Over the past few months, Ian Riccaboni has been moved up into the role of the lead announcer for Ring of Honor, both in ways subtle and quite obvious.
Riccaboni has been with ROH since mid-2014, and he began getting the chance to call matches early in 2015. Then Kevin Kelly, the ROH announcer for many years, got an opportunity to work with New Japan Pro Wrestling as an English language announcer, and he had to make a call.
Then Riccaboni got the call.
“I’ll say this about Kevin, he’s definitely a very selfless individual. He had to make a bit of a tough decision in a way, he was offered an opportunity to travel quite a bit and go overseas to call the big events for New Japan on New Japan World in English,” said Riccaboni. “A few of those had some conflicts with our TV taping schedule and our pay-per-view schedule. He had to make a decision very quickly because multiple sides needed an answer, I suppose. He’s somebody that, from the minute that I stepped into Ring of Honor, he’s just been very supportive, he’s always provided great advice, he would always listen back to my matches and tell me what he liked and where I could improve. I text him with different catchphrase ideas or different call ideas, and he’ll tell me yea or nay.”
There’s more than just advice from Kelly, though. They have served together in three-man booths, including at the ROH 15th Anniversary show in Las Vegas, where Christopher Daniels finally won the ROH World title. In the pre-production meeting for that show, Kelly argued and convinced the powers that be that it should be Riccaboni in the middle seat, driving the show. When Kelly has been in the booth, he’s altered his role too, perhaps in the way of Mike Tenay from World Championship Wrestling, offering his expertise on international stars while Riccaboni plays the Tony Schiavone role — and Colt Cabana is Larry Zbyszko-like.
“That’s not a role that Kevin’s accustomed to, but he’s doing an amazing job in it and it’s allowing me to grow into the very big shoes that he’s left there,” said Riccaboni.
A native of Allentown, Pennsylvania, Riccaboni was a wrestling fan ever since WrestleMania VI, which he watched at the home of one of his mother’s friends. He then went out and bought a VHS tape of the Ultimate Warrior’s win over Hulk Hogan — “those VHS tapes were not cheap” — and the tape still works to this day.
That was the start of his pro wrestling odyssey. “From there, I would tape things off TV, I would get all the magazines, I’d get the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Almanac with all the title histories. As I found girls and I got more dedicated into sports and music in high school, it kind of faded away, but when I got to college, wrestling was one of those things that everybody had watched as a kid, and it was sort of comfort food in a new environment.”
The new stage was New York University, where he graduated in May 2009 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Media and Communications, and the confidence to know that pro wrestling could be a potential career and that there were people who could help him achieve that goal at the school. He followed that degree with another, a Master’s in Education Management, from the University of Pennsylvania.
There were plenty of opportunities for a young, hungry broadcasting student, including an MTV special, and local TV. He was always into baseball, both as a fan and as a player, and things came along that way too, writing for the USA Today blog Phillies Nation, and then Phillies Nation TV; a book by Riccaboni, The 100 Greatest Phillies of All Time, came out in the fall of 2015.
But there was always wrestling.
“I got a couple of TV opportunities, I got a couple of different opportunities to call matches later on through, it’s a long story but I did public access, that public access show got picked up by Comcast Sportsnet in Philadelphia, met the Blue Meanie from the Monster Factory through that show and then started working with the Monster Factory, and then met Kevin Kelly and joined up with Ring of Honor,” recalled Riccaboni.
He gave some thought to how his baseball and wrestling lives work together. “One of the most interesting things, what catches me in baseball is always the statistics, and that’s what has always driven my love for baseball. When I played baseball, maybe I was too concerned with my own statistics a little too much, got into my own head, I didn’t have the mental side of it so to speak. But baseball’s always interested me because of the statistics and how can paint a great story. So when I think back to 15th Anniversary, there’s a lot of statistics involved in the match that Christopher Daniels had with Adam Cole. He was 0-8-1 in title matches. He’d been in Ring of Honor for 15 years and not captured the Ring of Honor World championship. He was 23 years in and had not captured a major world singles championship either. That’s just a small example there of some of the statistics that help paint the picture and help tell the story. I think there are ways that wrestling announcers can do that and highlight the story and communicate in easy-to-communicate ways to paint that picture for the fans. That’s something that I’ve learned from baseball writing that’s helped me become a better or a sort of different announcer for Ring of Honor than maybe we’ve had in the past.”
Riccaboni’s ROH resume has continued to build.
“One of the big things for me is trying to get better but also trying to build a connection with the fans, where I’ve earned their trust and built their trust. Over the last couple of months, being the lead announcer, it’s had its challenges and it has also had its rewards, and I’d say the rewards certainly outnumber the challenges and are made sweeter by the challenges,” he said. “To that degree, I think there’s something to be said about earning it. I’m always going to continue to try and get better and to try and build that trust and that relationship with the fans, because I think that’s the most important. For sure, I think the chemistry that Colt Cabana and Kevin and I found at the 15th Anniversary and then again at Supercard of Honor, I think we proved as a three-man unit that we can function quite well. I think that was our audition as a team. So I’m really looking forward to communicating with those guys again through the headsets for the War of the Worlds tour, because sometimes you feel like you’ve earned it but I always try to go in and act like it’s the very first event I’ve called, just to be sure that I am best prepared as I can be, and I am as ready as I can — because I still genuinely get excited about calling each of these events, whether it’s more Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Hopkins, Minnesota, or some of the biggest cities in the world, like Toronto and New York.”
Tonight, Sunday, May 7, is the War of the Worlds special from Ted Reeve Arena in Toronto’s east end, featuring stars from New Japan Pro Wrestling mixed with the Ring of Honor stars. It’s perfect for a fan boy like Riccaboni, who really hasn’t been able to call matches featuring the biggest NJPW stars. Shows follow in Detroit, New York City and Philadelphia.
“This is certainly something that I’ve really been looking forward to, because I haven’t gotten to call sort of the big main event, so to speak,” he said. “So for this tour and for Toronto in particular, this is going to be the very first time I get to call matches with Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kushida and Tetsuya Naito and Bushi, all of Los Ingobernables de Japon. So for me, this is a big moment that I’ve really had on my wish list so to speak and my career goals, because these guys are just incredible. Combining New Japan with the talent we have in Ring of Honor is something that our fans look forward to every year but I think from a production standpoint as well, our announcers look forward to it, and our production team looks forward to it too, because you have the two best companies in the world colliding and teaming up and having dream matches, and having incredible things happening.”
He is pinching himself. “This is something that I have a little bit of nervous energy for, because it’s something I’ve really been looking forward to and something that I hoped to accomplish, and with the matches lined up, I kind of can’t believe I get to call an event of this magnitude.”
The main event has “The Cleaner” Kenny Omega teaming with The Young Bucks against ROH World champ Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian and Hiroshi Tanahashi. Riccaboni can’t wait. “This is something that I had hoped would come down the pipe for me. Being separated by an ocean, you don’t often get an opportunity to call matches with some of the best stars from around the world. Back in March, I was able to check off guys like Will Ospreay and Marty Scurll, as folks that are across the Atlantic, as some of the best stars in the world from that direction. Now I’m really excited because Hiroshi Tanahashi has been probably one of the most accomplished stars in wrestling over the last decade plus, and the only seven-time IWGP Heavyweight champion. So to be able to call something with him in it, and then the calibre of athletes like the Young Bucks and then Daniels and Kazarian, but then also Canada’s greatest athlete at this point, Kenny Omega, is just an incredible opportunity. I hadn’t really know that we were going to be able to bring in Kenny Omega for these events so when this match was announced I kind of found out with the rest of the world. For me, I almost jumped out of my seat when we knew for sure that we’d have the opportunity to have Kenny in Toronto. Just kind of incredible and really, really excited about that.”
But that’s only one match on a stacked card. “If you start at the top and you go down, every one of these matches is pretty exciting,” he said, gushing over Jay Lethal against Kushida for one. “I think that everybody knows that Jay Lethal is the franchise of Ring of Honor and Kushida has had incredible success, four-time IWGP Junior champion, he has wins over Kota Ibushi as well as Kenny Omega over the last 18 months, 18-24 months. Obviously everyone knows that one is going to be great.” He is also intrigued by the differing styles of “The American Nightmare” Cody (Rhodes) against Will Ospreay.
The one to watch out for, though, is Hirooki Goto against Shane Taylor. “That one is going to surprise people in a big way. I think Shane Taylor is somebody that Ring of Honor fans should have their eyes on moving forward, and it’s tough for a man that big for you not to have your eyes on him,” said Riccaboni. “He’s well over 300 pounds, but he moves like he’s about 240. He’s just explosive, he’s powerful, and he has an opportunity in probably the biggest match of his career to go one on one with a man as accomplished as Goto, who’s been an IWGP Intercontinental champion, the NEVER Openweight Champion at one. I think this is a big, big opportunity for Shane Taylor and I think it’ll bring the best out of him. … It’s going to be probably the match of the tour that I’m most excited about just because it’s such a unique match with a guy like Taylor who’s looking to make a big-time mark, and a guy like Goto who’s held in such high esteem around the world.”
It’s evident in talking to Riccaboni that he knows his stuff, and he explains his ace in the hole. “In addition to announcing, in my spare time and my evenings and weekends, I write some of the articles and things for ROHwrestling.com, our website. That really helps, and that helps with my pre-planning as well because as I write the previews for the fans I start to think about how I would call different matches as they would happen or as they occur. That’s a big, big help. The second thing is that I’m just an out-and-out wrestling nerd.”
For more on ROH War of the Worlds, including how to order the show, visit rohwrestling.com.