I no longer watch pro wrestling on TV. Haven’t seen a program in its entirety for more than 25 years. I stopped because for me pro wrestling crossed the far too ridiculous line decades ago. The show became too bizarre, too weird.
That’s not to say I was never a huge fan. Growing up in the 60’s I watched faithfully with my father. The TV screens were black and white then, but the excitement was red not.
The 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s brought greater fame and popularity. The stars were of the super variety, and as television advanced with far better visual technology the wrestlers needed pitchmen to promote their product.
Gene Okerlund may have been the very best.
Blessed with an announcer’s best friend of a voice (above headline quote is from pro wrestler Triple H) and an amazing straight man ability, Okerlund somehow kept a straight face as he superbly interviewed wrestler after wrestler to promote upcoming cards in cities all over the United States.
Okerlund died this week at the age of 76. As an announcer I loved and respected Okerlund’s microphone prowess.
In 1989 when the biggest thing in wrestling, the WWF (Worldwide Wrestling Federation) brought a huge summer show to the old Milwaukee County Stadium, I did a huge feature in advance when I worked at WUWM-FM.
My interviews included Hulk Hogan (who not all that seriously suggested I see what it would be like to be thrown into a chain link fence as we talked about his upcoming cage match with seven foot star Andre the Giant) and Gene Okerlund, who proudly boasted about the showmanship and persona of pro wrestling that even pro hockey wished they could capture.
One of the most hilarious Okerlund moments and goodness I wish I could find the video was an interview he did with the Iron Sheik.
You can clearly see why his character was a “heel.” In pro wrestling vernacular that means the Sheik was a villain.
In that particular interview I recall the straight-faced Okerlund brought the Sheik out and initially fed him a generic question about his next bout with the immortal Hulk Hogan, a perfect set-up with the ultra American hero squaring off against the evil power from Iran.
Following Okerlund’s first question the Sheik went full blown into character, yelling and screaming, eyes pointed to the ceiling.
“ALLAH!” And then came a speedy launch of unintelligible and supposedly Iranian rants.
This continued for maybe less than a minute with Okerlund listening intently and refusing to interrupt. When the Sheik finally finished it was time for the serious Okerlund to respond with a follow-up.
“Well, that might be all well and good Sheik but…”
Stories of Okerlund’s death recount how Jesse “the Body” Ventura, a former governor of Minnesota, gave Okerlund his nickname of Mean Gene.
Thanks for the memories, Gene. That tape of you and me is somewhere buried in my basement.
Enjoy this promo of Mean Gene and Jesse Ventura that didn’t quite go as planned.