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Ring of Honor’s Precarious Future Begins With Jonathan Gresham As Champion

‘It is up to me to keep the spirit and the essence of Ring of Honor alive,’ he says.

Jonathan Gresham is the new, and perhaps last, Ring of Honor world champion.

In a night full of surprises, Gresham closed out Final Battle on Saturday by defeating Jay Lethal to claim the vacant championship.

The reigning champ, Bandido, was unable to perform due to a positive COVID-19 test, and ROH officials worked with AEW to bring Lethal, a longtime ROH staple, back for the pay-per-view. Considering his long relationship with Gresham, the matchup made complete sense, closing the book on their feud as Gresham finally elevated himself to new heights with the win.

Final Battle was a night that was full circle for me,” Gresham says. “I spent a lot of time with the fans at ringside. There were so many people there I knew—from the independents, from seminars, fans from smaller independent shows, like NOVA Pro [in Virginia], guys that stayed on my couch during our travels—and everyone kept telling me they had to see me win the Ring of Honor title. I have enjoyed this entire ride, so all of that meant the world to me.”

Gresham’s ascent has taken him from the undercard to the main event, and he now takes his place as ROH champion. The company’s future is unclear after ROH announced in October that the company is releasing all contracted talent and will have a “reimagined” future as it pauses live events for at least the first few months of 2022. Despite the potential of a show in April, it is also possible that the company is about to be extinct, with Final Battle serving as the end of an era.

Surprises at Final Battle included appearances from Adam Scherr (formerly Braun Strowman in WWE), FTR and Deonna Purrazzo, as well as an array of video messages featuring the likes of Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, the Young Bucks and “Hangman” Adam Page. And in a tribute to the 19-year history of ROH, which saw a plethora of new stars influence the industry through their devotion to the ring, it was symbolic to witness one of the industry’s most cutting-edge professional wrestlers win the title.

“As champion, it is up to me to keep the spirit and the essence of Ring of Honor alive,” Gresham says. “I will preserve and protect Pure wrestling as Ring of Honor world champion.”

Gresham has a path and plan to ensure that the Ring of Honor title remains among wrestling’s most coveted, one that pays homage to the past while also creating the possibility for some exceptional future moments.

“I am going to make this championship the best wrestling title in the world,” he says. “In order to do that, I need to wrestle two men who helped make the Ring of Honor title the best in the world: Bryan Danielson and CM Punk.

“At one time, being the Ring of Honor champion meant that you were the world’s best professional wrestler. But that moniker was taken away, and my mission is to restore honor to the title. I need to step in the ring with those two men. Until then, I’ll take on all challengers for the Ring of Honor title. I plan on defending the title, but I will only defend it under Pure professional wrestling rules, which is the way it always should have been.”

The future of ROH is unknown, but its world title has a much brighter future. Gresham and Bandido also have the potential for a must-see title bout. But before focusing on wrestling, Gresham extends well-wishes to his rival for a quick recovery.

“I’ve heard horror stories about COVID, so my thoughts and prayers are with Bandido,” he says. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, and I hope he recovers and is just as good, if not better, than he was before.”

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Gresham treats pro wrestling as an art form, expressing himself in the ring through precise craftsmanship. Throughout the course of his 16-year career, he has devoted himself to an artistic production of the genre, one that continues to shape the evolution of what takes place inside the ring.

A proud Pure wrestler and former holder of ROH’s Pure Championship, representing the technical style of wrestling makes Gresham an outlier in the profession. He dealt with relentless criticism and doubt while blazing a path on a route that was not supposed to lead to large-scale success, and he has done so by showcasing the magic that exists in the purity of the sport.

“Being in the main event of Final Battle, it shows anything is possible,” Gresham says. “It’s the start of the Black and African American community coming together to create our own culture of wrestling. It’s also shining a light on how anybody can accomplish anything as long as they truly want it and can determine a way to differentiate themselves.

“I am empowered by the chance to fight for others. Winning this championship is for Pure wrestlers, technical wrestlers, the African American community in pro wrestling, and for anyone who is looked at and instantly doubted.”

The 33-year-old Gresham is just starting to hit his prime, quite a revelation when considering his work is already world-class. He is also starting his own wrestling promotion. Along with pro wrestler Baron Black, Terminus will be the home for modern-age grappling.

“Baron and me, we trained together and we’d always talk about how we’d do things differently,” Gresham says. “We always wanted more from wrestling, and now that we’re in a place to do it, we decided this was the time.”

The roster already includes Moose, Bandido and Lee Moriarty. Plenty of surprises are in store for the first Terminus show on Jan. 16, which is set to take place in Atlanta.

“Modern-age grappling derived from many several styles and philosophies, and that is what’s going to allow us to stand out,” Gresham says. “The in-ring storytelling from bell to bell is very important. We’ll have pieces of Japanese wrestling, lucha libre and British wrestling. And I am taking [former ROH owner] Cary Silkin, the heart and soul of Ring of Honor, with me to Terminus.

“It is going to be about passion. People can see and feel that in my matches. I want people to see that in an entire show. The people we have wrestling in Terminus are very passionate individuals. That’s the goal. I want fans to get something they’re going to be passionate about. That is the environment we want to create.”

Before breaking ground on the future, Gresham possesses an opportunity to make the most of the present. As Ring of Honor champion, he provides a company known for its revolutionary style of professional wrestling one more influential artist to call its champion.

“I had this dream to be part of Ring of Honor,” Gresham says. “I had these small goals, these small missions. I told myself that if I accomplished them, I’d always be making progress. That’s what has helped bring me here.

“I want the Ring of Honor title to be strong, and the only way to do that is by having a Pure professional wrestler hold the Ring of Honor championship. I will ensure that Pure wrestling stays alive.”

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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.