Back in December four members of The Elite faction — Cody Rhodes, Adam Page and The Young Bucks — all bid farewell to Ring of Honor as they set off on a new direction in their careers. That new path turned out to be All Elite Wrestling, which has captured most of the non-WWE headlines for the early part of 2019 as it continues to build up and roster and promote its first events for later this year.
But for fans of Ring of Honor, which is set to celebrate 17 years as a company with the ROH 17th Anniversary show in Las Vegas on Friday night, there were more questions than answers. Would the company wind up working with AEW? Would more talent leave? Who would step up as the new top stars?
Ian Riccaboni, who just celebrated his second anniversary of taking over as ROH's lead commentator last month, described the feeling of seeing Rhodes, Page and The Bucks leave in a recent interview with Comicbook.com
"Wrestlers can be replaced but people can't, and sometimes that's the most jarring part of losing a great talent, is that not only are the great talents usually awesome wrestlers, but they're also usually really great people," Riccaboni said. "That's how you get longevity in the locker room. And so to lose them as people hurt a lot."
But as Riccaboni pointed out, the ROH's front office was already hard at working finding new stars by the time the four wrestlers left. In recent months the company has brought in Juice Robinson and Zack Sabre Jr. from its partner promotion New Japan Pro Wrestling and signed major independent talent like Brody King, PCO, Bandido, Rush, Mark Haskins and PJ Black. All of those changes combined with homegrown stars like Matt Taven, Flip Gordon and Jeff Cobb being elevated to the top of event cards has given ROH a new look.
According to Riccaboni, the company's big moves gave the wrestlers in the locker room a major confidence boost.
"From the moment that we knew they were leaving, that's when you saw PCO for the first time. That's when you saw Brody King. That's when you saw Mark Haskins, PJ Black, Luchasaurus. That's when you saw all these new talents," he said. "... Stuff like that was major confidence boosters because I think there is a little bit of the unknown out there. I hope those guys do awesome. I think they will. But I also hope Ring of Honor does awesome too, and I think there's enough room in the ecosystem for everybody. But there's a little bit of uncertainty and to be pick some of the new young talent and to replenish the ranks, who might not have the star power yet, but have the potential. Those were big boosts, and those were uplifting."
He added that the wrestlers were already prepped for a new direction once they started their first set of television tapings after The Elite left.
"The feeling coming out of Atlanta (where they taped) after our first event was, 'Hey, I think we're gonna be okay. I think we're gonna be alright,'" he said.
"Those guys are super talented, it's gonna be incredibly tough to make up for their talent," he added. "I think we might be able to do that. I think we have guys and gals with potential to do that."
After the ROH 17th Anniversary Show, the company will gear up for its biggest show of the year as ROH and New Japan team up for the G1 Supercard event at Madison Square Garden on April 6.
"It's something where I've never seen folks more eager to just be a part of something," Riccaboni said while describing the wrestlers' mindset as the MSG show draws closer. "There are almost no words that I can use to describe Madison Square Garden.
"Just everybody in the company is through the roof," he added. "And that goes from the opening match guys to the main event guys and gals. And we couldn't be more excited."
The show marks the first time a wrestling company not run by the McMahon family has been at MSG since 1960. For most of the wrestlers on the roster, it'll mark the first chance they've ever had to compete inside the historic arena.
"The only way to get to Madison Square Garden for a long time was to be a part of WWE," he said. "And so there's guy like Jay Lethal who is the franchise in Ring of Honor, who might not want to go to WWE right this second or any time soon, who's having the run of his career. Who didn't think he'd get to wrestle in Madison Square Garden, and now all of a sudden, he has the potential to be in a very big match there. Same with Matt Taven, same with guys like Kenny King, Marty Scurll."
Matches for the Ring of Honor World Championship, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship have already been announced for the G1 Supercard.1comments
ROH 17th Anniversary airs live from Las Vegas Nevada on Friday, March 15 at 8 p.m. ET on traditional pay-per-view providers, free for HonorClub VIP, at a 50% discount for HonorClub Standard, and on FITE TV.
Photo: Instagram/@ianriccaboni via RING OF HONOR WRESTLING