This is an article I wrote for a very prominent wrestling magazine that never got published (long story). So, for the first time ever, here it is for the world to see.
What Happened To You Tyler Black?
The Simpsons has produced various renowned lines over the course of its existence. One of those lines that became a favorite quote of many-knowingly and unknowingly-occurred when a future version of Bart confronted Homer’s future-self. A disappointed Bart asks his father, “What happened to you, Homer? You used to be cool.” Homer vigorously denied Bart’s statement, but Homer’s words or actions couldn’t change the fact that Bart saw his father in a not-so-cool light any longer. You’re probably wondering what does a random Simpsons quote have to do with wrestling. Well, over the years, fans have echoed Bart’s sentiments to various wrestlers; including the current Ring of Honor champion, Tyler Black.
Over the past several months since becoming the ROH World champion, Tyler Black has been met with negativity and dissent from the same fans that pushed for Black to be in the position he’s currently in. Ring of Honor’s fan base is built off of one similar to the original ECW-full of smart people who want realistic action, and believable characters. Tyler Black seemed to be one of those realistic, hard-hitting, believable wrestlers the fans could get behind; and they did. But to truly understand how Tyler Black ended up where he is today in the eyes of the ROH fan base, we have to go back to the beginning.
As fall began to settle in 2007, something else also settle in Ring of Honor. At ROH’s Man Up pay-per-view, Tyler Black made his debut, aligning with Jimmy Jacobs and Necro Butcher to form the Age of the Fall. With Jacobs, Black went on to feud with one of the hottest teams on the Indy scene, The Briscoes. By the end of the year, Black and Jacobs had become the ROH Tag Team champions. But no one-maybe not even Black himself-knew what was waiting in the wings for Tyler in 2008.
Black opened up ‘08 with a spectacular-albeit unsuccessful-match against Daniel “Bryan Danielson” Bryan. The Ring of Honor fans began to take notice that Black was just as talented in singles matches as he was in tag team contests; but there was a segment of the fans who still doubted Black, and his ability to have a great match with anyone like many of the ROH greats. Black held strong, keeping the fans on their seat’s edge by delivering incredible performance after incredible performance. The cloud of doubt formed by Ring of Honor fans that sat above Tyler’s ROH career changed from doubting his in-ring abilities to his chance of breaking through to the top-tier. Once again, Tyler Black was determined to prove he was just as good as ROH’s highly regarded talent. And Tyler did that at ROH’s pay-per-view, Take No Prisoners.
Tyler Black opened the PPV-standing across the ring from Claudio Castagnoli, Delirious, and Go Shiozaki. Black survived this four-way battle, pinning Delirious to earn a shot at the ROH World champion-Nigel McGuinness-later on in the evening. As the show moved along, Tyler Black was shown various times throughout the event, hyping himself up for his first real big break into the main event scene. Black took full advantage of his opportunity by giving a performance second to none. The heart displayed opened the eyes of many an ROH follower that Tyler Black was the real deal. Black didn’t walk out of Take No Prisoners as the ROH World champion, but he did walk out with a new found level of respect from a fan base that is incredibly hard to win over.
As the year rolled on, Black continued turning in great match after great match with various opponents, and came close to gaining the ROH World title on several occasions-including at the Death Before Dishonor VI event that had the packed Hammerstein Ballroom shaking in anticipation of Black winning the championship. No matter what happened, no matter how many times he came so close, only to lose, Tyler Black had the fans’ support in his quest in winning the ROH title. But like the old saying goes, “One bad apple spoils the bunch.” In this case, the apple just happened to be a really, really good one.
After spending over a year watching their favorite wrestler fail at winning the Ring of Honor championship, the ROH faithful began to shift their eyes toward someone else. And that someone else was a man Tyler Black had fought in the past-Davey Richards. Richards, like Black, really got his career on track in ROH by forming a successful tag team. Like Black, Richards went on to win the ROH Tag title, and have excellent matches with a variety of opponents. Like Black, chants of, “Next World champ,” began to echo before and after his matches-even when he wasn’t in the ring with the current titleholder. That’s not to say Black had lost all his crowd support to Davey. Tyler Black supporters were still in full when he, once again, couldn’t win the title; allowing Austin Aries to become a two-time ROH World champion. Audiences across the country were still giving Black ovations when he came to the ring; and usually standing ovations after his match. But video speaks volumes, and the difference in crowd reactions for Black at Death Before Dishonor VI in 2008 to Manhattan Mayhem III nearly a year later in the same building, in front of a majority of the same fans showed that the fans were waning in their love of Black making it to the mountaintop. Thankfully, waning fan support didn’t equal backlash…just yet.
Six months removed from Manhattan Mayhem III placed Tyler Black across the ring from the man who defeated him to win the title in New York, Austin Aries. It was Ring of Honor’s first live Internet pay-per-view-Final Battle 2009-and Tyler Black was in the main event. Tyler Black had been put on the spot to prove that all his “die-hard” fans and supporters were right in their proclamations that he was the, “Next World champ!” As the night went on, the anticipation for the World title clash was growing. Pretty much, almost everyone in that building, those watching at home, and people just waiting for the results believed that the road stopped at Final Battle 2009 for Black. Tyler Black’s struggle to the top had seen so many hurdles and took so long to get to this moment, the Ring of Honor message boards were flooded with topics declaring that Final Battle 2009 was it-that it was put up or shut up for Black.
Black tried to live up to his fans’ hopes and brought the fight to Austin Aries. Unfortunately for Black-and those in attendance-he didn’t expect Aries to spend a majority of the match running away from him. A mixture of bad weather and growing disinterest saw the crowd slowly leave the Hammerstein Ballroom as Black did his best to catch and beat Austin Aries. The sixty-minute time limit started to tick down, and frustration started to mount-not just from Tyler Black, but also from the remaining fans watching. When the sixty minutes had expired, so did the support for Black on his road to the title.
Ring of Honor followers and fans voiced their opinions after Final Battle 2009, letting out their disappointment that Black still couldn’t win the title many felt he was due nearly a year ago. Other fans stated their stance on not coming to the next Ring of Honor show in New York scheduled three months later due to the lackluster main event. But the most prominent outcry was Tyler Black supporters proverbially throwing their hats down and kicking it in the dust. If there is one-thing sports has taught us about its fans: they don’t like losers. It’s hard for a company to truly know when to pull the trigger on a title change to push someone to the moon. In the eyes of every ROH fan, Final Battle 2009 was that moment. The fans could forget about all the close calls over the past year. They could ignore all the screwy finishes that saw Black lose. The fans still behind Tyler Black felt that Final Battle was the night that their unwavering support would be justified. When it wasn’t, the fans just gave up and declared Tyler Black winning the ROH title a lost cause.
If there’s one thing that can be associated with Tyler Black, it’s perseverance. He persevered against The Briscoes during those tag wars. He persevered against Jimmy Jacobs when the Age of the Fall split and Jimmy became obsessed with destroying Black. He persevered against Austin Aries’ cheating tactics to prevent Tyler from gaining the championship. But Black never thought he’d have to persevere against the fans turning on him for wrestling his heart out. Even after he finally won the ROH World title at ROH’s 8th Anniversary Show, the people refused to accept Black; declaring that he wasn’t really that good, or he was just a placeholder until Davey Richards was ready. Black kept his nose to the grindstone, and continued to fight as hard as he could to prove everyone that he was worthy of being the champion the fans wanted a year ago. Black worked as hard as ever, giving the fans worthwhile title matches against Chris Hero, Austin Aries, and Roderick Strong, while setting up his eventual clash against the crowd’s new golden boy-Davey Richards.
The ROH message boards were flooded with negative comments regarding the champ as the days approached to Tyler Black versus Davey Richards at ROH’s third iPPV, Death Before Dishonor VIII. The fans that once were on the Tyler Black bandwagon were hoping that Davey would be the man to end Black’s three-month reign. Even though a majority of the fan base wanted Black to lose-and felt he would-the anticipation for the match suggested that no one really knew who would win-especially looking back at Final Battle 2009.
There was a high level of buzz when June 19th came, and Black and Richards stepped into the ring with a title on the line that helped turn the fans against Black in favor of Richards. For over thirty minutes, Tyler Black and Davey Richards battled incredibly, with the fans on their feet for most of its duration. Black was able to finish Richards off with a combination of his biggest moves, somewhat quieting the critics. After the match, Davey added to Tyler’s win by telling Black, “Now, you’re a champion.”
But whom was Davey really talking that to? Of course he was standing across from Tyler when the words came out of his mouth, but Richards’ words could mean a lot more to the fans than to Black. Davey proclaiming Black the real champion of the company tells the ROH faithful that the Tyler Black standing before them as the ROH champion is the same Tyler Black the fans supported during his ride to the top. The Tyler Black that is the ROH champion is the same Tyler Black that gives it his all, night-in and night-out, to make sure the fans get their monies worth. The Tyler Black that is the ROH champion is the same Tyler Black who has persevered through partners turning on him, blood feuds, title screw jobs, and the fans who once cheered for his every action changing their tune, telling the world that Tyler Black isn’t as good as people think he is.
Unlike the conversation between Bart and Homer where Homer later admits that he isn’t cool anymore due to a robotic prostate, Tyler Black isn’t cool anymore in the minds of many Ring of Honor fans due to Black doing what he’s done well that made those same fans fall in love with him during his rise to ROH glory. So what is Tyler Black to do?
Tyler Black sits in a position similar to the one John Cena was in during his first few reigns as WWE champion. WWE audiences began to turn on Cena when he started defeating wrestlers they approved of and respected like Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho. During a majority of his matches during that time, John Cena was being booed out of the building even though he was wrestling and performing just as he did during the time the people loved him. Instead of becoming frustrated and denouncing the majority, Cena stuck to his guns and the minority became the majority eventually as the boo-birds disappeared or turned into Cena fans. So far, Tyler Black is doing a great job of following the same path Cena walked on a few years ago. Black has proven that he isn’t a failure; as he’s come back from every loss and learned from it. Black never gave up on his goal of becoming the ROH World champion even when the fans gave up on him. It might take a while, but the people who buy ROH DVDs and pay-per-views, and watch ROH on HDNet every Monday night that feel Black is the Homer to their Bart will eventually realize that they are the ones who changed, and not the other way around.