Joe Koff: The Chief Operating Officer
You’ve been COO of Ring of Honor since 2011, according to what I’ve learned. Can you tell me a little bit about what that journey has been like and where the company has gone?
I have to tell you that the journey has just been fantastic. It’s been satisfying, it’s been filled with growth, it’s been filled with joy, it’s watching young performers mature in their craft, it’s watching a staff of people take a company to being called a top independent when we first took over, to now being part of the narrative in the real wrestling talk. So the journey is just beginning. Sometimes I feel like we’re in the middle of it, but then I just feel like every day is another wonder in it, and I just love being part of it. I mean, to be able to live this almost dream of mine, to be in professional wrestling the way I’ve been able to do this, I’m so thankful. I’m thankful for my staff, I’m thankful for my performers, I’m thankful for the fans and I’m thankful for Sinclair for giving me this opportunity to bring this program to where we brought it.
So tell me a little bit about where Ring of Honor is right now.
I think Ring of Honor is a known entity in the minds of the wrestling fan. And when I say that, I think everybody kind of understands what Ring of Honor represents. And for those of you who have never been to a Ring of Honor show, I encourage you to come out to Sam’s Town on Friday night or Saturday to see our TV taping. Ring of Honor wrestling is special in the sense that it really doesn’t matter who’s wrestling for Ring of Honor; it’s the style and the artistry, the integrity of the craft, that’s brought into every match. I’ve always felt that every match could be a main event anywhere. That’s the caliber and that’s the quality that we put forth.
Where would you like to see Ring of Honor go in the near future?
My goal was always to present a greater experience than the last experience someone had when they went to see a Ring of Honor show. So there’s a continuous improvement mentality from our side, from the wrestler side and from the event side; and I would just like to continue to expand our brand. I would like more people to experience the brand—there’s so many people who come to me and say, “This is my first Ring of Honor show; I can’t believe it took me so long.” It gives me great hope, it gives me great pause, but as long as there’s someone who’s never seen it, then we can convert it to someone who will come the next time, then I think we’re doing our job.
I would like to see us have more of an international presence. I think we’re starting to grow that part of the business. We purposely took on the domestic front because we’re a domestic company. You know, we air every Sunday night on KSNV—the primary reason for Ring of Honor coming into being at Sinclair was to be a content creator, which we have done. As a matter of fact, this weekend’s show will be number 281. In layman’s terms, that’s 281 consecutive weeks of Ring of Honor television, and I am proud to say that there’s never been a rerun in those 281 weeks.
Wow, that’s pretty good.
Yeah, it’s great. And you know, when you see the heart and soul of the people that put this together, that’s what makes Ring of Honor special. I mean, it is really a labor of love, and it’s a labor of all of the people who really believe in what they believe in.
How does talent stand out in wrestling in Ring of Honor? What makes some performers get to the top?
In every sport, or in every movie, or in every play, or in every masthead on a magazine, there’s a hierarchy, and there’s a ranking or a pecking or an order of personnel. And some of it’s experience, some of it is longevity, some of it is just pure charisma; I think we encompass all that, because we have a big promotion. We have a roster of 30 guys, and I’d like to believe that all 30 guys believe that they can be the champion, and I hope, in their day in age, that the 30 guys get to be the champion, but there can only be one champion, and that is earned, and that’s earned by their work, that’s earned by their humanity, that’s earned by their ethics, and it’s aspirational, actually. I think anyone who wrestles for Ring of Honor has an aspirational quality because they know to be a Ring of Honor champion is the best of the best of the best.
I’ve seen a whole bunch of champions since I’ve been in charge of Ring of Honor, and I will tell you that during their reigns and during their runs, they were all champions in and of themselves with their own set of skills. It would be hard for me not to mention Jay Lethal, who’s had the longest run as a continuous Ring of Honor champion, and it equally is hard for me not to talk about Adam Cole, who’s held the belt multiple times. As I think about past champions, they were champions because they were the best at the time that they were the champion. And that’s what our champions should be. And whether that’s tag team or whether that’s our TV title holder, certainly our big belt, our world title and now Six-Man. I mean, these are earned qualities. This isn’t just some favor. These guys have earned it—again, longevity, experience, humanity, ethics, work—it’s a whole combination of things. But the real reason is, is that because they should be the champions. When they’re the champions, it’s because they should be the champions. And that’s the expectation, I think, that everyone meets. I don’t think we’ve had a Ring of Honor champion that was a surprise to anybody. And maybe that’s not good, but to our fan base and to the wrestling world, to me, it is good.
Yeah. I think the fans react to that.
We’re very engaged with our fans. I think it’s one of the things that I think we really do well. We care about fans. I mean, I think the fan experience, to me, is the most important thing because they’re customers, and they’re like anybody’s customers—they’re like your readers or the people that come into the casinos—if you give them a good experience and a good product, chances are, they’re gonna come back, or they’re gonna tell their friends about it and they’ll come. And I think that’s what business we’re in; we’re in the fan experience business. We have to give good matches, we have to provide good venues, we have to provide a good experience throughout the whole process, whether it’s meeting the guys before the show, watching what’s going on during the show—but that’s our job, and as long as we continue to get better at that, I think the promotion will continue to get better.
What are the fans coming to Ring of Honor for?
It’s to see the best wrestling that’s available. All of our action is in the ring, and the quality and the caliber and the level of in-ring action is unparalleled in the business. And magic happens in the arena when this occurs: when every expectation is met, all of a sudden, there’s a spontaneity in the ring and in the building that’s unparalleled anywhere: chanting, spontaneous—you couldn’t have cue cards or scripts—it just happens organically because it’s in the moment. And that’s the one thing I would say about our promotion. Our promotion is a wrestling promotion that wrestles in the moment. The only thing my guys are concerned about is what they’re doing at that time. They are charged with that, it’s tacit . . . it’s just natural to them. They feed off the fans, and whether they’re the first match or they’re the main event, the level of intensity, the level of integrity is at every, every level.
You could probably say I’m pretty passionate about it, but that’s how I feel.
That’s why I love the promotion so much, and that’s what made me want to be part of Ring of Honor and take it to where we can have these conversations and be thought of in the way we’re being thought of. It’s the guys, it’s the people who work for us, it’s the fans that come to see [us] that make Ring of Honor so special.
I think our guys, our roster and people who’ve wrestled [for] us in the past [and the] people that are gonna wrestle for us in the future understand that creating excellence concept: the harder they work, the better they’ll get. And we’ve had plenty of people like you’ve met in life that we all met, kinda what I call short-cutters, that thing [where] they can do it and they’re kinda hot-shotters, but they really don’t, and they don’t last because a locker room like ours or a culture like ours is not accepting of that. They’re very open to anybody, but not if you’re not gonna do the work, and I don’t think that Jay Lethal—who is, like I mentioned before, an unbelievable champion—works any harder or less hard because he’s not the champion. I think they understand they have roles and they understand their positions, and they understand that they’re professional wrestlers. Whether you’re the champion or not, you put on a championship match of caliber and quality every time you go into the ring. They’re very special guys and women.
Can we talk about the Women of Honor?
You know, if you followed Ring of Honor under Joe Koff and Sinclair, we’ve been very deliberate in the steps that we take. We don’t rush into things, we kind of let them develop like a Polaroid—we shake it like a Polaroid, to quote that popular song. It takes time to develop that image, even on a Polaroid print, and Ring of Honor has had that same kind of mentality. We’re very focused, we’re very disciplined, we’re only going to present a product that we’re proud of when we’re ready to present the product. Women of Honor is at that point. The caliber of the women’s wrestling right now, not only in Ring of Honor, but I think in all of the promotions, is at a point where there can be considered parody to the levels of excellence that you see in men’s wrestling. And I think as we see more talent develop into that, I think you’ll see more of a presence of Women of Honor. But they are very much part of the planning, and as they continue to grow, we will continue to grow that brand.
What can people expect at the 15th anniversary show?
We’re so excited about it, I mean, we’re counting down the days. Just so your readers know, and anyone who’s been to Ring of Honor events knows,the anniversary show is really special to the talent, because a lot of the talent has been there from the beginning. When you have Briscoes still wrestling for us, and they’re on the card, and Christopher Daniels, you have what Ring of Honor represented and what it still represents, and then you have people like Lio Rush or Dalton Castle who represent the current Ring of Honor, and maybe Lio’s the future Ring of Honor. The 15th anniversary show showcases the talent that’s in Ring of Honor. So I think when you come to an event, and whether it’s 15th anniversary or not, you get to see what Ring of Honor really represents.There’s a specialness to our wrestlers, and it’s the way they conduct their business in the ring and the way they present their product.
Sam’s Town is one of our favorite venues—it’s just a great room to work, and the guys love being there, and the fans are fantastic—you just see a notch up that you may not see at other shows. Although, I will tell you, every show to me is at that level. But special things happen at the 15th anniversary show that don’t happen at any other of our large pay-per-view events, and I think the 15th anniversary show is, like I said, special, but [what] would be more special is to come both nights and see the TV taping so they can see what’s gonna happen going forward and see the aftermath of that. So, two big evenings in Las Vegas: March 10th and 11th, and just a great opportunity to interact with our wrestlers, to be part of the camaraderie and the kinship that a Ring of Honor event represents. And you know, we have great matches planned. I mean, you have a World Championship title match, which is either gonna be Adam Cole or Bobby Fish versus Christopher Daniels, who represents the decade of excellence. You’re gonna have the Young Bucks, who are probably one of the most exciting tag teams in the world, facing another international challenger, Roppongi Vice. The Six Man—[this is] very, very entertaining. [It’s] gonna be Matt Taven, Vinny and TK O’Ryan versus Dalton Castle & The Boys, which we don’t see very much—The Boys in the ring. And then Jay Lethal is going to be wrestling whoever is not the current champion, whether it be Adam Cole or Bobby Fish. So we’re all going to be there; all the stars are going to be out in Las Vegas. So even though it might not be moonlit outside, there’s going to be plenty of stars inside the ring for our pay-per-view, and just as many the next night for our TV taping.