Ring of Honor is looking to end 2016 on a high with the promotion's big year-end show Final Battle, which is slated for Dec. 2 at the Manhattan Center's Hammerstein Ballroom in New York.
The event will feature four championship matches, including Lancaster's Adam Cole defending his Ring of Honor World championship against Kyle O'Reilly.
The first-ever ROH Six-Man Tag Team champions will be crowned as well during the event, which will air live on live on pay-per-view starting at 9 p.m.
On Sunday, Dec. 4, Ring of Honor will produce its final set of television tapings at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia. That event is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
Before this weekend rolled around, however, Ring of Honor chief operating officer Joe Koff sat down for an interview with philly.com. Here is the transcript:
What do you think of Ring of Honor's 2016?
Koff: I think we've had an amazing year. I think that our pay-per-views have been bigger and better. I think our tour of England, which we just completed, was a fantastic success and I'm really proud of our people to go over there and produce three shows under our name and let the English and the United Kingdom fans get to experience Ring of Honor in a way they probably haven't in a long time. That was very, very satisfying.
The wrestling scene in the United Kingdom is burgeoning at the moment. What was it like for Ring of Honor to tour there?
Koff: For us, it was the first time we have ever done it where our wrestlers weren't wrestling under other promoter's names. It was incredibly exciting and the production values that we were able to bring to the three buildings were just top-notch. I mean it looked fantastic.
All three venues in Liverpool, Leicester and London really, really experienced the Ring of Honor action at its finest and what was special for the fans there was that we turned the TV belt twice actually in 48 hours with Will [Ospreay] winning it and finally Marty [Scurll] winning it back from Will. I think we really respected the fans there and gave them a great show.
How important was it to have that tour under the Ring of Honor banner?
Koff: It's important for us to expand our brand to have complete control of what is being presented inside of those buildings and it helps tell our story. It is our story to tell. For us to be there and be in control of the whole concept, the production, the storylines, the actual event itself, just puts us in a different place. It was our first time doing that and it was a big milestone for us.
You mentioned the production and Ring of Honor has beefed it up over the last year. How do you feel about the strides you have taken in that area?
Koff: I think it's apparent by seeing what's on our pay-per-views and what's on our TV. We will continue to do that as we go into 2017. We will continue to increase our production values. Again, we are challenged in many ways by some of the buildings that we use, but even that is a goal of 2017 is to see if we can improve our venues.
As I look going forward, our first show in January is at Center Stage, which is a downtown Atlanta building. [It is] a very, very good venue. We're starting to take those steps. We continue to evolve and as we continue to evolve we keep evolving forward and that is what's important for Ring of Honor.
What was the catalyst behind the increased production values? Was it better buildings? Was it more money? Was it a matter of it simply needing to happen?
Koff: I think it's a matter of all of those things. We present a product. It's scaled nationally between our airings on our TV stations. We're now international. We're on the Fight Network in Canada. We're now in Portugal. We're talking to another broadcaster in Europe about starting Ring of Honor there. I think there's an expectation from the fans.
Our fans go to Ring of Honor to see the wrestling, but we want to package it in a way that's acceptable to them visually. It's not our main trust. Our main trust will always be the story and the talent that Ring of Honor represents, but we need to keep improving and like I said it's a constant evolving process. I'm proud of what we've been able to achieve.
The last time we talked, there wasn't as much competition out there from promotions like NXT, who run a lot of the same venues you run and at various points around the same time. What do you think about NXT's growth and has it encroached on Ring of Honor?
Koff: That's a two-edged question. One, we're all in a competitive business and I think we help each other, but I do believe that Ring of Honor's presence and Ring of Honor's whole way of doing things has created a competitive base for NXT and I think it's forced them to go out into the bigger markets and to present shows that are Ring of Honor style. I'm complimented by it to tell you the truth.
It's a competitive business. I think wrestling is in a good place and I like to believe that Ring of Honor had a lot to do with that. I say that selfishly and maybe a little bit egotistically, but I think the proof is in the pudding by who you see wrestling in NXT, who you see wrestling in Ring of Honor. These are the stars of the future.
There are reports out there of Steve Corino potentially departing Ring of Honor to become a coach at the WWE Performance Center. I'm not sure if this has been confirmed on your end or not.
Koff: I have not heard it from anybody. I've heard the same rumors that you have. Steve Corino has never said anything to me to this point. Maybe he'll tell me this weekend in New York when we do Final Battle and certainly in Philadelphia on Dec. 4, which will be our final TV taping of the year, but listen, I wish him well.
Steve's done a good job for us and I would never stand in the way of any of my people who feel that's a better career choice for themselves and better for their families. Steve's done nothing but a great job for us.
How big of a loss would Corino be if he were to move on to the WWE Performance Center?
Koff: I've been in the business for a long time. I used to run radio stations and everyone thought when the morning men left the station was over. I think it's a loss because he represents a continuity of the product, but someone else will replace him. We don't know who that is yet if that is indeed the case and Ring of Honor will go on.
Cody Rhodes said in a recent interview with Colt Cabana that Final Battle is going to be the biggest thing he's ever done in wrestling. What does that say about Ring of Honor and the hype around Final Battle?
Koff: I didn't hear the comment, but I'm humbled by it because he's played in large stages and he's played in large venues and he's played in some big, big shows. Final Battle has always been the ultimate match of the year for Ring of Honor because it ties up so many stories. It's expected to be a big show and it always has delivered as a big show.
To be back at the Hammerstein Ballroom, which is just classic Ring of Honor, it just makes the event even larger and bigger.
What does it mean to be back in the Hammerstein Ballroom for Final Battle?
Koff: Not that we didn't enjoy our experience with Terminal 5, but the Hammerstein is just a beautiful building. It's just a great place for wrestling. It's tiered so the fans are almost all over the ring. It's almost like you're at ringside no matter where you are in there because of the proximity and the closeness of the space.
When we come to the old ECW Arena (2300 Arena), where we do our Philadelphia shows, it has the same feeling. Those are buildings that are built for wrestling and the fans know it and they become part of the fabric of that building. It's so important to the whole feel and the experience of the event.
What do you think about what you have done so far with Women of Honor and what is next for the division? Is there going to be a championship some time soon?
Koff: We're very, very deliberate. We take things slowly. We let them develop. We almost shake it like a Polaroid, as I like to say. Women of Honor is a fabulous brand. It is building. It's our highest viewed YouTube videos getting millions and millions of views for the product. We've had a Women of Honor show.
I think it's natural to think in terms of a Women of Honor champion as the brand continues to grow and I don't see why that wouldn't happen, but right now it's growing. We've planted our seeds. We have an incredible product. We have incredible wrestlers wrestling under that banner and we'll just have to see what 2017 brings for it.
Speaking of 2017, what is the next logical step for Ring of Honor in the coming year?
Koff: We'd like to expand our international presence. We'd like to get in more countries broadcasting our product, which will then lead to bringing the tours to those countries. Always upgrading our own product, surprising people with the talent that we develop. Seeing what happens inside of our own talent roster. I'm so excited about 2017 I'm ready for it to start now.
What do you think about your current relationship with Comet TV?
Koff: I think it gives us distribution in markets that Sinclair television stations don't exist in. Comet allows us to be in Los Angeles. Comet allows us to be in New York. It allows us to be in Chicago, in markets like that where we don't normally have a TV airing. Our relationship with Comet is fantastic.
Plus, Sinclair owns other multi-level digital networks, other network opportunities. I think in 2017 you're going to see a few more surprises come through our own synergies within our own company.
Speaking of Sinclair, it's been five years since the company purchased Ring of Honor. How do you think everything has worked out between the two entities?
Koff: This weekend's episode is No. 271 and that means we've produced and created 271 original hours of Ring of Honor television. I would say that probably says a lot about the relationship.
Do you think it has worked out to your expectations so far?
Koff: Absolutely. It's everything we envisioned. Some of it came a little bit slower. Some of it came at the right time. We're a disciplined organization and we've done it the way we've needed to do it to maintain the product, to have a return on its own investment and we are very pleased with the arrangement.
Other than news, Ring of Honor has created more content than any other thing that Sinclair has ever produced.
What were some of the things that came along slowly?
Koff: When you put something on TV, you hope that the ratings are going to be bigger. You hope that there's going to be more people watching it. There's a lot of impatience when people put on programs because everyone wants that quick rocket of ratings. It's taken us a little longer to get our footing, but our ratings are solid. We're reaching upwards to a half million households every weekend, maybe even more.
It's a good product and don't forget we're only in 40 percent of the country plus what we get from Comet. I'm really pleased with that, but I would have thought that would have been a little bit quicker. Saying that, I should have been more realistic. I was just a proud papa and I thought we would get a bigger push.
That being said, that's a five years ago conversation. I'm very, very pleased. Right now, we're right on target doing what we should be doing at exactly the time frame it should be doing it. I have no disappointments right now about any of the audience growth, audience expansion on networks. That's all working out fine.