By Chuck Carroll
Sixteen years ago Thursday, World Wrestling Entertainment, then World Wrestling Federation, stunned the professional wrestling world by purchasing the company it had been in a bruising battle with for nearly 20 years. March 23, 2001 was the day World Championship Wrestling and the Monday Night Wars died. Executives at AOL Time-Warner saw little value in WCW after purchasing Turner Broadcasting. The acquisition included cable networks TNT and TBS, which were home to WCW Monday Nitro and WCW Thunder since the shows debuted. Despite drawing millions of viewers each week, WCW was sold for what some would say was little more than a bag of donuts. WCW’s viewership had eroded from the height of its popularity in the late 1990s and was lagging behind WWF, but was still among the top draws on cable. Indeed, Vince McMahon got a bargain.
On this anniversary the question has arisen whether history is on the verge of repeating itself. A report recently surfaced that WWE was eying a takeover of Ring of Honor, a promotion currently considered by many to be their biggest rival. The rumor stated that there had been ongoing discussions between Stamford, Connecticut-based WWE and ROH parent company Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which is headquartered outside Baltimore. Such speculation has set off a firestorm among wrestlers as well as fans active in online wrestling communities.
Is the wrestling world going to be turned on its head again after a decade and a half? No.
ROH will not be sold to WWE, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation. One high-ranking source said “there is no story here.”
During an interview earlier this month, ROH COO Joe Koff emphatically denied rumors of a potential sale.
“No. No, no, no,” Koff told me. “It’s very flattering and humbling to us. It validates what we’ve done. A lot of their current performers and stars are ROH guys and we have their history. So maybe the content of the backstories of Kevin Steen before he became Kevin Owens or AJ Styles’ run in Ring of Honor, Tyler Black (aka Seth Rollins), Claudio (Castagnoli aka Cesaro) … all of the guys who have wrestled for us. We have their backstory and where it began… That’s our content.”
The two sides are open to continuing a professional relationship that is mutually beneficial. However, Koff also said the idea of WWE purchasing the ROH tape library is highly unlikely.
“I’m always open to any conversation,” said Koff. “We do business with them if they want to do a DVD or VOD if they need footage from early matches they do come to us. We are open to work with them on that basis because it doesn’t hurt us. It actually helps us.”
WWE did not respond to a request for comment.
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ROH is a proving ground for future WWE headliners and is now also becoming a destination for ex-WWE wrestlers exploring opportunities outside of the Vince McMahon-led wrestling juggernaut. Recently, Matt and Jeff Hardy signed short-term deals that will have them appear in ROH for the “immediate future,” while Bubba Ray Dudley signed a longer-term contract. WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair also had a brief rocky stint with the company in 2009.
WWE has polled fans about having ROH content on the popular WWE Network in the past. But whether the two sides are able to broker an agreement to syndicate ROH programming to WWE’s 1.5 million subscribers remains to be seen. It’s unclear what level of interest ROH has in such an arrangement.
ROH currently streams content on their own website and FITE TV, a digital combat sports network featuring a number of independent promotions as well as Impact Wrestling. The next event to stream on the platform will be ROH Supercard of Honor XI on April 1. The show is about an hour’s drive from Orlando where WrestleMania will be held the following day.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.