The new era of Ring of Honor is upon us. But who will be the champion to usher Ring of Honor into Madison Square Garden for its WrestleMania weekend show on April 6?
That question will be answered at the Ring of Honor 17th Anniversary pay per view, taking place Friday night in Las Vegas, in a world title match between defending champion Jay Lethal and challenger Matt Taven.
“All we can see is Madison Square Garden,” said Lethal. “Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying, and I know that I have to beat Matt Taven tonight to walk into Madison Square Garden as the Ring of Honor world champion. That’s my dream and all I can think about. In order to get there, I’m planning on making tonight special.”
With a trip to Madison Square Garden—the longtime WWE stomping ground—on the horizon, the biggest question mark in ROH remains who will be wearing their prestigious title.
After spending the past five years generating interest in the middle of the card, Taven is looking to elevate himself to a whole new realm in the business by joining an elite group of wrestlers who have worn the Ring of Honor title.
“Jay Lethal is one of the greatest of all-time in Ring of Honor, so it’s going to be a big feather in my cap when I defeat someone as talented as him for the championship,” said Taven. “He’s the real deal, but this is not about Jay Lethal anymore. This is my time and Jay is standing in my spot.”
The storyline between the two 33-year-olds started this past June when Lethal captured the ROH title in a four-way match against Taven, Dalton Castle, and Marty Scurll. At one point in the match, Taven had Castle pinned for eight seconds—but the referee was busy tending to Lethal, who was recovering after taking a knee to the skull from Taven. By the time the ref counted Taven’s cover, Castle naturally kicked out at two, which is why Taven carries his own replica of the ROH world title and refers to himself as the company’s “Real World Champion.”
Lethal and Taven have built upon their story ever since, but the most compelling piece of this match is the backstory. Lethal is looking to extend his record-setting run of most days with the title (677) and continue his reign atop the company, which is in direct competition with Taven’s burning desire to wear that ROH title.
There is nothing fixed or predetermined regarding each man’s desire to lead the company and enter Madison Square Garden as champion.
“My goal has always been to get to this very moment,” said Taven. “This is what I wanted from day one, and now it’s my time.
“I’ve been working for this moment. Madison Square Garden is a religious site in my eyes, and all my years of work and sacrifice have brought me to this moment. Vegas is the final step to get me there, and that is the last hurdle I need to jump to get there.”
Marty Scurll announced Wednesday that he is cashing in his title opportunity to face the winner of the Taven-Lethal match at MSG, and Lethal plans to be the one defending the belt against The Villain.
“We thought the only way to work at Madison Square Garden was to work for WWE, but we’re about to work at Madison Square Garden without working for WWE,” said Lethal. “And I want to be the one who walks down the aisle with the belt around his waist.”
Known for delivering phenomenal matches without storyline, this title match offers both substance and style. Taven and Lethal first built chemistry together five years ago working against one another for the Television title.
“I know what I’m up against,” said Lethal. “I get to see Matt Taven when most people don’t. He has this incredible work ethic and desire, and that’s not storyline. Matt is genuinely looking to prove he can be the number one guy in the company.”
Friday night’s clash will determine the ROH champion, as well as provide clarity for the world title match at MSG. Despite a promise from Lethal to exit Vegas with the belt, Taven is planning on putting on a performance that will make the wrestling world aware that he is not only the rightful champion, but also the one carrying the ROH belt.
“A new era in Ring of Honor starts tonight,” said Taven. “This is my time and it’s starting now.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.