So You Want To Be A Wrestling Announcer?
"THE" Reigning King of Wrestling Announcers
MORE FAMOUS WRESTLING ANNOUNCERS
So here "I" go
into a true story, a story filled with action, danger, and excitement of my first and last night as a wrestling announcer. All rolled into one night. I testify that the contents of this piece are true. And if not, I hope to lose my taste for black coffee.
I give the credit for my one (and only) night as a wrestling announcer to my sister-in-law, Michelle Mauldin, and her enterprising husband, Chris, both of Fulton, Mississippi, which is a real place. You can Google it and find out.
Michelle, my wife's baby sister, was a quick-study. She knew things about me that I had forgotten. You see, she was one of "those" little sisters who I had to pay-off to leave her sister, Pam, and I alone when I was at my best "making time" with my then-future wife. Michelle made enough off of me to start a savings account. That's all I need to say about this subject.
Sometimes, in later years, when Michelle was older, she and her girlfriends would come for a visit with Pam and me and it was always on a Saturday evening, the time I had saved for myself to sit back and enjoy World Championship Wrestling broadcast on my cable from The Omni, a lavish arena in Atlanta, Georgia. This two-hour production had it all. Bloodshed, fights, yelling, throwing chairs and loud threats to the camera. And that was only in the crowd that surrounded the wrestling ring. Good times.
I loved, well, loved with a passion to see the likes of Dusty Rhodes, "The American Dream," "Nature Boy," Ric Flair; Barry Windham; Jimmy Garvin; Arin and Olie Anderson, the "Minnesota Wrecking Crew," and others do battle in and out of the ring every Saturday evening. And whether or not wrestling is fake or real, "I" caught myself getting deeply-involved in this "sport" that was consuming our nation dating back to 1986. Now look at it in 2012. Massive. Lucrative. And is more-popular than any travelling ballet troupe to ever go through the south.
But, and now I am getting nostalgic, my favorite part of this, and all wrestling productions, was not as much the variety of wrestlers, but the announcers. Yep. The announcers who actually "sold" the show to the studio audience and the millions (including myself) who were watching by television. It never was hard for me to understand why these eloquently-spoken men with names that grace the Who's Who of Wrestling such as: Gordon Solie, Sterling Brewer, Vince McMahon, "Mean"Gene Okerland and my favorite, Tony Shiavone, who was a star-announcer with the W.C.W. (World Championship Wrestling, through the time that Ted Turner owed the operation) and worked with the W.W.E., (World Wrestling Entertainment), owned by Vince McMahon.
I loved these guys. The announcers. So much so that I would try to impersonate them, of course, when I was alone, just to make my coworkers laugh at my place of employment, The Hamilton Progress, a newspaper in Hamilton, Alabama, I worked for from 1984 until 1988. And the place where I met my best (male) pal, Les Walters, who is Hamilton's "wrestling guru," for he can name wrestlers' names, both current and vintage, their stats, various ring names and how many kids they have. Walters is just that good at keeping memories of "our" favorite area of entertainment, wrestling.
Then it happened. It was around 1997. I was working with Les at the Journal Record, the paper I had started with in 1975, and since the Progress was no more, he had taken the job as managing editor and brought me back into the business in 1990. And yes, the wrestling talk was on. I hate to sound corny, but it was like old times.
One Thursday evening, Michelle, remember her? She is my wife's baby sister. She and her husband, Chris, came to our house to make "me" a sure-fire way to make some extra cash. If you knew me then, all you had to do was mention the words: "sure-fire," and "make money," and I was yours for the taking. I loved to have money on me for various reasons. To take my wife and daughter out to eat or just have in-case I wanted something of my own like a hand-held plastic fan to blow cool breezes into my face in the summer to keep me cool when I was outside doing some weed-eating.
"Kenny, Chris and me would love for "you" to be our wrestling announcer in the matches we have scheduled for this Saturday night in Saltillo, Mississippi," Michelle said with that innocent look on her face. My wife's face was aglow with either contained laughter or pride that Michelle and Chris would even consider me to do such a task and with me having NO experience at announcing a wrestling match.
"What kind of money are we talking?" I asked, for this is the most-important question to be asked in any business negotiation.
"It all depends. If the crowd is big, you get a big amount of cash and if the crowd is small, I will see that you get "something" out of your work," she replied. Now understand that Michelle and Chris were working with a girlfriend of Michelle's and her husband who were true "bookers," people who make the wrestling matches for the public in various gymnasiums, civic centers, and arenas. Sometimes for a local charity and sometimes just to make some extra cash. This match I had agreed to be the ring announcer for was not for charity. But for Michelle, Chris, and their friends, the professional wrestling "bookers."
Ahhh, the place was almost-packed
at the biggest building in Saltillo, Mississippi, the Saltillo Civic Center, which was a huge sheet-metal building with a pretty-decent parking lot that was beginning to fill-up as my wife and I found a good parking spot. Oh, our daughter didn't make the trip. She had a date. I've always wondered if this was a premonition she had about her dad making a fool of himself, or just what it was. A date. Oh well. No time to dwell on the past.
About thirty-minutes before the scheduled matches began, my wife and I met with Michelle, Chris and their two good friends, the "bookers," I told you about for me to get the low-down on what my job was and how this thing of ring announcing worked. Boy was I embarrassed with Michelle said, "all you have to do is read the index card that is handed to you by the floor manager and give the wrestler a huge build-up to make him more appealing to the audience. You can do this, Kenny. You are a natural," Michelle explained. Wow, she called me a 'natural.' I never dreamed that I favored Robert Redford.
I was dressed "fit to kill," pardon the fitting-description, but I wanted to "look the part" with my black slacks, slick blue shirt and hair, (yes, I "had" hair at this time) slicked down to make the crowd think that I was a part of this wrestling operation.
Before I climbed into the ring, the floor manager asked me, "are you gonna be for the good guys or bad guys?" "Do what?" I replied very confused. She explained that "I" could verbally-engineer the crowd's emotions by either over-acting how much I liked the good or bad wrestlers. It was my choice. I thought it would be fun to pull for the villains. And when I answered this lady, the floor manager named, "Maggie," she yelled to someone behind the huge velvet curtains, "the ring guy is for the bad ones," and then a thunderous applause came from, I assume, the bad wrestlers behind the stage. I began to feel good about this gig. Confident. Easy as pie. I should have been doing this for a living. Such were the thoughts of a fool. Me.
The first match pitted a "bad" wrestler, The War Machine, a huge guy with arms like Oak trees against a good guy, Paul Steele. Man, did I over-act my appreciation for Steele, who I thought was evil. War Machine shouted as he entered the ring, "what are you doing to me?" I looked dumbfounded. He leaned over to me and whispered, "You supposed to be FOR me, not Steele. I'm the bad dude!" I acted like I was laughing at his joke to fool the crowd.
From that moment on, no matter what War Machine did, I asked the crowd to give him a standing-ovation. They didn't. They only filled the atmosphere in the Saltillo Civic Center with "boo's" "fool," and "go home, you idiot," talking to "me," not War Machine. I loved it. The anger. The tension and security of the ring. A security guard was posted at each side to keep troublemakers at bay. For that, I was thanking God in my heart every breath I took.
Folks, this was SERIOUS business
more serious that I had realized or been told by Michelle and Chris. No wonder the crowd was getting irritated even when I was the only one in the ring. They couldn't stand me. I thought that was the plan. It wasn't. Well not entirely, for I had erroneously called some local wrestlers by the wrong name--Jim instead of Bob and called one guy who went by "Jim Dandy," in the ring, "Jim Candy," and the bad wrestlers loved how I was embarrassing their opponents.
This went on for an hour and a half before War Machine lumbered to the side of the ring and motioned for me to lean over for me had something to say to me. "You need to come with me so you can call the rest of the matches in the back of the auditorium. You can sit with "Maggie," who arranges the cards for the matches and uh, well, the promoters think it best that YOU NOT BE IN THE RING," he said without telling me why. But he was too huge to argue with, so I obliged. And sat with this "Maggie," woman, who felt my rejection and said, "oh the crowd can still hear you from here, but you won't have to climb in and out of that ring."
I never knew just why the wrestling promoters made such a career-changing decision as to put me in the back with "Maggie," when my rightful place was in the ring. I can only live with the fact that I guess both good and bad wrestlers grew weary of my verbal blunders in calling out their names, weight, and hometowns. Yeah. That's it. They were actually "helping" me in my newly-found career of a wrestling announcer.
And if a wrestling announcer is paid according to his (or her) talent, the amount I was paid said it all. Very clearly. Without any debate.