When wrestling purists think of tag team wrestling over the past ten years, Ring of Honor is typically one of the top North American companies that comes to mind for their consistent ability to push a structured and credible tag team division. Not so surprising is the inherent association of one team: The American Wolves.
It’s no secret Ring of Honor has played host to a bevy of successful and sound tag teams in its history. Anyone who has extensively, or even casually follows the product can name several teams not just of recent, but also from years past. While the Briscoe Brothers, Second City Saints and Generation Next are all indeed great and deserve an article of their own, the focus here is on the accomplished tag team of Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards, collectively and appropriately named, “The American Wolves.”
The Wolves‘ recent reformation at Final Battle 2012 is the reason for this particular discussion of just how good they are. Of course, the criteria of what makes them “good” is purely of the judgment of the viewer. By my estimation, Richards and Edwards deserve that praise they’ve been afforded. I’m not sure if the story behind their pairing is nearly as remarkable as their years technical brilliance since then, but it’s certainly an interesting one.
Richards came into ROH as a top prospect in June 2006 with a lot of fanfare while Edwards first appearance for the company came in December of that year mainly by location. Richards had been getting his name out primarily in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, while Edwards spent much of his time in Pro Wrestling NOAH in Japan.
Richards was having good opening match and mid-card matches on most ROH shows while Edwards was used sparingly anytime they’d run in the New England area. It wasn’t until around early 2008 that these two names would start to be thrown around in the same sentence.
By early 2008 in ROH, Davey Richards had a number of good matches to his name, and even had a world tag title reign along with No Remorse Corps cohort, Rocky Romero. It wasn’t until around March of 2008 that Eddie Edwards called ROH his home on a more regular basis, joining Larry Sweeny’s Sweet n’ Sour Inc. faction.
To the surprise of many people who’ve followed Edwards for several years, Eddie shaved his trademark dreadlock-like ponytail that he was known for. Many people drew comparisons on appearance alone between Eddie and Davey, saying Eddie was kind of just like another Davey Richards.
A few months later, Richards would join Sweet n’ Sour Inc., but it wasn’t until December at All-Star Extravaganza IV where Richards and Edwards would finally unite, and it only seemed natural. Their similar looks and style exemplified that. Though, it was Richards who suggested the team to then booker, Adam Pearce after Davey and Eddie worked together overseas.
It didn’t take long to thrust the Wolves into a top spot like the company historically does with newer acts. Richards and Edwards were already main eventing Motor City Madness 2009 in January against then champions, El Generico and Kevin Steen. The Adam Pearce-induced interference famous in his early stages as booker took effect, and the Wolves didn’t win the tag titles on that night. The famous line of “the hunt is on” really escalated from that point on as this was just the beginning of something beautiful and brutal.
El Generico and Kevin Steen were probably the Wolves’ greatest opponents. This was a true rivalry, and the chemistry with all four was instant as opponents and from the teams themselves. The Wolves were the ideal foils to Steenerico, who waged another war throughout 2007 with the Briscoes, and finally won the tag titles from the Age of the Fall at the Driven Pay-Per-View in 2008. They worked their way into being a great babyface team while the Wolves had the classic heelish dynamic to them.
In essence, it was a nine-month-long feud that saw a variety twists and turns. The one thing that remained the same in my opinion was the match quality. They could work a regular tag match or bring in the plunder, such as they did at the 7th Anniversary Show and put together an all around fun experience as a fan.
It didn’t take long for this program to escalate. If they weren’t vicious enough, they were working an angle where the Wolves were taking guys out by targeting their legs, which started with Mark Briscoe back at Final Battle 2008. They did the same with Steen and Generico, which nearly prompted Generico to break character to express his anger. It really made sense in the context of this particular feud as it got Steen and Generico more over as faces and the Wolves over as the ultimate bad guys.
At an HDnet TV taping in April 2009, the Wolves challenged Steen and Generico in a Tables Are Legal match, which was the first title match on their TV program. This was a great way to spark interest in the TV product, though the actual match didn’t air until the tail end of May, nearly six weeks later. Nonetheless, this match proved to be another classic in their series as the Wolves would go on to win their first ROH World Tag Championship. This was smart in that it was still clear this program would continue, so why not swap the titles to get some heat on the Wolves.
While Generico dealt with a legitimate injury of his own, played up by an attack by the Wolves, that left Steen to find substitute partners in Bryan Danielson and Jay Briscoe in matches against the Wolves in April and May of 2009. They produced quality matches, but it all felt like a placeholder for when Generico would finally return to action.
If it wasn’t apparent already, the Wolves were hitting their stride as a tag team with unparalleled chemistry. Having Shane Hagadorn as the mouth piece for the team was effective, as you had two tough guys with a weasel manager who liked to talk lot and infuriate the fans. As a true testament to how good they were in 2009, they were a part of the first Tag Title Classic against Bryan Danielson and Tyler Black.
The show was named based on the match quality, the first time in the company’s history where a tag match got that kind of billing. That wouldn’t be the last time as they were a part of Tag Title Classic II against the Kings of Wrestling late the following year.
The Wolves were having great matches with every team they faced in 2009, or any sort of combinations thrown at them from the Briscoe Brothers to KENTA and Roderick Strong, and of course the aforementioned Steenerico and Danielson/Black duo. The primary focus for ROH’s tag division was still focused around the Wolves and Steenerico.
From No DQ, Tables, Submission matches, and everything in between, there was only one suitable way to end the feud in New York at Glory By Honor VIII- Ladder War II. There was only supposed to be one Ladder War after the destruction Steenerico and the Briscoes caused at Man Up in 2007. Brining the match back even with the reluctance of management solidified this rivalry as one of the most heated in company history.
As a prelude to Ladder War II, Edwards and Steen waged a war of their own the night before in Boston in an Anything Goes match where Edwards destroyed his own elbow on a dive to the floor. He wasn’t supposed to compete at Glory By Honor, but did so against doctor’s orders anyway. Going out and performing in front of that New York City crowd with such an injury is what, in my opinion got him the respect from the ROH fan base. Getting over in the Manhattan Center with that rowdy, opinionated crowd says a lot about a ROH wrestler, and it ended up working wonders for Edwards’ career.
Looking back, Edwards’ performance in Ladder War II really should have been the impetus for the discussion of Davey and Eddie going on their own on a more permanent basis. Though, they survived and ultimately won the rivalry with Steenerico, they still had unfinished business with the Briscoes, a natural next step. Eddie took some time off, with Davey working singles. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Eddie came back sooner than what was expected, which was another thing that gave him a reason to be respected.
When the Wolves finally dropped the titles to the Briscoes at Final Battle 2009 after an impressive six-plus month reign, that added more speculation that perhaps there was something big planned for who most would assume be Richards. ROH introduced a mid-card title, the TV Championship in early 2010 with both Wolves being entered in the tournament.
It seemed almost inevitable Davey would win as he was positioned for it. In an interesting, yet exciting booking decision, the tournament finals came down to Eddie and Davey. Again, it has to be another foregone conclusion Davey would be the one to go over, right? Eddie Edwards won the match and was crowned the first ROH TV Champion.
The win for Edwards surprised people in that Davey was destined for bigger and better things, but that was something that quickly became a perception. Apparently Davey wanted to put Eddie over and make him look like he was his equal, if not better. It worked. What I liked is that the team didn’t dissolve, and Eddie was defending his title on a relative consistent basis. Eddie was able to do his singles thing, while the Wolves were still a dominant, fun-to-watch team. Though, the singles encounters for both guys were becoming more frequent.
Throughout the remainder of 2010, Richards was going after the world title, something that many people thought was long overdue. It seemed like it was just a matter of time before Davey would win take the belt from then champion, Tyler Black. That didn’t happen. Roderick Strong got a chance to finally have a run.
Surely, Davey would beat Strong at Final Battle 2010 after it had been announced that he was staying in professional wrestling after discussing the possibilities of leaving. It would have been an ideal feel-good story to tell with Davey finally getting the one thing he had left to accomplish. That didn’t happen.
The Wolves remained a unit through this point in 2011, though it was quite the unique of situations. Despite having “one final hunt” against the Kings of Wrestling, they didn’t necessarily phase out as a team. While the singles aspirations were there, it was hard not to pair these guys up every couple of months, especially if the occasion called for it.
I truly believe that in today’s wrestling, to be a long-lasting, successful tag team, you have to be good singles wrestlers and be able to thrive on your own. Maybe no team in recent history exemplifies that any better on that type of level than the Wolves.
Two years in, the Wolves were still doing their thing, really as the standard bearers of the ROH product. They were both positioned as go-to guys who could always have a good match. There was still one thing missing from both to really be viewed as “the” guy- the ROH World title.
It still seemed like a matter of time to most before Davey would take the belt from Strong. WrestleMania weekend, Honor Takes Center Stage would have been the ideal time seeing as it didn’t happen at Final Battle. That wasn’t slated to happen as Strong had a big challenger in Christopher Daniels, rival of Eddie Edwards to contend.
Before honor took center stage, Strong had an easy title defense in which he would put on a good match, but would ultimately beat Eddie Edwards on a Sunday afternoon in New York City at Manhattan Mayhem IV. Again, that was another instance where perception and being conditioned to expect something took effect.
Eddie Edwards would shock the wrestling world by rolling up Strong and winning the ROH World title. Doing so in front of the New York crowd was a great call, as he was accepted there. The title win only solidified Edwards. Edwards’ title win actually trended on Twitter, which was a big deal as it showed that shock and awe can still mean something and be done in the right way.
The big story coming out of downtown Manhattan wasn’t just that Edwards shockingly walked away with the title, becoming the first ROH triple crown champion, it was that Edwards won the world title before Richards. Davey approved and embraced his “brother.” It was just a matter of time before these two would face off. Edwards had something Richards wanted, and that made for an interesting dynamic.
Edwards and Richards had a match a few months later in June, in what was treated as a competitive showcase of the what the two can do as wrestlers and straight-up sportsman. That kind of hype is really what ROH was built on.
They put on a classic at Best in the World 2011, a match that is only rivaled by CM Punk vs. John Cena at Money in the Bank. The matches were very different in nature, but Richards and Edwards showed in more ways than one that not only were they an incredible tag team, but incredible singles wrestlers, especially against one another.
A little less surprising, Richards defeated Edwards and won his first world title. It felt a little late, but it was meant to happen. Edwards’ three month or so reign was in my opinion one of the better “shorter” reigns as he had classics with Chris Hero, again with Roderick Strong, and finally was able to decisively defeat Christopher Daniels.
It’s a shame the reign had to end so soon, but one of the major positives was that the trigger was pulled when Eddie was at his hottest. The same couldn’t be said for Davey, and that was probably much of the reason for the backlash Davey took during his reign.
Despite being regarded as one of the best for the best several years, Davey took a lot of heat for wrestling the same style of match and having needlessly long matches, sometimes it seemed just for the sake of doing it. That seemed to ring true with Richards vs. Edwards III at Final Battle 2011. While a rubber match was indeed the right choice, holding off until Final Battle probably wasn’t necessary.
The build to the match was the first real sign that there was dissension among of the Wolves as a team, and in their friendship. They had been teaming on and off, which worked wonders as they were able to elevate the likes of the All Night Express and Future Shock, which remains one of my personal favorite matches from the Wolves at No Escape.
Final Battle 2011 did kind of signal the end of the Wolves for good with Davey taking his protégé, Kyle O’Reilly under his wing with the idea that O’Reilly replaced Edwards. Other than competing against each other in tag matches and one final bout on TV, which tied their series 2-2, it seemed like they were close to being done with on all levels. Reportedly, the Wolves dissolving and Richards not being happy with booking decisions is what prompted him to leave ROH for several months in mid 2012.
With changes made, namely Delirious replacing Jim Cornette as head booker, Richards returned and started a feud with Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish. He needed a partner for Final Battle 2012, and one would have to imagine he lobbied for the American Wolves to finally reunite. Defeating the team of reDRagon at Final Battle was a good way to reintroduce them, but there’s clearly a lot of potential in that program.
Since then, O’Reilly and Fish have been built up nicely since the loss at Final Battle. Defeating the Briscoes at the 11th Anniversary for the tag titles has naturally set up a rematch with the Wolves during WrestleMania weekend, and hopefully a series of matches to follow. The potential is there in a tag team format, and even in singles pairings, and that’s something that should be fully exploited. The Wolves being reunited almost has that nostalgic feel, though they’re only a little over four years removed from their initial formation.
They’re as good as they were then, but is that really a surprise? What they do might not be for everyone, but for the type of style they employ, it seems to consistently work in the context of their matches. Even though they’ve done pretty much done everything there is to do in ROH, I could see them reinventing themselves throughout the remainder of the year with new teams and combinations of talent.
Who’s better, Davey or Eddie? Does it really matter? The American Wolves are truly remarkable in nearly every sense of the word, with a continued intent of being one of the teams ever assembled in professional wrestling.