Joe Koff is a visionary business leader. But at his core, he’s a wrestling fan.
Koff’s business sense and grasp on the wants of his company’s audience is why Ring of Honor has become so successful in such a short period of time.
His vision and the emphasis on talent, creative and management while presenting an authentic product is what tugs at the heartstrings of pro wrestling purists. The way he speaks in regards to the ROH brand and the wrestlers echoes the feelings of a proud father. It’s easy to see why the legends that have passed through ROH are so enamored by it.
With ROH and New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Global Wars taking place on Sunday in Chicago, Koff sees it as another chance to stir the conversation their way and showcase the supreme talent that is enhanced by the national spotlight.
Managing Ring of Honor
CraveOnline: What is your schedule like when running Ring of Honor?
Joe Koff: I’m Chief Operating Officer and I have a general manager who runs day-to-day with me. My other duties are at Sinclair so I’m not in the office where the wrestling is but I’m in constant contact with it. My day is much more phone/text day with Ring of Honor.
CraveOnline: Can you elaborate on your relationship with New Japan Pro Wrestling and how Global Wars came to be?
Joe Koff: It’s a very, very strong partnership. We have such similar styles and I think the credit for the relationship goes to our Creative Director Hunter JohnsTon who has had a long, long standing relationship with Tiger Hattori and the people over at New Japan. I think because we’re so likeminded in the way we present our product and our respect for the fan, the integrity and the authenticity of what we do in the ring. I think it was a natural partnership and we share a lot of talent now. I think it helps both companies because it gives them a global perspective as far as talent and it gives our talent a little bit of stability for their careers.
CraveOnline: In regards to Global Wars, how intense is the rivalry between the talent of the two promotions and is there motivation to try and outperform each other?
Joe Koff: There is that motivation and it’s natural. It’s instinctive. It’s not because of the pride of New Japan or it’s the pride of American. Believe me, that does exist but when you watch two brilliant and extraordinary athletes perform against each other, they force the other to do even more. I like to believe it happens in our own promotion when an Adam Cole faces a Jay Lethal or reDRagon faces the Young Bucks. They want to outshine each other. That’s what I see in the New Japan battle. There’s a ton of pride but also, a level of competition and a level of excellence that exists that it’s almost ‘Can you top this?’
Jay Lethal and Colt Cabana
CraveOnline: The card for Global Wars is stacked but the spotlight is all on Jay Lethal and Colt Cabana in Chicago for the ROH World Championship. What are your thoughts on Jay as a champion?
Joe Koff: I absolutely adore Jay [Lethal]. He’s such a wonderful champion. Talking about authenticity and talking about humility and talking about athleticism, this guy has it all. From an artistic and athletic place, he’s the champion and he represents himself so well as the champion.
CraveOnline: How did the Colt Cabana return come to be?
Joe Koff: I’m so happy on behalf of Ring of Honor that he agreed to come back and is excited to come back. I think there were some misgivings at the time but whatever happened I wasn’t part of it and it took us awhile. I’ve been talking to Colt [Cabana] probably since I took over the promotion and inviting him back and trying to thaw out whatever was cold and finally we agreed. This is a great spot for him in a great place and he deserves it. This is a man who deserves this kind of title shot and deserves this spotlight and I can’t wait to see him Sunday night.
The authenticity of ROH
CraveOnline: What is it about the Ring of Honor brand that makes it so loved by the fans?
Joe Koff: I use this word a lot and I hope it doesn’t become redundant but I truly believe it’s the authenticity of our promotion. For those who have not experienced Ring of Honor, when you come to our arenas and see us in person, there is an expectation that exists among all of the participants in the experience. I’m talking about the wrestlers, the fans and the managerial expectations. It just happens naturally. It’s a very organic dynamic organization and because of the spontaneity of it, it’s that specialness and authenticity that just happens and when it does, we all become one at that moment.
“My goal for the company is to become the promotion of choice”
CraveOnline: There is a sense of purity and “authenticity” when it comes to ROH.
Joe Koff: It’s a word you don’t hear bandied about much in our side of the business. It’s real. We have to be real on every dimension. My goal for the company is to become the promotion of choice. It’s not just a cute catchphrase. Choice is the ultimate freedom. I want us to be the choice of TV viewers and to be the promotion of choice for fans coming to an event. I want to be the promotion of choice for the people who work at Ring of Honor.
Favorite ROH experience
CraveOnline: What has been your favorite experience since coming to Ring of Honor?
Joe Koff: To experience Ring of Honor live is really a whole different plateau. You don’t lose anything by not but it just enhances the total experience of who we are and the fans are so important to our story. When we are able to get to that spontaneous chanting, which is very familiar in ROH, we know we have reached what we were supposed to do in that moment. Those are my favorite experiences in ROH. When I’m at an event I’m very visible and I’m a fan. I love watching the guys work. They’re just incredible athletes with incredible integrity. It gives me pride. I’m like a proud papa when it comes to them.
The internet’s impact on pro wrestling
CraveOnline: Given your position as COO, what are your thoughts of the impact of digital media on professional wrestling? Is it positive or negative? Do you think it takes away from the mystique?
Joe Koff: It’s all of those three but let’s take them one by one. It hasn’t taken the mystique away. The reason why television and wrestling were synonymous and why it was so important to the business was television was the only place on a week-to-week basis in your local markets. You could watch the stories and angles develop on TV. Now there are so many smart fans that are anxious to get out the results the minute they have it. Personally, it was more fun when we could hold storylines and hold secrets and not give out every piece of information immediately but what are you going to do? That’s the world we live in and you can’t hide from it.
Is the Internet positive? I think it’s positive because we’re able to bring our product to a whole broader base than just TV. Is it negative? It’s negative in the fact that they take all of the fun out of it to a great degree.
CraveOnline: Can you elaborate on your recent comments about being open to a working relationship with WWE?
Joe Koff: I think that was taken out of context. We’re a business and our business happens to be wrestling. If there’s an opportunity with any kind of business, if ESPN called me, if NBC Sports called me, whoever is calling me that has an interest involving our product in whatever they’re doing, of course I’ll be open to it.
Here’s what I’m thrilled about. You know what I think one of our greatest accomplishments have been? That we’re in the narrative with WWE. That fans would even think that having ROH on the WWE Network would be something that is important. We’ve done it in a relatively short time. I say relatively short time because I got into wrestling by watching what was the grandparent of WWE, called Capitol Wrestling. The man who promoted it was Vince McMahon Sr. That’s what hooked me on wrestling, so they have been doing it a long time.
There’s no question that with age comes grander and experience. Even though ROH is 14 years from its inception, the Cary Silkin/Sinclair Broadcast era is 8 years and before, we were lumped as an indie and now we are lumped in the conversation with WWE. I think that’s a pretty good statement.
Joshua Caudill is a writer for CraveOnline Sports, a surfing enthusiast, an avid basketball fan, a pro wrestling connoisseur and an expert on all things Patrick Swayze. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshuaCaudill85 or “like”CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.
Photos by Jeff Jones and Ring of Honor
RING OF HONOR & NEW JAPAN PRO-WRESTLING PRESENT
SUNDAY, MAY 8TH, 2016 – CHICAGO RIDGE, IL
LIVE ON PPV @ 8PM EST / 5PM PST