Throughout 2015, Ring of Honor grew both in popularity and exposure. The small promotion that was famous for such notable wrestlers as Samoa Joe, CM Punk, Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan), Tyler Black (Seth Rollins) and Kevin Steen (Kevin Owens) has become so much more. They appeared on network television weekly. They offer monthly pay per views for their fans, whether it be an iPPV or a regular one that is broadcast on television. They have a strong working relationship with New Japan Pro Wrestling, and are consistently exchanging talent between the two companies. The growth of the company can be also attributed to the wrestlers that made a commitment to the company. The primary focus of the company has always been wrestling. There is little in the way of trying to build entertainers; they focus primarily on providing fans with highly competitive matches.
A number of stars for the company have been successful, but a few stood head and shoulders above the rest. This is for a number of reasons. Whether it was championships won, setting records, consistently contending for titles both in the singles and tag team division, or consistently facing challengers that are outside their typical match ups, these wrestlers were the best of the best. Will these ten stand out next year as the most outstanding performers for Ring of Honor? What is assured is that those listed below are the ten most outstanding wrestlers for Ring of Honor for 2015.
10. Dalton Castle
He is as outrageous and flamboyant as anyone in wrestling today. The reception that Castle has received from ROH fans has been remarkable, whether he was accompanied by his “boys” or not. He has connected with fans through his extravagant nature. In what can be considered an homage to wrestling legends such as Gorgeous George, Castle is able to take that over the top character, and compliment it by showcasing what he can do in the ring.
Fans that aren’t familiar with Castle don’t need to be caught up in his gimmick, but should respect what he can do in the ring. His year was highlighted by a long feud with Silas Young. During the feud, a stipulation was set that if Young won he would take ownership of “the boys,” and if Castle won, then Young would become one of his boys as well; in the end, Young won. Will Castle recover his entourage in 2016? It will be interesting to see.
Kyle O’Reily and Bobby Fish’s success isn’t just measured by long tag team title reigns alone. It should also be measured by how they were used as singles wrestlers this past year. This past fall, both O’Reily and Fish had singles title matches against then-champion Jay Lethal. Even though they were unsuccessful in the process, they were part of two highly competitive matches.
The team was put in positions where they were individually double teamed by others, which goes to show how dangerous a team they are perceived to be collectively. It’s rare booking, but showed that both men are equally effective on their own as they are as a team. They were dangerous regardless of whether they were a team or not. Their success in Ring of Honor has been matched by their success in Japan. As 2015 turns to 2016, reDragon appear primed to contend moving forward.
A former NFL player, Moose is as athletic as he is big. One of the most remarkable things about him is his ability to remain as mobile as he is, despite his size. Much like he did the year before, Moose took risks like a number of the smaller wrestlers in ROH, but his appeared to be greater than they were the year before. Whether it was suicide dives or crossbodies to the floor, Moose was fearless in his pursuit of success.
After Veda Scott turned her back on Moose, and aligned herself with Cedric Alexander, a feud took place between the two, and led to some very competitive matches. Moose’s ascent up the ranks of Ring of Honor can be measured by the number of challengers he has faced. The program he has been a part of with Alexander has allowed for some great opportunities for him to develop all facets of his character.
7. Cedric Alexander
If there is anyone that has the talent to contend for either the ROH World title or the ROH Television title, it is Cedric Alexander. Alexander’s year was big, not because of titles won or lost, but simply a change in character direction. A former fan favorite as one half of the C&C Wrestle Factory, he turned his back on the fans and aligned himself with Veda Scott. In the process, he ended Moose’s streak of not being pinned. It was during this time where a program that developed between the two made for some incredible wrestling.
What also took place was an on-again, off-again program where he and former tag partner Caprice Coleman worked as a team, but then ended their working relationship altogether. Alexander dissolved the relationship after the team lost a tag team match. The first seeds of a heel turn were planted during ROH’s 13th Anniversary show in Alexander’s match against Matt Sydal. It will be interesting to see how Alexander builds on this year going into 2016.
6. Michael Elgin
Big Mike had a year where he was completely reinvented both as a wrestler and as a character. He actively competed all over the world, with ROH fans embracing his time with the company. His character as Big Mike has moved away from being disgruntled and down on himself, to someone that competes with great assurance and confidence. He reportedly received a new contract extension, and won the Survival of the Fittest tournament after defeating former ROH champion Jay Briscoe, former ROH tag team champion Christopher Daniels, ACH and Silas Young.
The tournament win marked the second time he has won this tournament. The win also ensures that Elgin will receive a future ROH World Championship match. As a former ROH World champion, Elgin is no stranger to what this win could bring. He is more than capable of building on this opportunity and turning this match into a championship reign.
5. The Addiction
This past year, I had the opportunity to ask Frankie Kazarian how did the opportunity to win the ROH tag team championships and be the ones behind the KRD come about. His answer was simple, “we were the smartest guys in the room.” It’s hard to argue with logic like that. Both Daniels and Kazarian are seasoned veterans that have achieved success whether it was in TNA or Japan. When they first came to ROH, they even teased a split between the two as though they “didn’t have it anymore.” That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Daniels and Kazarian walked away this year as the tag team champions after they captured the ROH tag team titles from reDragon, and managed to be part of a double turn in the process. The Addiction were now the heels and were given every opportunity to allow their characters to shine. Over the course of 2015, The Addiction shone, and reinvented themselves as one of the best tag teams in wrestling today.
4. The Kingdom
If there is one group that managed to build their team into something more that could achieve at a high level, it was The Kingdom. Matt Taven and Mike Bennett had a year that saw them not only achieve success in North America, but in Japan as well. This past year saw the tandem win the IWGP Tag Team championships in Japan, and they recently captured the ROH tag team titles.
The ROH tag team division is heavily contested, so to come out as the leaders of the pack says a lot about them, where the company sees them now, and where they will be going. When you add to it the re-emergence of Adam Cole as a title contender, it’s hard to argue that the group’s relevance within the company is at an all-time high. 2015 ended up a better year than it started, and it appears they are just scratching the surface of what they will do moving into the coming year.
3. Jay Briscoe
If Roderick Strong is Mr. ROH, what can be said about Jay Briscoe? The former ROH World Champion was unquestionably a stand out performer for the promotion this year. Briscoe and his brother Mark have spent the better part of the last thirteen there. Not only did Briscoe defend the ROH World title, but along with Mark also contended for the ROH Tag Team titles on several occasions. Jay and Mark faced the recently returning All Night Express this past September at All-Star Extravaganza.
He had arguably the match of the year when he defended the title against Jay Lethal at Best in the World. Even though Briscoe lost the title after a nine-month reign, it didn’t diminish what he did as champion. He also had a two-year streak where he hadn’t been pinned come to an end. Briscoe’s success is measured by his active role in both singles and tag team title contention this past year.
2. Roderick Strong
“Mr. ROH” Roderick Strong made quite a comeback this year. After breaking away from The Decade, the former triple-crown winner stood alone and resurfaced as a major contender for the ROH World title. One thing he had said going into 2015 was that he was determined to make it the year of Mr. ROH, and he certainly did work to achieve that. He faced a number of the stars of ROH and NJPW, including a brilliant match against the legendary Shinsuke Nakamura at Global Wars this past May. Despite losing to Nakamura, Strong didn’t slow down as he was on a collision course to face Jay Lethal.
After Lethal defeated Jay Briscoe for the ROH World title, Strong challenged the new champion this past summer in what resulted in a time limit draw for the same belt. Strong was eventually awarded an ROH television title match, where he finally defeated Lethal for a title. It was sweet, and culminated Strong’s year. What does 2016 have in store for Mr. ROH? If it was anything like this past one, maybe more titles are coming his way.
1. Jay Lethal
What a year the “greatest first generation wrestler ever” had in Ring of Honor. The current ROH World Heavyweight champion and former ROH “World” Television champion was without a doubt the single greatest wrestler for the promotion over the course of 2015. How could you argue, given who he has faced, the amount of times he has defended his title and the record-setting ROH World Television title rein that he held? Truth Martini, Lethal’s manager, has also created a stable that helped protect Lethal and his title rein.
He has been accompanied by recent rookie tournament winner Donavan Dijak, and Jay Diesel. Those two men are not only a tag team that contend in that division, but help support Lethal and offer protection. He is among the most versatile wrestlers on the roster, which allows for a number of different matches against challengers both bigger and smaller than him. Lethal was without question the most outstanding performer for Ring of Honor over the course of 2015.