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ROH fans bring something special
By BLAINE VAN DER GRIEND - SLAM! Wrestling


Mark Briscoe argues with a fan at the Ring of Honor show at the Markham Fairgrounds, just outside Toronto, on November 8, 2008. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea

Ring of Honor fans waited patiently outside the Markham Fairgrounds arena on April 18 to witness the promotion's return to Toronto. They were lined up for hours and several of them wore their ROH T-shirts to support their heroes. Not only did the weather not permit for short sleeves that day, but the Markham Fairgrounds is literally in the middle of nowhere and a lot of fans had to travel far and wide to get there. It really begs the question: What do wrestling fans do when they have to wait hours on end before show time? They talk about wrestling of course.

When they finally were allowed entry into the building, it didn't look much better on the inside than it did on the outside. As far as seating arrangements went, fans had to choose between hard metal chairs, dirty benches or to stand for four hours. But despite the weather, the traveling and the seats, the fans didn't seem to be bothered by any of it.

A similar situation took place last July at Ring of Honor's inaugural Toronto show at the Ted Reeve arena. It was in the middle of the summer and there wasn't an air conditioner in sight, so needless to say, it was like an oven. Fans might have had to lose their shirts that night and drop a pound or two, but they couldn't care less. They were still at the edge of their seats, cheering for every match. They just wanted to be a part of history in the making.

The name on the marquee was wrestling. That's what they came to see and that's what was delivered. By the end of the night, nobody left disappointed.

Toronto has been said to be a very passionate wrestling city. But as ROH performers and fans will tell you, it doesn't matter where Ring of Honor goes, its followers will be there. It's a promotion that has come from nowhere, but has taken great strides in the several years it has been in existence and continues to do so every night. Pro wrestling is a business that has always been criticized for its degree of realism or lack there of. But one thing's for sure: wrestlers cannot fake their passion any more than fans can fake their emotion; it just doesn't happen.

One of the performers on hand at the Markham show on April 18th was The Necro Butcher, who is coming off recent fame on the silver screen in The Wrestler. But Butcher doesn't care how much fame a movie gets him; he will never forget where he came from and always makes time for his fans.

Butcher illustrated that point with a story about his early days in Ring of Honor.

"I was double-booked one night because one of the performers couldn't make it to a show," Butcher said. "At the time, CZW and ROH were kind of working together and I had to work this particular CZW show in the afternoon, which was scheduled as a barb wire match. I had these flip flops at the time and I was told that I couldn't wrestle the match in flip flops and I always learned in the business to do as I'm told, so I decided that I'd wrestle barefoot. Then after the show, I had to go to wrestle at an ROH show the same day in the evening, because one of the performers couldn't make it and I had to fill in. I didn't want to insult any of my fans by cleaning up before that match, because most of them would already know where I was coming from, so I decided to just go how I was. I was still barefoot and when I entered the arena for the match, the fans would continue to shower me with all this heat because I had no shoes on. That was the image I was trying to convey."

Butcher's match with Chris Hero at the Markham show ended in disqualification, which didn't sit well with a lot of the fans. There were boos heard for miles, but the reaction alone is a good explanation of how passionate Ring of Honor fans can be. They may have expected more from Butcher, as he's competed in more hardcore style matches, but the majority of them understood that Christmas doesn't come every day and they were just happy to see him.

"Fans have a right to boo. It's all part of the show," Butcher said. "If they were booing because they didn't like the finish, hey that's wrestling. But if they were booing because they didn't like the match, then I have to try and re-evaluate what I did wrong."

Butcher was a fan once himself, so he has somewhat of an understanding as to why they act the way they do, but he was very pleased that he gets any kind of reaction at all. In fact, Butcher set aside some time after the show to sign autographs for his fans and give back to them the respect they showed him.


Toronto fans are rabid for action at the Markham Fairgrounds. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea
Another man who performed at the Markham show was Roderick Strong, who put on the show of his life against Jay Briscoe. Strong looked around at the legions of screaming fans before the match started and was just awestruck. He couldn't believe the passion that filled the arena that night.

"I like Toronto. I think it's a great wrestling city and I think the fans, for the most part, enjoy what we do and they respect it," Strong said. "We're building a good fan base and the shows are always awesome."

Midway through the match, there were chants of "ROH!" and at times, the audience seemed divided. Half were chanting "Let's go Roderick!" while the other half were chanting "Let's go Briscoe!" which goes to show that no matter who's the face and who's the heel, fans will always appreciate great wrestling and that is what this match delivered.

Strong has worked for TNA in the past, so he knows all about great wrestling. However, he believes that Ring of Honor allows him to showcase his talent at a whole new level and gives him more opportunities to perfect his game.

"Ring of Honor has such a talented group of wrestlers and we're always looking to challenge ourselves and kind of one-up what we've done before, because that's the only way, as a competitive athlete that you can get better," Strong said. "TNA has always tried to be what ROH is and I think they have a [lot] of talent on their roster and it's only a matter of realizing what they have."

It seems like ROH as a company has made it their mission to top themselves every night and Strong attributes that challenge to the dedication of their fans.

"Ring of Honor has kind of a nostalgia to it. It's special," Strong said. "I think even after seven years, people come to our shows because it's special. We want to get better and we want to push ourselves to the limit, but we also understand that longevity in this business is very important, so we want to make the most of it."


Fans in Boston drum up support for their favourites. Photo by Bruno Silveira, TopRopePhotography.com
ROH champion Jerry Lynn did not compete on that particular show, but he returned to Ring of Honor and acts as a mentor backstage for all the young talent, trying to make it in this business. At this point in his career, Lynn is very happy where he's at and still puts his heart and soul into every match.

"Ring of Honor puts the emphasis mainly on athleticism," Lynn said. "Nobody is held back and they are all allowed to show the world what they can do. Since I came back to ROH, I've been accepted like part of the family and I always try to help these guys out and I always try to give the best advice I can."

As a veteran of the business, Lynn has competed in every major wrestling promotion. But he has high expectations for Ring of Honor and believes in everybody who's involved with it, including the fans.

"Just like any company that's on the verge of big things happening, ROH is just trying to get noticed and there's not a high level of politics backstage," Lynn said. "Some of the ROH wrestlers are among the best in the world. Bryan Danielson is one of the best wrestlers on the planet as far as technical wrestling goes. There are also guys like Roderick Strong, Austin Aries, Delirious; I mean the list goes on and on. ROH fans are the closest comparison to old school ECW fans in my opinion. They're just so passionate."

Whether it is next year or next week, big things are definitely in store for Ring of Honor in the future. They've already secured a TV deal on HDNet and Ric Flair making a series of appearances for the promotion. They can only go up from here.

Blaine van der Griend is one of those ROH fans. Email Blaine at vinderblainage@hotmail.com.