The independent scene could be about to get a whole lot more interesting.
That's because Cody Rhodes - the man who has helped reshape the United States indie scene, and who has aspirations of being a promoter himself - might possibly take Ring of Honor's top prize into free agency at the end of the year.
If you're unaware, the current storyline finds the dastardly (yet still dashing) Rhodes challenging for the Ring of Honor World Championship against reigning champion and company stalwart Jay Lethal this Friday at ROH's Final Battle PPV. Adding to the melodrama is the fact that Rhodes' contract with Ring of Honor is set to expire on December 31st. So the match is being positioned as more than just a "simple" world championship match - it's a match that finds Lethal as the final defender of ROH, the last bastion of opposition against Rhodes stealing the company's biggest prize.
To that point, Lethal speculated recently that Rhodes might show up in another promotion and trash the belt. That he might do "irreparable damage" to Ring of Honor itself.
But if Rhodes carries this championship into Free Agency, it's likely to mean big things for both Rhodes and ROH.
What would a "Winter of Rhodes" ROH World Championship reign look like in free agency?
Well, it'd kick off with whatever big announcement The Elite has in store for early January - likely the launch of All Elite Wrestling. A press conference where Cody Rhodes hypes this new partnership with Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, all the while already holding championship gold, would sear this new dawn of wrestling into the minds of wrestling fans everywhere.
"As we work towards an April launch of this new promotion," he'd conclude, "I plan on taking this championship everywhere, defending it against everybody, and then making it the top prize in our company... A-E-W!"
Just days later, at Wrestle Kingdom 13, we'd see The Bucks take their place alongside Rhodes. The could conceivably regain their IWGP Tag Team Championships and take them to AEW as well. The Guerrilas of Destiny would then be forced to chase The Elite into AEW.
It's then easy to imagine Cody Rhodes rubbing elbows with the biggest indie talents out there. Does he first show up in Impact Wrestling for a one-off appearance or limited run? Maybe bring Impact to AEW? Rhodes has worked previously with the promotion, so there's already history and a relationship. Plus, the prospect of putting Rhodes (complete with title) opposite Impact Wrestling champ Johnny Mundo is drool-worthy. Since Impact Wrestling has a partnership with Lucha Underground, you could easily slide Jack Hager into the mix for an as-seen-on-WWE triple-threat-dance that shows what these guys can do with a freedom never offered by their previous employer.
This would also come at a crucial time for Impact Wrestling as they navigate a potential new TV deal. Showing network execs that, "hey, we can draw in the biggest names out there!" It would be a great bargaining chip for the oft-beleaguered company.
Once February/March hits, things would be gearing up for the conclusion to the trilogy fight between Rhodes and Nick Aldis - only this time, Rhodes would have to put HIS gold on the line. This feud headlined The Elite's own All In supercard and redefined what cross-promotion between brands like NWA and ROH could be. So, putting these guys against one-another for a final time, to see who takes home the "final" victory, would be electric.
It's not out-of-the-question for the National Wrestling Alliance, either. Nick Aldis alluded to possible main-events like this just a few weeks ago. A scenario which he described as promoters taking their top guys and putting them against other promotions' top guys on co-branded shows. Plus, Billy Corgan, who continues to reshape the 70-year-old NWA into something more-closely resembling NXT, has already hinted at the possibility of working with companies like ROH. It would stand to benefit immensely from a wider fanbase recognition to rub shoulders with AEW as well.
Meanwhile, during the Winter of Rhodes, Ring of Honor "struggles" with its own identity.
You could see guys like Jay Lethal, distraught over letting his company down, spiral and rack up a string of losses. Other contenders could then arise - Jeff Cobb, or Flip Gordon. All clamoring to be the one who unseats Rhodes and brings back prestige to ROH.
Yet there in the background lurks Marty Scurll. The same Marty Scurll who defeated Christopher Daniels at Final Battle to earn his rightful championship shot, and the same Marty Scurll who has been denied that shot for MONTHS due to Rhodes' own ego.
Putting these two ex-Bullet Club members at the top of a NJPW/ROH co-produced Madison Square Garden supershow would be the main event this show deserves. Scurll could tease Cody back into a match by bringing their personal issues front-and-center. Then, when Scurll does defeat Rhodes and claim his rightful spot atop the ROH pecking order (the same night The Bucks lose their coveted IWGP Tag Team Titles - for a final time), Marty Scurll becomes the deserved and true face of ROH.
Now, plenty of people think Joe Koff and ROH as a whole would be foolish to let their championship walk out the door. Sure, they've done it before: ROH did something nearly identical with CM Punk back in 2005 (a storyline WWE somewhat-successfully aped in 2011).
But the difference now is where the business is, and where ROH is.
In an interview with WrestlingINC's own managing editor Nick Hausman, Koff made comments about how quickly the business is changing. But he made two points that call this out as a real possibility (both in reference to the pro wrestling industry):
* The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
* Competition is good for business
A chance to promote ROH across other major indie promotions, at the expense of an absentee champion, is the kind of thing Koff, or anybody who believes growth of industry over growth of a single company, would jump at. It would also allow ROH to be forever linked with the hottest free agent in the world.
What if Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks successfully launch All Elite Wrestling? Rhodes would forever be known as the former ROH World Champion, who used that championship to redefine the industry. He'd also likely owe Koff/ROH a few favors - favors that could result in some ALL IN 2 promotional effort.
Ring of Honor's Final Battle 2018 already looked like one of the year's best shows. But, this kind of intrigue makes it a can't-miss affair.
We will have live coverage of ROH Final Battle this Friday, as well as a special edition of the Wrestling Inc. Podcast following the pay-per-view.