steen’s goal was to ruin the company, which was tough to book in kayfabe while in real life hoping that Steen’s title run would actually save the company. I put my trust in the booking team to balance that line, but instead, they teetered too much into using Steen’s reign to save the company (legitimately) and wouldn’t push the envelope like I (or maybe even Steen) wanted.

Oh sure, they tried to make this as edgy as possible. Since winning the title, here’s what Steen was booked to do to try and destroy the company:

  1. Cut a heel promo on the NYC fans who were cheering him. I’d imagine that at Final Battle, Steen will still be universally loved, so it didn’t really work.
  2. Slapped two fans at ringside (right in front of me) at the Boiling Point Pay Per View. Apparently this was a work, but it was never brought up again after the fact. I would have liked to see how Steen would deal with a potential “lawsuit” from the fans on television.
  3. Spat on Jay Lethal’s mother during a title match, which led to the match abruptly ending. Steen then used this to make demands of Ring of Honor or else he would refuse to defend the title, but ultimately nothing came of this either, aside from Lethal possibly getting a rematch.
  4. Threaten to ruin a dinner with ROH and their affiliates. The key word is “threaten.” A threat is empty unless it’s backed up, and ROH never acted on it. Here’s where I think they dropped the ball bigtime. Cornette was having a cow about Steen being the champion and attending this affiliate dinner, and potentially ruining it causing ROH to lose their sponsors. I really liked the idea of filming the dinner and watching Steen ruin it. Hell, you could hire actors to play the affiliates, so this dinner doesn’t REALLY have to happen. It would be a chance for ROH to do some angles out of the ring. Steen could have shown up in his tuxedo shirt and turned tables over, leaving all the “sponsors” to quit. It would have at least been SOMETHING. The way the angle went was in a little line in a newswire that said Jim Cornette didn’t invite Steen to the dinner. A chance to do something different was squandered, and we’re only left with an empty threat, which kinda represents Steen’s reign in a nutshell.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Steen’s reign match-quality wise. I really enjoyed his straight-up wrestling matches with Eddie Edwards, Michael Elgin and Mike Mondo. I also liked the brawls with Davey Richards (in the rematch), Eddie Kingston, and Rhino. But Steen is such a special kind of talent, and his reign has been run-of-the-mill. It certainly doesn’t help that he had no real challengers and no real possibility of losing the belt until he faced Elgin at Glory By Honor XI. It’s possible he could drop the belt to El Generico at Final Battle, but I doubt it (more on Generico later).

But enough about the negative, let’s get into the year-end awards.

Wrestler of the Year: Kevin Steen

Honorable Mentions: Davey Richards, Jay Lethal, Adam Cole, Eddie Edwards

Even after everything I just said about Steen, he was still the focal point of all the shows, the main event of all the Pay Per Views, and put together a string of decent matches. He also has a character unlike any other in Ring of Honor, and in a promotion that’s more about what goes on in the ring than on the mic, that’s a true gem.

Tag Team of the Year: The Briscoes

Honorable Mentions: All Night Express, Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team, The Young Bucks

The Briscoes basically won this by default. That’s another problem with ROH in 2012…this was probably their worst year for tag team wrestling, especially considering ROH has always been known for a stellar tag team division. Kenny King deciding to jump to TNA seriously hurt the division, for if he stayed, I’d probably give the nod to ANX. A really underrated facet of the Briscoes is their promo ability. Jay’s golden on the mic, and Mark doesn’t speak often, but whenever he does, what comes out is usually hilarious.

Rookie of the Year: Mike Mondo

Honorable Mentions: QT Marshall, Matt Taven, Tadarius Thomas

Even though Mondo wrestled for ROH a little bit in 2011, I’m letting him sneak into 2012 since it was the first time he was being used a featured wrestler on the card as opposed to enhancement talent. Mondo impressed the hell out of me and everybody else with his show-stealing match against Matt Taven on ROH TV. The match was unlike anything we had seen in ROH recently as it was definitively old-school, but had enough emotion to hook the crowd in. Mondo also stole the show at Boiling Point against Roderick Strong. It’s just a shame that he suffered a serious injury at Glory By Honor and may be out for a year, because he was on the fast track to the top of the card.

Breakthrough Wrestler of the Year: Adam Cole

Honorable Mentions: Michael Elgin, Jay Lethal, Mike Mondo

It was really tough to pick Cole over Elgin considering the year Elgin has had, but Cole’s performance against his former partner Kyle O’Reilly will be remembered for quite a while, and he added to his growing legacy with great matches against Roderick Strong, Mike Mondo, and Eddie Edwards while Elgin floundered a bit against Fit Finlay and Charlie Haas. Elgin may have had the better breakout match (against Davey), but Cole kept it up throughout the year, so he gets the nod.

Biggest Disappointment: Barely any El Generico all year

Honorable Mentions: Kevin Steen’s title reign, Less live events run than in previous years, Young Bucks/TJ Perkins released

I understand the politics sometimes. It’s tough to prominently feature a guy who isn’t going to be 100% into the company. They made that mistake with Kenny King and it bit them in the ass. I assume that Generico wasn’t under contract and wanted to wrestle for Dragon Gate USA and other promotions, and ROH didn’t want to push a guy not under contract. But Generico’s loss hurt. Even fans of “professional wrestling” over “sports entertainment” love a great character, and ROH has a plethora of wrestlers but a distinct dearth of characters. Plus, Generico is as pure a babyface as can be. His presence this year, especially after appearing on every ROH event in 2011, was sorely missed. It’ll be nice to see him again at Final Battle, but it seems to be too little, too late.

Show of the Year: Border Wars

Honorable Mentions: Showdown in the Sun Night 2, Tenth Anniversary Show, Best in the World 2012, Boiling Point

It was definitely nice if you caught the replay, since barely anybody was able to watch it live, but this show was top-to-bottom excellent. Aside from having the biggest money match in ROH all year with Davey Richards defending the World Title against Kevin Steen, it also had serious mainstream appeal with former WWE wrestlers going against young ROH talent in Finlay/Strong, Storm/Bennett, Rhino/Edwards, and WGTT/Briscoes. It certainly says something about the quality of the card when you have a match like Elgin vs. Cole, which may potentially be a main event match as soon as next year, as your midcard match. Border Wars easily gets show of the year.

Feud of the Year: Kevin Steen vs. Ring of Honor/Jim Cornette

Honorable Mentions: Briscoes vs. Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team, Lance Storm vs. Mike Bennett, Adam Cole vs. Kyle O’Reilly

This was really tough to choose, because there haven’t been many great feuds this year, and that’s such a shame from a company that’s made its best money (aside from bringing in international talent) on engaging feuds, such as CM Punk vs. Raven, Samoa Joe vs. Homicide, Generation Next vs. The Embassy, Bryan Danielson vs. Takeshi Morishima, and even most recently Kevin Steen vs. El Generico. But this year, there hasn’t been much. The overriding “feud” was Kevin Steen trying to take down Ring of Honor, and in the process, embarrass Jim Cornette. Since Cornette isn’t a wrestler and can’t really fight Kevin Steen, he first backed the current champion Davey Richards, and when Steen won the belt, Cornette threw everything but the kitchen sink at Steen (Richards again, Edwards, Strong, Lethal, Elgin) and even tried unconventional challengers (Eddie Kingston, Rhino, Homicide, Rhett Titus, Mike Bennett), and Steen has thus far bested them all, all in the main events of Pay Per Views and TV shows. The feud with Cornette took an unceremonious end after Jay Lethal threw Jim over a table, taking him off television. Now it’s Steen vs. Generico, and ROH as a whole is out of the picture (for now).

Match of the Year: Davey Richards vs. Michael Elgin (Showdown in the Sun, Night 2)

Honorable Mentions: Adam Cole vs. Kyle O’Reilly (Best in the World), Davey Richards & Kyle O’Reilly vs. Adam Cole & Eddie Edwards (Tenth Anniversary Show), Davey Richards vs. Kevin Steen (Border Wars)

Frankly, there wasn’t any match that came close this year. From the moment Davey gave Elgin the German Suplex off the top rope until the final bell, there was a 10-minute all-out sprint to the finish filled with holds and counterholds and throwbacks to previous matches and moves that was a testament to the type of matches that Ring of Honor can provide. It was the best match I’d seen from any promotion this year. What also made it so magical was that it seemed like a throwaway title match for Davey, considering that he was really feuding with Roderick Strong and Eddie Edwards, with Kevin Steen lurking in the shadows. Elgin truly came out of nowhere to deliver such a big performance that many people watching live (including myself) truly thought that Elgin was going to win the title. After all, it isn’t like ROH hasn’t hot-shotted the belt before (think Eddie Edwards in 2011).

That’s it for 2012. I may go back and do an abbreviated review of all the shows in 2011 considering they’re available as part of my Ringside Membership, but I haven’t decided yet. Thanks to everybody for reading, follow me on Twitter @PocketSeagull, and be on the lookout for my DGUSA reviews coming either later this year or early next year.