Chris DePetrillo wonders if Marty Scurll’s re-signing is what brings ROH back after a cold 2019.
We are a mere three weeks into the new year and a story has already broken that could have ramifications on the wrestling industry for years to come. A man who spent 2019 letting fans try and predict his next move has finally played his hand. Now that the ink has dried on Marty Scurll’s new Ring of Honor contract, there is one question on everyone’s mind. Is “The Villain” the hero that ROH needs?
Despite a relationship with the ultra-hot New Japan Pro Wrestling, whose roster is filled with some of the most talented, most coveted stars in all of professional wrestling, 2019 was not a banner year for Ring of Honor. The loss of The Elite group at the end of 2018 was a big hit to the brand, but immediate plans were put into motion to allow ROH to bounce back from their departure. The open spots on the roster were filled with hot free agents like lucha sensation Bandido, Brody King, a tattooed powerhouse well known from the California wrestling scene, and PCO, a former WWF mid-carder who at age 50 began a career renaissance thanks to a brutal independent match with current NXT UK Champion WALTER.
Attempts to recapture The Elite’s appeal were made with the formation of two new stables. Scurll aligned himself with King and PCO to create an offshoot of The Elite that he dubbed Villain Enterprises. Lifeblood featured a blend of familiar faces from NJPW (Juice Robinson and David Finlay) and new hires Bandido, Mark Haskins, and Tracy Williams.
Mayu Iwatani’s Women of Honor title win helped to elevate the women’s division. Reigning IWGP Tag Team Champions (and Bullet Club members) the Guerrillas of Destiny inserted themselves into the Ring of Honor tag team scene. A renewed licensing deal with Figures Toy Company (the company responsible for creating mass market ECW, WCW, and WWE replica belts) guaranteed collectors new merchandise in the form of ROH action figures and replica championship belts. It looked like the loss of Cody and company would barely leave a mark on ROH, as all of these moves were seen as positives en route to the most anticipated show of 2019, the cross promotional G1 Supercard in Madison Square Garden.
While anticipation was at an all-time high prior to the show, fan support waned greatly post-show. New Japan walked away from the show unscathed, as their contributions featured Kazuchika Okada capturing the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Jay White in the main event, a wild Kota Ibushi/Tetsuya Naito match that saw Ibushi crowned IWGP Intercontinental Champion, and appearances from legends like Jushin “Thunder” Liger and The Great Muta. Ring of Honor was met with a tremendous amount of backlash for how they handled their time in the spotlight, especially in regards to the match for their own world title. When Matt Taven emerged victorious in a grueling ladder match over ROH mainstay Jay Lethal and Scurll, the overwhelming crowd favorite, fan reactions were more in tune with a Hulk Hogan era TNA PPV than a supercard that featured the best wrestler in the world winning a championship in the main event. The sold-out crowd didn’t want surprises like former TNA stars Angelina Love and Velvet Sky, and they especially didn’t want to see controversial ex-WWE stars Enzo Amore and Big Cass hop the rail in the middle of a tag team title match. They wanted the easy fix, the obvious answer, the one thing that could please a fanbase that recently lost five of their favorites in one fell swoop; they wanted “The Villain” to be Ring of Honor World Heavyweight Champion. It didn’t happen, and the backlash that began that night poisoned the well, causing even the most ardent Ring of Honor fans to denounce them and call for their demise.
Granted, wrestling fans can be a fickle lot, and it’s something that’s magnified even more in this modern age of social media and interaction. All it takes it a couple of negative opinions to form a cult mentality that makes it hip to be a hater. This is the position that Ring of Honor found itself in post-Supercard. Despite Scurll still being a featured player in the company (including a run with the ROH World Six Man Titles with his Villain Enterprises cohorts), it wasn’t enough. ROH didn’t strike while the iron was hot, and to many fans, it left them feeling like a cold product.
Much like their recovery when The Elite left, ROH’s efforts to please the fans never waned. Lucha Libre superstar RUSH defeated Taven for the world title. Jay Lethal turned heel with his protégé Jonathan Gresham and formed an intriguing tag team. Bandido, Haskins, and Jeff Cobb became focal points of the upper echelon. ROH Dojo graduates the Soldiers of Savagery were given a big debut on television and established as a force to be reckoned with. Still, even with all of these pieces in place, a rebellion against ROH continued. It also didn’t help that the company found itself mired in controversy in late 2019 when former producer Adam Birch (aka Joey Matthews/Mercury) went on a Twitter tirade filled with negative, unfounded statements against Ring of Honor personnel. Despite Birch’s own struggles and the personal demons he’s faced, the Twitter mob took his word as gospel, and all of a sudden ROH found itself in a precarious position. This also caused the voices of the fans who wanted to see Scurll join his friends in All Elite Wrestling that much louder, and as the pages on the calendar turned to November, everyone expected “The Villain” to abandon ship as quickly as possible. To the dismay of some, and to the shock of most, that didn’t happen.
First, news broke that Scurll had agreed to stay on through Final Battle, which most fans figured would be ROH’s way to write him out of current storylines. Final Battle came and went, and not only was Scurll still a part of the World Six Man Tag Team Champions, but he also made his presence felt at the NWA’s PPV event by confronting World Heavyweight Champion Nick Aldis. Suddenly, the “sure thing” became less of a definite, but most fans figured Marty was just getting the most out of his free time until he signed an AEW contract. After all, with only two hours on television each week, AEW shows are often overloaded with talent already, and Marty’s debut would be no doubt be positioned as a special event. He would have to be revealed at just the right time, and a recent tease of him on Being The Elite did nothing to squash the idea that he would rear his villainous face on a Wednesday night in early 2020. That was everyone’s expectation until this past weekend, when Ring of Honor revealed that Scurll had signed a new contract to remain with the company (pegged by journalists to be a multi-year deal). Not only would “The Villain” remain in Ring of Honor, but his new deal gives him the ability to make appearances in NWA, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and New Japan Pro Wrestling. Aside from being a contracted wrestler, the deal also gives Scurll creative power in the company, as he will be part of a booking committee and be able to use his own ideas to help refresh the ROH brand.
It didn’t take long for Marty to parlay his newfound power into acts that have captured the fans attention. The synergy between the NWA and ROH was revived when Nick Aldis made a surprise appearance at the most recent ROH events to continue his storyline with Scurll. It also appeared that Villain Enterprises as a whole may be featured players in the NWA sooner than later as an extension of that feud. A February event dubbed “Free Enterprise” in Baltimore was announced as a show that would be free for fans to attend, and would feature the current ROH roster plus new international additions Slex and Session Moth Martina. There was also the announcement of this year’s Supercard of Honor during WrestleMania weekend, which segued into the news that the top heel in all of New Japan Pro Wrestling, Jay White, would be appearing, and that more names from NJPW were expected to appear as well. In one fell swoop, Ring of Honor helped to rinse the bad taste that so many fans have had out of their mouths. This sequence of events has turned “The Villain” into a savior, but it also leaves the floor open for more questions. Scurll has shown he has a creative mind when it comes to merchandising his Villain brand, but how will he fare as a behind the scenes entity? Will his place in the Ring of Honor power structure be enough to repair the (rumored) damage done to relationships with the NWA and New Japan? Will he try to be too benevolent with his booking power and thus make himself less special, as The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega have done in AEW? Or will he use it to finally establish himself as the king of the ROH mountain like so many have wanted him to be?
Not adding Scurll as a member of the roster won’t hurt All Elite Wrestling or NXT, and it greatly benefits Ring of Honor. Still, one should look past the in-ring and at what Scurll has already accomplished as the genesis of something great. Yes, he is an incredibly gifted, charismatic athlete, but he has also shown that he is fearless when it comes to business. Although his Ring of Honor deal is said to be the best offer given to anyone in company history, Marty Scurll is not making light of it. He’s not about to coast on his name like so many who walked through WCW’s doors in the 90s did. He’s not about to simply get in the ring, have his match, and hit the showers. He is working on building Ring of Honor back up into the entity it once was; the home of the Best Wrestling On The Planet.
He is making great strides in creating synchronicity with the National Wrestling Alliance and New Japan Pro Wrestling. His ability to work outside of ROH allows him the ability to scout for talent that he could bring into ROH, a trait that Cody Rhodes utilized to help build the AEW roster that is now seen on television every week. All of these things could lead to the creation of something that neither WWE or AEW ever saw coming; a sense of unity among companies that can lead to prosperity for each of them, and a combined force that can compete with the “Big Two.”
Going from someone who earned the fans’ sympathy to the nucleus of change in the wrestling business may seem like a smooth transition, but history has shown it’s likely to be anything but. With that in mind, the early signs all point to Marty Scurll wanting to change the game in ways that no one thought possible, even as recently as a few months ago. “The Villain” seems determined to leave his mark on the industry any way he can, and with Ring of Honor as his home base, it allows the company another chance to show why it’s spent almost two decades as a place known for must-see matches and where cult favorites can become stars. Even with his new deal in its infancy, Scurll has set a precedent that cannot be matched, and Ring of Honor has shown that they are not about to sit on the sidelines and watch the wrestling world pass them by. Together, they can reap the rewards of this deal, and if a unification of the remaining wrestling powers comes to fruition, they will go down in history as the force that weakened the stronghold of AEW and WWE. Much like his peers made history in 2019, 2020 can go down as the year that “The Villain” brings Ring of Honor back toward the top.
Disclosure: Chris’ employer is Figures Toy Company.