Over the previous three hundred and twenty seven days, Jonathan Gresham has carried both Ring Of Honor and their renowned Pure Wrestling division on his back. Although he might be considered a big fish in a small pond, Gresham deserves respect and recognition for the levels that he elevated the ROH Pure Division to.
When the company announced the revival of the once-prestigious Pure Championship in January of 2020, the first name that came to mind was Jonathan Gresham. Although it didn’t seem that Gresham was necessarily high on the company’s totem pole at the time, he was one of the few ROH stars who was clamoring for the defunct championship to make a return.
As the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the world, the Pure Title was left unclaimed until Ring Of Honor began doing closed-set TV tapings in August. With that came the long awaited Pure Championship tournament. Gresham ended up beating Tracy Williams in the finals of the tournament, therefore becoming the first person to hold the belt in approximately 5,193 days.
Although many of his matches took place in front of video LED boards rather than passionate wrestling fans, I’m a firm believer that Jonathan Gresham was a key factor in revitalizing Pure Wrestling as a whole.
After Gresham defeated Williams in the finals of the tournament, the two immediately joined forces alongside Jay Lethal and Rhett Titus to create the group known as The Foundation. Although they drew comparisons to legendary independent wrestling faction Catchpoint, the group had a different aura and swagger to them.
Alongside The Foundation, Gresham marched through the dark and empty UMBC Event Center in Baltimore, Maryland with the Pure Championship held high above his head. Despite not having any title defenses within the first month and a half of his reign, Gresham would still regularly appear on TV.
His first defense of the title would come at the Final Battle pay-per-view, where he faced Flip Gordon. Although I personally think Gordon isn’t a very good wrestler, the two had a 25 minute match that was very good and easily the best match of that show. This match alone would signify my belief that nearly anybody can work the Pure style if they work with the right person.
Gresham’s reign would then shift to a focus on some of the younger Ring Of Honor talent. His next two defenses would be against Dojo trainee Joe Keys and up-and-comer Dak Draper. The match with Keys was featured on TV and was a brilliant way for Keys to be showcased.
Gresham’s match with Dak Draper was featured on the 19th Anniversary pay-per-view and was yet again arguably the match of that show. Draper doesn’t have the best reputation as an in-ring performer, but I’d say that Gresham elevated him in the match rather than “carrying” him.
After elevating a few younger members of the roster, “The Octopus” would turn to face a familiar friend/foe in Jay Lethal. Despite being in the same faction, Gresham and Lethal faced off for the title on the 500th episode of ROH TV. It was another fantastic 15+ minute outing that elevated the prestige and value of the championship even more.
Around the June 2021 mark, ROH began holding Pure Rules Gauntlet matches on TV. These were mainly used to build up new contenders for Gresham’s title. Pure Division mainstay Fred Yehi won the first ever version of this match, prompting a title match between two of the company’s best. Gresham would outlast Yehi in a twelve minute TV match that still holds up as one of my favorite matches of the year.
385 days of Pure wrestling….. Thank you all for the support. pic.twitter.com/BpAZJDMcR8
— Jonathan Gresham (@TheJonGresham) September 13, 2021
A common theme in Gresham’s reign with the title was that he put on great match after great match, as that is something nearly any wrestler can do nowadays. The prestige and value that he and The Foundation carried themselves with would make ROH as a whole feel more important. The little things matter in wrestling and when Gresham would bring the title to a small independent promotion, it would feel like a big deal and elevate everybody involved.
Gresham’s best defense of the title would come at the Best In The World pay-per-view on July 11th. After Mike Bennett won a Pure Gauntlet match, he would stake his claim for a shot at the title. The two would go on to have, yet again, the match of the night for that show. If you haven’t watched the match, I’d recommend a subscription to HonorClub to watch it alone. This match would also be the first time Gresham defended the title in front of a live audience.
A future story was developed with his next title defense, as he beat Foundation faction member Rhett Titus at the Glory By Honor show. With this win, Gresham can now bring up the fact that he’s beaten every single member of his group in singles bouts. While it’s something minor, I feel like it could be a major story point down the road.
Unfortunately, Gresham’s championship reign recently came to an end at the Death Before Dishonor pay-per-view. Gresham faced top contender Josh Woods, who is somebody the company built up as a credible challenger over the duration of Gresham’s reign. Although this match was the least favorite of the reign, it was still an OK match.
With Josh Woods taking over the helm as the top dog of the Pure Division, I have no doubt that Gresham will continue to elevate multiple people within the division and company. His wrestling influence is felt throughout nearly the entire show on a week-to-week basis, as he does serve as one of the head trainers at the ROH Dojo. I’d really like to see Woods join The Foundation as he fits the vibe and stature that the group presents on ROH programming.
It might not be recognized fully by everybody now, but Jonathan Gresham’s Pure Championship reign will go down as one of the most influential and important championship reigns not just in ROH history, but in wrestling history as well.