The most iconic and memorable factions in the history of the wrestling business were able to make such an impact largely because of the real bonds between the members of the group. The Four Horsemen, D-Generation X and the nWo were centerpieces of their respective eras, but they also have something else in common. Each stable had an initial lineup with some of the biggest stars in the world that eventually changed in makeup due to a variety of circumstances and kept on ticking.
That brings us to the modern age of professional wrestling. While stables and factions are more of a rarity in WWE, companies like Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling base a lot of their stories around conflicts between multiple individuals. After the Bullet Club, which has transcended into mainstream culture, The Kingdom has screamed star power since its formation in July 2014. The original quartet included Matt Taven, Michael Bennett, Maria Kanellis-Bennett and Adam Cole, with the latter trio currently under WWE contract.
When the Bennetts left ROH in December 2015, just after Taven and Mike Bennett had lost the ROH tag team titles, Taven also had to deal with a serious knee injury: a torn ACL and medial meniscus, and a rupture of his lateral meniscus. As Taven sat on the shelf for most of 2016, Cole struck out on his own and eventually joined the Bullet Club, but Taven decided to reform The Kingdom with a new lineup and new goals.
"I came up with the idea that I wanted to do my own version of it," Taven told ESPN.com. "Being out for nine months, you kind of have a good amount of time to sit and think, and kind of picture exactly how it's going to go down, how you want it to happen and who you want it to go down with."
There were a number of ways he could have approached it.
The ROH roster was filled with young, hungry guys who would kill for such a chance and with established stars who might have been in search of a new opportunity. However, for Taven, the two guys he wanted to team with were two of his best friends in the wrestling business, each waiting for a chance to break out.
"It was always, really, Vinny Marseglia and TK O'Ryan," said Taven. "I literally have seen them every day this week. We have the school down in Rhode Island that we're always at. We've hung out, traveled, and been doing this for a while together, so it made the most logical sense."
The school in question, the XWA Wrestling Kingdom school and training facility, is run by Taven and Bennett. The trio of Taven, Marseglia and O'Ryan all met at various points at the Lock-Up Wrestling Academy, which was founded by former WWE superstar Spike Dudley. It eventually attracted the attention of all three New England-based wrestlers, each looking to make a name for himself.
Marseglia, a Rhode Island native, went to wrestling shows with his family at the Providence Civic Center for most of his young life before deciding to dive headfirst into wrestling.
"We'd been friends for a long time," Marseglia said of Taven. "I'd say around 10 years now at this point. We actually knew each other before we both started training with Spike. We actually crossed paths doing random, local shows and just trying to get involved in whatever way we could."
O'Ryan started his path to professional wrestling later in his life. He played four years of baseball at Holy Cross, where he was a catcher, but after a few years out in the real world, O'Ryan got the itch to try professional wrestling.
"I met Vinnie first," said O'Ryan. "Vinnie was actually at my very first day of wrestling ever. I went to an open house on June 2, 2014. It was a free fantasy camp to see if pro wrestling was for you kind of deal."
O'Ryan picked it up quickly and soon he and Marseglia were having matches all over the Northeast. Their bond with Taven and Bennett, who for much of that stretch was still working for Ring of Honor and living in Rhode Island, grew with every road trip to another town.
Long before he appeared as part of The Kingdom on ROH TV, Marseglia took the initiative and hopped in on trips to ROH events all over the place, picking up matches when he could.
"I would travel with Taven, Maria and Bennett, and it felt like I was always traveling with real friends," Marseglia said. "It's a real deal outside of the ring. I would always travel with those guys. I always felt like I was a part of it."
Said O'Ryan, "The first time I saw that Kingdom group with Bennett and Cole and Maria and Taven, I just like the way they looked, everything about the attitude. Like, that's exactly what I want to be doing. That exact persona, and everything about it."
As Taven continued to rehab his injury, the plans came together. As Marseglia and O'Ryan made towns, Taven jumped in the car with them and they continued to grow closer. For someone like O'Ryan, who has made big leaps in just three years in the wrestling business, this time was invaluable to his progress and the overall cohesion of this group that was coming together.
"I was just about ready to be wrestling on TV when Taven got hurt," said Taven. "[I was] talking to him and kind of picking up some stuff that he's learned over the years. Taven has a wealth of wisdom -- he's been on TV for five, six, seven years now. He likes to pretend that he's the old medicine man now."
By September 2015, Taven was finally ready to get back into the ring. He started appearing on ROH TV, promising to form a new Kingdom in his own image. Taven spent two weeks wrestling his first matches back for CMLL in Mexico and, on Oct. 1 in Lowell, Massachusetts -- right in their own backyard -- the new Kingdom was officially born.
Their very first match together was the first round of a tournament to crown the first-ever ROH six-man tag team champions. And their opponents couldn't have been much bigger.
"They just threw us right in the fire. First day on the job, main event against Bullet Club," said O'Ryan.
"Our first match is against Adam Cole and the Young Bucks, in front of what's basically our hometown. I mean, you can't really ask for better than that. We came out of the gates running and I'm glad that it happened like that. I think we picked the ball up, and we ran with it from there."
They picked up a huge victory in Lowell, and then a second over a team representing CMLL to clinch a spot in the finals in December at Manhattan's Hammerstein Ballroom. The Kingdom would ultimately defeat Jay White, Kushida and Lio Rush to win those titles at Final Battle, claiming a spot in the ROH history books.
"The whole journey there from when the debut happened all the way 'til we became the first-ever Ring of Honor six-man tag champs, was pretty awesome to me," said Marseglia. "I never in a million years thought that I'd become a first-ever Ring of Honor champion."
For more than three months, The Kingdom held their titles against all comers. Some crowds weren't sure how to react to the trio, though, and the standard of in-ring work in ROH set an incredibly high bar to hit. But by the time they got to Las Vegas on March 10 this year, for ROH's 15th anniversary show, The Kingdom was clicking on all cylinders.
"Originally, it felt like maybe it's going to take us a little bit of time for the crowd to really appreciate what we're doing," said O'Ryan. "But come March, we look at each other the second our music hits, we come out in Vegas and we have that feeling of 'Oh, yeah. We got this now.'"
By the end of the night, it would all come crashing to the ground.
In the midst of a title defense against Dalton Castle and The Boys, O'Ryan stood on the ring apron, jumped to the middle rope and launched himself into a springboard moonsault. He jumped too far, and as he rotated through, both of his legs came crashing down onto the metal guardrail.
"I swear that my last thought before I hit the guardrail was, 'Maybe I can land with my feet on the guardrail,' like some sort of Spiderman move, and land and fall back gently or something. That didn't happen."
As the reality of the situation hit, Marseglia cradled O'Ryan's neck and tried to get an immediate sense of how bad the injury was. O'Ryan instinctively grabbed his boot, and to everyone watching the show, it was immediately clear how serious the injury was.
"At the time, obviously, I cared nothing more than the safety of a friend, you know," said Marseglia. "Friend or not, you don't want to see anybody get injured like that. It was very scary."
O'Ryan simply missed the move.
"I knew I was hurt the second I hit the guardrail. I mean, there was no doubt about it," said O'Ryan. "I went pretty high and I had full control of my body. It wasn't like it was an out-of-control thing. I just overjumped."
"I knew it looked a little ugly, but he rolled over and I stuck my head through the ropes and yelled to ask if he was OK. He went to grab his leg, and I just saw it blowing in the wind there. So that answered my question pretty quickly." Matt Taven
Taven and Marseglia finished the match and successfully defended the titles, but O'Ryan's ordeal was just beginning. It was a comedy of errors in the most serious of ways over the next 48 hours, but the long and the short of it was clear. The Kingdom train had run off its tracks.
O'Ryan couldn't help but let some negative thoughts creep into his head, but as Marseglia and Taven showed from the first moments after the injury happened, they weren't going to leave O'Ryan to fend for himself.
"We were just getting this rolling," said O'Ryan. "I had never been seriously hurt in wrestling before while under contract with a company. I mean, I've gotten some nicks. I broke my hand on the indies. But this was serious. This is a real problem. There was a little bit of that going on where I was, 'Oh, man, not only did I just get myself probably fired because I got hurt,' but it's not just me. I mean, I've got these two other guys that are depending on me to go out there and be this workhorse.
"Not only does this affect me, not only does it affect Matt Taven, not only does it affect Vinnie, but Vinnie's got a family. He's got a wife. He's got a daughter. Taven's got an apartment and his girlfriend. I've got my girlfriend and my apartment. We've got all these things to worry about. But friendship's a hell of a thing, and it ended up all being all right in the end."
There was still a full day of taping in Las Vegas to follow, and The Kingdom lost their six-man tag titles with Silas Young as a temporary replacement. But from the moment the trio returned to New England, the directive was clear. Even as O'Ryan rehabbed his injury, he'd be coming on the road and it would be business as usual, as much as that was possible.
"It wasn't even discussed. It was like, 'All right, so what time we picking you up?'" said Taven. "It was just one of those things where it's like, 'You're coming. I don't care what's happening.' I knew where he was coming from [after my injury]. One of the hardest things ever is sitting at home watching all your friends do what you want to be doing."
For O'Ryan, the support was pivotal to keep his mindset in the right place.
"Oh man, it was the greatest," said O'Ryan. "I wouldn't have been able to do it without them, man. It's crazy. I can't even picture. I'm not the first wrestler to get hurt. I know guys who have gotten hurt farther away from home than I was. I can't imagine what it would be like to go through that all by yourself and not have that team with you."
This was not an easy injury to work through, by any means. The early stages of O'Ryan's recovery were frustratingly slow, and even the most basic daily functions became difficult.
"That thing hurt so bad," said O'Ryan. "It would take, like, 25 minutes to go from one seated position to a standing position to somewhere else. It was just pain."
Thanks to the support of his friends, his dogged will and great medical care, O'Ryan slowly started to improve. He appeared on-air for ROH alongside Taven and Marseglia, wearing a walking boot and utilizing his metal cane as a weapon. Eventually, the boot came off, and after five months on the shelf he returned to the ring at a Northeast Wrestling show, with Marseglia by his side. He made his ROH return in Atlanta in late August and, on Friday night, everything comes full circle.
For the first time in six months, The Kingdom will be reunited in full on ROH pay-per-view. As luck would have it, Death Before Dishonor XV hails from Las Vegas, and The Kingdom has a chance, in a single night, to defeat both The Briscoes and Bully Ray and The Bullet Club in the same night to reclaim the ROH six-man titles.
"Luckily, TK is quite an athlete and hard worker," said Taven. "He rehabbed and made sure that he was doing everything he could to get back in the ring as soon as possible. Now we're going back to Vegas and the horse is back. He's got a couple of titanium rods in his leg, but he's gonna be better than ever."
"It's a good feeling. It's back to normal, and normal for us is doing main event stuff against top talent and the best promotion in the world, Ring of Honor. That's just what The Kingdom does, man. I couldn't ask for anything better than that."