The days get closer until Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) make history hosting G1 Supercard inside a sold-out Madison Square Garden this Friday, April 6. It's a career-defining experience for not only the stars lacing up the boots, but those behind the scenes who helped the seemingly impossible possible.
One of them is ROH Chief Operating Officer (COO) Joe Koff, a lifelong fan who has been there every step of the way in recent years for the company's milestones. Ahead of the potential game-changing event, the exec sat down to field questions for an exclusive interview. G1 Supercard takes place 7 p.m. ET Saturday, April 6 live on Pay-Per-View and streaming through the FITE TV and HonorClub.
With this momentous occasion becoming more real to you as the days get closer, take me back to the beginning. The fact Madison Square Garden was open WrestleMania weekend and the possibility that it wasn't going to happen. Then it was confirmed. What have your emotions been on this roller coaster ride getting to making this reality?
It's almost surreal to me that we're going to be presenting Ring of Honor in what I consider hallowed hallways. I spent so much of my youth, I'm talking in the old building, the new building, watching wrestling in Madison Square Garden. To think we will be the presenting show Saturday night. It's surreal. It's also excitedly scary because so much was involved. The securing of the building seems so long ago now. I think it was months and months ago now we got the building and sold the tickets and been so fortunate the way it did. Ever since then, it's been planning. Planning for the show. Making sure we deliver what our fans expect and what our fans come to expect. I think we always under-promise and over-deliver on the shows. I think this will be no different. As I look at the lineup and know what is going on in the background, I think this is going to be an amazing night for wrestling fans everywhere.
There is already that historical element of being there. Now you have the card just about finalized. What do you think about the card? I don't know if a lot of people expected different names in some spots, but in the main event you have Jay Lethal, Marty Scurll and Matt Taven. Guys who have really put in the work in the last couple of years. Now being able to reward them on this level and giving them this responsibility.
It's a testament to our wrestlers. One of the things that is special on a night like this is we're giving them the opportunity to perform on not necessarily one of the biggest crowds they performed before, but certainly on the biggest wrestling stage they can perform. They earned it. Jay Lethal has probably been one of the greatest Ring of Honor champions in the history of the promotion. I don't think anyone would dispute that. Certainly, from longevity and who he has had to face and his opponents. He carries that mantle very seriously. Matt Taven has been chasing this title as long as I can remember. I remember watching them in a cage match for the TV title in Brooklyn at the Mets farm team there. You can just see what these two had in store for each other and how they compete. Marty has also risen through our ranks. He is an incredibly gifted performer who I think has beaten each in different scenarios. So, they are the likely and right three to be fighting for that championship match.
As far as the setup of the arena, is there anything we can expect presentation-wise that might be different than any other Ring of Honor show we've seen?
I think it will probably be bigger because the stage is bigger, but I think the people are coming to see the wrestling. We will have all the right effects and right entrances. I've seen the plans. I think they are going to be really aesthetically pleasing and fit the evening. It's really about the wrestling. I have no trepidation of what that is going to be. It's going to be the highest level of artistry, integrity, athleticism. I think every match will be terrific. Each one will try to get to that point where they have the best match. When you have eight or nine people competing for what the best match is, I think the level of wrestling is going to be off the charts.
As far as the future holds, you have the Dojo when it comes to bringing new talent up. The landscape of pro wrestling has changed so much, even in the past year you have All Elite Wrestling coming together. A lot of names worked for Ring of Honor and formed this from the ground up. I'm sure you have a great working relationship with those guys still. But when it comes to keeping talent, recruiting talent, what are the challenges right now?
I think this is a fabulous time for wrestlers and a fabulous time for fans. I think the level of competition and athlete has never been higher. AEW is certainly new on the scene. We like to take some credit for at least some of the genesis of all of this. I think Cody and the Young Bucks were terrific when they worked here and will be terrific there. They are terrific guys and smart guys as this organization appears to be set up. I remember when we came on and another promotion came in and another. Wrestling is unique in that. We'll always be faced with competitive situations. You just have to stay the course. The one thing I'm proud of Ring of Honor and the way we operate is we're really focused on our product. What other people do may be good for there business, but it's not necessarily something I can control or have an impact on, pun intended. I think we stay what we do and hope we provide the environment and experience for the fan that keeps them coming. Ring of Honor has lost lots of talent over the years. We can go through it. All you have to do is go Sunday night out to MetLife. You're going to see a lot of stars from Ring of Honor. Yet this one of our biggest 18 months ever in the company.
I think one of the great things about Ring of Honor is you've always stayed the course. You've always taken steps forward. Maybe not the biggest steps, but always forward.
I think we take measured steps. I think that rather than smaller steps or bigger steps. I think we do what is right for the business and the business model. I think if we have to stretch our step a little bit, I think we can. If we need to step a back a little bit, I think we can. We follow our plan, and the plan has been good so far. Hopefully, it's set up for a sustainable future.
Every year Supercard of Honor runs in the vicinity of WrestleMania. There was talk that WWE would be making it difficult for a lot of promotions to run events next year in Tampa. I know Florida is a big place for you as far as personal history. Have you guys felt any of this at all when it comes to looking at venues?
We have not felt any of that. Not at all. There are different sizes of promotion. I think promotion-wise within the industry, we're pretty formidable. We're a touring company. We have television. We have a solid support from our corporate ownership. We can play bigger buildings if we need to as evidence by Madison Square Garden booking. We do have relationships in Florida and play a lot of buildings there. I wouldn't expect that one night only for somebody else would interfere in those relationships. I don't think that's the way the business should be run. Nobody is going to compete with 80,000 seats. That's just not happening. They do a good job. They've earned this to have this position. In 25 yeas from now, who knows? We might also be in the stadiums. Next year is next year. We have a show next Saturday. We have Pittsburgh, Columbus. WrestleMania 2020 weekend will take care of itself.
You mention shows coming up. There was big news that Jay Lethal would defend the Ring of Honor championship in Israel on April 21 against David Starr. Someone who has been outspoken about Ring of Honor and its owners. There was the controversy of him releasing his promo that wasn't being aired on ROH television. I just wanted to give you the platform to talk about the motivation behind that, him going above to release the promo and seeing the buzz it has created?
I think the buzz has kind of died down. I think what happened was it was picked up and David Starr ran a promo. I really believe politics has no place. We continue to be a place where all athletes are welcome. We're not a political organization. Our sole focus is to bring Ring of Honor fans a world-class product. I think by agreeing to let Jay wrestle in Israel is part of that mission. There is no politics in this. This is professional wrestling. I believe it has died down. I think it got a little more press than it needed, but the promoter makes those calls. I don't make those calls. We're lending Jay out. We've agreed to let him have the champion because the promoter thought it would be fantastic. That's what happened. Nothing more to that. Sinclair has been nothing short of exceptional in helping us with the reach we have. They are fantastic as a parent company. Without them we wouldn't be having these conversations. I'm putting this together in true partnership spirit that this is our great work being rewarded by a great company supports it.
Talking about Sinclair Broadcasting Group, when they see the success of The Garden selling out. Does it motivate them more to help and giving you guys more television visibility? Has there been any talk with that?
We are always looking to expand our reach from a television standpoint. We are a television company. We present our product on different platforms whether they be digital and over-the-air and soon-to-be in technical areas that really people aren't even aware of. Of course, that is what we want. Madison Square Garden is just a validation of what we did and what we've achieved. They are certainly proud of that, as we all are. Our business continues after that day. Not to minimize it because this is probably the most exciting night of my wrestling life, it's another show of our year of shows. It just happens to have this magnitude. I don't want to take anything away from it or diminish its worth. But April 8th, we're still in business and have to run a company.
You just celebrated another anniversary, which is always a great time for reflection. With your role within the company, besides Madison Square Garden, what are some of the other things you are most proud of? Before it's all said and done, what is your ultimate goal when it comes leaving your mark on this company when it is time to retire or move on?
What amazes me is, I thought the 17th Anniversary Show was one of the best shows we've ever done. That is what is amazing to me, I can go see every show and go, "That was unbelievable." To be able to do that 40 times a year for the last seven years, it just shows what this company is all about. The heart and soul of who we are and what we represent. The hard work of the people who work behind the scenes. The heart and soul of the wrestlers and creative staff and people coming up through the Dojo. It's not my mark. It's our mark. I couldn't ask for anything more at this point. I think what we've achieved in a short amount of time, certainly having distribution and having the wherewithal to have licensing agreements and merchandising, we couldn't do that if the product wasn't up to that point. We are continually working on the product, creatively, production-wise. I won't be satisfied until we are spoken in that vein where it's, "Oh my God! That's the best production. That's the greatest creative." Never going to happen because we know the business. There is always going to be someone who doesn't think it's not. As long as I feel we are striving to that, I feel we are doing our job. And that's my mark.
The full audio from Wrestling Inc's exclusive interview with Joe Koff was included in a recent episode of our WINCLY podcast. It can be heard in the embedded audio player below.
You can check out past episodes of the WINCLY here.