Having hosted some of the biggest wrestling cards in history — including three WrestleManias — it’s not necessarily news when a wrestling show sells out Madison Square Garden.
That is, unless the name on the marquee is something other than WWE.
And so the wrestling world took notice last month when the “G1 Supercard” — an event co-promoted by Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling—quickly sold out the “World’s Most Famous Arena.”
The April 6, 2019 event will be the first time that a wrestling company other than WWE runs a show inside the MSG’s main arena since the building opened 50 years ago. And the historical significance is not lost on ROH Chief Operating Officer Joe Koff.
“There’s definitely brand association. And I think that added to the romance and the drama of this whole thing — that Ring of Honor is going into the house of WWE,” said Koff, who grew up in Westchester County, and regularly attended shows at the Garden hosted by what was then the World Wide Wrestling Federation.
Koff said, after selling about 80 percent of tickets in pre-sales over two days, the general public on-sale lasted a little over 15 minutes before every last ticket was gone.
Although some fans have perceived the move as the first shot across the bow in a potential promotional war, Koff said the decision to pursue an MSG show had nothing to do with WWE, and everything to do with needing a venue for an event during WrestleMania weekend.
WWE’s biggest show of the year returns to the New York area on April 7 at MetLife Stadium.
“This was a big decision, and we had to take a look at the risks and the reward. But, really, what it came down to was: Where are we going to run that weekend if we want to run in New York? It’s hard to find a building that can accommodate wrestling in that 6,000 to 10,000 range that’s in the city and that’s not a schlep to get to,” said Koff, who noted that the “WWE wasn’t even thinking of using” the Garden on that night. “I can’t speak for other organizations and why they do or they don’t use it. It was the right venue for us on that day.”
Despite reports that WWE attempted to block the show, which is expected to go head-to-head against a WWE-promoted NXT wrestling event in the New York area on the same night, Koff said he believes ROH still has a “very good business relationship” with the Vince McMahon-operated wrestling juggernaut.
For its part, WWE in a statement Wednesday said "Madison Square Garden is, of course, free to work with Ring of Honor however they want.”
“I would expect that, as I’ve seen at every other city, on that weekend all of their events are sell-outs . . . I really believe the people who bought tickets to Madison Square Garden would have bought tickets to Ring of Honor no matter where we were,” said Koff, who is not concerned with the prospect of WWE retaliating against ROH. “If I’m in their crosshairs, I don’t feel that I’ve ever not been in their crosshairs, but not for anything more than the talent that I have and the opportunity that they see in taking our talent. But I don’t feel any strain on our relationship.”
And there’s a very real possibility that, by the time the “G-1 Supercard” comes around, ROH could lose even more of its talent to WWE, which already employs several former ROH stars, including Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens. Koff said although he hopes ROH’s top names — including The Young Bucks and Cody Rhodes — stick with him, he expects the show will be a success either way.
“I think our obituary has been written many times over the years because this one’s leaving and this one’s leaving and, ‘How can Ring of Honor survive?’” Koff said. “At the end of the day, both promotions existed prior and will in the future they’ll exist . . . If you look at the history of Ring of Honor and its top stars, there’s always been another top star that came out of Ring of Honor.”