Few events in the wrestling world come close to measuring up to Final Battle, Ring of Honor's premier pay-per-view each year. The 2016 installment, set to air live from the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City on Friday, looks to continue the tradition of blockbuster cards.
In the main event, Adam Cole will defend his ROH World Championship against longtime rival Kyle O'Reilly, while Jay Lethal does battle with a debuting Cody Rhodes. Both bouts are bound to be special, and that isn't even including the rest of a stacked card.
It is only fitting that Cole and Lethal will be prominently featured at Final Battle, considering the success they have experienced this year alone, being the only two men to hold the ROH world title in 2016.
The stakes for Cole's match are perhaps higher than any other. Not only will he be headlining the show as the ROH World champion, but he has a long, storied history with O'Reilly dating back to 2010.
That said, Cole has been involved in high-profile matchups before at Final Battle, including for the prestigious prize at the 2013 and 2014 installments. Even with all he has achieved at only 27 years old, he still sees the show as his proving ground each year:
I'm so glad you said that, because certain events are extremely obvious that they're the company's showcase or No. 1 big event of the year. But for Ring of Honor, for a company that has so many big events throughout the year, some people kind of forget that Final Battle is our show, the one that we build everything toward.
This one's even more special for multiple reasons. We're returning to the Hammerstein Ballroom, and my history with Kyle O'Reilly. We both got signed to Ring of Honor pretty much at the exact same time in 2010.
We were a team for awhile, and we went on to do our own stuff singles-wise, so to say I'm headlining a show like Final Battle with a guy like Kyle O'Reilly is a really cool, full-circle moment for me.
Interestingly enough, his matchup with O'Reilly will be a rematch from last year's event, where he emerged victorious over his adversary in decisive fashion. Later that night, Jay Lethal successfully defended his ROH World Championship against AJ Styles and came out on top with his title intact.
Although Lethal won't be walking into or out of Final Battle this year with gold around his waist, he will have an equally important match with the artist formerly known as Cody Rhodes. He has yet to be beaten in singles competition at the event and looks to extend that streak when he faces off with one of the best the independent scene has to offer today:
I've never even thought about it like that. You just presented me a new way to think about it. So yeah, Final Battle is definitely my proving ground. It's so tough working for Ring of Honor because I feel the locker room is full of such great guys and we have great talent from all over the world, and of course at Final Battle, our biggest show of the year, everybody's stepping up their game.
You want to dig down deep and have the best match on the card that day. It's getting harder and harder with our roster.
Every match at a typical Ring of Honor event has something special to offer, though Lethal has consistently competed in the match of the night more often than not this year. From his war with Adam Cole at Death Before Dishonor to to his heated clash with Tetsuya Naito from All Star Extravaganza, the instant classics he has constantly produced are true testaments to how skilled a performer he is.
Lethal has squared off with just about every elite athlete who has come through the promotion over the past five years and can now add Cody to that illustrious list. He praised the second-generation star for his tremendous talents and feels privileged to have been selected by officials to be Cody's premiere opponent in Ring of Honor:
It's an honor, not to put a play on words. Not to downplay myself or my own skills, but you bring in someone like Cody Rhodes, he's a star. Right away you have to think, 'Who can we put him against that the people would be OK with? Someone we know can go toe-to-toe with him?'
To me, it's like winning the world title. There's no higher honor than the company having so much confidence in you that when we bring in such a high-profile guy, bang, my name instantly comes up. It's incredible, I love it.
There is little question that the exceptional Ring of Honor roster Lethal refers to is among the best in the wrestling world today, and adding Cody to the mix is a major plus for the organization. ROH has built several of its stars from the ground up, including Cole, O'Reilly, the Briscoes and many more.
That said, it should come as zero surprise that WWE, TNA and other organizations have been borrowing from ROH's talent pool for years. Look no further than former WWE world champions CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, who Cole credits for leading the wave of independent standouts we have seen rise to superstardom in recent years in WWE:
I actually think Ring of Honor has been creating this level of wrestling pretty much since the company started in 2002. For anyone watching Ring of Honor out of the gate, they knew when they were watching an ROH event that they were watching a different level of wrestler from what they had seen.
To me, when CM Punk and Bryan Danielson [Daniel Bryan] ended up getting signed, they were given a shot because their buzz on the independents, specifically Ring of Honor, was so strong, that changed the entire perception of what a casual fan looks for in a pro wrestler, because I remember how over those guys got with the fans. And it was not just the internet fans. It was everybody. They absolutely loved those guys.
A company like WWE recognized there is a market and [that] the audience wants to see a different style of pro wrestling. Since then, as Ring of Honor continues to get the best wrestlers in the world, WWE has decided to follow suit and take these guys with independent or worldwide credibility and put them on a bigger stage, because pretty much every guy who has been taken from that system has succeeded and excelled in WWE.
Punk and Bryan aren't the only former ROH icons to have become household names in WWE, as current Superstars Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn all have roots in ROH.
Instead of fading into obscurity once WWE takes its top talent, ROH continues to create new stars and build them up into formidable main event players. It has been an ongoing cycle for years, leading to the immense influence ROH has had across the industry, especially of late, according to Lethal:
The proof is definitely in the pudding, as they say. When other companies want to make their roster better, they pluck at ours to enhance theirs. It's happened for literally years, and what a cool thing for Ring of Honor to be able to say we got these guys at just the cusp of when they're first starting out, because we see something special in them and we help them develop until they're ready.
Unfortunately, other people come in and take them away, but when that happens, Ring of Honor doesn't cry about it. They just find new people to take that place. They mold them and help them develop that thing inside them that's special, because Ring of Honor is very good at doing that.
Of course, that raises the question of which notable names from ROH fans could see popping up in either WWE or NXT in the future. This year alone, fans have seen ROH regulars Austin Aries and Roderick Strong surface in NXT, and NXT's next big breakout star could be competing at Final Battle.
Lethal would undoubtedly make for an excellent addition to the WWE roster at some point down the road, but for now, he has his sights set on making ROH as big as it possibly can be. However, he did not rule out a run with the company that ignited his love for professional wrestling:
At the bottom of my heart, my love for professional wrestling was created by WWE. I idolized Ric Flair and Randy Savage, and one of the matches that made me want to become a professional wrestler was Bret Hart vs. Roddy Piper.
So, at some point in time before I can no longer wrestle, to say I worked for, even if it was for a short period of time, the company that helped shape my love for professional wrestling, that would definitely be a cool thing to say. But I'm living in the here-and-now, and I'm doing my best to make sure Ring of Honor gets the biggest it possibly can.
Although he held the ROH World Championship for a lengthy period of time from 2015 to 2016, there is plenty more for Lethal to accomplish in ROH. He will remain the man to beat in the promotion until another star can surpass him, and that might not be for a long time to come.
From first glance, Cole obviously appears to be someone who fits the WWE mold to perfection, and it is almost a guarantee he will wind up there eventually. In fact, he took part in a tryout for them in 2013 during his reign as ROH World Television champion.
Had he signed at that time, it is fairly likely he wouldn't be the same superstar he is today. Cole admits to being happy with the decision to stick with ROH, as it allowed him to develop the character that helped him win ROH's most prestigious prize on two separate occasions:
I was Ring of Honor World Television champion in early 2013, and I went down to do this WWE tryout. At that point in time, I had that mentality that, 'OK, I have this WWE tryout, I need to get signed by WWE.' I loved wrestling for Ring of Honor, but I really wanted to nail this tryout, and the tryout went really, really well to the point where I actually thought I was leaving.
But then there were circumstances on both ends for me to continue along the path I was going. For me, to say that I stayed, won the PWG World Championship, became a two-time Ring of Honor world champion and actually developed this Adam Cole character... In early 2013, I was just getting my feet wet with being a heel and being a villain in ROH, I was experimenting with it.
Building this brand up and figuring out who I am, and that all developed after that WWE tryout. So I am so thankful and so glad that I decided to go the route of developing this character and growing with Ring of Honor.
As a result of his decision to stay with ROH, Cole has become one of the biggest wrestling prodigies outside of WWE. It's impossible to say for certain whether he will be a part of WWE later in his career, but he hopes to make a name for himself on the Japanese wrestling scene first.
As for the here-and-now, he will have his hands full with Kyle O'Reilly in the Final Battle main event for the ROH World Championship. They will be in close contention for match of the night with Lethal and Cody, however, as they face off for the first time ever.
Cole and Lethal have played a significant role in ROH's growth in 2016, and thus these two figureheads of the company deserve the spotlight they will be receiving at Final Battle. As it's been nothing short of a sensational year for ROH, this highly anticipated event will serve as a fantastic final chapter in 2016.
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is a Digital Journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.