So Austin Aries has promised the fans of ROH that he will defend the title on HDNet during the weekend of August 14th & 15th. He has promised to put the names of the “top competitors in the world” into a hat, and pledged that he will randomly select a name to challenge for the ROH World Title. Given the attitude of A Double since “Final Battle 2008”, it is doubtful that he is ever going to be 100% honest with the fans much less the “powers that be” in ROH, and this stunt certainly reeks of a way to avoid Ring of Honor’s top contenders. In the spirit of giving the ROH World Champion the proverbial benefit of the doubt, let’s take a look at the names widely considered the top challengers for Austin Aries:
Twice in the recent past Kenny Omega has picked up a pinfall on Austin Aries. The first being at “The Hunt Begins” back in April, and the second at “Death Before Dishonor VII” just a few weeks ago. Since his debut in ROH, Omega has proven himself to be a top shelf talent with impressive victories over Claudio Castagnoli, Kenny King, Rhett Titus, and more. The two pinfalls on Aries, especially the second since Aries is ROH World Champion, have propelled Omega to the top of the list of contenders. Omega won’t be at the next set of ROH on HDNet tapings due to Japan commitments, but should Omega be awarded a one-on-one shot at Aries in the future, could history repeat itself?
Fresh off a victory over five other stars in the Inaugural Toronto Gauntlet, one half of the ROH World Tag Champions is guaranteed a future ROH World Title shot. Surprisingly, in the three years since his debut at “Destiny”, Richards has never matched up with any ROH World Champion in a title bout. But with one guaranteed in his future, and given the string of impressive matches Davey has had throughout 2009, that first shot may be the only one he needs. It’s debatable that there is a wrestler in Ring of Honor with more momentum behind him, and if Davey’s name is the somehow pulled from the hat, it could bring an abrupt end to A Double’s historic second title reign.
A perennial contender for the World Title, Black has managed to put to rest two of his demons in recent months when he defeated Jimmy Jacobs at “Violent Tendencies” in the cage match, and followed it up with the humiliation of Jacobs seeing him hung from the rafters at “End of an Age”. Then you have to factor Tyler’s recent triumph over Bryan Danielson, culminating with a scintillating win on HDNet, into the equation. After falling many times, it seems Black is now a man with a new motivation, desire, and without question, the talent to take the World Title from A Double. And Aries just may be Tyler’s third demon. Since “Final Battle 2008” Tyler has had Aries in his sights; and with Jacobs and Dragon now behind him, he is free to focus on the current ROH World Champion. The same champion who put an abrupt halt to his World Title aspirations at “Manhattan Mayhem III”.
Their history is very well documented, but in recent months a rivalry has certainly been rekindled, especially considering the methods by which Aries has secured his victories over his former partner. But it has to nag on both men that at “Contention”, only 24 hours before Aries became World Champion, Roderick made him tap out in the center of the ring. Aries can make all the excuses he wants about saving himself for the big fight, but the bottom line is that he submitted, and then refused to put the title on the line against Strong during the last HDNet TV tapings. And then he once again had to cheat in order to get the victory. Strong is certainly up there as one of the biggest threats to Aries’ title reign, and Roddy would like nothing more than to make A Double suffer en route to taking his title away.
The man that Aries didn’t actually beat to become champion hasn’t had a one-on-one opportunity to reclaim the gold since he lost it at “Manhattan Mayhem III”, and Jerry Lynn is chomping at the bit for that opportunity. As a matter of fact, the only reason Aries walked out of Toronto as champion is because he took advantage of Lynn’s Cradle Piledriver on Nigel McGuinness to hit his 450 splash for the win. Lynn would love nothing more than to be the man to put an end to Aries’ title reign, and shut his disrespectful mouth once and for all. And with all the hell A Double has given Lynn on HDNet, it would be very apropos if Jerry’s name was the one that came up.
The wildcard, one might say, as his future is certainly up in the air after the recent ROH Videowire. He’s suffered repeated injuries over the last several years, but in that time he had also been one of the longest reigning champions in ROH history. Where is his head at? That’s one of the biggest questions out there right now, but if the Videowire is any indication, Nigel is certainly not in a good place. Aries holds a victory of McGuinness, who may have returned from injury too soon. Nigel’s name coming out of the hat could lead to a world of hurt for Austin Aries.
This may seem at first like an odd choice, but at “Violent Tendencies” Petey certainly had Aries’ number, catching him with the Canadian Destroyer, and nearly picking up the win if not for the Austin’s saving grace in the form of the ‘hired Magnum’ Joey Ryan. Williams has had some bad blood with Aries’ stablemate Kenny King, and could certainly be a high level threat to Aries’ World Title reign. Not currently scheduled for the HDNet tapings, Petey could very well shock the world if his name is pulled from the hat.
And last, but certainly not least, is Bryan Danielson. A former ROH World Champion and partner of Austin Aries; it’s doubtful any man save Roderick Strong is as familiar with Aries as Danielson is. They have been up and down the road as friend and foe, champion and challenger, and have had some classic battles in the past. From “Testing the Limits” to “Glory by Honor VI” to the most recent match on HDNet where Danielson picked up the victory, these two men have a rivalry going back years and has largely been based on respect. But with the Aries that has emerged in the last year, it’s hard to find much to respect. Maybe his athletic ability, certainly his wrestling prowess, but definitely not the man he has become. And for Danielson, it is certainly all about respect; respect and the ROH World Title. He has stated in the past that he wants another crack at the belt, a chance one-on-one to become champion again, and if Bryan’s is the name drawn from the hat in Philadelphia, Aries will have reason to fear. And not only for his title reign, but for his physical well-being as well.
There are certainly dozens of additional possibilities for whose name could be drawn out of this hat. There are dozens of possible contenders to challenge A Double for his ROH World Title. The fighters mentioned above are arguably the top contenders to the crown, and men who most certainly deserve a shot at the belt sooner or later. The question now is whether or not Aries will play it straight and actually give these men the opportunity they deserve? Can he really be trusted? Or will Aries show his true color to be the yellow of a fearful coward and stuff his hat with ringers? We will have to wait another week to find out the answer to that question...