Jay Lethal defends his ROH title at Sam’s Town on Aug. 19.

A Smack Down at Sam’s Town

Pro wrestlers seek glory—and revenge—at Ring of Honor’s Death Before Dishonor

Las Vegas has seen its share of ring showdowns: in championship boxing, mixed martial arts and professional wrestling. And on August 19-20, Ring of Honor returns to Sam’s Town Live with two nights of action: its Death Before Dishonor pay-per-view and a follow-up card of television tapings.

A global pro wrestling organization, Ring of Honor focuses more on in-ring action than World Wrestling Entertainment, the established “sports entertainment” kingpin, and its events are smaller than WWE ones with more wrestler/fan interaction. Cheap seats at a WWE event such as the recent Money in the Bank pay-per-view will put you in the upper bowl, far from the action, while cheap seats at an ROH event are on the floor, just a few rows back from the ring. It’s the difference between seeing a band at T-Mobile Arena or Brooklyn Bowl; one of them is a spectacle, the other more of a happening.

Death Before Dishonor—now in its 14th year—gives a feel for how ROH has brought old-school wrestling into an era defined by social media and globalism. The card is being presented in cooperation with New Japan Pro-Wrestling, the premier Japanese wrestling federation, giving American fans a chance to see some of the world’s best stars in action. The event is as good an introduction to ROH—and NJPW—as any. Though the focus is more on grappling than theatrics, and the Code of Honor gives the action a slight MMA flavor (with wrestlers shaking hands before and after matches), many compelling stories are heading into Sam’s Town.

The highest-stakes match is, fittingly, the main event, in which Jay Lethal will defend his ROH heavyweight championship against Adam Cole—but this is no ordinary bout. Cole, like Lethal a longtime ROH talent, turned his back on the organization at last May’s Global Wars event by joining the Bullet Club, a stable that began in NJPW but has developed branches in ROH, Mexico’s CMLL (Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre) and WWE, where Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows wrestle as “The Club.” Cole insisted that, as long as he was in ROH, the popular Kyle O’Reilly would never become ROH champion. That insistence led him and his Bullet Club compadres, the Young Bucks, to injure O’Reilly before he faced Lethal in a championship match. Lethal reluctantly defeated the insistent O’Reilly, but expressed his disgust at Cole’s underhanded tactics. Cole responded by ambushing Lethal (again, with the help of the Young Bucks)—knocking the champion out and shearing off his trademark braids.

ROH's July 2016 Aftershock event in Philadelphia saw Jay Lethal facing Colt Cabana .George Tahinos

ROH’s July 2016 Aftershock event in Philadelphia saw Jay Lethal facing Colt Cabana .

That’s about as old-school a humiliation as it gets—just ask the White Witch and Aslan of The Chronicles of Narnia—and it prompted Lethal to demand that Cole be given a shot at his championship in Las Vegas for a chance at vengeance. Will Lethal get revenge for his lost braids, or will Cole make good on his promise to become a two-time heavyweight champ?

Besides that confrontation, two other championships are on the line Friday night: ROH team The Addiction’s World Tag Team titles, in a triple-threat match with two NJPW teams, and Bobby Fish’s television title. The card also has a handful of non-title matches: two featuring an NJPW champion, an ROH grudge match, and a six-man tag match between members of the Bullet Club and the Chaos team. The event is also notable for having a Women of Honor match, featuring the undefeated Must-See Submission Machine Kelly Klein.

The following night ROH will be back at Sam’s Town Live to tape episodes of its weekly TV show, which airs locally on KSNV and KVCW. The shows develop the angles that culminate in PPVs and give fans a chance to keep current on the action in between local live appearances. Television tapings don’t always have the fast pacing of PPVs, but they give fans a chance to see what’s happening before everyone else.

Since 2011, ROH has been owned by the publicly traded Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns 173 stations in 81 markets (including KSNV and KVCW). So while the wrestling group doesn’t have the glitz of the mammoth WWE, it does have serious backing and a regular presence on broadcast television.

 Jay White takes on Will Ferrara.George Tahinos

Jay White takes on Will Ferrara.

It’s also worth saying that ROH’s roster is considered one of the best in the world, and champion Lethal says the proof of that is in the plucking: “I think we have the greatest locker room out there today,” he says, “and that’s apparent because other wrestling companies constantly pluck wrestlers from the Ring of Honor roster.” Indeed, many current WWE stars, including Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Cesaro and Daniel Bryan, were recruited from ROH.

But seeing ROH live (or on PPV) is more than a chance to see tomorrow’s WWE superstars today. On that point, Lethal is emphatic.

“What you can expect,” he says, “is quite simply the best professional wrestling on the planet. Ring of Honor always delivers; and with Death Before Dishonor live on pay-per-view from Las Vegas, it’ll be no different.”

For the complete Jay Lethal interview, visit VegasSeven.com/Lethal.

Death Before Dishonor XIV

Aug. 19, 6 p.m., $30-$90. ROH DBD XIV TV taping: Aug. 20, 6 p.m., $20-$90. ROHWrestling.com.