In-Depth with Ring of Honor Star and Commentator Colt Cabana

Credit: Ichiban Drunk

Colt Cabana is a true Renaissance man of pro wrestling. The proud Chicagoan has brought his almost 20 years of experience and signature wit to the broadcast table for Ring of Honor. Together with Ian Riccaboni, the two have become a strong commentary team.

Along with this role, the 37-year-old Cabana continues to work regularly in the ring, podcast, take the stage for stand up, fill merchandise orders, and oh by the way, co-author a new children’s book “Wrestling Dreams.” The consummate entrepreneur took time out of his hectic schedule for an interview ahead of ROH’s upcoming live event in Fort Lauderdale and television taping in Lakeland on November 11 and November 12.

It’s there Cabana and Riccaboni will be stationed outside each arena for 90 minutes, beginning 45 minutes before doors open. For $20, fans will meet the broadcast duo, put on a broadcast headset and take a picture with them, and receive an autographed 8×10 or an autographed personal item.

All of the proceeds will be donated directly to Unidos Por Puerto Rico, who uses a hundred percent of donations made to support relief efforts. Unidos Por Puerto Rico is an initiative brought forth by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Rosselló, in collaboration with the private sector, with the purpose of providing aid and support to those affected in Puerto Rico by the passage of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane María. For more information on those shows, visit the ROH website.

It’s a great thing you and Ian are doing for those enduring so much hardship in Puerto Rico. Where did the idea come from to host this type of unique meet-and-greet?

I’ll be honest. Ian is a motivated young man. Me personally, you get these ideas in your head and sometimes don’t flush them out. He’s so great about getting the idea in the head and moving forward with everything. Ian did a lot of work in putting this together. I agreed to do it in a heartbeat because it’s so easy to take a picture and sign an autograph. It takes no time and if it brings some joy to people and also try to help in some way what is going on in Puerto Rico. It’s a no-brainer. Hopefully, it’s the first of many.

Does this cause hit close to home for Ian or did he just see the devastation and want to help in some way like everyone else?

It’s something we talk about in the locker rooms. We’re on the road and driving around and these things are happening. One by one sadly. I think as people we ask ourselves, “How can we help?” It hits home to all of us. These are our family. Our people. They are a part of us. I’ve wrestled there a handful of times, and know people from Puerto Rico. It’s more than wrestling. It’s about doing something. The fact is we can do so little to do so much. Signing an autograph and taking a picture.

You see WWE as the big pro wrestling company and all the charity work they do. However, other companies out there are doing similar good deeds. Ring of Honor performers visit hospitals more and more. Now you have this fundraising effort. What is it like to see the company take that community outreach to another level as time goes on?

For personally, it’s hard as an independent wrestler because we don’t have a “marketing team” per say showing the good deeds that we do. We try to do what we can. A lot of times it doesn’t get out there, but that’s not the goal of it. But it’s great Ring of Honor does it on a bigger platform with its management that the awareness can get out there a little more. I think it brings good spirits to everyone. It’s horrible things that are happening, but the idea that we go to the hospitals and doing things for Houston and Puerto Rico. If that gets out there and sees the positivity, hopefully people want to join in on that positivity. Then the message snowballs and inspires others to do stuff, too.

You mention Ian being a go-getter. What has it been like working with him as a commentator? Someone who is young and hungry and really trying to improve and make the most of the opportunity he has been getting?

I did a couple of tryouts with WWE years ago. A lot of people at the time, just casual fans, would kind of bash Josh Mathews like that was the thing to do. When I did those tryouts with him, just in the tryouts alone, to see how talented he was while doing it. I think it takes a person to actually do it to be able to kind of have that thought process on if commentators are good or bad. I don’t know if it’s a skill that is really appreciated, especially the play-by-play guy or lead person. Even if Ian is new to the company or new to a big stage like this, he is very talented. Just doing it alone is just so hard to do. Just being on the headset and calling it is so hard. Then to be as good as he is where he is at now, I think in five years if he is still running with this he will be amazing. For me, it’s a lot of fun to have this partnership. Over the years I’ve had tag team partners like [CM] Punk, Darren Burridge and Grado. In a weird way, this is like a new tag team partnership with me. Watching him personally it’s fun because I see how much work he puts into it. I see how much studying he does and what a perfectionist he is. Maybe a lot of Ring of Honor fans aren’t seeing that preparation, but he is doing it and doing really good.

What kind of preparation do you do?

I do more than people probably think. I’m always looking at the events and studying what happened in the past. I’m always asking the wrestlers what they want and what are the pivotal things to put over. I watch everything. Podcasting is practicing talking, too.

As far as study, do you watch tape or channel someone either in wrestling or outside of wrestling broadcasting? Someone you are inspired by their technique or presentation?

I don’t want to take from anyone in wrestling. That is important to me because I don’t want to be a second rate anybody. Just like in my wrestling style, I get a lot of inspiration from pop culture and comedy. I want to be as conversational as I can. I’ve been doing podcasting now for seven-and-a-half years, it’s kind of moved into broadcasting a little bit. When I’m talking about wrestling, I don’t want it to sound corny or sound like a 1970s broadcaster. I just want to sound like me. Hopefully, that’s the voice of the wrestling fan or a familiar voice of the wrestling fan. I think that’s important to be a voice that sounds familiar and not some over-the-top critical analysis.

Credit: Ichiban Drunk

It’s an interesting time with WWE welcoming more independent wrestling in a lot of ways and the journeyman wrestler. What kind of impact do you think this is having on Ring of Honor as you move forward and grow as a company?

It’s pretty wild. I remember wrestling on Sunday Night Heat and Velocity and seeing the landscape of WWE in 2005. Even at that time, I was kind of a bigger independent star. I was a Ring of Honor tag team champion one night and losing to Eugene the next night. That kind of showed you how they looked at that side of the ball. Now 10, 12, 13 years later, it has changed. I think us back in the mid-2000s, we were aware how good the independent scene was and talent was. It was a shame that because we were a little smaller and not super jacked, we weren’t getting these opportunities on a global scale. Thankfully, that platform has always been available in Ring of Honor. Ring of Honor has always used the best wrestlers, maybe not the best-looking wrestlers. Now WWE is kind of coming to this realization 13 years later. All it does is say there is so much history with guys like Samoa Joe and Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens. There are so many people who are on the internet compared to years ago where you can just Google “Kevin Owens Wrestling.”

It’s a nice trickledown where fans can see where they came from and go to wrestling shows in your local area to see the next batch. That’s something we all knew, but it wasn’t something familiar. Now it’s where we almost wanted as wrestling fans where the independent scene is a great breeding ground as opposed to this place of misfit wrestlers. Ring of Honor has their own little area of the wrestling world where 15 years we’ve been making stars that you know are going to be the next stars of wrestling. Now with a bigger platform on television all the time, we have stars who are straight-up stars. Gone are the days you had to wait for them to go on to WWE. Now they are stars current day in Ring of Honor. It’s showing in guys like Bullet Club and even Kenny Omega coming to the shows. These are the draws now. You don’t have to have Christian main event a Ring of Honor or Jeff or Matt Hardy coming back from WWE. It’s our own guys, which is pretty special.

When you look at what has happened with the Young Bucks and WWE with the cease and desist letter the duo received from the company, what do you make of it? Do you see it as a petty move by WWE or a business decision they needed to take to protect their intellectual property and you see where they are coming from?

They’ve always done stuff like this. From the days of Howard Finkel, his alleged job was to read the dirt sheets to see what was happening. They always had their ear to the ground on who is infringing on their stuff. I get it. They went to their own place. The Young Bucks and Bullet Club went to their show and tried to make a little raucous the same way WWE did years ago. They have the right to use their money and lawyers the way they want to. They have a lot of money and have a lot of lawyers. So that’s what they do.

I think it was great how the Bucks reacted to it. They turned a negative into a positive, which is something you have done over the years. So, you probably applaud what they have done with it.

I use the word sympathy a lot. Wrestling is about good guys and bad guys. For years, WWF used the sympathy of Hulk Hogan and what was happening with the Iraq war with goodies and baddies. Reality era, you’re making good guys and bad guys. The Young Bucks and Bullet Club have such a great audience that when something like that happens, you got to make good guys and bad guys. In that instance, big corporate America coming down on these two good Christian fathers who are trying to feed their kids, they’ve established good guys and bad guys. There is part of the community who see it as good guys and bad guys. Bucks and Bullet Club are the good guys who the community wants to support here. It’s something I’ve done, too. When I was released by WWE, I think a lot of people were upset by that and didn’t understand why I didn’t get a fair shot. I think a lot of the community saw me as a good guy and WWE as the bad guy. We use that as wrestlers and as business men too.

Erica Weisz

One of the great things I love about you is you’re always looking for new things and projects to get involved in like “Wrestling Dreams.” It’s such a cool idea to have this children’s book that is a bit autobiographical. Tell me how this came together?

I’m so excited about this book. I’m taking orders and record a video for any child who orders one. One of my best friends Sam [Weisz] “The Dentist.” I talk to him a lot over the years. His wife is an illustrator and a children’s book author. We are kind of family and always talked about this kind of stuff. When I’m able to collaborate with my friends, it’s really special. In 2000, when I was at the independent shows selling merchandise because I was trying to make a living. It was maybe me and maybe one other wrestler. Nobody else was doing merchandise. Now you go to a show and there are 25 wrestlers lined up with merchandise. All you’re seeing today is really t-shirts, t-shirts. I’m one of the reasons for that and Pro Wrestling Tees.

I’m not upset about it, but how do you stand out and give the fans something different? A lot of these pictures, DVDs and shirts are catering toward the 16-and-over fan. My friend, Erica Weisz, is the person who illustrated the book and helped write it with me. Everyone knows a child if they don’t have one. As wrestling fans, we want to share our love of wrestling, and this is an opportunity to do that. Share our love with a younger generation. That’s what this book will be able to do. It is autobiographical. We collaborated with me as a child jumping off my mattress and with my friends. I’m excited for the wrestling community to share this with a younger generation. It’s a bonding experience, and that is exciting for me.

It’ seems to also be a thank you to your parents, particularly your mom. Has she had a chance to see it? What was her reaction?

Of course, it’s on her shelf. She loved it.

She shed a tear?

She says, “At least you’re not jumping off a window or the roof like you did in high school.” These were real things my mom was familiar with. Reading through that book, she remembers me equating everything to wrestling. Even those years when WWE was putting Mick Foley jumping off the barn or whatever it was, every single person my age was doing that. She remembers those years fondly. She liked the idea of reflecting on when I was a younger kid as opposed to being older and being able to hurt myself.

Now that you have eased into the broadcasting and the writing, do you feel like your in-ring career is winding down?

Not at all. I’m far from it. This is just a position I fell into. Steve Corino and Nigel McGuiness both left. I wasn’t doing anything on that pay-per-view in Las Vegas. It was this crazy thing where they needed someone for that position and threw me in there. I was good, and they thought it made sense. I’m not against it. I like it and enjoy it as long as I can still wrestle on the independents, so I can kind of get my “wrestling fix.” I’m still on the road as much as I am. I just got back from Ireland. I wrestled in Chicago for AAW and AIW in Cleveland. I’m wrestling for DDT in Japan in December and January. I’m still a full-time touring professional wrestler. I’ve been setting myself up for post-wrestling life since I was 20. That’s just something I’ve always been worried about. The idea we can’t wrestle forever. But with my wrestling style, I almost feel like I can wrestle forever. It’s all kind of working itself out.

I liken it to the Jerry Lawler type schedule and style.

I see so many similarities, and now that you say that. It’s something I’ve thought about. Jerry Lawler and WWE in the mid-1990s and 2000s. Every now and then I do a match like I took Mark Briscoe’s place on a show or wrestling Dalton Castle on TV. It’s important to me that it’s not, “Hey Colt is just an ROH commentator.” It’s just like you’ve known me for years now as a marketer, podcaster, wrestler, writer. I’m a jack of all trades. I do it all, and commentating is just something I’m doing for Ring of Honor at the moment.

Ring of Honor television can be seen in syndication through Sinclair Broadcast Group affiliates, online and Sundays, 10/9c, CHARGE! TV.