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February 12, 2016

Ring of Honor's Declaration of Independence: How one indie promotion changed the face of today's WWE, and continues to thrive in the face of overwhelming odds

The mid-Nineties were a particularly bad time for WWE. Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage defected to WCW, goofy characters like Doink the Clown and Tatanka felt childish and out of touch and freshly minted faces like Diesel and Lex Luger couldn't quite capture the zeitgeist or enthusiasm of the previous decade. The company had become boring, smug, bereft of star-power – and they had nobody to blame but themselves.

Meanwhile, unsatisfied diehards were in search of their pro-wrestling fix, and they found it in the bleak industrial parks of South Philadelphia. Extreme Championship Wrestling never had the funding to cross into popular culture – it was mostly broadcast in the witching hour on microscopic cable channels up and down the East Coast – but its followers were loyal and its reputation was hard-earned. ECW was violent, it was angry, it was vengeful; it was everything mainstream wrestling wasn't in the mid-Nineties. It's where the Dudley Boyz dropped their first 3D, where Rob Van Dam became a star, where Tommy Dreamer and Brian Lee wrestled a terrifying, irresponsible and utterly incredible "Scaffold Match," where Cactus Jack and Terry Funk asked for chairs and watched the ring get buried in a sea of steel. The message was clear: we don't follow the rules in ECW.

Pro wrestling eats its young, and eventually Extreme Championship Wrestling was absorbed by the bigger budgets and higher ceilings of the WWE. First-ballot hall of famers like Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio all wrestled fantastic matches in ECW, but they happily signed lucrative contracts with the big show. In 2001, left without a budget or a competitive roster, ECW was forced to close its doors – leaving behind a small pile of ashes in the warehouses and gymnasiums it had conquered.

This was particularly bad news for Rob Feinstein and his company, RF Video. ECW VHS tapes – and, later, DVDs – were their primary export, and all of a sudden he needed something to sell. In 2002 he broke ground on Ring of Honor, a new Philadelphia-based promotion that served as a torchbearer for that gritty, barbed-wire tradition. In the years since, ROH has slowly but surely established itself as worthy successor to ECW, and like its forefather, has started to catch the attention of the elephant in the room.

"The major company in our business is of course the WWE – I'm not going to Voldemort them and say, 'He who has no name,' because we very much respect their organization," says Joe Koff, Ring of Honor COO. "But what's interesting is that over the last two years all their champions and key people have been Ring of Honor people. They have a developmental program, which is a fine, fine program, but where were their champions coming from?"...More?

source: rollingstone.com

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