Ian Riccaboni is a wrestling ring announcer, sportscaster, and author. He is currently an announcer for Ring of Honor, Women of Honor, a sportscaster for Phillies Nation TV and the author of ‘Phillies Nation Presents: The 100 Greatest Phillies of All Time’.
Ian thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. For those that aren’t familiar with you, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
No problem! I grew up in Allentown, PA. For those not familiar, it is the third-biggest city in Pennsylvania and it is pretty close to Philadelphia. Allentown was always a pro wrestling hotbed – I think there is something in the water here! WWWF taped a lot of their TV here from 1979 through 1985 at Ag Hall so wrestlers like Bob Backlund, the Wild Samoans, Don Muraco, and Jimmy Snuka were always around.
Allentown and our sister city Bethlehem were always blue collar towns and relied a lot on the steel mills and manufacturing to make our cities great. Growing up, my dad worked a few jobs and my mom was a manager at a McDonald’s. I got my work ethic from them – neither of them stopped to give my brother, my sister, and myself an opportunity to get a little bit further than they did.
Growing up in Allentown was pretty cool because we always got television from both the Philadelphia and New York markets and occasionally stations from Pittsburgh would come in. Kids my age got into Sesame Street, Barney, and other stuff but because of where we lived, I was able to grow up watching anywhere from 15 to 20 hours of wrestling per week between WWF, NWA later WCW, ECW, and some promotions that would pop up now and again like AWA, USWA, and Global.
I always was always impressed by the physiques and the athleticism of the stars I’d watch on TV. I had an assortment of favorites: I liked Koko B. Ware, Warlord, and Tito Santana in the WWF and Flyin’ Brian, Z-Man, and the Steiners in WCW. I was kind of a combination of a jock and a music nerd in high school. I lettered in three sports but also played oboe in the concert band and viola in the orchestra and focused my studies in journalism and writing in high school. It’s taken me all kinds of crazy places, including the Big Apple right out of high school.
I understand you went to New York University to study media and communications but has the wrestling industry always been where you wanted to be ?
Right! I went to NYU and got my Bachelor’s in Media and Communications. I played baseball there and graduated as our class president. While I was in school, I had actually hoped to work in TV commercials either as talent or behind the scenes. I was always captivated with advertising, jingles, and more. I worked for two amazing people named Chris and Diane that ran a company called The Family NYC who were TV commercial director agents. Through that, I got to meet a lot of movers and shakers and got to hang out on some cool sets and lots, including the set of the Sopranos as they filmed their final season.
Living in New York was great but it can be a grind if you’re a student, working almost full-time, and playing a sport. I met my amazing wife Sarah there and I was able to do a few cool things like meet Bill Gates via an MTV special I was cast for, meet former WCW owner Ted Turner via an NYU function, and be involved in some cool initiatives at NYU to make campus more sustainable and accessible for all students.
I was involved in an accident early in my college life and I learned a lot about myself because of it. When I came back to New York, I was so self-conscious because of what happened. I had gone to school with the intention of being on-air talent and had two quick successes with MTV but, quite frankly, the accident changed where I saw myself fitting in.
I met my wife Sarah after I had lost my teeth and my scars at their rawest. She loved me for who I was right out of the gate and that meant so much for me, even if David Cross hit me with a pretty sick burn on our second date!
But, I had always been really impressed with guys like Tony Schiavone, Jim Ross, Vince McMahon, Michael Cole, and Kevin Kelly. I had always loved professional wrestling. I loved “Killer” Ken Resnick and “Mean” Gene Okerlund. I never stopped watching through college and my love for wrestling was made pretty easy to satisfy as things like newsgroups, DVDs, and YouTube started to really gain traction. I got into ROH DVDs pretty big around 2004 and was drawn to how different it was and how raw both the athleticism and presentation were. There was quite literally something in the back of mind that drove me to keep sharp on wrestling – I never knew if I would get a chance but I knew if my business was in order, I wanted to take my best shot at it.
You’re involved with several aspects of announcing with ROH, currently being on the house shows and an in-ring announcer but would it be right to say that being the voice of WOH is what you’re most proud off?
There is nothing I am prouder of in regards to my life in wrestling than my role in Women of Honor. In 2014, I joined Ring of Honor as extra help with the intention to commentate the Future of Honor shows and matches. I wouldn’t have got there without Blue Meanie, who I interviewed for Phillies Nation TV, and Danny Cage, who, among many other things, provided the space for us to do the interview at the World Famous Monster Factory and helped season me. Danny always put me in a position to succeed and always led me in the right direction – his record as the owner of the Monster Factory speaks for itself.
Kevin Kelly came to the World Famous Monster Factory in April 2014 for a seminar and camp. I came in my suit, hoping to make a good impression. I got an opportunity to “sell tickets” and thought I had done well. Kevin has been a friend and mentor since – I think I have learned more about broadcasting from him than I did in college, when I read news in Orlando, etc. Kevin invited me to start to come to ROH shows and introduce myself. He made no promises but said there may present itself an opportunity to call something or to be used in backstage interviews over time.
A few months in, I got a chance to call my first ROH match: Chris LeRusso vs. Cheeseburger. I was so nervous! I remember Mark Brown coming through my headset telling me to speak up several times! I did a few matches with Matt Ryan including the first Women of Honor reboot match. I spent months pitching ideas of things I could do for ROH but this was the match that really helped me stick.
If I have learned one thing about ROH, it is that the company won’t do something unless they are fully confident that there is a long-term vision for it or that it fits into the company’s mission. Mandy Leon and Deonna Purrazzo were tasked with going out essentially kick-starting a brand that night. As demonstrated by the Women of Honor television special, the first Women of Honor live event, and the tremendous support we see on YouTube, Reddit, Twitter, etc., they were certainly successful! Ring of Honor is called “The Best Wrestling on the Planet” and Women of Honor meets that standard and then some!
Tell us about WOH for those in the U.K. that haven’t seen it what can they expect from the product?
We have a tremendous response from fans around the globe for Women of Honor! I believe we are watched through YouTube in close to 100 countries at this point so we are very excited and thankful that those that tune in. For fans in the U.K. that may not have seen us yet, you can expect the same quality of professional wrestling that has been the standard with our male stars for 14-plus years.
With Women of Honor, we are consistently seeking both established and up-and-coming stars and we are looking to provide a platform for them to demonstrate their athleticism.
Obviously WWE, NXT and TNA have very good women’s division but is the idea to complete with them in the long run or is the dream to develop a completely different brand and highlight the skills of a Mandy Leon or a Kelly Klein to the masses.
I was lucky enough to be involved in some of the talks from the ground floor and the approach has always been to form something completely different. We recognise that everyone likes different flavours of ice cream – some like vanilla, some like chocolate, and some like more unique flavours like butter brickle and almond praline. Our flavor is hard-hitting, fast-paced, in-your-face action for all genders.
I am so glad that many international and national companies that are rightfully putting the female stars as equivalent to the male stars.
Recently ROH has given fans around the world the chance to see WOH with its On Demand service and a TV episode on its website, is this something the company is looking to continue with?
I certainly hope so! Our stars like Kelly Klein, Mandy Leon, Taeler Hendrix, Veda Scott, Solo Darling, and many others are some of the hardest working people I have ever met. The passion which they put into Women of Honor is infectious and has guided us through a very nice, natural growth that has truly established a brand. There are certainly many fans within the organization that would like to see Women of Honor continue to grow.
With that being said, Women of Honor as it exists today has been very deliberate and is part of a long-term plan. By creating Women of Honor Wednesday, by highlighting our stars on an episode dedicated to just them, and to feature them in an event for just them, we have established a very specific brand of the best female stars on the planet. I love being part of a company that has a clear vision and is not putting the cart before the horse.
Having personally watched both shows available via ROH Wrestling On Demand I found myself really impressed with the in-ring talents WOH has and along with you’re commentary, how enjoyable has it been working with WOH and its recent success?
Oh, it has been an absolute pleasure! I have been able to really grow as a commentator and the bright lights have pushed me to step up my game to a whole new level. I was a bit green in the gills when I joined ROH and this has been an incredible opportunity to learn.
What a lot of folks don’t know is that Kevin Kelly, Steve Corino, Nigel McGuinness, and others have really helped me grow. Kevin, in particular, has been amazing. Kevin has listened to a number of my matches and given direct feedback. I’ve called lots of things with Steve and he’s become a friend and mentor, as well. Nigel is a great storyteller and Bobby Cruise has really helped me get a “feel” for the production when announcing. In all, it’s been an amazing experience growing with ROH and Women of Honor but the success itself is all because of the Women in the ring! I’m just happy to be a facilitator and the on-air presenter – the Women do the tough part!
Who are the main Women to watch currently in WOH?
Yikes! I would hate to pick favorites but certainly the undefeated Kelly Klein is one of the most undeniable stars I have seen in quite some time, male or female. But there are so many other stars, too, that could very easily be the franchise of Women of Honor. I mentioned Mandy, Taeler, Solo, and Veda, but I could very easily see Deonna, an absolute mechanic in the ring, Faye Jackson, a super hard-working rookie, Sumie Sakai, one of the best wrestlers in the world, or Candice LeRae, an international star with a well-deserved reputation, emerge as THE Woman of Honor.
Will a World Title be created in near future do you foresee?
I hope so – the Women of Honor are competitive in and out of the ring. A championship would only serve to continue to grow Women of Honor.
Finally, thank you again for taking the time to speak with us today. Is there anything you would like to say to the UK audience about ROH & WOH?
Absolutely! We are so excited to return to the UK in November! Sadly, I won’t be able to join the tour because my wife and I are expecting our first born literally on the date of the tour but we sincerely appreciate the love that we get from our UK fans! Tally ho!
You can follow Ian on Twitter at @ianriccaboni