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Decision Day Looms For Ring Of Honor's Top Stars

By Chuck Carroll

On Friday night in Las Vegas, a most extraordinary band of brothers will come together once again to do battle. NWA Heavyweight Champion Cody Rhodes, Nick and Matt Jackson (better known as The Young Bucks), Marty Scurll and Hangman Page will step into the ring to represent Bullet Club as the insanely popular faction squares off against CHAOS in a renewal of a rivalry that has captivated fans of New Japan Pro Wrestling.

But this time, the 10-man dream tag match will be contested in Ring of Honor at the promotion's Death Before Dishonor pay-per-view. Longtime fans will note that the match also marks Kazuchika Okada's first time in an ROH ring in three years. The Japanese star is a big draw for fans, but his presence cannot compete with his five opponents. Everybody loves Bullet Club.

Since Bullet Club began headlining shows, interest in ROH has reached an all-time high. The demand led to the creation of the promotion's own streaming service, HonorClub, which is akin to the WWE Network. It offers fans the ability to livestream events and view its vast archive of footage featuring their rival's biggest names before they were stars. When the service first launched, ROH general manager Greg Gilliland told me that subscription totals met and exceeded internal forecasts.

Hangman Page Ring of Honor Hangman Page (Photo Credit: Ring of Honor

Outside the ring, the five Bullet Club members have forged a relationship and built a chemistry equally as thick as what plays out before fans. They travel together, break bread together and think nothing of pulling a fast one on each other. As with any group of friends, there are always a couple mischievous ones in the bunch. After all, this is wrestling, where tomfoolery is like a pastime.

But while their big tag match headlines the first of two nights of shows at the Orleans Arena, the tension surrounding Bullet Club's future will carry on long after the bell rings for the final time. For this could be their final time in Vegas together wrestling for ROH.

Decision day is coming.

If this were the NFL, the free agency frenzy would be ramping up, from front offices and coaching suites to fan sites and comment sections, ready to hit fever pitch in a matter of months.

Now multiply that by five.

What we have here is a potential dynasty all hitting the market at the same time and all vowing to sign with the same team. Thinking back to the Dallas Cowboys dynasty of the 90s, it would be as if Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, Larry Allen, and Charles Haley were all pledging to re-sign with the Cowboys or make another team an instant Super Bowl contender. The whole notion is unheard of.

Yet, that is exactly what is about to happen in professional wrestling. Rhodes, The Young Bucks, Page, and Kenny Omega have vowed that whatever their next move will be, it will be taken together. As Bullet Club, their popularity has spring-boarded independent wrestling to unprecedented heights. Outside of WWE, the squared circle is white hot, hotter than at any point during the Monday Night Wars era decades ago that is still romanticized today.

The proof is in the ticket sales. Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling just sold out the famed Madison Square Garden, which is widely considered the mecca of pro wrestling arenas. They're now running head-to-head against WWE's NXT Takeover on WrestleMania weekend next April.

It took just minutes for fans to scoop up every one of the 10,000-plus tickets available for All-In at the Sears Centre in Chicago. The show was not affiliated with any promotion and self-financed by Rhodes and The Young Bucks. That their names were synonymous with the much-hyped show goes to show what value they bring to the table.

That is the type of drawing power that any promotion would lust after. WWE, ROH, NJPW, Impact Wrestling and others should be gassing up the trucks and getting ready to back them up in hopes of shoring up their future. The salaries they can command will be astronomical for talents who haven't previously built an empire in mixed martial arts. As a unit, their value is even greater, and they know it.

It's unlikely that ROH will be able to come close to matching any financial offer WWE can make. The Vince McMahon empire will line its coffers many times over next year when new billion-dollar television rights fees kick in. This is on top of the insanely profitable, yet somewhat secretive, partnership struck with the Saudi Arabian government to hold a series of massive live events there. The money is rumored to be equal to or greater than the revenue generated by WrestleMania.

But what WWE can't offer is the creative and scheduling freedom Bullet Club is enjoying. These freedoms have afforded the group the opportunities to become not just the new kids on the block, but the kids on the block. While WWE Superstars pad their salaries substantially through merchandise sales, the group is already profiting handsomely from the tens of thousands of t-shirts that are flying off shelves at Hot Topic stores.

Also, signing with WWE would dramatically increase the number of nights spent away from home and family. Such distance can strain even the most solid of relationships.

(credit: Thinkstock)
(credit: Thinkstock)

But then there is the prestige. It is WWE after all. Everyone knows those letters. Everyone.

There is a school of thought in wrestling that you're nobody until you're somebody in WWE. Is it conceivable to retire without regrets if you don't at least try to make it there?

Indeed, decision day is coming.

>>MORE: From the world of Pro Wrestling

I had the opportunity to catch up with Hangman Page ahead of the Death Before Dishonor pay-per-view to discuss the group's future and decision-making process, as well as their match against CHAOS, life on the road and life after wrestling.

We read a whole lot about the bond that you share with the Young Bucks and Cody, and Kenny. Can you talk to me a little bit about that? What brought you guys together, and what is keeping you guys so close?

I guess a lot of us were ... all wrestlers eventually we know each other, one way or another. I guess we all come together in different ways. For me, it was being added to the Bullet Club, whatever. I knew the Bucks, and I knew everybody else, certainly weren't like best friends with them at the time. But the more you work together, the more you get to know these people.

I've spent more time with Matt, and Nick, and Marty, and Cody than I have my own wife this year. For sure. When you spend so much time together you can't not develop some sort of bond.

What is it about your personalities that mesh so well? Because obviously you can be paired with people in a program, but you guys genuinely seem to have this bond that extends well outside of the ring. What's the glue that keeps everything together there?

Our love for wrestling. We're all passionate and creative people, and we care a lot about what we do. We really care about our craft, our art. Some of us have different talents than each other, but I think we complement each other very well. And we all just love wrestling and our fans. I think, more than anything, that has brought us together.

It has been reported that everybody's contracts are coming up at the end of the year or shortly thereafter and you collectively have decided to take whatever the next step will be together as a unit. That is very unique. Not just in wrestling, but in life in general. How did you guys come to that conclusion?

I think as a collective, as a group, we have been able to change wrestling. We were able to ... I mean this wasn't my money. I didn't self-finance All-In, but my friends were able to self-finance and sell out a show that had over 11,000 people in attendance. I don't even know what the numbers were who watched it from home. It is something that's just absolutely unheard of. And it's something that we all did together.

I think, as a group, we are really on to something, and I think we wanna continue this. It would be a real disservice to everyone who has supported us and got us to this point if we were to abandon what we've built. It certainly doesn't mean it can't evolve and change, and it should, and it will. But I feel like we have too much of a good thing going to try to abandon it.

And we all know that collectively we have more leverage than we ever had. More than anyone else has had in a very long time.

Is the next stop then WWE? Are you guys headed for NXT? It sounds to me like you kind of just answered that question in that you don't want to abandon what you guys have already built. Is that pretty much kind of how you guys are feeling right now?

I think what we've built is not necessarily bound to where we work. A lot of what we built, and really, I feel like the most feedback that I get is from doing stuff with Being The Elite. Which could conceivably happen anywhere. It could happen ... You catch my drift. So I don't want to, at any point, rule anything out. If you kinda catch my drift on that one.

Hangman Page Ring of Honor Hangman Page (Photo Credit: Ring of Honor

Would you say you're leaning more toward one direction or another?

I think right now we've still got some time, and we're all just kind of weighing options together. You know, there are things that maybe sound more intriguing or less intriguing than other options, and those options have changed and will continue to change and evolve in the coming months.

So what we end up doing, whether it still is as a group, as I kind of expect it and hope it to be, or whether it's something different, I think, at the end of the day, when it comes time, it's gonna the best thing for us and I think for our fans.

Have you put a timetable on making a decision, aside from when the contracts expire?

No. Not at all. And I think putting time restraints on, "I will have made the decision by 'X' time," I don't know if that's a good move, because things change from day to day, literally. I could give you a lot of examples, but things change day to day. And drawing a line where you think you'll make a decision one way or the other, I don't think is really advantageous. I think to just see what happens when it happens and kinda go with your gut as your gut tells you to go with it.

And this pact, was that made after All-In sold out, or when exactly did that occur? When did you guys sit down together and say, "Hey, we really do have something here and we're gonna stick together."?

I couldn't tell you when this was, but it was in a TGI Fridays. I know that much. And it's not like we made a blood pact. We didn't cut our hands and shake hands on anything. I think this is just something we've talked about as friends and something that maybe we wanna do.

Let's talk a little bit about Ring Of Honor here with the pay-per-view this weekend. You have a real kind of unique matchup against CHAOS. But the Bullet Club right now seems to be such a huge part of Ring Of Honor's identity. Take your group out of the equation. What is Ring Of Honor's identity beyond that?

Right now they are the "other." They are the alternative, at least the biggest one in the United States. So that's what they are. That's kind of what they always have been. And I think it could be what they continue to be. Whether I'm there or not there. I mean it's happened 1,000 times before, people have come and gone. Business goes up and down. But right now Ring Of Honor is the alternative.

(credit: Thinkstock)
(credit: Thinkstock)

A while back I had the opportunity to speak with [ROH GM] Greg Gilliland, and I was asking him about you guys and the future there. He said that he was going to make an aggressive attempt to retain you guys with long-term agreements. But at the end of the day, Ring of Honor is about the Ring Of Honor experience and not any particular wrestler. Do you take that as a slap in the face? Or does that sound like a fair assessment based off of what you just told me.

I could take it one way or the other, but I guess I won't choose to take someone's words in an interview like that too personal. I'd consider their actions and their position to be the bottom line of where I stand with the company or those people, I guess.

In those years before you step away from the ring what would you like to accomplish?

I guess I've had a part, I've played a part along with the Bucks, and with Cody and Marty and Kenny and everyone else associated with us and changing the wrestling landscape. Changing what it means to be an independent wrestler or changing what business with Ring Of Honor looks like or what New Japan looks like. Or just in general changing what the wrestling business looks like. We sold out a show based on a YouTube show that had no wrestling on it.

So we've been able to kind of change wrestling a little bit, and I want to do more of that. I think more than anything. I want to maybe change the way wrestling works. I feel like for a long time, the past 20 years or so, wrestling has worked as a career for people and in only one way, and in the past few years that has started to open up. And I'm not claiming that as because of something I've done, but I don't think I've hurt that either. And I wanna continue to make that a reality for people.

Chuck Carroll is a former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality who now interviews the biggest names in wrestling. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.

Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.

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