November 15, 2019

Ring of Honor COO Joe Koff on The Wrestling Company’s Growth, Judaism Within ROH 

Joe Koff; Photo by Lee South

Among the earliest programming shown on American television, professional wrestling’s TV roots go back to the 1940s. Professional wrestling itself goes back even before that, traceable to traveling circuses, carnivals and sideshows. In turn, few forms of modern entertainment end up being so heritage-oriented as professional wrestling.

One of the most popular wrestling companies in the world today is Ring Of Honor. A Baltimore, Maryland-based company, Ring Of Honor (ROH), is synonymous wrestling that is simultaneously athletic, fast-paced and realistic. It does not call itself “sports entertainment,” as the emphasis is simply on its in-ring action.

To many wrestling fans, ROH is the go-to company when it comes to the best performers within the wrestling industry. Its list of homegrown alumni includes the likes of Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Cesaro, Chris Hero (NXT’s Kassius Ohno), Adam “Hangman” Page, and The Young Bucks. In other words, many of the champions from other notable wrestling companies got their start as ROH talent.

Ring Of Honor hit a big milestone earlier this year when it partnered with New Japan Pro-Wrestling for the G1 Supercard supershow event at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. 60 percent of its tickets were sold during its online pre-sale, while the remaining tickets available were sold within 16 minutes of going on-sale to the general public. Ultimately the G1 Supercard was the first non-WWWF/WWF/WWE wrestling event at the Garden – widely nicknamed “the World’s Most Famous Arena” – in close to 60 years.

Despite that large-scale success in New York last April, ROH maintains a close relationship with its fan-base via its Honor Club. Unveiled early last year, an Honor Club subscription – currently priced at $9.99 per month –gets you access to live event-streaming of ROH events, access to a substantial amount of ROH’s extensive archives, and assorted specials and exclusives related to ROH tickets and merchandise.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of speaking with Ring Of Honor COO Joe Koff about all of the above and more by phone. Exclusive to the Jewish Journal is a portion of our chat about Judaism; simply put, Koff is every bit the mensch one would hope. More on my chat with Koff can be read via WhatCulture.

Jewish Journal: Are you based in Maryland? Or are you on the road a lot to go to events?

Joe Koff: I do go to a great many events, but I am based in Baltimore.

JJ: Where did Joe Koff grow up?

JK: Joe Koff actually grew up in two places, I started in the Bronx — I’m a Bronx boy — and then my family moved up to New Rochelle [New York], where I finished school, New Rochelle High School. We lived in both those places. Once my career started I lived all over the country.

JJ: Did you ever foresee the day you would be living in Maryland? Or did that happen organically?

JK: It did. It’s really interesting, because I’ve been in Maryland since 1989, and to this date – I’ve been here for 30 years except two years I lived in Greensboro [North Carolina] – I ask myself, “Can you believe you live in Maryland?” It was a part of my journey. It ended up being the place I stayed in the longest.

JJ: Fast forwarding to today in 2019, Ring Of Honor has had a big year so far in appearing at Madison Square Garden a few months back. Was that all along on the “spitball goals” list? Something you were offered by surprise? Or something that happened organically?

JK: I wouldn’t say we got “offered” it. We earned our right to be in Madison Square Garden, but it wasn’t something that we were focused on as a destination point in our evolution. Obviously, everything would like to say, if you’re in the wrestling business or any field, Madison Square Garden is an epitome place. It’s one of those magical places that people want to say they worked. Look at Billy Joel, look at Barbra Streisand, and look at us on April 6th in our sell-out. I think it’s just a monumental achievement and it’s something that will never ever be replaced or ever be forgotten. But it was not consciously gone after. I think we earned that through a series of events that happened that brought us to that place.

JJ: Essence is a great word. Outside of Ring Of Honor, who is Joe Koff? What do you wish more people knew about Joe Koff?

JK: Joe Koff – I love that we are referring to ourselves in the third person, that’s always interesting (laughs). I’m really a teacher. I do a lot of training, I’ve always trained my staff, I help grow people. I’m a good guy, I really am. I really love to develop talent, I love to develop sales talent, I love to develop leadership management talent. I live a fairly humble life but a really fulfilled life.

JJ: When I brought up Madison Square Garden before you brought Billy Joel and other artists. Are you a big concert guy?

JK: I am. I was in radio in the 60s and 70s and even into the early 80s. I’ve always liked music. I’m not a modern music guy, I would never claim to be that, but I’m a really big classic rock guy and oldies guy. I just love that genre and I love that era music.

JJ: Your bar mitzvah – when and where was that?

JK: It was on February 8, 1964. It was at Beth El [Synaogue Center] in New Rochelle – I belong to Beth El [Congregation] in Baltimore also – and the party was held at Fountainhead [in New Rochelle] which might resonate with some of your readers.

JJ: Wasn’t that the week that The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan?

JK: It was that week, and it’s almost serendipitous that you’re bringing that up. I remember there was a gag picture of me at the bar mitzvah with me with the Beatles wig on. So very timely question, and a very astute connection to time!

JJ: I remember February 1964 as being a month that changed the history of music, but one more Judaism-oriented question: You do have a few other people that are Jewish within the Ring Of Honor, Colt Cabana being one of them. Does that ever come up backstage?

JK: When it comes up, it really comes up around holiday time. Just acknowledging that our Judaism, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, around the shows, especially if there are shows around that area, my Judaism is very important. I love it, I’m spiritually-enhanced. I would acknowledge it, just as I would to you if I saw you on the street. It’s just nice.

JJ: So in closing, Joe, any last words for the kids?

JK: I think I have any wisdom to impart, it’s just to believe in what you believe in. When you do that people will follow. And Shabbat Shalom. (laughs)

More information on ROH upcoming events – including Sept. 27th in Las Vegas and its Final Battle pay-per-view on Dec. 13 in Baltimore – can be found online.