Ring of Honor returns this week to Cabarrus Arena in Concord, where the innovative wrestling promotion will continue to the push boundaries for its Honor Reigns Supreme television taping.
Among the highlights for fans on Friday night: The ongoing 16-woman tournament for the Women of Honor title, following the introduction of a new women’s division in December; ROH World Champion Dalton Castle faces Christopher Daniels’ SoCal Uncensored; former champ Cody (Rhodes) takes on the Kingdom with the Bullet Club; and Charlotte-based Caprice Coleman brings his popular pulpit segment to the show.
The Observer chatted with three ROH stars recently to see what the new year has in store for them.
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It’s fair to say few performers are more excited about the Women of Honor Championship Tournament than Mandy Leon, who got her start training at the ROH Dojo in Pennsylvania, not far from where she grew up.
“That was the first thing I said when I walked in,” she recalls. “I wanted to bring a title and a women’s division to Ring of Honor. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy. Like, ‘Who do you think you are?’ ”
Last year, she took it upon herself to start the Women of Honor social media pages.
“I just did that one day. We’ve got to think of ways to get ourselves out there,” she says, adding that WOH matches are the most popular on ROH’s YouTube page.
It’s also important for her to present a product that’s inspiring to young girls and women, considering that she grew up during WWE’s Attitude Era – when bra-and-panty matches were common.
“It didn’t stick with me until I saw Chyna. She was so fierce and beautiful, this woman that wrestles with guys. She made history being the first woman to do so many things. And to see (former champions) Lita and Trish (Stratus). Those three girls stuck out to me the most.”
“You don’t see a lot of female wrestling fans, but with the women’s division, it introduced a new fan base for Ring of Honor. Parents come and bring their daughters to their first show,” says Leon, who just wrapped a three-month stint wrestling with ROH’s partner women’s division in Japan. “When little girls come up to me, I love that so much.”
Ministry and pro wrestling may not seem to have much of a connection, but Caprice Coleman has figured out how to fuse the two with Coleman’s Pulpit. It’s a talk show he hosts and uses to interview other wrestlers.
“I’m 40 years old now, and at a point where I can still go for years. But it’s not a sport I can do forever,” he says. “The pulpit is an extension of who I am, and I’m able to bring out characters in wrestling to further what’s going on in the sport and make things more clear to the viewer.”
Coleman’s calling as a pastor paralleled his training in the ring. He grew up in Southern Pines and trained with North Carolina’s Hardy Boyz. He was ordained while living in Kuwait, and pastored locally.
“The wrestling schedule picked up, and my pastor told me that I had a chance to reach people who’d never come into a church,” he says. “No matter who I’m playing on TV, when people look you up and find out about you, he said that the impact is greater than for people that walk into the house or the hospital. People might not know they’re being impacted.”
He’s also furthering the storylines and helping the audience get to know the talent.
“If you can relate to a person,” he says, “it makes you kind of want to root for them.”
The current world champion is a fan favorite for his flamboyant costumes (part Evil Knievel, part Liberace) and outlandish persona. He’s flanked and fanned with feathers by Filipino twins he’s tagged “the Boys,” who also assist in the ring. Castle isn’t the kind of in-ring performer you can easily forget.
“When I walk out,” he says, “the first thing I want to do is be the best somebody’s ever experienced, but secondly I want to be memorable. To do one helps the other. I want to make sure when I’m in the ring, nobody is looking at their cell phones.”
Although Castle was a competitive amateur wrestler in high school and college, he hadn’t planned on a career in pro wrestling. He followed his friends into it.
“It was a beautiful accident that I ended up in pro wrestling, with all the tools and the ability to love the art of wrestling so much that it made me good at it.”
“I’m never not excited to get in the ring. Home is nice and relaxing, but I can only take so much time watching my cats,” he says, before lapsing into character: “The people need my performance.”
Ring of Honor Wrestling
When: 7 p.m. Friday.
Where: Cabarrus Arena, 4751 NC 49, Concord.