Another factor that made the ROH World Title different was that, unlike in other companies, everybody didn't eventually get a turn with the title. A lot of great wrestlers have come through ROH and nearly killing themselves trying to become World Champion, only to fall short in the end. With Kevin Steen's recent departure from that group of "couldabeens", I thought it would be interesting to look at ten other terrific wrestlers who spent years in ROH, main evented shows, and in some cases were heavily focused upon, core members of the ROH roster, but for some reason never claimed the top prize in the company.
Chris Hero: The case could be made that his character was too goofy early on, but his transformation into That Young Knockout Kid in 2008 changed all that, turning him into a much more serious and credible title threat. Hero spent as much time in ROH main events as nearly anyone else to ever come through the company, especially in 2010 when his run as one half of the Kings of Wrestling showed that he was more than capable of taking the ball and running with it. Though he got many title shots over the years against multiple champions, the closest he ever came to winning the title was when he cashed in his Survival of the Fittest title shot to challenge an injured Nigel McGuinness at Glory By Honor VI and ended up suffering a humiliating submission loss to a one-armed man. That was far from his last title shot, but he more often than not found himself in the position of putting over new champions to help build their credibility than ever being in the running himself.
Claudio Castagnoli: Though Hero's partner never won the ROH World Title either, you definitely got the sense that they saw that kind of potential in him at one point. After an excellent pair of title matches with Takeshi Morishima in 2007, and with many of the original ROH main eventers leaving the company earlier that same year, Claudio started to be groomed for a move into main events in 2008. He started beating a lot of top names like Austin Aries, Bryan Danielson, and Naomichi Marufuji, as the plan was to have him challenge Nigel McGuinness for the ROH World Title when ROH made their debut in the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. The match didn't end up being the blowaway main event some people probably expected it to be, and Claudio's window of opportunity closed pretty quickly after that as he was turned heel and diverted into a feud with Bryan Danielson instead. From that point on, he found himself in the exact same boat as Hero where the only title shots he ever got were to put over whoever the new champion was.
Christopher Daniels: I'm very surprised Daniels was never the champion, mostly because he was THE original top heel in the company. The first few months in ROH were very much about the rivalry between Daniels and Low Ki, but when it came time for Low Ki to drop the title, it was to fellow Prophecy member Xavier and not Daniels. Daniels has gotten multiple shots since then against Samoa Joe, CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, and Roderick Strong, and his desire to win the ROH World Title was the entire basis for his return to ROH and feud with Davey Richards in 2010, but for some reason the title never came his way and he remains one of the very few ROH originals who never held the title.
Jay Lethal: I wouldn't be surprised if he comes off this list in the next year or so, but Lethal's a guy you always got the sense they planned to be THE guy someday. He was actually in the midst of a huge push in late 2005 after beating both Low Ki and Samoa Joe, and he might very well have been penciled in for a title win sometime in 2006 or 2007, but he wound up at odds with management and left the company shortly into 2006, and didn't return for over five years. Since then, he's been one of the main pillars the company has been built on since the Sinclair buyout and had two very good, but unsuccessful, shots at the title when it was held by Davey Richards.
El Generico: I wouldn't have expected him to ever have a long reign, but there were points when you could have definitely gone with a surprise Generico title win. The fans were into the idea when he challenged Nigel McGuinness a couple of times in 2008, and it seemed like at least a series of title shots were in order after the end of the feud with Kevin Steen. Instead, Generico got one title shot on the next show that he lost, and pretty much got the shaft from ROH ever since until leaving the company.
KENTA: Not only could you have put the title on KENTA at pretty much any point in his ROH run, but there were two specific times where it would have made perfect sense to do so since the only title shots he ever got were against very badly injured champions. KENTA's initial ROH run in 2005-06 saw him rack up an undefeated streak that included two non-title wins over Bryan Danielson, building to them main eventing ROH's debut at the Manhattan Center. Problem was that Danielson had torn some ligaments in his chest and shoulder only weeks earlier, and it was questionable as to whether he'd even be able to wrestle KENTA as scheduled. It would have seemed like the smart thing to put the title on KENTA and figure the rest out later, but they ended up having what I considered the ROH MOTY for 2006 before Danielson handed KENTA his first loss.
An almost identical situation happened two and a half years later at the 7th Anniversary Show, when KENTA challenged Nigel McGuinness, who came into the match with two torn biceps. Danielson had weeks to recover from his injury when he wrestled KENTA, but Nigel had torn the second bicep the NIGHT BEFORE, and the idea that he was still going to wrestle KENTA as planned was insane and spoke to the work ethic Nigel approached every title defene with. Nigel and KENTA somehow still went on to have the best match of the night in spite of the injuries, and Nigel was able to take the next week to rest before dropping the title to Jerry Lynn in Texas as planned. Between KENTA's ability to pull out great matches with badly injured opponents, the way he was a non-ROH wrestler whom the fans embraced as one of their own, and the fact that he was such a heavily focused part of ROH's first year on HDNet, I'm pretty shocked that he never got at least a short run with the title.
Necro Butcher: This one almost did happen when Necro scored a part in The Wrestler, the movie that starred Mickey Rourke as a washed-up superstar from the 80s who had fallen into low-wage obscurity after his time in the spotlight had come to an end. Gabe Sapolsky has said in interviews that he was considering putting the title on Necro as a tie-in if the movie did well, and while that never happened, I think you still might have gotten some mileage out of Necro as champion considering how over he was coming out of Age of the Fall. Instead, he went from feared monster to lovable mascot in 2009-10, after which he left ROH and hasn't returned since.
Colt Cabana: I think the most common knock against the idea of a Cabana title reign was always the comedy, but I really don't buy into that. He's shown that he be a perfectly serious wrestler when he challenged Austin Aries and Bryan Danielson for the title, and can even handle himself in hardcore feuds like the ones he had with Homicide, Kevin Steen, and Steve Corino. I think the real problem is that he was never a bad choice, but there were always better choices since his stints in ROH coincided with guys like Samoa Joe and Bryan Danielson, who were among the highest regarded wrestlers to ever come through the company. I have no doubt that he could have made a fine champion, he was just surrounded by too many other great wrestlers, and somebody's going to fall out of the running in cases like that.
Jimmy Rave: You definitely get the sense like ROH management wanted Rave to get to a point where he'd get over as a champion, but for some reason he never got there. I think what it comes down to was how he was packaged, because he's always been very good in the ring and had awesome feuds with AJ Styles and CM Punk, but the fans never took to him as a main eventer after being broken away from the Embassy. I'm not willing to say he's a bad promo either because I've heard him do some strong mic work, but I think taking away the overwhelming amount of window dressing that came with Prince Nana and the Embassy was a big enough change that it took something away from his persona when it was gone. He's floated in and out of the company in the years since, but whatever momentum he had from his original 2003-07 run was long gone by that point.
Jay Briscoe: Jay is on the list and Mark isn't because, with all due respect to Mark, Jay has always been the one who came across as the stronger singles wrestler and has been put in a lot more high-profile singles matches than his brother. I have no doubt that Jay would have been the champion if Mark never became a wrestler because he's as good as anyone to ever come through ROH, and as it is he's been booked to beat nearly everybody who has ever been the ROH World Champion. Jay's another one of those guys who always seems to be one of the first in line to put over new champions right after they win the title, but the team with Mark has pretty much precluded him from ever being given a strong run as a singles contender.
There's my picks, but I'd love to hear yours too, so feel free to share your thoughts on who else you would add to the list by dropping me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.