The WWE would not be where it is today without Ring of Honor.
Yeah, I said it.
ROH isn’t what WCW was back in the 1990s. It isn’t what TNA is trying to be today. It’s not competition.
What ROH has become for the WWE is an unofficial developmental territory.
A number of today’s current WWE stars honed their crafts and made names for themselves in—you guessed it—ROH.
Without ROH, there would be no Seth Rollins or Kassius Ohno down in Florida Championship Wrestling. Without ROH, there would be no Evan Bourne or Antonio Cesaro.
Without ROH, there would be no “Yes!” chants, no Yes Lock, no Daniel Bryan. There would be no “Best in the World,” no cult of personality, no GTS, no CM Punk.
If it wasn’t for a tiny Pennsylvania-based wrestling promotion that started up 10 years ago, the WWE’s present and future would look considerably different than they do now.
Had Punk and Bryan (then going by his given name, Bryan Danielson) not risen to fame in ROH and made their way onto the WWE’s radar, there’s really no telling exactly what type of major impact that would have had on the pro wrestling business.
Bryan and Punk have been far and away the WWE’s two biggest breakout stars in the WWE over the past year-plus.
They’ve won World/WWE titles and Money in the Bank matches, cut fantastic promos that have revolutionized the business and started using catchphrases that have become worldwide trends.
All of this was made possible by what Bryan and Punk were doing almost a decade ago in a little wrestling company known as Ring of Honor.
It was there that Bryan and Punk were able to develop their own unique talents that had the WWE knocking down their doors and eventually signing them to contracts.
Several years later, Punk has emerged as the second-biggest star in the industry, while Bryan is breathing down his neck as the hottest act of 2012.
But the impact that these two have had on the WWE extends far behind what you and I see on Raw and SmackDown every week. It extends far beyond WWE Championships and “Yes!” chants.
The success that Punk and Bryan have had in the WWE has caused an influx of Ring of Honor talent into the WWE, giving ROH an unofficial moniker as a WWE developmental territory.
After Bryan, Punk and even Bourne made it to the WWE, a slew of ROH’s other top stars followed.
There was Tyler Black, who’s now known as “Seth Rollins” in FCW and is viewed as arguably the most talented performer in the WWE’s developmental territory
There was Claudio Castagnoli, who has recently begun a pursuit of the United States Championship as “Antonio Cesaro” on the SmackDown brand.
There was Chris Hero, who now goes by the name “Kassius Ohno” in FCW, and like Rollins, is viewed as one of the premiere talents down there.
It was Punk, Bryan and Bourne who laid down the foundation for Rollins, Cesaro and Ohno, with Punk as the leader of ROH’s takeover of the WWE.
The ever-increasing popularity of ROH as the No. 3 promotion in pro wrestling is what drove the WWE to sign Punk, someone who didn’t and still doesn’t fit the WWE’s stereotypical mold.
Punk would quickly go on to make noise in the WWE as early as his debut in 2006, and two years later, a Money in the Bank win at WrestleMania cemented his place in the company.
It was the unique style that Punk developed in ROH that helped him stand out in the WWE. That same unique style opened the doors for Bourne, Bryan and the rest of the ROH bunch to make it there, too.
But Punk as the first major ROH star to crossover to the WWE did more than just cause other ROH stars to follow.
Over the past year or so, it’s caused a major change to the way the WWE views and pushes its top stars.
Ever since Punk dropped that big pipebomb in June 2011, three WWE stars have stood out above all others: Punk, Bryan and Dolph Ziggler.
The common link between those three? They’re all fantastic wrestlers.
For years, the WWE had put a premium on looks as what they viewed as the ideal appeal when it came to pushing wrestlers as main eventers.
That’s why guys like Vladimir Kozlov and The Great Khali wrestled in pay-per-view matches for World titles while uber-talented guys wasted away in the mid-card.
But when Punk got his first legitimate chance to get to the main event and stay there last year, he took the ball, ran with it and just kept running.
He put on phenomenal match after phenomenal match, cut great promo after great promo and has become the second-biggest star in the business.
It’s not a coincidence that the biggest pushes of Bryan and Ziggler’s careers started shortly thereafter.
The incredible in-ring skill set that Punk developed in ROH has translated to all kinds of success in the WWE, and when WWE officials saw how the fans were reacting to Punk the wrestler, they had no choice but to push guys like Ziggler and Bryan, whose main draws are their abilities in the ring.
At roughly the same time, the WWE went back to ROH, signed Castagnoli and Hero, and then brought Castagnoli to the main roster as Cesaro.
Another coincidence? I don’t think so.
ROH is a place where wrestling matters above all else, and because of Punk and his ROH brethren, it’s starting to be the most important thing in the WWE, too.