Ring of Honor has one of its biggest cards ever in New Orleans on April 7. Supercard of Honor XII, headlined by Kenny Omega vs. Cody, is nearing a sellout with almost 6,000 tickets already sold — a new ROH record.
Ahead of the huge show at UNO Lakefront Arena, Ring of Honor COO Joe Koff chatted with Cageside Seats about a number of topics, including ROH’s surge of success, the Bullet Club storyline, New Japan’s expansion into the United States, a potential collaboration with Impact and much, much more.
(This interview has been edited for brevity.)
Marc Raimondi: We’re about a week away from the big Supercard of Honor in New Orleans. I’m sure you guys are super busy.
Joe Koff: We’re getting prepared. It’s our biggest crowd to date. We’re trying to anticipate the crowd and be ready for them in every way we can.
MR: I wanted to ask you about that. I’ve seen online that it’s going to be the biggest attendance number in ROH history. Are you able to say how many tickets are sold now?
JK: The building is set up for roughly about 6,000. We’re coming up on that number. It’s pretty exciting.
MR: So, it’s close to a sell out.
JK: It will be a sell out. It’s amazing, too, considering last year when we ran Lakeland, which was a good hour to hour-and-a-half from Orlando for WrestleMania week. The number escapes me, but it was well over 3,000. And I said, Oh my god, that was amazing. One year later, we’ve now almost doubled our crowd. It’s pretty exciting.
MR: It’s only been a year since then and double is impressive. And selling out. There are so many different things going on that week. There are shows going up against your show that people can choose to attend. And yet, you guys are still going to sell out. What do you owe this surge to?
JK: I was with Cody this week on some business that I do at Sinclair. He was talking to a group and they were kind of asking the same question as fans and as interested people. I’ll give you his answer. I don’t see it the way he does, but I think he’s right. He says that ROH, Ring of Honor, is just cool. It’s a cool promotion. When he said it, it sounds cool. If I said it, it would be like, really?
He understands that side of the ropes and I think he’s right. Maybe we’re just the cool promotion right now. I think what we’ve achieved in the last year and the surge, I think it’s really been a lot of work, a lot of trust and just a lot of good wrestling.
MR: And why do you guys think you’re able to draw so well going up against other shows?
JK: I think it’s because of the way we wrestling. I think, our product. First of all, we are an organization, we are a company that has continuity. It’s not something that a show is put together and four months later another show is put together. We’ve been wresting as a long time as a company. Since Sinclair bought it, this is now our seventh year. Our TV program coming up this weekend is No. 331, which is consecutively produced hours. The viewer doesn’t truly, fully grasp that, but that’s a big story. And it’s a long story well told, well developed, better produced each time. I think we are in a place where people can grow, people can excel, the fans are always, always excited to see our product and our wrestlers and performers over sell what they’re expected.
So, it’s really been a combination of things, Marc. I wish I could pinpoint it to one, but it isn’t really ever about one. It’s about all of the pieces working together.
MR: Where does Kenny Omega vs. Cody rank among the biggest headlines in Ring of Honor history would you say?
JK: I think it’s a huge match. It’s a huge match. You’re talking about two of the biggest stars in the world facing together in one ring. I am not the historian that many Ring of Honor fans are. And first of all, the match hasn’t taken place. But I think if we look at marquee value, it’s probably one of the biggest matches that Ring of Honor has put together. And I’m certain the match itself will be up there as a Match of the Year contender.
But there are old timers and Ring of Honor purists that would probably go back a little further to the [CM] Punks and the Daniel Bryans. And maybe they should. Kevin Steen when he wrestled for us. I would think that just last year’s Hardys vs. The Young Bucks in our main event in Lakeland.
At heart, I’m a wrestling fan. I’m just fortunate enough to have a company behind me and the passion of what I believe. I’m a really strong believer that people follow people who believe in what they believe in. I think that’s the story of Ring of Honor. Our wrestlers believe in our product. They believe in what they believe in. And it’s hard not to believe in that.
MR: The ongoing storyline that’s leading into this main event with Kenny and Cody, the Bullet Club and its implosion, I guess. The rift there. It’s played out on New Japan’s big events, your TV tapings and big shows, on the Being The Elite YouTube shows. There’s synergy between all of these things, but it’s rare that a storyline can thread through different countries, continents, different digital services, television, and yet it still has that incredible continuity and it’s a great story being told. How does that all come together?
JK: I think it’s respect between the two organizations. I think it’s good communication between the organizations. A lot of our talent is [New Japan’s] talent. A lot of their talent wrestles with our talent. I think it would do the industry a disservice and I think it would be a creative disservice to have something going on there and something going on here that doesn’t make sense for the fan and doesn’t make sense for the creative of each company.
Bullet Club is part of the lexicon of wrestling right now and it can’t be ignored. It can’t be ignored by us and it can’t be ignored by them. So why not work together to keep those storylines fresh for both organizations? These guys are wrestling back and forth for both organizations. Good stories work and good stories need to be told. I don’t think it hurts either one of the companies.
Yet, both organizations are very deep with incredible performers that aren’t called Bullet Club. And I think that’s the real story. When you go into our locker room and you go into their locker room, you have incredible performers who can be the main event anywhere and they’re just part of the locker room. They’re part of the fabric of both companies. I think that’s what we’re all about.
MR: As far as brands go in wrestling, Bullet Club is so massive. If you go to a WWE event, you might be more apt to see Bullet Club shirts more than anything else. Even at one of their events or some indie shows somewhere else. How strong is that brand and is it the strongest storyline brand in pro wrestling right now?
JK: Definitely. I don’t see the numbers, but I have heard some numbers spoken about recently and the number of units that Bullet Club brand or the people inside Bullet Club are selling, they are really amazing numbers. They are just amazing numbers. Even if they were hyped up, they’re still amazing numbers.
Bullet Club is organic. New Japan wrestling is organic. Ring of Honor wrestling is organic. It is authentic. We’ve seen this in the past. If you’re of a certain age, the NWO had a similar cache and a similar way about it. We can go back to the Four Horsemen and kind of feel that. You can’t invent this stuff. This stuff happens and it happens because of the personalities that are involved.
MR: This is a huge year for you guys with Supercard of Honor doing a big number, the launch of the Honor Club streaming service. What do you think is the ceiling for Ring of Honor and is there a ceiling?
JK: I don’t really look at those things. I think we just have to do our jobs. One of the things I’m most proud of about our organization is its discipline and how measured we are in what we do. Measuring up from not only a business perspective, but for the fans’ expectation. I think we continue to get bigger. If we get 6,000 for this year’s Supercard, I would expect maybe to do 10,000 at next year’s Supercard. It’s not an unthinkable stat, but we have to earn that. I think that we’ve earned the right to have this 6,000 and it isn’t anything more than people know what to expect when they come to a Ring of Honor event.
They come to watch wrestling, they come to see the stories, they come to see the drama. But we’re all wrestling. We’re talking about the Bullet Club, we’re talking about Cody. But I’m talking about Dalton Castle vs. Marty Scurll. I’m talking about the Briscoes versus Jay Lethal and [Hiroshi] Tanahashi. That’s what they’re coming to see. Yeah, the marquee is on top — I get it. But the matches beneath it are so strong.
MR: New Japan is doing more and more shows in the United States. They just had one in Long Beach. How does that affect you guys? In the past, it’s been equated as New Japan is in Japan, Ring of Honor is in the U.S. You guys have that relationship. How does that affect ROH when New Japan is doing more and more shows in the states?
JK: Well, let’s kind of put it into perspective. They did one show last year and they’re doing two shows this year. And it’s possible they could do three shows or four shows. They’re a business like I’m a business. They have to run their business the way they need to run their business and if they see the United States as a possible new place to expand their brand, then they need to do what they need to do.
I don’t have the feeling — and I’ve had numerous conversations with them. We have great respect for that organization and the people in it. We were well aware that they were gonna run Long Beach. We were well aware they were going to do the Cow Palace. It’s not an area that we really venture far out to.
They kind of have that West Coast, as PWG has the West Coast. A lot of our guys wrestle for PWG or are asked to wrestle for PWG. And a lot of our guys wrestle for New Japan. The fact that the storylines are kind of kept together, it makes it less threatening to me. But wrestling is always gonna be challenges. If New Japan wants to have a full foray and chooses to do that, well we’ll face that when we have to. It’s not anything that I’m concerned about at the moment.
MR: There’s also a Bullet Club show called All In coming up in September. Cody and the Young Bucks are linchpins for that and they’re Ring of Honor talent. How does that work? When they came to you and said, ‘Hey, we want to do this?’ how do you react?
JK: One of the things we pride ourselves on is listening to our talent and trying to be collaborative with our talent. This was important to them and they really feel they can do that (sell 10,000 tickets) and I don’t want to stand in the way. Ring of Honor is gonna have its involvement, because we’re still the business end of that company.
Their track record with me as far as creative ideas and pulling off creative things has been very good so far. I think they’re owed that respect from my side to their side to watch this develop. So, it could be a very exciting show.
MR: You think they’ll get that 10,000 sold?
JK: Well, not “they.” We. We all hope. We’re All In together. It’s an equal reflection on all of us and both of us. I don’t see why not. I mean, this is all of our time to see what kind of influence we have on this business. It’s gonna be good. I’m very excited about it.
MR: Speaking of collaborations and relationships, a few weeks ago Austin Aries showed up on Ring of Honor. Obviously, he is a Ring of Honor talent going back many years. But he’s with Impact now. Over the last few years, there hasn’t been much of a relationship between ROH and Impact. Is that on the way to changing with Austin Aries being an example? What exactly is happening there?
JK: I think that was opportunistic. I really think that’s what it was. Last year, when we did the Young Bucks-Hardy brothers story, that was originally intended to be almost like a home-and-home, where The Young Bucks would have ended up wrestling on a TNA show against the Hardys. Unfortunately, though, they weren’t able to retain the Hardys. So the intent at the beginning was just yet. We were actually looking to share the talent between the two organizations for this specific match, for this specific story. When they were not able to retain the Hardys, it kind of changed that, because that story was about The Young Bucks and the Hardys. So, it culminated in Lakeland last year and then it kind of ended.
The Austin Aries thing was a little bit different. Austin Aries really his thing is all the belts and challenging for all the belts. And the Ring of Honor [TV] belt is one he’s never had. He wanted to make his presence known and let everyone know he wants that belt. He had a nice pop. We really respect him as a performer and as an athlete, but what you saw is what it is.
MR: Is there room for more collaboration there or was it a one-off?
JK: I don’t know yet. That has to make sense for both organizations. One can’t benefit more than the other. If we get creatively in sync or there’s a way to be creatively in sync, we would certainly look at it. I wouldn’t say it would necessarily be automatic, but we’re pretty collaborative in the way we think. Not ruling it out, but I’m not saying it’ll happen.
MR: Last thing, Joe. And thanks for taking the time. Daniel Bryan — Bryan Danielson — was just cleared by WWE. Any time you think of Bryan Danielson, you have to think of Ring of Honor. He was the guy for so many years for ROH. I know you had said in an interview a few months ago that if he were not to be cleared by WWE, ROH would welcome him in. What is your reaction to him getting cleared by WWE?
JK: I just think it’s coincidentally timed that all of a sudden he’s cleared when they were quite adamant that he wasn’t gonna be cleared. So it was nothing ever that we could get into the fray, because he’s signed with WWE and under their medical supervision. He said that he felt he could wrestle and maybe going through more specialists or going through further consultation it was deemed that he could wrestle.
So, I hope he’s healthy, I hope he wrestles. It’s very exciting for him to come out at WrestleMania. I’m sure the crowd will go wild for him. But my offer still stands. He’s always welcome at Ring of Honor. So are a lot of wrestlers that have moved onto other places. Ring of Honor is a special place.