Find out what Ring of Honor announcer Ian Riccaboni’s most embarrassing moment in the wrestling business is, his missed opportunity with Lady Gaga, what he did to anger New Zealand wrestling fans and more.
1. At what age did you become a wrestling fan and what made you fall in love with it?
I was young. Definitely before age 2 if not sooner. When I was born, my family lived in a trailer park lot and the trailer catty corner was the Spadt family. Both of my parents worked really hard to give my brother, sister and I everything we could have ever asked for and the Spadts watched me during the day. It was in the first few years that wrestling videotapes really took off and I can remember them renting them to watch.
Growing up in Allentown, Pa., which has a rich wrestling history in its own right, we got and still are able to get over-the-air broadcasts from the Philadelphia, New York, and Allentown markets. This meant we got at least three WWF shows a week over the air, at least two from the NWA, all kinds of smaller promotions like IWCCW, NWF, IPW, and eventually ECW. When my family’s financial situation improved, we got cable and got USWA, Global, AWA re-runs, more WWF and more WCW. There was a point where it was hard to avoid wrestling.
I fell in love with the energy, the enthusiasm, the athletes and the action. My favorites were guys like Sting, the Steiner Brothers, Brian Pillman, Macho Man, Dusty Rhodes, Demolition and the Ultimate Warrior. I was definitely drawn to the colorful, over-the-top personalities but commentators like Tony Schiavone, Jim Ross and Vince McMahon really made you feel like you couldn’t miss a minute of the action and you had to watch it. Wrestling was the first thing on TV that I learned to look forward to and was definitely the first thing that I knew what time it came on the air. Soon, I had all the magazines, action figures, and would be going to live events big and small in Allentown and Bethlehem.
2. What’s a subject you’d like to know more about?
I would love to know more about why and how the universe is expanding faster than the speed of light. Or maybe I don’t. BJ Whitmer knows how much that scares me. Maybe I would want to find out before he does, at least?
Honestly, I would love to learn more about Native American diaspora and about individual nations that help shaped what our country is today. On our last trip to Oklahoma City, I learned a little bit but it really hit me that there was so much amazing history in parts of the country I haven’t been yet that I would love to know more.
3. Do you have any hidden talents?
Despite being booed out of the ring at the Hammerstein Ballroom, I spent most of college as a performing singer-songwriter, was featured on MTV-U in a commercial for singing and playing guitar and harmonica, and I even opened up for some interesting names like McBrain Damage featuring Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden and the cast of “Spring Awakening.”
On a side note, I could have opened up a brief set for someone named Stefani who would later identify as someone named Lady Gaga but I told her manager Frankie that I was super busy on a Wednesday night. I actually was not, I just wanted to play “Madden 2006” with my roommates, and I think we all know how that worked out.
4. How did you break into the wrestling business?
I had always hoped to go into broadcasting. When I got to NYU, I was cast the first week I was on campus for an MTV special starring Bill Gates as part of a student panel to ask him questions. My question aired and a producer liked me so I got another shot very quickly based on a demo I had given them of my music and I was featured on an MTVU Best Music on Campus competition commercial. Immediately, I thought the goal of being a broadcaster or being on television would be easy. I even lined up a spot in my brother and his wife’s apartment and snagged a volunteer-based role in Orlando at the NPR affiliate WFME and got some experience as a newsreader.
Four years later, I had not gotten anything at all, ha! In fact, I had pretty much willingly given up any thought about ever being a broadcaster and had been interning for two great TV commercial director agents named Chris and Diane and thought maybe my future was in advertising. In a really expensive combination of buying time and following another passion, education, I did a one-year Master’s at the University of Pennsylvania. While there, my friend from high school Kris Fried, who had already worked for “Conan,” “SNL,” and more and is now a fast-rising stand-up, put together a public access show. I was the lead singer and bassist in the band, had fun, and made some contacts.
I had written quite a bit and found myself writing for USA Today’s choice for Top Baseball Blog of 2011, Phillies Nation. Pat Gallen, now an Emmy-winning sports anchor, was doing the baseball equivalent of “Being The Elite” and I told him we should leverage the contacts I had made in public access to get his stuff on the air. Soon enough, we were on Service Electric TV 2 in Allentown and then Comcast SportsNet. I established a role interviewing famous Phillies fans and one of my first interviews was with the Blue Meanie, who suggested the Monster Factory as a location. There, I met Danny Cage and Larry Sharpe. I told Danny I had a “friend” who would love to do interviews and eventually play-by-play. Danny had me come around, learn how to set up the ring, set up a show, learn many ins and outs of promoting an event, and then after a few months, finally let me have a shot at ring announcing and then play-by-play.
5. What’s the best advice you’ve been given in the wrestling business and who gave it to you?
In 2006, the summer I was volunteering with WFME, I drove from Orlando to Fort McCoy, Fla., near Ocala, to see my parents. There was a gym about 25 miles away that I could use for free but gas was over $4 a gallon at the time. Instead of taking my car to the gym, I decided to take my mom’s moped deep into the horse farms and swamps of the Ocala National Forest to get to the gym.
I did not make it there.
It was an extremely hot day and my back tire lost pressure. I wrecked, lost my front teeth, and got my bell rung pretty bad. It was almost time to go back to NYU for my sophomore year so I decided to stay with my parents and rest up. But while I was there, I decided to write to notable broadcasters and ask for advice. The first, and last, that I wrote to was Phillies Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas. He wrote back with the advice, “Be yourself and do your homework are the keys to broadcast.” It was not wrestling but it is incredible advice and was an incredibly well-timed pick-me-up.
6. What is the most challenging aspect of being a pro wrestling play-by-play announcer?
Resisting the urge to rest on your laurels and finding new ways to challenge yourself. So often, I set goals as a younger man and would be content once I reached them. My goal when I came to ROH in 2014 was to call one internet exclusive match. Then, when that happened, it was to call a DVD exclusive match. Then an ROH Live event. Then an ROH television episode. Then a pay-per-view match. Then an entire pay-per-view.
It seems like such a straight line and a natural progression but success and growth isn’t always linear and there is a sense of satisfaction as you hit each goal. But the challenging aspect is to appropriately enjoy those steps along the way while trying to become the very best. In many ways, I lucked into the best possible partner anyone could ask for in Colt Cabana. But the goal that motivates me now is taking all of the knowledge, talent, humor, and sincerity Colt has and blend it to together with what I have to hopefully put ourselves one day in the conversation with Lenny Leonard and Dave Prazak or Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino as the best duo to call ROH action. And with a partner like Colt and the production team around us that we have, I have no excuses.
7. How would you describe your broadcast partner Colt Cabana in 50 words or less?
Colt is an innovative wrestler, podcaster, broadcaster and businessman who has done it his way for almost two decades. He is honest with feedback, sincere, generous with travel snacks, and is a sharp-as-a-tack historian with a great appreciation for the sport of wrestling.
8. What is your favorite match to have called in ROH?
The most exciting was The Young Bucks versus The Hardys at Supercard of Honor 2017. The one I got legitimate goosebumps for was Kenny Omega versus Cody at Supercard of Honor 2018. The best match I ever called may have been Jay Briscoe versus Roderick Strong from Road to Best in the World 2016. But my absolute favorite match I have ever called was Steve Corino versus. BJ Whitmer in a Fight Without Honor with a guy that did so much for me, Kevin Kelly.
9. What is your most embarrassing moment in the wrestling business?
I have two. In trying to describe the chaos at Death Before Dishonor last year, I said, “And I hope Silas Young is trying to take Bobby Cruise’s pants off!” when Silas tore Bobby’s belt from around his waist, meaning I hope Silas is not hoping to use the belt to hit Jay Lethal. The second? Calling Jay White Australian at Best in the World 2017. Thankfully, his great New Zealand fans have finally stood down on that one on what was an honest mistake.
10. Please answer this as objectively as possible: Do Philadelphia sports fans get a bad rap?
Objective? Ha! But seriously – it was an inebriated man in a Santa outfit who wasn’t supposed to be on the field anyways making a fool out of himself. He didn’t deserve snowballs but the national media never mentions the full story!
I’m a Sixers season-ticket holder and those games seem a little more tame and, dare I say, family friendly, but Philly is a tough place to play for opposing teams if you’re going up against say, the Flyers or Eagles. That said, I was at the NFC Championship Game this year and I heard things that made my 31-year-old-self blush. I might wait a bit before taking Zach to the Linc for a father-son trip.