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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Black" days ahead for ROH

Amid all the buzz surrounding the new Monday Night War, "The Pope's" big win on Sunday night, the last episode of ECW, the first episode of NXT, and WWE's big hype for WrestleMania and the Elimination Chamber, a fairly significant piece of wrestling history has been lost in the shuffle.

On Saturday night, a wrestling star may have been born.

I’m talking about the coronation of Tyler Black as the new Ring of Honor heavyweight champion. In the climax of a rivalry that has spanned more than a year, Black defeated Austin Aries in the main event of ROH’s Eighth Anniversary show in New York City to capture the title.

Now, I’m sure that many fans of Black, and of ROH, may say that the Iowa native was already a star long before winning the title Saturday night. Fair enough. I could certainly point to his 2008 ROH title match against Nigel McGuinness in the main event of the “Take No Prisoners” as the night that the wrestling world took notice of Black. But what he accomplished at the Manhattan Center on Saturday night takes his place in the wrestling world to a whole new level.

To the disappointment of many an ROH fan, Pro Wrestling Illustrated still does not recognize the ROH heavyweight title as a “world championship,” but that is not to say that it is not one of the most prestigious titles in the sport. Among the 13 men who have worn the title belt are some of the sport’s true elite – men like McGuinness, Bryan Danielson, C.M. Punk and Samoa Joe. In fact, of Black’s 12 predecessors as ROH champion, seven are currently employed by WWE or TNA. All past ROH champs have had at least a cup of coffee in one of the two major national promotions.

And so Black’s title win Saturday night could very well be the start of something truly special.

Or, maybe not.

Black’s elevation into the very top of the ROH hierarchy has not been without some controversy. When Black first challenged Aries for the title in the main event of December’s Final Battle show, which aired as an Internet exclusive pay-per-view, he was soundly rejected by the passionate New York crowd. Perhaps seeing in Black the same kind of “pretty boy” qualities that have made John Cena a punching bag for many adult male wrestling fans, the ROH crowd showered Black with chants of “over-rated!” during what should have been the biggest match of his career.

And so, at the dawn of what may be the Tyler Black era in ROH, the new champion may have quite the hill to climb to win over the support of many fans. To do that, he’ll have to give ROH fans what they crave the most – excellent matches.

In his five years in the sport, Black has shown the ability to do just that, including in a remarkable series of tag team matches last year in which he partnered with Danielson to take on The American Wolves. This editorial staff recognized Black’s potential when we slotted him 17th in last year’s "PWI 500" – above then-ROH champ Aries, as well as WWE and TNA main-eventers such as A.J. Styles, Rey Mysterio and The Big Show.

I asked ROH owner Cary Silkin about Black during a recent interview for an upcoming PWI story.

“Tyler Black is extremely talented. He’s only 23 years old,” said Silkin, who blamed much of the New York crowd’s negative reaction toward Black back in December on the fact that the show had already gone long by the time the one-hour-ong main event came to the ring. “I just think he’s tremendous. I’m a big fan of his. He’s a hardworking kid and I think this is his year.”

His year, indeed. Now it’s up to the new ROH champion whether he becomes the next C.M. Punk, or, instead, the next Xavier.

-Al Castle
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer

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