The indie influence: How one small wrestling company impacted WWE

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February 05, 2014

WWE.COM: Is there camaraderie backstage among the guys that came from Ring of Honor?

BRYAN: It’s more of a respect. We don’t necessarily talk all the time, but there’s that respect that we came from the same place. And I’m really excited for [WWE NXT Superstar] Sami Zayn to come up, too, because he shared that journey with a lot of us. There are some great guys that are coming up or who are not on TV yet.

CABANA: We were all able to figure out what we were doing right and wrong as wrestlers, performers and artists. That process is what put us all together. There’s that bond there that we all went through that battle for no money and very little fanfare for the love of professional wrestling. So, of course, when I’m in a locker room with a guy, we know we’ve done battle together. We’ve helped mold a generation of wrestling on an independent scale.

WWE.COM: The Authority often says on TV that Daniel Bryan doesn’t have the right look to be “The Face of WWE.” Do you think the mold of what a top Superstar looks like is changing due to some of the stars coming from Ring of Honor?

ROLLINS: I would say so, yeah. That’s a real thing. If you look at the history of who were the main guys in WWE, Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior were who people clapped for. Bodybuilding was bigger then. Arnold [Schwarzenegger] was so big and that was the look. As time evolved, MMA started to come to the forefront a little bit more and the look of a fighter, a man who was dangerous, started to change and evolve. That carried over into professional wrestling and it became easier for people to buy into guys who were our size, but had an extraordinary skillset. We didn’t have to be Herculean to be contenders. And I just think it was cultural shift more than anything, not just a WWE shift.

CABANA: Shawn Michaels would have been a wonderful Ring of Honor wrestler if Ring of Honor had been around during the early ’90s. It’s not like the idea of the smaller, more athletic wrestlers started with Ring of Honor. It’s been around forever. Ring of Honor was just a platform to let these guys get out there. Guys like Bryan and Evan Bourne got so good at that style, because they were in Ring of Honor for so long, got rejected by WWE for so long, but they kept at it knowing this is what they loved to do. It became undeniable. These guys all worked their way up. Bryan had wrestled in front of 40,000 people in the Tokyo Dome and became an NXT Rookie. He worked his way up, because he’s just so good at what he does that he can’t be denied. People are going to see his talent and how great he is.

BRYAN: I think it is changing. And it’s not just ROH guys, it’s guys like Dolph Ziggler. Dolph goes out and has great matches. It’s just a matter of people realizing that to capture the audience and keep them tuned in, you gotta go out there and work hard, and you’ve got to be a good wrestler.

CABANA: They always said the ECW crew was a bunch of misfits. And the Ring of Honor crew was all these very good, athletic wrestlers who maybe weren’t tall enough to be in WWE. We all had these chips on our shoulders that we all knew we were good enough to be televised wrestlers, but we all thought that WWE thought we were just too small. There was even a time when there was no interest in [Cesaro].

A lot of us felt we couldn’t make a dent and we couldn’t understand why WWE wasn’t paying attention. That grew a bond in a lot of us. And because of that bond, that’s why we were friends in OVW. We travelled the world together trying to prove we were the best wrestlers that we could be and we were top caliber athletes.

WWE.COM: How do you apply what you learned from your experience in Ring of Honor to your current matches in WWE?

ROLLINS: I think what I bring to The Shield is the experience of wrestling in main events. When I left Ring of Honor, I was the Ring of Honor World Champion. That’s not just a title, that’s a real thing. Guys who came before me — Samoa Joe, Jamie Noble, Daniel Bryan, Low Ki — these are guys who were well respected champions and took that title all around the world and made it mean something.

So when I had that title, I had to step into those shoes and not only raise my level of intensity in the ring, but the way I carried myself, the way I presented myself to an audience. I had experience as the guy in Ring of Honor. That was something I was able to bring to The Shield right off the bat. I’m not going to play second fiddle or act like I don’t belong. I know I belong.

SAPOLSKY: Bryan always had the ability to take a small little thing and make it widely popular with the audience. In Ring of Honor, he would reach the ropes and go, “I have ‘til five!” It was just a regular, mundane thing that Bryan made one of the most popular parts of his match. Same thing with the small package. Bryan took a regular small package, which is just as basic as it gets, and made it into an acceptable finishing maneuver. He always had that uncanny ability to take a small thing and blow it up. Now we’re seeing that on a huge stage with the “Yes!” chant. It’s just one word. It’s been around forever, but no one’s ever made it into a phenomenon that Bryan has now on the biggest stage that there is.

CESARO: Gabe told me once, “You have to go to school for about 10 years to become a doctor and it takes about 10 years in wrestling to be on that kind of level.” To me, it’s a luxury to wrestle in front of eight people, then 20, then hundreds, and now in front of tens of thousands of people. You get a feel for the crowds. The more matches you’re in, the more experiences you have to look back on. I have tag team experience that I know what tag teams should or shouldn’t do, and I try to put that in my tag team today and try to find new things to make it better. You always try to get better, and that’s what the ROH environment was. There were so many hungry guys that just wanted to get better. You couldn’t just sit back and relax. Now there are dudes out there who go 110% every single day, so that’s what you have to do just to stay remotely competitive.

ROLLINS: I loved Ring of Honor. I loved my time there and I think it was really crucial to my development, not just as a wrestler but as a person. It makes me proud to know that what I worked for is going to be appreciated and people care about it. The fact that we’re even acknowledging this and that it’s a topic of discussion within the WWE Universe puts a lot of pride in my heart.

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