Learning from ROH’s Response to the Pandemic

Ring of Honor, Tracy Williams (RING OF HONOR/Joe DeFalco)
Ring of Honor, Tracy Williams (RING OF HONOR/Joe DeFalco) /

Amid concerns about the rise of COVID-19 cases in the state of Florida, Ring of Honor has announced that they would be moving Death Before Dishonor from the state to the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia. This marks another example of ROH’s stellar care during the pandemic.

Ring of Honor has announced that they have moved their upcoming Death Before Dishonor pay-per-view from Florida due to the surging cases of COVID-19 in the state reaching a staggering 20,000-plus cases per day.

Florida alone has been hitting over 100,000 cases a week now, in a number that is reaching scary levels. The number of hospitalized Americans has jumped to over 70,000, and the US is hitting over 150,000 cases per day total, and a very grim picture of the state of the pandemic is emerging for various wrestling promotions. ROH has shown great care and responsibility in acting quickly as the cases have risen and have clearly taken the safety of their staff, wrestlers, and fans as far more important than just running a show.

This is not the first time ROH has done the right thing in this pandemic, either. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, there was a lot of talk concerning how wrestling should run, if at all, during the midst of this global virus outbreak. There has been no uniform response across the board, and many promotions have taken different steps to continue running in a way they deem as safely as possible. Some have chosen not to run at all, while others have restrictions on place, and others still had none.

The messaging from various state governments and the federal government has been far from uniform concerning this, with some taking the virus very seriously while others treat it as an inconvenience that they can ignore. Comparatively to Canada, as an example, which has had a very unified message from the government, regardless of political position, that this is something we need to stay on top of, with minor exceptions, leading to Canada doing rather well throughout the pandemic.

Though the Canadian response has been far from perfect, including issues with the Delta variant, and some provinces lifting restrictions sooner than the experts would like, it is very jarring to see the difference in approach between the two countries. This has left room for promotions to take different approaches to it.

Initially, WWE had no testing for the virus at all, and only did temperature checks at the door for talent as they came into the WWE Performance Center to record Raw and SmackDown in the early parts of the pandemic. After an outbreak of COVID-19, WWE finally instituted a testing policy, and while their response to the pandemic has been shaky at best, the testing for the virus was a good and necessary step.

AEW required testing from essentially the very beginning, and did their best to hold shows as safely as they could. If someone tested positive for COVID-19, they were pulled from the show along with anyone that they were in close contact with. This has served them well throughout the pandemic and they have continued to run shows, eventually welcoming fans back with a masking mandate.

NJPW required masking from the fans once they returned to having them, and had strict policies on quarantining that lined up with the standards that the Japanese government set out, and have been doing this from the start of their return after not running shows for quite some time. They have also asked fans to refrain from cheering and only clap or stomp in response to what is happening in the ring.

ROH, however, has had the best response of any company throughout this pandemic. In the first part of the pandemic, they cancelled all shows and continued to pay talent, unlike WWE, who fired several wrestlers over the course of the pandemic, right up until this last week. When ROH finally returned to having shows again, they required all talent to quarantine in a hotel for days before attending the television tapings, they taped in bulk, minimizing the time that wrestlers had to be away from home, and tested everyone multiple times for COVID-19.

No other promotion has responded to this pandemic as well as Ring of Honor, so it comes as no surprise that their reaction to the rising cases in Florida was to move the show. ROH continues to have their wrestlers quarantine before tapings, continue to test, and have strongly encouraged vaccination as well.

Let’s not put this lightly: ROH has taken this pandemic more seriously than anyone else, and has put the safety of their wrestlers and fans first above everything else. The steps and actions they have taken to make sure that they run safely is exceptional, and every promotion looking to run in the pandemic should learn from their example.

With AEW and WWE running with full audiences without restrictions while COVID-19 cases surge, the appropriate question about what to do lingers in the mind of everyone. Much like ROH (and NJPW), these companies should not wait on governmental guidance, but respond proactively to protect their wrestlers and fans. AEW instituted a mask mandate for the fans that attended the tapings of Dynamite for most of the early pandemic until they went back on the road.

The easiest solution to this problem would be to require proof of vaccination to attend a wrestling show, as that would protect everyone well. The second option would be to make masks mandatory to reduce potential spread of the virus. Many state governments are refusing to have a mask mandate, so the promotions being proactive in forcing it would both earn goodwill with reasonable fans, and take actual steps to help protect everyone that attends or performs.

ROH has had strict rules for the attendance for their shows alongside the other practices they have taken, and NJPW has made masking necessary to attend, even with shows with a reduced capacity. The NJPW Resurgence show that will air on NJPW World will be held in the United States, and require everyone to wear masks.

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While some think this pandemic is over, or that it is all blown out of proportion, the numbers tell a different story. Wrestling promotions: be like ROH and NJPW. Take care of your fans and wrestlers first, and look to protect them from this virus. The virus doesn’t discriminate. For the fans that wish to attend a wrestling show: Do the responsible thing. Wear a mask. Get vaccinated. If you want to see an end to this pandemic and needless death, put your community first. Follow the example of promotions like ROH. They deserve every bit of praise thrown their way for how they have handled this pandemic.