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ROH YEAR THREE ARCHIVE: LOOKING BACK AT RING OF HONOR'S MOST CONTROVERSIAL YEAR

By Mike Johnson on 2004-12-28 20:40:00

Controversy and Lucky – These may be the two words that best describe the third year of Ring of Honor’s existence. The promotion started off 2004 as the darling of both hardcore fans and the Internet media, coming off a hot run of events. With the promotion hitting its stride and a date announced for March 13, 2004 – the day before Wrestlemania XX in nearby New York City – ROH had a chance to make a statement for the entire wrestling world.

Little did Ring of Honor know that the date that would end up shaping the company for the year would instead come on March 3rd. Before the eyes of the wrestling world via an NBC Philadelphia newscast, ROH founder and minority owner Rob Feinstein was implicated by the NBC affiliate's story on online predators of children. Even with Wrestlemania XX on the minds of everyone in the industry, Feinstein's saga immediately became one of the biggest stories of the time and looking back, still remains of the biggest stories of the year.

Outraged, seemingly the entire wrestling world immediately turned on Feinstein, who quickly departed the public eye with a statement that he was stepping down from his companies as he dealt with the allegations. When that statement (and a lack of apology) was not met with a positive response, ROH began issuing press releases and declarations that Feinstein was removed and gone from the company he created. Booker Gabe Sapolsky (who postponed his wedding after the incident) stated in numerous outlets that he and the remainder of the staff would quit should Feinstein ever return.

ROH was shellshocked, bruised, bloody, and most watching from both near and far counted them down and out for good. It was just a matter of time before they collapsed under the weight of the incident. Due to the importance of the incident and the fallout to the history of the company, all of PWInsider.com's detailed coverage is collected here for the first time in one place.

The promotion struck back with its highest attendance to date on that March 13th event, sporting 1,800 fans the eve of Wrestlemania at a show highlighted by a bloody Samoa Joe vs. Jay Briscoe match, an insane Scramble Cage attraction and the debut of Ricky Steamboat. With their fan base ready to forget and move on, allegations that Feinstein remained continued to dog the promotion, especially after TNA pulled talent, fearful of the fallout washing onto their promotion as they negotiated a timeslot with FOX Sports. ROH swore up and down that Feinstein was gone, but in the end, a later split by the promotion from parent company RF Video seemed to prove that was not entirely the case. As his connection to the company, publicly and privately was finally severed via a buyout of the stock shares that he and/or Doug Gentry held in June, Feinstein returned to the public eye, claiming months after the incident that he was innocent and would be suing both the NBC affiliate and the website, Perverted-Justice.com, for their part in the downfall of his reputation and his ROH ownership. As of press time, Feinstein had not filed either lawsuit, but has returned to the day to day operations of RF Video. He was never charged in connection with the incident.

The end result was much of ROH's 2004 not dominated by discussion of great wrestling instead smeared by debate over Feinstein’s innocence, whether he was still involved with the promotion or not, whether TNA was justified in removing their contracted performers from ROH bookings during the fallout of the Feinstein situation, and the bitter split between ROH and RF Video.

Once Feinstein and best friend Doug Gentry were gone from the company, the tenor changed. ROH called their shows “Reborn” once Feinstein departed and it wasn't just a tag line – the entire company seemed to change shape from the bottom up. Gabe Sapolsky became the primary driving force backstage with Samoa Joe, CM Punk, The Carnage Crew, and Danny Maff taking on responsibilities and locker room leader positions. New owner Cary Silkin made himself as accessible as possible to ROH fans, wanting to know what they thought as they left the show and making regular appearances at fan-organized events to thank everyone for their support of the promotion. Low Ki, the first to publicly speak out against Feinstein, returned to the company with an inspired heel turn in July. The new ROH game plan seemed to be bring in established veterans who would appeal to the ROH audience - The Midnight Express, Mick Foley, Rick Steamboat, and Jushin Liger among others - and use them as supporting characters while building up the next level of homegrown stars such as Jay Lethal and Jack Evans.

Controversy and politics may have raged outside the squared circle, but from inside the ring, no one can deny that ROH's year belonged to Samoa Joe. Samoa Joe took the ROH belt and legitimized the championship in a way that hadn't been done for a promotion that didn't have national television since the rise of Extreme Championship Wrestling in 1994. Carrying himself with all the grace and dignity of an old school NWA champion, Joe meshed the best of Harley Race’s aura of believability with the brutality of Big Van Vader and made a star not just for himself, but every challenger who faced him. From Jay Briscoe to CM Punk to Homicide to Austin Aries, everyone who stepped into Samoa Joe’s ring left a more important part of ROH – everyone made each other, the way it’s supposed to work in theory in this business.

ROH’s in-ring year didn't begin and end with just Samoa Joe either. CM Punk had a standout year including a surprising babyface turn after a feud with Ricky Steamboat and busted his butt in numerous sixty minute matches. Danny Maff and BJ Whitmer found their niche as a great tag team while Homicide’s Rottweillers stirred up the most heel heat seen on the indy scene in years – almost a meshing of the Funk family and The Dudley Boyz – as no one was safe from their wrath. Generation Next was introduced with Jack Evans, Austin Aries, Roderick Strong, and Alex Shelley being given the ball to run and become stars to replace the departed TNA workers. Japanese legend Jushin Liger appeared for a pair of events in November that finally seemed to drive home that ROH had survived and surpassed the dark cloud that had hung over the promotion for the last several months.

It wasn't the year many expected or even could have predicted for ROH. Instead of racing ahead of the pack, they spent most of the year trying to keep the lifeboats afloat, throwing buckets of water overboard as millions of gallons surged in. Persistence and a continued effort to provide a strong alternative product to WWE, as well as fan loyalty, kept ROH alive during that time and every fan who was willing to still support them during that period, are as responsible for the company's continued survival as those who give of their bodies inside the ring.

The fact that Ring of Honor was able to finally escape the shadow of 2004 intact with fans talking about a huge title change at Final Battle 2004 and the promise of the coming year (as opposed to all the issues that were brought on by outside forces and in-house mistakes) is nothing short of a miracle.

Somehow, ROH was left standing strong at the end of the year as all the dust finally settled. That is nothing more than a testament to their loyal fan base, their great crop of performers, and the management of the company which dealt with the worst possible public relations nightmare ever seen by a professional wrestling company in the United States.

The Ring of Honor 2004 Archive features the following events:

PAGE 2 – ROH/JERSEY ALL PRO JOINT SHOW
PAGE 3 - ROH THE BATTLE LINES ARE DRAWN
PAGE 4 – ROH THE LAST STAND
PAGE 5 – MIKE JOHNSON INTERVIEWS ROH BOOKER GABE SAPOLSKY
PAGE 6 – ROH SECOND ANNIVERSARY EVENT
PAGE 7 – PWINSIDER.COM COVERAGE OF ROB FEINSTEIN INCIDENT AND AFTERMATH
PAGE 8 – MIKE JOHNSON INTERVIEWS GABE SAPOLSKY REGARDING FEINSTEIN FALLOUT
PAGE 9 – PWINSIDER.COM COVERAGE OF ROB FEINSTEIN INCIDENT AFTERMATH PART II
PAGE 10 – ROH AT OUR BEST
PAGE 11 – PWINSIDER.COM COVERAGE OF ROH VS. TNA PART ONE
PAGE 12 – PWINSIDER.COM COVERAGE OF ROH VS. TNA PART TWO
PAGE 13 – ROH REBORN STAGE ONE
PAGE 14 – ROH REBORN STAGE TWO
PAGE 15 – ROH ROUND ROBIN CHALLENGE III
PAGE 16 – ROH GENERATION NEXT
PAGE 17 – PWINSIDER.COM COVERAGE OF THE RF VIDEO-ROH SPLIT PART ONE
PAGE 18 – ROH WORLD TITLE CLASSIC
PAGE 19 – PWINSIDER.COM COVERAGE OF THE ROH-RF SPLIT PART TWO
PAGE 20 – ROH SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
PAGE 21 – PWINSIDER.COM COVERAGE OF THE ROH-RF SPLIT PART THREE
PAGE 22 – ROH REBORN: COMPLETION
PAGE 23 – ROH DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR 2: NIGHT ONE
PAGE 24 - ROH DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR 2: NIGHT TWO
PAGE 25 – ROH TESTING THE LIMIT
PAGE 26 – ROH SCRAMBLE CAGE MELEE
PAGE 27 – ROH GLORY BY HONOR III
PAGE 28 – ROH MIDNIGHT EXPRESS REUNION
PAGE 29 – ROH GOLD
PAGE 20 – ROH JOE VS. PUNK II
PAGE 31 – ROH WEEKEND OF THUNDER NIGHT ONE
PAGE 32 – ROH WEEKEND OF THUNDER NIGHT TWO
PAGE 33 – ROH ALL STAR EXTRAVAGANZA II
PAGE 34 – ROH FINAL BATTLE 2004


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