Joe Koff, A.B. '72
If Joe Koff had a wrestling name, it would be Joltin' Jay Austin.

Like many young boys, Joe Koff grew up loving wrestling. Unlike many young boys, he never grew out of it. Instead, he became the Chief Operating Officer of Ring of Honor, the second largest pro wrestling promotion in the world.

Professional wrestling, Koff says, doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It’s an “entertaining sport” that combines athleticism and artistry to tell stories - usually of good vs. bad - that evolve over time. It requires an enormous amount of creativity and physical strength. 

Koff’s first memories of wrestling involve watching it on TV while sitting on the floor at his grandmother’s house and attending events in New York City. “It’s really so fun to watch,” he says. “And totally engaging from a fan’s perspective. You have to accept what you’re watching and enjoy what you’re watching and not question every single motive about that.”

He moved to Miami for UM’s mass communications program (and to escape the cold) at a time when every region of the country had its own wrestling and group of fans. He quickly learned about his new home’s style and attended weekly events with his roommate. He graduated in 1972 (after a memorable four years which included a stint as the U’s Yamma Yamma man) and began working on the management side of broadcasting, for both radio and TV.

His first experience of merging his two passions – TV production and wrestling – came in 1983. As if by fate, Koff started a job at a television station in Tampa and soon found out that Championship Wrestling from Florida (the organizers of the Miami events he often attended) was produced from there. The team recognized his passion for and knowledge of the industry and, in 1984, he helped produce, create and promote the first prime time live wrestling ever produced in America. 

In 2010, while working as the VP of Training and Development for Sinclair Broadcast Group, one of the largest broadcasting companies in the world, Koff saw another opportunity to get back into the wrestling business through TV production. He convinced Sinclair to purchase a Pennsylvania based wrestling promotion called Ring of Honor. Their first television program began on Sept. 24, 2011.

Ring of Honor’s popularity has since skyrocketed. It has become the second largest pro wrestling company in the world, having produced over 380 programs. They recently sold out tickets to a show at Madison Square Garden, one of the world’s largest and most popular event venues, which was thought to have been solely WWE’s venue. “It was,” Koff says, “the talk of the wrestling industry.”

Koff says their success is due in large part to the investments made, to the fact that they set very high expectations, and to the level of creative freedom that their wrestlers have. There’s an overall sense of where each character will be going, how each feud might be developed, how it begins and how it ends. But inside of that, Koff says, everything is crafted by the wrestlers, using their own strengths and their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses to tell a better story. 

As COO, Koff is responsible for further improving and expanding the brand, which he says requires constant thought and innovation. “It’s like any other job,” he says. “It’s just special because it’s something I’ve just always loved and I feel honored and blessed to be able to do it.”

Ring of Honor will be at the Watsco Center in Miami on February 10th.