A Return To Excellence: The History And Future Of The Ring Of Honor Pure Championship
Ring Of Honor is going back to the past as they look to build towards the future of the company.
It was announced earlier this year that the ROH Pure Championship was being revived “due to popular demand” and Jonathan Gresham has often been credited as one of the more influential in getting that ball rolling. Gresham, a current ROH Tag Team Champion with Jay Lethal, holds the distinction of being the last person to compete in a Pure Rules match after beating Silas Young at 2019’s Best In The World pay-per-view. While that match was effectively a one-off at the time, the seeds were planted last year before Will Ospreay also called attention to the then-defunct title. In January, a “bored” Ospreay tweeted that the Pure Championship was one of his favorite titles ever and it would be cool if Ring Of Honor would bring it back with updated rules.
Skipping forward a few weeks, ROH formally announced the title was official being sanctioned again after a near 14-year absence. The returning title was initially scheduled to be the centerpiece of a two-night tournament under the “Pure Excellence” banner in April. As the world learned weeks after the announcement, COVID-19 caused the postponement and cancellation of almost every major sporting event on the planet, and in turn, ROH’s plans to reintroduce the Pure Championship. Ring Of Honor made the choice to stay home, electing to learn more about the coronavirus and put talent safety first before starting back up. In August, ROH declared honor was returning to the wrestling world and they were picking up where they left off with the Pure Championship tournament.
Filmed in Baltimore last month, the revamped ROH Pure Tournament features a 16-man bracket loaded with talent ranging from former World Champions (Jay Lethal, Dalton Castle) to New Japan Pro-Wrestling standouts (David Finlay, Rocky Romero) and the “elder statesmen” wrestlers that have been there since the beginning (Matt Sydal and Lethal, the only former Pure Champion in the tournament). Most names will be familiar to the ROH audience, including Gresham, Josh Woods and Silas Young, but fans can also look forward to the new names looking to break out in Fred Yehi, Tony Deppen and Rust Taylor.
The Pure Championship adds a unique format to ROH, helping set one division apart from its other singles championships. Some would argue Ring Of Honor lost its identity in recent years, moving towards a sports entertainment product instead of “the best wrestling on the planet” and the matchups that brought them to the dance in the first place. Perhaps with some off due to the pandemic, as well as reassessing their roster and listening to the fans that wanted it back, the Pure title is generating some positive momentum leading into the end of the year. The Pure Championship gives Ring Of Honor part of their identity back and it gives the roster something “new” to fight for.
From 2004-06 the ROH Pure Championship was one of the most sought-after titles in wrestling, held by names such as AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Daniel Bryan, as well as Nigel McGuinness, perhaps the most successful champion of the seen that held the title (certainly the longest-reigning champion.) The idea behind “Pure Rules” was something that gave fans something unique to watch, and it also gave the wrestlers themselves some interesting restrictions and it kept the focus on the ring instead of the chaos that could sometimes happen outside of it.
Despite the early popularity of the title, the ROH Pure Championship was merged with the ROH World Championship’s lineage by Bryan Danielson, who ended McGuiness’ record run at 350 days. Danielson won a champion vs. champion match at ROH Unified on August 12, 2006, simply announcing the title was being merged before giving the physical belt back to McGuinness to keep. There are a few theories as to why the title was ultimately retired, whether it had run its course or the matches themselves became predictable, but enough time has passed where there’s a demand for nostalgia and something ‘new’ and different in Ring Of Honor.
Bryan was the last recognized Pure Champion before the title's resumption in 2020! pic.twitter.com/3lWVj27HFS
— Ian Riccaboni (@IanRiccaboni) August 12, 2020
If you’re a returning fan and need a refresher, or just want to know what a Pure match actually is, the 2020 edition of the tournament features many of the same rules instituted during the title’s original run:
- Every match starts and ends with the “Code of Honor” handshake
- Outside interference will result in automatic termination for the wrestler that interferes
- Closed-fist punches to the face are banned
- Each wrestler is limited to three rope to prevent submissions and pinfalls before pins and submissions under the ropes are legal
- 20-count when on the floor (a rule original instituted by the Pure division that ROH still uses for all contests)
Additionally, the competitors are divided into two blocks (A and B) of the single elimination tournament. The match time limits will increase as the tournament progresses — round 1 are matches capped at 15 minutes, block semifinals at 20 minutes, followed by block finals at 30 minutes and the championship match earning a 60-minute time limit. There will be three judges for each match, with time-limit draws going to a judges’ decision.
With the exception of Lethal, the only former Pure Champion in the field, ROH can claim a new first in their company’s history. No matter who wins, Ring Of Honor will have told many stories and given a spotlight to a forgotten style of wrestling as well as a group of wrestlers all looking to prove something. Kenny King, PJ Black and Matt Sydal look to prove they’ve “still got it”, Jay Lethal looks for yet another accolade in a decorated career, Silas Young fights to prove he’s more than “just a character guy” and Gresham looks to prove he’s ready to carry the flag of Pure wrestling. On the other side of things, Tony Deppen, Rust Taylor and Wheeler Yuta take the stage in front of a new audience, and while many of them are looking to prove themselves in one way or another, they are all fighting for respect and the glory that comes as champion.
- First champion: A.J. Styles
- Final champion: Bryan Danielson
- Oldest champion: Doug Williams
- Youngest champion: Jay Lethal
- Longest reign: Nigel McGuiness (350 Days)
- Shortest reign: Bryan Danielson (<1 day)
Pure Title Tournament First-Round Schedule
Block A: Jay Lethal def. Dalton Castle
Block B: Jonathan Gresham def. Wheeler Yuta
Weekend of Sept. 19
Block A: David Finlay vs. Rocky Romero
Block B: Delirious vs. Matt Sydal
Weekend of Sept. 26
Block A: Silas Young vs. Fred Yehi
Block B: Josh Woods vs. Kenny King
Weekend of Oct. 3
Block A: Tracy Williams vs. Rust Taylor
Block B: PJ Black vs. Tony Deppen
Click here to find out when and where ROH airs in your area.
Two matches have already aired, with Gresham and Lethal already moving on to the next round. WrestleZone will be sharing more interviews with some of the competitors in the tournament as it airs on TV.
Matt Sydal’s interview can be viewed below: