Ring of Honor and the NWA | The Night They Made History

In the mid-’00s, two wrestling promotions were heading in opposite directions. One was thriving due to the sheer amount of top-tier talent it was producing whilst the other was a pale comparison of its former glory days. Here is the story of the night Ring Of Honor and the NWA made history by booking their respective world champions to clash against one another for the very first time. It was a night we almost saw Bryan Danielson (WWE’s Daniel Bryan) become NWA Champion!

"Battle For Supremacy" World champions from Ring of Honor and the NWA clash for the very first time at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Dayton, Ohio on June 27, 2008.
“Battle For Supremacy” World champions from Ring of Honor and the NWA clash for the very first time at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Dayton, Ohio on June 27, 2008. [Photo: viewsfromthehawkesnest.wordpress.com]

The Golden Era for Ring of Honor

2005-2008 was a golden era for Ring Of Honor. Many new fans were introduced to the promotion during this tenure and were instantly enamored by what they saw. Streaming shows from various worldwide professional wrestling promotions wasn’t an option back in the ’00s, so getting hold of region 0 DVDs was the format of choice for most connoisseurs of the sport not living in America. I can recall waiting weeks and weeks, here in the UK, to receive the latest show by post. Now, almost everything is a simple click away. The Ring of Honor shows had inferior production values compared to the changes made since Sinclair Broadcasting Group purchased the company, but that’s not what ROH was all about back then. It was a charming love letter to pro wrestling — not sports entertainment, and many of us wholeheartedly adored it.

Looking at the reverse of the very first Ring of Honor DVD that I purchased, their fourth-anniversary show, it serves as a glimpse into how incredibly exciting and talented the roster was at that juncture. The likes of Claudio Castagnoli (Cesaro), Samoa Joe, Jay Lethal, Christopher Daniels, Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan), Austin Aries, and AJ Styles (to name a few) all graced the squared circle that day. One notable name not on the card that evening was the brilliant British grappler who held the ROH Pure Championship back in 2006, Nigel McGuinness (who I believe was out with injury at the time).

Nigel McGuinness as ROH Pure Champion in 2006.
Nigel McGuinness as ROH Pure Champion in 2006.

McGuinness epitomized what, for many, is one of the most enthralling aspects of professional wrestling: grappling. European and specifically British wrestlers have been renowned for utilizing mat wrestling and tying their opponents into knots. Between the glorious ROH era of 2006-2009, McGuinness found his perfect dance partner: Bryan Danielson. Despite ending up on the losing side of the majority of their bouts, especially early on, the matches were classics, and McGuinness’ star was rising. If you’ve never seen these two work, I highly recommend you find some footage ASAP!

Following a series of bitter losses in ROH world title matches, the proud Briton achieved his dream on October 6th, 2007, when he defeated Takeshi Morishima. It was one of those special moments in pro wrestling history, a richly deserved win for an exceptional talent and outstanding worker. His reign was to last almost eighteen months at a time when ROH was producing stacked and exciting shows on pay-per-view.

During McGuiness’s time as the flag-bearer for ROH, a match was mooted in 2008 for not just his world title but another as well.

The NWA on a Steady Decline

In stark contrast to the rise of Ring of Honor at the time, the NWA was on a slow and steady decline. But, the NWA world title was still a championship to be respected due to its lineage. Previous holders of the “Ten Pounds of Gold” include Ric Flair, Harley Race, Lou Thesz, Dusty Rhodes, Sting, and Ricky Steamboat. During the latter half of the twentieth century, the NWA World Champion was the champion in professional wrestling. However, history is, indeed, history. The NWA was no longer the pinnacle.

In mid-2007, the NWA split with TNA when TNA wanted to crown its own world heavyweight champion and no longer use the NWA championships it had used since 2002. The NWA World Heavyweight Title got vacated, and someone dependable and respected in the industry needed to step up to become the face of the company. Enter Adam Pearce.

NWA World Champion "Scrap Iron" Adam Pearce with NWA legend, Ric Flair
NWA World Champion “Scrap Iron” Adam Pearce with NWA legend, Ric Flair [photo: Adam Pearce on Twitter]
“Scrap Iron” had been a staple of ROH since 2005 and was a no-frills, but a quality worker nonetheless. His “old-school” style suited the NWA’s values, and he would carry out a stellar job representing its World Heavyweight Championship. It was a perfect fit. He claimed the vacant title with a win over Brent Albright in a long-winded tournament that Pearce himself told me, “took forever!” He also revealed that Bryan Danielson initially was intended to win the NWA title, but a broken orbital bone scrapped those plans.

Ring of Honor and the NWA “Battle For Supremacy”

Billed as “Battle For Supremacy,” headlining the clash between Ring of Honor and the NWA would be ROH World Champion, Nigel McGuinness vs. NWA World Champion, Adam Pearce with a date set for June 27th, 2008 in Dayton, Ohio. To promote the first-ever clash of these two world championships, I invited the NWA champion onto the PWB Podcast, a podcast I used to host in the early 2000s.

“It’s one of those opportunities that doesn’t come along very often in wrestling,” Pearce explained. “We saw it a lot more in the ’70s and ’80s, and luckily the stars are aligned where Ring of Honor and the NWA can come together and put on matches and leave people wondering what can happen. I’m excited to be part of it. I think that Nigel’s a great talent; Dayton’s a good wrestling town, so none of us could be happier.”

It took a while for Ring of Honor to officially recognize Pearce as the world champion of another organization despite his lengthy association with and loyalty to ROH. He gave us his take on that issue.

“I have absolutely no hard feelings over it,” he said. “They’ve wanted to establish Ring Of Honor as its own separate entity in wrestling, and a big part of that is making sure their championships mean something. From that standpoint, that’s exactly how they should have done things. I had no problem with them not wanting to recognize me as the champ. When they were talking about how Bryan Danielson was going to be the NWA Champion, they weren’t going to recognize him either. It’s not a big deal. I’m excited that they’ve decided to kind-of play ball and do this now.”

Part of Pearce’s remit was somehow to rekindle the long-gone glory days of the NWA. The world was, and still is, a quickly changing place, and he understood his and the belt’s capabilities.

“It’s about re-introducing this historic piece of wrestling history to a younger fan base. From that standpoint, I’m really excited. I don’t necessarily connect myself with those former champions even though the lineage is there. I think it’s a brand new entity in the sense that TNA had it for five years, and the fans nowadays will recognize that before they’ll recognize Dusty Rhodes as the NWA Champion. It’s a way to educate fans about the history of wrestling. It’s flattering to have my name attached to that list, although it’s weird. Think about it: Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, (laughs) Adam Pearce! The NWA and the people running it now are doing a fantastic job reinventing that entity.”

“Everybody – especially the younger fans and the internet – knows Ring Of Honor, so this can do nothing but benefit the NWA. I think the NWA is getting a lot out of this. Publicity has been great, and it’s getting attention back on that championship. Hopefully, we can keep the working relationship and keep it going forward.”

So, the scene was set—Ring of Honor and the NWA, champion vs. champion.

Ring of Honor and the NWA, Champion vs. Champion for the First-Time Ever

Despite the long build to what was a historic moment in pro wrestling history, the match itself wasn’t much to write home about. The bulk of it was average, considering the standard of both competitors, and the finish was depressingly anti-climactic. Nigel McGuinness pins and appears to defeat Adam Pearce following his visually impressive jawbreaker lariat, only for the call to be switched. A “Dusty Finish” ensued. A very old-school NWA rule got shoehorned into the equation that resulted in McGuinness getting disqualified for throwing Pearce over the top rope shortly before the false finish. It’s a strange old rule and not something we’re used to seeing in modern professional wrestling, which didn’t help in terms of fan reaction. Both men kept their respective gold and went their separate ways.

Despite it being a historic first-ever match, there is very little evidence of it even taking place on the internet. It was a massive deal for the independent wrestling scene in 2008, but now, it’s just a footnote. Both McGuinness and Pearce have subsequently reached the top of the game. McGuinness thrives in his role as color commentator for the NXT brand, while Pearce is a producer for WWE and can occasionally be seen on screen. Two veterans of the independent scene are now passing on their countless years of knowledge and wisdom to the next generation. Both men were successful world champions who have their names etched in professional wrestling history, and their legacies will shine on long after they walk away from the game.

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Ian Aldous
Ian Aldous is a boxing writer and contributor to Pro Wrestling Stories. He has covered boxing for BoxingNews24.com since 2011 and represents the International Boxing Organization as a publicist. He briefly covered pro wrestling in the late 2000s for WrestlingNewsWorld.com and the PWB Podcast. He can be reached on Twitter: @ibopub and by e-mail: ian_aldous@yahoo.co.uk.