Many great talents have come through Ring of Honor wrestling, dating back to its inception in 2002. CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Bryan Danielson a.k.a Daniel Bryan, Tyler Black a.k.a. Seth Rollins all got their start in ROH and held titles during their tenure. Surprisingly, there are many great performers who never held any titles during their time in ROH. I would like to examine the careers of 10 these men, what they meant to the company, and what the chances are they could hold ROH championship gold in the future. For the purposes of this article I am defining an ROH title as 1) the world championship, 2) the tag team championship, 3) the television championship, and 4) the pure championship. There have been other belts that have made the rounds in ROH but they have always been either a gimmick (see the Icon/Love title) or a title that doesn't originate in ROH (such as when the FIP title was being defended in ROH matches).
I am looking at 5 criteria when compiling this list. This list is not my personal favorites (though that factors in some amount no matter how objective I am trying to be) but is based on:
1 - How strong was their following? Did they have a lot of reaction either way as a face or a heel? Did they get people buzzing?
2 - How were they booked? Were they booked like main eventers who just never one the big one, or were they jobbers who lost opening card scramble matches?
3 - How long were they on the roster? Did they spend several years in the promotion, or were they only there for a few months? This is also why you won't see people like Chris Sabin, or Kota Ibushi on this list. Great wrestlers, but their appearances were so infrequent they don't qualify.
4 - How good were they in the ring? This is, of course, were the list becomes more subjective, but it simply has to be a consideration.
5 - how good were they on the mic/as a character? Another subjective judgement call, but one that must be made for the purposes of putting together a good list.
#10 ERICK STEVENS:
Tenure: 2007 - 2010
This strong man turned heads with his big physique and mohawk. He spent time in Austin Aries's stable the Resilience before going out on his own when the group disbanded. Stevens never generated a huge following, but did have some memorable moments in the promotion, most notably his fight without honor against Roderick Strong. He was a solid-if-unspectacular power wrestler who I have very little recollection of cutting promos, which is probably a bad sign.
Chance of holding ROH gold in the future: extremely low. He is retired now, and owns a powerlifting gym in Florida. The chances of a return to ROH, much less a return that involves a title is extremely remote.
#9 Spanky (Brian Kendrick)
Tenure: 2002-2003, 2005
This lovable odd ball gained a nice cult following for his antics, as well as his impressive in-ring repertoire. He was quite small, but in ROH that doesn't tend to work against people. This also allowed him to fill a nice, spike-dudley-esque "plucky, undersized fan-favorite" role. His tenures were relatively short, and it didn't ever appear that ROH was his highest priority.
Chance of ROH gold in the future: low. Though he has currently re-signed with WWE, his relationship with the company remains off-and-on. What would hurt his chances, would be that even if he did return to ROH, he was never quite over enough to be a title holder, and at 35 it is unlikely ROH would run with him as any sort of champion. With that being said, there are occasions were past favorites will have a nostalgia title run, perhaps with the television title or tag title. Still, it's pretty unlikely.
#8 Kenny Omega
Tenure: 2008 - 2010
Kenny Omega is a gifted athlete, with a good look, who is an average talker. While in ROH, he put on some excellent matches, including several with then-champion Austin Aries. He garnered a decent following and looked to be a promising future-star. Omega appears to be a man who excels and feels most comfortable in Japan. He has been involved with a few promotions across the pacific and seems to be gaining positive notoriety there. He was the Pro Wrestling Guerilla World Champion, which was probably his largest accomplishment stateside.
Chances of ROH gold in the future: low. He appears to be happily competing in Japan, with no signs of intentions to return. Omega has always struck me as a guy who you could build around as a main-eventer, but it's just a matter of how committed he wants to be to a US promotion. He had a brief tenure in one of WWE's developmental promotions, which was said to be a highly negative experience for him.
#7 Jack Evans
Tenure: 2003-2005, 2007-2008
If John Cena was the doctor of thugonomics, Jack Evans was the associates degree. Despite his awful gimmick, Jack was a freakishly talented high flyer who defied gravity as well or better than other beloved daredevils such as Matt Sydal or Pac. He generated buzz everywhere he went with his innovative risk-taking and sold his ass off in every match. He was an oh-my-god moment waiting to happen, and created some of the most memorable spots ROH has ever had. Surprisingly, his days in Generation Next and the Vulture Squad never resulted in a tag title run.
Chances of ROH gold in the future: low. Like Omega, he is another ex-pat who appears to like competing elsewhere. He is currently in Mexico's AAA and has been there for almost 7 years. It's not impossible by any stretch, and he certainly has the following to carrying the television title or the tag titles with a partner, but it looks unlikely that Jack will be returning to ROH any time soon.
#6 Kenta Kobayashi (aka Hideo Itami)
Tenure: 2005-2006, 2007-2009
Kenta seemed like the perfect fit for Ring of Honor from his earliest appearances. His high energy, crisp grapples, and ultra-stiff strikes made him a beloved member of the roster during his tours-of-duty in ROH. THe language barrier didn't serve to be as big a problem as it would have been had he been in a promotion that put more emphasis on mic skills. He was a very "buzzy" wrestler that drew smart marks from far and wide when he would be booked at an ROH show. The only thing that kept Kenta from carrying a title in ROH was the short length of his runs with the company, and the knowledge that, ultimately, he was a Pro Wreslting Noah guy, first-and-foremost.
Chances of ROH gold in the future: Low. He is now signed with WWE, performing as Hideo Itami. If this doesn't work out, which is sometimes the case with WWE signings, there is a chance he lands back in ROH. It seems more likely, though, that he would end up returning to his homeland to compete in the land of the rising sun.
#5 Jimmy Rave
Tenure: 2003-2007, brief runs in 2009, 2011, 2013
At one time, Jimmy Rave was arguably the person who generated the most heel heat in all of ROH. It was strange, becuase he was a fairly average in-ring wrestler with unremarkable mic skills. But something about Jimmy Rave just made fans blood boil, and allowed him to be someone the fans loved to hate. Perhaps his most notable moments were when the fans would shower him with hundreds of rolls of toilet paper during his first run in ROH. Rave also had some great rivalries with CM Punk, AJ Styles, and Nigel NcGuinness where he played a pitch-perfect heel who the fans got the satisfaction of seeing defeated. I had Rave pegged for a nice heel run with a singles title, or perhaps a tag title run with Alex Shelley, but neither ever came to frution, though Rave did have some opportunities at both.
Chance of ROH gold in the future: Low-to-Moderate. Rave was a key heel character throughout many of the early years of ROH. He has never quite gained the cult status in other promotions he did in ROH, so it seems like a place he could return to and thrive if he wished to. Sadly, in real life Jimmy has dealt with many awful experiences including substance abuse problems which perhaps makes the hope of a return to the toilet paper days unlikely.
#4 Cedric Alexander
Tenure: 2010 - current
Cedric Alexander has evolved from a promising-but-raw youngster to a bona-fide burgeoning talent on the precipice of stardom. People started to really take notice of Alexander after the completion of his C and C Wrestle Factory days, when he struck out on his own in 2014 and promptly started stealing the show no matter where he was booked on the card. His mic skills need improving, he seems soft spoken and somewhat timid, but his wrestling is second to none. He takes huge bumps, moves with incredible agility despite his size, and has power to spare.
Chances of ROH gold in the future: Very High. I would be willing to wager that Alexander carries his first piece of ROH hardware sometime in 2015, and if not, it will be ROH's loss. He has generated a strong following, consistently puts on good matches, and is only 25 years old, which bodes well for his future.
#3 Alex Shelley
Tenure: 2003 - 2006. Sporadic appearances 2007-2008, 2010, 2014
Alex Shelley is one of those rare wrestlers that can do it all. He is a great talker, with excellent comedic timing and facial expressions. He can sell with the best of them, and he is a great mat technician, flyer, and striker. I have often wondered what has kept him from being a perrennial title holder in the various promotions he has appeared in. During his primary run in Ring of Honor he was a member of Generation Next, but perhaps was overshadowed by fellow stable members Austin Aries and Roderick Strong. He was later a member of The Embassy, which was never quite able to gain traction as a real title threat. Since 2006 he has made intermittent appearances, putting on stellar matches (most notably his matchs with partner Chris Sabin against the Briscoe brothers in 2007 and 2008) but never stuck around long enough for title consideration.
Chances of ROH gold in the future: Moderate. Shelley is primarily working in Japan with tag partner Kushida, in the Time Splitters. I still think there is a chance Shelley lands back in ROH one of these days and has a tag title run or television title run. There is nothing imminent by any means, but he seems to keep good relations with ROH through his various appearances and his matches are always well received.
Tenure: 2012 - present
I'm just gonna say it. ACH has "it". He is a lightning fast in ring wrestler with an innovative move set, natural charisma and a great connection with the crowd at his appearances. He talks well, has a good sense of humor, and can play face or heel equally well. He has been an ROH staple for several years now and, like fellow up-and-comer Cedric Alexander, appears to be positioned for a title run of some sort in ROH in 2015.
Chances of ROH gold in the future: very high. I see no reason why ACH doesn't carry a title in ROH in 2015 barring a serious injury on contract problem of some sort. period. Though his resume is similar to Alexanders as I mentioned before, I give ACH the nod due to mic skills and charisma.
#1 Paul London
Tenure: 2002-2003, brief appearances in 2014
Paul London finds himself at #1 on this list not so much because his tenure was that long (it wasn't), but because his tenure was one of the first to feel important to Ring of Honor as it was developing its identity. He was one of the first stars, along with Low Ki, Christopher Daniels and Bryan Danielson that carried the promotion through its vulnerable early days. He garnered a nice following during his stay in ROH and he was the first wreslter who left for WWE where the loss truly felt like an "ROH guy" leaving. He represented an idea; he carried the ethos of what Ring of Honor was all about and his exit from the company was a watershed moment where ROH fans learned what was going to become a reality for the entirety of the company; great wrestlers would come and carry the torch in Ring of Honor, but those great wrestlers would also eventually leave. The promotion carried on after Paul London left, and managed to thrive even in his absence. Ring of Honor's ability to embrace the memories of former stars, while moving forward to create new ones is the primary reason it is still going strong today.
Chances of ROH gold in the future: moderate. From an interview I read with Paul, it sounds like things didn't end on a great note with ROH during his last appearance there. With that being said, I think he will always have a spot in the pantheon of ROH greats, and someday, just maybe could carry a title to show it.