With the void left by the deaths of ECW and WCW in early 2001, wrestling fans were suffering from a lack of variety in the business. The then-WWF was suffering from a creative drought in the wake of the failed Invasion angle, and people wanted something different. From the brains of Gabe Sapolsky and Rob Feinstein came Ring of Honor, which spring up in ECW’s old home base, Philadelphia. With a concept of presenting wrestling as more of an athletic contest than pure entertainment, the “Era of Honor” began in earnest on February 23, 2002. Over the next ten days, join me as I take a look back at each year of ROH’s existence. Let’s start at the beginning.
ROH’s first show, “The Era of Honor Begins,” emanated from the Murphy Rec Center in Philadelphia on February 23. The Murphy Rec was home to most of ROH’s early shows and as a result many of ROH’s most memorable moments. The biggest clue that ROH would be something different was in the main event of the first show. Even with the star power of Eddy Guerrero versus Super Crazy booked, Sapolsky decided to main event the show with a triple threat match featuring independent superstars “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson, “The Fallen Angel” Christopher Daniels, and Low Ki. Guerrero and Crazy had a good match, but the main event truly blew them out of the water and made stars out of the participants.
Over the course of the year, Danielson, Daniels, and Low Ki were the three most important figures in the company. Daniels was be positioned as the top heel for not believing in the “Code of Honor,” which insisted that competitors shake hands before and after each match. He promised to tear down the Code and rebuild ROH in his own image, with the help of his stable The Prophecy. Danielson had stellar matches up and down the card with opponents as varied as AJ Styles, Donovan Morgan, Spanky, Doug Williams, and Paul London.
But it is Low Ki who truly put ROH on the map in its first year. The first ROH Champion was to be crowned on July 27 at “Crowning a Champion,” and the first two rounds of the tournament were held on June 22 at “Road to the Title.” Featuring talent like Danielson, Spanky, London, Williams, Jody Fleisch, Amazing Red, Styles, Jerry Lynn, and others, four men emerged from the field – Spanky, Williams, Ki, and Daniels. The four competed in a 60-minute Iron Man match to decide the first champion. In a sweltering hot building, Ki survived the match and became the first ROH Champion.
Daniels set his sights on procuring the title, but did so via unorthodox means. Xavier, a solid but non-descript wrestler working his way up the card, was scheduled to challenge for the title on September 21 at “Unscripted.” Unbeknownst to Ki or the fans, Daniels had convinced Xavier to join the Prophecy and helped him win the title. On the same show, Daniels and Donovan Morgan got by The SAT, Dick Togo & Ikuto Hidaka, and Bryan Danielson & Michael Modest to become the first ROH Tag Team Champions. Also that night, a man by the name of CM Punk made his debut with a promo, but more on him later.
ROH’s longest running supercard, “Glory By Honor,” made its debut on October 5 with a stacked card. Steve Corino debuted, the young Jay Briscoe defeated ROH Champion Xavier in a non-title match, and in the main event Christopher Daniels defeated Doug Williams, who could no longer shake hands as a result. But the most important part of this show was the debut of Samoa Joe, who battled Low Ki in one of the stiffest matches anyone had seen at the time. Like Punk, we’ll talk much more about Joe later.
ROH closed out the year after running 12 shows, 10 in Philadelphia and two in Wakefield, Massachusetts. The Wakefield shows were important because Mark Briscoe, at 17 years old, was able to wrestle there. He could not do so in Philadelphia because of the State Athletic Commission’s regulations. In addition to their core roster, ROH coaxed guest appearances from Sumie Sakai, Jerry Lynn, Dick Togo, Ikuto Hidaka, Takao Omori, Shinjiro Otani, Masato Tanaka, Abdullah the Butcher, and even the Insane Clown Posse. But the most important appearance was Eddy Guerrero, who in addition to the first show also wrestled on ROH’s third show, “A Night of Appreciation.” Eddy had already been re-signed by the WWF and was the Intercontinental Champion, but still worked the show, teaming with the Amazing Red to defeat The SAT, Joel and Jose Maximo. Having the current WWF Intercontinental Champion wrestle on an early show, while wearing the Intercontinental Championship belt, gave ROH a huge boost of credibility that any young company would need to stand out in fans’ eyes.
Match of the Year – Low Ki vs. Christopher Daniels vs. Bryan Danielson, The Era of Honor Begins
Wrestler of the Year – Low Ki
Tag Team of the Year – Christopher Daniels & Donovan Morgan
Feud of the Year – Low Ki versus The Prophecy
Show of the Year – Road to the Title
Coming up – ROH runs their biggest show ever and a veteran appears to help build a new star…
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