ROH Elite 8: Bracket of Honor Down to Some of the Best of All-Time

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Samoa Joe. Kevin Steen. AJ Styles. Bryan Danielson. Nigel McGuinness. CM Punk. Jay Lethal. Jay Briscoe. Ring of Honor and the Bracket of Honor has its Elite 8. It’s quite the fantastic collection of talent. Each of the final eight wrestlers left in this tournament brings with them their own rich ROH legacy, filled with championship reigns (33 to be exact), historic moments and impressive tenures.

It this point, it’s a bunch of #1 and #2 seeds meeting for the right to go to Final Four. Let’s breakdown this antepenultimate round of the ROH Bracket of Honor by looking in-depth at the resumes of these wrestlers as well as their head to head records and finally overall impact they had on the promotion.

ROH Elite 8: Samoa Joe vs Kevin Steen

In some ways, it’s hard to believe this is an Elite 8 match-up as both Kevin Steen and Samoa Joe were instrumental in ROH’s history and legacy. Both certainly have chapters in ROH lore, specifically those written during their respective ROH world title reigns. And yet, the two never once wrestled against each other in an ROH ring.

In 2005, at Do or Die IV, Kevin Steen made his ROH debut. He wrestled a handful of matches for the promotion but didn’t make a huge impact. That all changed when he returned in 2007. Paired with El Generico, the two enjoyed their first major feud against the Briscoes in a losing effort. They went on to feud with Age of the Fall, but not before Steen earned his first world title match by nature of winning a #1 contendership tournament. He received that match against Nigel McGuinness in April 2008. Two months later, Steen and Generico competed for the vacated tag titles but lost. It wasn’t until September of that year that Steen and Generico captured their first titles in ROH. Holding the titles for 203 days, the duo continued to feud with AOTF and the Briscoes, including in ROH’s first-ever ladder war, as well as the American Wolves who defeated them for the titles.

Steen ended the year turning on Generico and aligning with Steve Corino and SCUM instead. This led to a year-long feud still legendary in ROH (and oft-repeated in other companies) between Steen and Generico that including Generico being unmasked and Steen losing his ROH career. But only for a time as at Final Battle 2011, after a year away, Steen returned to the company, ready for his most dominant run yet. In May 2012, Steen won the world title from Davey Richards and enjoyed a 328-day reign with victories over Eddie Edwards, Roderick Strong, Eddie Kingston, Jay Lethal, Michael Elgin, El Generico, and Mark Briscoe. Steen ended his career with one final feud against SCUM, one last title match against Adam Cole and his final ROH match against Steve Corino.

With ROH almost from the beginning, Samoa Joe debuted in a fight without honor against Low Ki at the first-ever Glory By Honor event in 2002. At the time he was Christopher Daniels’ hired gun and while initially he was brought in just for one match, Joe impressed and found himself booked as a full-time wrestler with the promotion immediately after. Joe skyrocketed to the top of ROH that by March 2003, he was the champion and as champion, no one enjoyed a period of more prolonged dominance than Joe. Samoa Joe only had one world title reign in ROH, but it lasted a still-record 645 days. From March 2003 to December 2004 no one was better as Joe turned away all-comers including CM Punk, Chris Hero, Bryan Danielson, Homicide, Jay Briscoe, AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Doug Williams and more. Absolutely no one was on his level save for Austin Aries, who ended the lengthy reign. But Joe didn’t have to wait long for his next title as he won the Pure Championship, a title he spent a large portion of his world title reign looking down upon. Joe defeated Jay Lethal, who had been his former protege, for the belt.

Joe spent the last two years of his ROH career outside of the title picture, but still serving as one of the company’s top performers. Joe played a huge role in the CZW invasion and continued to wrestle top-flight matches against ROH’s up-and-comers and veterans alike. After feuding with Danielson one last time over the world title, he finished his ROH career with one last feud with longtime rival Homicide. But that wasn’t quite the final chapter as after leaving TNA but prior to joining WWE in 2015, Joe returned for a series of matches in ROH including a world title opportunity against Jay Briscoe.

AJ Styles vs Bryan Danielson

One of these men was supposed to be a star in Ring of Honor before circumstances required those plans to change. The other was a star and holds his spot as one of the best to ever step in an ROH ring. When it comes to the battle of two former Pure champions in AJ Styles vs Bryan Danielson, this may be the easiest choice to make of this Elite 8.

A former tag team champ alongside Amazing Red, AJ Styles saw a push toward the top of the company beginning shortly after his debut. Styles defeated Danielson to win the ROH #1 Contendership Trophy, which at the time both served as a secondary title of sorts as well as guaranteed its holder a future championship opportunity. He lost in that title match against Xavier and then moved to the tag title scene, winning the belts in his first-ever ROH team-up with Amazing Red. Styles regained the contendership trophy and defended it once again against Danielson, before going on to his second world title opportunity against Samoa Joe. While Styles lost, he moved on to the next rung of his ROH journey, the Pure title.

Styles was hand-picked to win that belt, which would serve as the secondary title to the world championship. In the finals, Styles defeated CM Punk, but unfortunately, he had to drop the title shortly after as TNA management pulled their full-time talent off of ROH events for a period of time. In an instant, Styles’ push, perhaps toward the world title, was halted. Styles would wrestle sporadically for ROH from 2005-06 before becoming exclusive to TNA. He wouldn’t return to ROH until 2014, where he enjoyed a great run, which would turn out to be his final before leaving for WWE. Styles had tons of wins in his final two years with Ring of Honor, but in his last match, a world title loss to Jay Lethal, his career with the company ended, 0-4 in world title matches, the belt ultimately eluding him.

Someone who was not eluded when it came to capturing championship gold was one of ROH’s Founding Fathers, the American Dragon, Bryan Danielson. The Era of Honor Begins, ROH’s first-ever event featured a triple threat main event that including Danielson. For that first year, Danielson was front and center, becoming a huge part of ROH and helping it establish itself within the industry. Enjoying early feuds with Austin Aries and Homicide, Danielson became the inaugural winner of the Survival of the Fittest tournament in 2004, before going on to capture the world title at Glory By Honor IV in 2005.

The seventh-ever champ, Danielson held the title for 462 days, which at the time was the second-longest such reign. For over a year, he was the focal point of Ring of Honor, successfully defending the belt against Austin Aries, Roderick Strong, Steve Corino, Christopher Daniels, AJ Styles, Naomichi Marufuji, KENTA and Lance Storm, with notable feuds against Chris Hero in the CZW invasion angle, Nigel McGuinness, and Samoa Joe capping off the phenomenal reign. This period also saw Bryan briefly capture and unify the world and Pure titles. Danielson’s ROH farewell tour came in 2009, following a period where he is still considered one of the promotion’s best of all time.

In their careers, spanning ROH and beyond, Styles and Danielson are no strangers to each other having shared a rin 47 times, almost always as enemies. In ROH, they faced just three times but in that trio of matches, something was always on the line, whether it was Styles’ #1 contendership trophy or Bryan’s world title.

ROH Elite 8: CM Punk vs Nigel McGuinness

The early years of ROH were written by stories of so many top stars, guys who went on to use the promotion as a launching pad in order to climb to higher levels of success in the industry. While Nigel McGuinness’ career was unfortunately cut short, what he established in a short period of time with ROH is nothing less than impressive. And then there is CM Punk, whose ROH career carries its own legend. Let’s take a look at these two men, who both played huge roles in ROH’s ascension in the mid-2000s.

Debuting for ROH in their inaugural year at the first-ever All Star Extravaganza, CM Punk first found success thanks to a feud with Raven in 2003 that featured a series of insane matches previously foreign to ROH including a dog collar, clockwork orange house of fun and lottery from hell old school cage match. From there, Punk went on to participate and reach the finals in the tournament to crown the first-ever Pure champ, which was won by AJ Styles. Punk found his first title success a few months later when alongside Colt Cabana as the Second City Saints, the duo won the tag titles by defeating the Briscoes. They didn’t hold the belts long, just 21 days, but on the same day they lost the titles, they won them back for their second reign, this one lasting 84 days.

During this time, Punk was also dabbling in the world title scene where he is known for his classics against Samoa Joe. Punk and Joe first met in June 2004 in a 60-minute time limit draw that received 4.25 stars from Dave Meltzer. Chapter two, which was heavily built up at the time and resulted in a card by the name of Joe Vs. Punk II resulted in yet another draw. This match garnered the full five-star rating, the first such match to achieve that on North American soil since 1997 and a match that is still talked about today as one of the best indie matches of all-time. Their trio ended in a decision, with Joe retaining his title in a nearly 32-minute bout that was also highly touted and received 4.25 stars from Meltzer.

Initially failing to capture the world title against, the Summer of Punk kicked off when CM Punk defeated Austin Aries for the title at Death Before Dishonor III in June 2005. Shortly before this, Punk had agreed to a deal with WWE, later signing the contract on top of the ROH belt and threatening to take the title with him to defend in his new company. Initially refusing to defend the title on his way out, Punk took part in a four corner elimination match at Elimination. The match went nearly an hour and resulted in Punk losing the belt in what was to be his penultimate match with the company. His final match occurred in 2006 when he teamed with Bryan Danielson in a surprise engagement.

The Summer of Punk was short but sweet, compared to the reign of Nigel McGuinness which was long but also sweet, and so well-earned. McGuinness made his ROH debut in 2004 at The Battle Lines Are Drawn, where instantly he found himself in the Pure title picture. And that was no surprise as McGuinness was brought in specifically as he was one of the best pure wrestlers in the world at that point. One of the Pure division’s most consistent performers, McGuinness put on great matches every time he was in the ring including against Samoa Joe, who he defeated to win the title in August 2005. Prior to McGuinness, the Pure title had become largely a plot point, an opposing title for then-world champ Joe to spit upon as not being on his level. But when McGuinness won it, everything changed and the Pure title was elevated to such a state that new champ Bryan Danielson felt threatened by its position. But that didn’t happen right away as McGuinness held the Pure title for 350 days defeating the likes of Roderick Strong, Jay Lethal, Claudio Castagnoli, Austin Aries, Christopher Daniels, Homicide and others. His biggest feud though was with Danielson, which ultimately resulted in the titles being unified.

McGuinness wouldn’t have to wait much longer for his next extraordinary title reign. Having used the platform of the Pure title to ascend to the top, McGuinness defeated Takeshi Morishima at Undeniable in October 2007 to win the world championship, a belt he’d go on to hold for 545 days. Over that span, McGuinness defended the title 39 times against a real who’s who of the company. He was on top of ROH and certainly the top draw in the company at the time. Announcing he was leaving ROH in 2009, McGuinness lost the title in April of that year, just a few months prior to his final match with the company in September.

Jay Lethal vs Jay Briscoe

In 2018, Christopher Daniels was asked a question that wrestling fans everywhere love to ponder over, the Mount Rushmore of a company. Daniels didn’t hesitate to name his first two locks, listing Samoa Joe and Bryan Danielson, two of ROH’s most legendary performers and men who helped the company grow and evolve in its early years. But then Daniels threw out several other names before settling on his four. In addition to Joe and Danielson, Daniels named Jay Lethal and Jay Briscoe as his final two members of his Mount Rushmore.

“Looking back at the history of Ring Of Honor, the first two guys, Samoa Joe and Bryan Danielson are locks,” Daniels said in an interview with Wrestlezone. “And what Jay Briscoe and Jay Lethal have meant to Ring Of Honor, especially over the past decade, it certainly says a lot about their hard work and their effort and what they brought to this company as a whole.”

For longtime fans of Ring of Honor, this answer should come as no surprise. Jay Briscoe debuted on ROH’s first card, the Era of Honor Begins in February 2002. Lethal debuted a few months later in December 2002 at the first-ever Final Battle. Lethal has spent parts of 15 years of his 20-year career with ROH. Jay Briscoe has spent 18 of his 21-year career there. Among them, that’s 33 years combined in Ring of Honor. To put that into perspective, of the remaining six wrestlers in the field, they have a combined 43 years spent in ROH. Among active wrestlers, no one is more tenured than Briscoe and Lethal, has the third-longest ROH service time right after Jay’s brother Mark as both have been with the company from the beginning. And as for those 33 combined title reigns mentioned at the beginning, 20 of them below to the duo of Jays.

No one has won more titles in Ring of Honor history than the 36-year-old Jay Briscoe who is a record-smashing 11-time tag team champion, one-time world six-man champion and two-time world champion. Starting with the company at just 18 years old, Jay Briscoe has been one of ROH’s standard-bearers from the beginning, whereas others left for various pastures including TNA and WWE, Jay Briscoe stayed true to Ring of Honor. One of the most dominant tag team wrestlers in all of history, not just ROH, Jay Briscoe’s career is also marked by a successful singles run which saw him win the world title twice in a two-year span. His second reign, of 286 days saw him pick up big victories over Michael Elgin, Samoa Joe, Adam Cole, Matt Taven, Tommaso Ciampa, Kyle O’Reilly, ACH and Bobby Fish.

Jay Lethal’s ROH resume speaks for itself. Lauding himself as the “Best First Generation Wrestler,” the 34-year-old Lethal is undoubtedly Ring of Honor’s true ace. With the company since 2002, Lethal is one of just three grand slam champions in company history, is the only man to hold both the world title and television title simultaneously, has the longest combined days reigning as world champion and holds the single longest reign with the television championship. Lethal, who is currently in his first reign as a tag team champion, is undeniable. Winning his first title with ROH in 2005, Lethal’s dominance at the company has been spread out as he’s been consistently in the main event scene for years ever since returning to ROH full time in 2011. To put Lethal’s success into perspective, from August 2011 to April 2019, Lethal held gold for 1,379 out of a possible 2,794 days. That’s 49 percent. Over the last nine years, Lethal was an ROH champ nearly half of the time.

And it’s not just that he won, its who he beat. From 2014-16, Lethal was untouchable and arguably the best wrestler in the world as held at least one title for 869 days or about 2 and 1/3 years. During that time, Lethal toppled everyone in his path including KUSHIDA, Matt Taven, ACH, Pete Dunne, Cedric Alexander, Tommaso Ciampa, Alberto El Patron, Roderick Strong, Jushin Thunder Liger, Kyle O’Reilly, Tetsuya Naito, Bobby Fish, AJ Styles, Michael Elgin, Doug Williams, Adam Cole, Hirooki Goto, Lance Storm, Satoshi Kojima and of course, Jay Briscoe.

The history between Jay Briscoe and Jay Lethal goes all the way back to 2003 when the two first faced in an ROH tag match, representing opposite teams. Their first singles match wouldn’t come until 11 years later in 2014, when the two Jays met for Lethal’s TV title. Their biggest match, however, and one that is still very much touted in ROH lore was the champion vs champion match held at the appropriately named, Best in the World PPV in 2015. Lethal, the TV champ, met Briscoe, the world champ with both belts on the line. There was so much build-up and intrigue as two of ROH’s best left it all on the mat in what was later rated a 4.25-star match by Dave Meltzer. The bout went nearly 28 minutes and in the end, Lethal stood tall, accomplishing history as he became the first and so far only man to simultaneously hold the world and TV titles. This wasn’t the end of the battles between the Jays however as the two met for Lethal’s world title at 2016’s Best in the World, in the semifinals of the Decade of Excellence in 2017 and again at State of the Art in 2019. In their most recent meeting, Lethal and Briscoe even feuded over the tag team titles with the team of Lethal and Jonathan Gresham ending the 11th tag title reign of the Briscoes.