The indie influence: How one small wrestling company impacted WWE

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February 05, 2014

WWE.COM: How would you describe the in-ring style of Ring of Honor?

ROLLINS: It was this crazy hybrid of styles — American strong style with a little bit of lucha influence, and this crazy athleticism you just don’t see anywhere else.

CABANA: Early ’90s All Japan Pro Wrestling was a big influence. Guys like Kenta Kobashi, Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada. It was hard-hitting, big bombs, fighting spirit, less cartoon-style wrestling and more athletic action. That had really seeped into the independent wrestling scene and it all culminated when Ring of Honor started.

ROLLINS: Wrestling isn’t appreciated as an art form as much as it should be. And like art, every culture of professional wrestling in the world has a different way of going about it. The cool thing that Ring of Honor was able to do was somehow take all these different worldly cultures — the Japanese style, the Mexican style, the European style of professional wrestling — and they were able to meld it into this new American archetype of what pro wrestling should look like in a ring. It was more about the meat and potatoes of fighting. Ring of Honor was hard-hitting and fast-paced, and was able to capitalize on this awesome amalgamation of styles that hadn’t been seen anywhere in the world at that time.

CESARO: To me, there was not one style. It didn’t matter what kind of match it was. No matter if it was hardcore, technical, high-flying, whatever. If it was a good match, the fans were into it. It was all about the wrestling, and that’s what made it so special. For example, Colt Cabana does a lot of comedy, but fans love him as much as they love Daniel Bryan, who is very serious and technical.

SAPOLSKY: The style emphasized athleticism, it emphasized freedom to perform in the ring and it allowed the wrestlers to perform their art as they saw fit. That’s the environment we created.

WWE.COM: Who were some of the guys that were most representative of that style?

CABANA: I think Christopher Daniels was one of the most important wrestlers at that time. He was a young guy who hadn’t been on TV, but he had made a name for himself in Japan and Mexico. He was the indie guy and he was doing all these innovative athletic styles. And of course Low Ki, who has always had this wonderful, different style. Sabu took everybody by storm in the early ’90s, because it was something nobody had ever seen before. All of a sudden, here’s Low Ki who’s got this completely different style. All these dudes were doing headlocks, and Low Ki was doing this crazy athletic style of wrestling. Gabe used to say all the time that Low Ki was the new Sabu.

WWE.COM: What sort of talent did the Ring of Honor guys who became successful in WWE have?

SAPOLSKY: I don’t think there’s any luck when it comes to succeeding in WWE. If a wrestler is able to connect with an audience, it doesn’t matter if it’s 500, 300 people or 100 people. If they have what it takes to be a main eventer, they will be able to connect on the bigger platform of WWE in front of 15,000 people or on pay-per-view. That’s what CM Punk did, that’s what Daniel Bryan did and that’s what Dean Ambrose did.

ROLLINS: WWE was always the ultimate goal. I grew up watching them, I loved them, I knew that was the only place to make it long-term in professional wrestling. But Ring of Honor was someplace that I wanted to be to hone my skills. The best guys in the world were working [in Ring of Honor], and I wanted to be in the ring with those guys on a regular basis. I knew that would prepare me for making the jump to WWE.

SAPOLSKY: I knew they would have a longer road ahead of them, but I knew what gifted performers they were and I also knew what kind of people they were. I knew they would be able to fight against the system and weather whatever storm was in front of them to get there. I knew that they would be able to conquer it.

WWE.COM: Do you see elements of the Ring of Honor style here in WWE?

CESARO: Yes, definitely. There are a lot of young guys who want to show everybody what they can do. We all have that same pride. We want to fill the house and give our fans their money’s worth every single time. We have a lot of pride in what we do, and that’s what I feel in the locker room.

DANIEL BRYAN: I think the biggest influence is that the guys in Ring of Honor had to work very hard to get here. When everybody is working hard, that makes everybody else step up their games. For example, if I go out there and have a great match, I needed that to stay relevant. When The Shield go out and tear it up every single TV show, it makes the other guys step up their games. People are going to say, “Wait a minute, that Shield match was way better than that last match.” I think everybody has to compete to be the best, and now I think the WWE in-ring product is the best it’s ever been.

SAPOLSKY: There are definitely elements of what they would have done in Ring of Honor, and at the same time, they have refined things for the WWE system. It is kind of odd for me to see that kind of match on WWE TV, I have to admit that. It's always odd for me to see a match like CM Punk vs. Seth Rollins, because they’re kind of two generations of my producing career. CM Punk never crossed paths with Seth Rollins in ROH, but now they’ve wrestled each other. It’s a generational thing for me.

ROLLINS: I think there’s a slow change, but it’s not going to be all at once. And it shouldn’t be. It’s gotta be little by little. You add little elements and slowly fans start to learn and appreciate it for what it is. Then our fans start to, without knowing it, want to have that more than what they were getting. They don’t want a slow, plodding style. They want a fast-paced, high-octane style with Daniel Bryan running all over the place, kicking everybody and diving through the ropes. They want that. And they didn’t even know they wanted that until he started doing it, little by little. And now he has the most exciting comebacks in wrestling. Places are going bananas, and they didn’t know that at first. You have to teach them that that’s what they want bit by bit.

SAPOLSKY: It’s a natural progression. Everyone’s style needs to change throughout the years. You can’t wrestle the same way even when you’re 22 then when you’re 30, but you definitely see elements. But what I take a lot of pride in is when you see those guys and they have that main event confidence. They know how to carry a promotion. They know how to connect to the crowd. And that’s something I feel we really gave them the chance to do in Ring of Honor.

WWE.COM: Once you get in the ring with another guy who crossed through Ring of Honor, is there an unspoken understanding that you’re going to wrestle a style that you’re both familiar with?

CESARO: If you’re in the ring with guys over and over again, you get the feel for how they do stuff. I’ve been in this business for 13 years now, and I’ve known Bryan for probably eight or nine years. We wrestled a bunch, but the trick is to find that connection with every opponent you have.

ROLLINS: When we were all together doing our thing in Ring of Honor, I think it was unspoken, because we all knew we wanted to change the business. We wanted the style to look different, we wanted to be the guys on top, and we knew we could take the whole business in a different direction if we had that opportunity. It was never a thing that we talked about, but we all just knew it. We pushed each other to be better than we thought we could be. And now that we’re here in WWE, we’re the last guys in the locker room every night before the main event. So we’re very prideful. It’s a humbling thing to look back at where we came from and where we are now.

BRYAN: If you were to take each of us and put us in WWE five years ago, it would be a completely different style from anybody else. But now several of us have adapted to a hybrid of a bunch of different styles and so now when we go out there and we’re wrestling each other, it just starts to gel. And it’s different from what a lot of people have seen on WWE before.

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