"Ring of Honor has carved out a niche in the wrestling market by focusing on the 'sport' rather than the 'entertainment' of 'sports entertainment,"' says Adam Testa, blogger and contributor to The Wrestling Press, an online magazine.

"ROH has been a company built on the principles of hard-hitting action between the ropes rather than drama outside of them," he adds. "And the Sinclair buyout in 2011 was a milestone for the company, raising its profile from a truly independent promotion to one with corporate backing."

Arda Ocal, wrestling blogger and host of "Aftermath" on Canada's Score Television, says, "Ring of Honor has cemented itself as the No. 1 independent wrestling organization in North America."

Emphasizing the youth of ROH wrestlers, Ocal adds, "So many of their previous stars have gone on to successful careers in WWE and TNA, including current WWE champion CM Punk, current WWE World Heavyweight champion Daniel Bryan, known as Bryan Danielson on ROH. Many people look to ROH and their roster in terms of who the future of professional wrestling will be."

When the tag team match featuring Richards ended at Du Burns, he and the other three wrestlers met in the center of the ring, shook hands, and each got down on one knee.

Later, during a cigarette break in back of the arena alongside the humming 52-foot-long TV production truck, executive producer Cornette explained the ritual and what it means to Ring of Honor's core identity. The truck serves as the nerve center for the director, producers and crew members who guide the five cameras in the arena that capture the action on tape.

"Wrestling has gotten so show-biz, it's to the point where people scoff at it," Cornette says. "But wrestling used to be the same as boxing or mixed martial arts. It used to be about conflict, having a fight, who's going to win. And we try to emphasize that."

He says that ROH wrestlers operate under a "self-imposed code of honor."

"It's not mandatory, it's a locker room code where before and after the match, they shake hands with their opponents to show respect," he says. "And when they take a knee, they really had respect for what their opponents did as well as themselves. And then, of course, you've got the guys who don't shake hands and don't show honor — and people generally don't like them very much."

That would be a wrestler like Mike "The Prodigy" Bennett. In the Ring of Honor universe, the good guys wrestle and observe the code in an almost military manner, while the bad guys provide the story lines and theatrics. Or, to use blogger Testa's terminology, the good guys provide the sport, while the bad guys are mainly about attitude and entertainment.

And for a while there at Du Burns, it looked as if Bennett might just be the new Ring of Honor champ. Jay Lethal lay flat on the mat as the curly-haired pretty boy danced around the ring to the delight of his girlfriend, former WWE diva Maria Kanellis.

But then Kanellis, reaching out to her boyfriend, wound up accidentally pushing him so that he fell backward on top of the flattened Lethal, who suddenly came to life and instantly rolled Bennett up for a mat-pounding one-two-three pin.

It's Saturday night, and all is right in Du Burns Arena as the crowd chants: "Ring of Honor. Ring of Honor. This is wrestling."

If you go

Ring of Honor's next matches in Baltimore are set for Feb. 4 at the Du Burns Arena, 1301 S Ellwood Ave. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20-$50. Call 877-725-8849 or go to ticketalternative.com.

On TV

"Ring of Honor" airs at 1 p.m. on Saturdays on WBFF, Channel 45 and at 10 p.m. Saturdays and 12:01 a.m. Sundays on WNUV, Channel 54.



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