Major League Wrestling returns to national television this Friday night on beIN SPORTS, for a very special live edition of MLW: FUSION that will see the crowning of a new champion, an high-flying spectacle between two of the best lucha stars in the world, and more.
Calling all the action is none other than legendary play-by-play announcer Tony Sciavone, the voice of World Championship Wrestling and a veteran of more than 35 years behind the microphone in the pro wrestling business.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Schiavone this weekend to discuss the upcoming MLW live special, as well as pick his brain about the modern state of wrestling commentary. In the interview below we break down the pros and cons of the three-man announce team, Tony’s years working with Dusty Rhodes and Bobby Heenan, and what life has been like since returning to wrestling after so much time away.
Thank you to Tony for his time and for giving us this interview, and of course to Major League Wrestling for setting this up ahead of their big weekend taping event in Miami, FL.
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THIS FRIDAY YOU MAKE YOUR RETURN TO LIVE, NATIONAL TELEVISION FOR MLW: ZERO HOUR. YOU WERE FAMOUSLY THE VOICE OF WCW FOR MANY YEARS, AND THE VOICE OF JIM CROCKET PROMOTIONS BEFORE THAT — NOW YOU’RE BACK. WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND GOING INTO THE SHOW?
“When I first started I thought, ‘maybe this sport has passed me by.’ I just wondered if I could keep up with it, because the wrestling is different. What they expect of me is a little bit different. I guess I’m starting to keep up with things, but everything changes when it’s live.”
WAS THERE A MOMENT WHERE YOU KNEW THE RUST HAD WORN OFF AND THINGS JUST ‘CLICKED’ AGAIN?
“There never was a moment where I thought, ‘Okay, I got this.’ I’m not an anxious person. Sometimes I lack in confidence, and when I first came back I thought, ‘I’m not the man for this job.’ I’m feeling much better about what I do. When I first started I thought, ‘Yikes — this is not what I want to do.’ But maybe it’s the right thing to do, because I honestly feel like I’m helping young guys and girls out with their careers. If I can lend a hand and further careers, and further pro wrestling, why not?”
WHEN YOU CAME BACK TO WRESTLING IN EARLY 2017, DID YOU HAVE A GRASP ON WHAT WAS GOING ON THE INDUSTRY? DID YOU KEEP UP WITH IT WHILE YOU WERE GONE?
“I didn’t keep up with wrestling at all. When Conrad and I started doing the podcast, I hadn’t watched any wrestling at all. I remember watching the 2017 Royal Rumble — I used Conrad’s password on the Network. That was the first wrestling I watched since I walked away from it.”
“I came back thinking, “Wow, things have changed.’ As far as the pace of the matches, what makes a good match, the audience, and of course the fan interactions. I kind of realized that what was ECW has kind of stood the test of time, at least more than the old school Jim Crockett Promotions, WCW style. I slowly got into it, and what’s going on with the indies and with MLW. I think it’s a great time for wrestling, and I think most people would agree. Even though Vince [McMahon] feels like he’s shut everybody down, he really hasn’t. There’s a lot out there to turn to.”
YOU RECENTLY HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO CALL THE NWA 70TH ANNIVERSARY PPV, WHERE CODY RHODES LOST THE NWA WORLD TITLE TO NICK ALDIS. YOU ALSO WERE THE VOICE OF THE NWA MORE THAN 30 YEARS AGO. HOW WAS THAT ‘COMING HOME’ EXPERIENCE?
“That was thrilling for me just because of Cody, and because of how much I owe to his family. When they had their ALL IN match, Cody got in touch with me and wanted me to call his match with Nick Aldis. Unfortunately I couldn’t do it. I stepped out feeling badly about that — I sent Cody a text, but we really didn’t get to talk. So I called his mom, Michelle, and I told her, ‘Tell Cody I’m very sorry.’ She was very nice to me.”
“When this came about and they got in touch with me about doing NWA 70, and doing Cody’s match, it was during a weekend when the Georgia football team had a bye week, so it worked out perfectly. I said, ‘I’ll be glad to do it, because I want to do it just to honor the Rhodes family.’ I went back and watched on the Network — and by the way, I have my own subscription now — the night where Cody and Dustin wrestled for Dusty, and everybody came out and celebrated with Dusty when they went over. I just wanted to get the emotional of the family, and how much it meant to them. [NWA 70] was a special night for me, not necessary because of the NWA, but because of the Rhodes family.”
THREE-MAN BROADCAST TEAMS. WWE IS OBSESSED WITH THEM. I’VE PERSONALLY NEVER BEEN A FAN BECAUSE — BASICALLY, YOU HAVE YOUR PLAY-BY-PLAY, YOU HAVE THE COLOR GUY, BUT THAT THIRD PERSON IS OFTEN JUST EXTRA NOISE. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THREE-MAN TEAMS (OR MORE)?
“I always thought that myself, Mike Tenay and Bobby Heenan as a three-man team clicked very well. I go back and I listen to myself, Heenan and Dusty [Rhodes], and I think that it worked too. The reason I think it worked is because we were three distinct personalities. You knew when Heenan was talking, you knew when Dusty was talking, and you knew when I was talking.”
“Sometimes when I listen to the WWE … when I listen to Smackdown, I couldn’t tell when Tom [Phillips] was talking, and when Byron [Saxton] was talking. You can tell when Corey [Graves] is talking. Dusty and Heenan were a character. Tenay was somewhat of a character because he was ‘The Professor’ and he knew all about luchadores. I thought it worked.”
“Did I ever think for a moment there were too many voices calling wrestling? No. I never once wanted it to be The Tony Show. I always thought I was the guy that directs the ship in the right direction, and Heenan and Bobby would add the color, or the entertainment value. I think we all worked together, and I didn’t have a problem with it at all. As a matter of fact, I always thought the three-man team took the pressure off me. I always wanted guys to talk, not just sit there and let me talk the entire time.”
“I don’t have a problem with a three-man team, but they gotta have well-defined roles. I’m not so sure they have well-defined roles in WWE. I’ve heard Renee do a good job, but I hear Michal Cole talk over it sometimes. Michael doesn’t mean to, but it comes out that way.”
FAIR ENOUGH. I FEEL THAT SOMETIMES WITH WWE, IT’S HARD TO HAVE VERY DIFFERENT PERSONALITIES BECAUSE ULTIMATELY, IT’S VINCE MCMAHON’S VOICE COMING OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF THREE PEOPLE. IT’S HARD TO GROW AND DEVELOP UNIQUE VOICES IN THAT ENVIRONMENT, I THINK.
“You’re exactly right. That’s what we were able to do back in the day, when it was me, Heenan and Dusty. We were able to do our own thing without being told what to say, and without being screamed at. I’ve heard that they get screamed at, or talked down to, but I don’t think you can do your job when you feel the pressure of somebody trying to browbeat you, or coach you, or whatever.”
“If they let three people do their own stuff, the announcers should know the storylines. They live it. They see it every day. They should know what’s going on, and you shouldn’t have to tell them what to say, or how to say it. But who am I to say, because [Vince] has a multi-billion dollar corporation, so he’s obviously doing something right.”
THAT SENSE OF FREEDOM IN WRESTLING — IS THAT SOMETHING THAT HAS CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?
“Back in the old TBS studios when Ric Flair used to come out for an interview, he would go three, three-and-a-half thing. Flair would do his Flair thing, and Dusty would do his Dusty thing. They didn’t have lines, they knew the angles. It was magical back then, it really was. The guys could use their talents to make it a good show. I agree with what you’re saying, it sounds like the announcers in WWE are just talking heads for Vince.”
“But I don’t want this to be a slam on the WWE, because I think they’re all very good. I know they put a lot of time and effort into it. I don’t want this to be a slam on Vince McMahon either. I’m a football, baseball and basketball guy — who am I to tell him how to run his own business? But I do know that you hire these guys for a reason, and the reason is to lend their talent to you show. If you don’t let them do that, why don’t you go out and do it yourself?”
YOU WERE THE VOICE OF WCW IN AN ERA WHERE WE GOT TO SEE THE YOUNG CAREERS OF SO MANY FUTURE LEGENDS. EDDIE GUERRERO, CHRIS JERICHO, REY MYSTERIO — SOME OF THE BEST EVER. DO YOU SEE ANYONE IN MLW OR ON THE INDIES THAT YOU THINK, “THIS GUY IS A MAJOR STAR”?
“There’s a number of them. There’s a lot of luchadores that we bring in. I got to see Rush do a match and I thought he was phenomenal. These kids do so many crazy things now, you just don’t know who’s gonna stay healthy anymore. I always thought MJF was going to be great; I guess he’s got an injury now.”
“Tom Lawlor has done a great job in moving from UFC into what we do, and I really him. I like all the stuff that he can do. Jason Cade has the potential. He loves old school wrestling, and I think it’s really important to respect the business, and learn from what the business taught you.”
“I love Pentagon and Fenix. My god they can do some phenomenal stuff. But I really think MJF — he’s so young, and he’s such a legitimate, good heel. I think he’s got as much potential as anyone.”
ONE THING I LOVE ABOUT MJF IS THAT HE’S CONSTANTLY IN-CHARACTER. SO MANY PEOPLE TELL ME THAT HE’S THIS TERRIBLE PERSON, AND SOME GENUINELY THINK THAT. IT’S OLD SCHOOL. YOU NEVER SEE HIM OUT OF CHARACTER IF THERE ARE FANS AROUND. DO YOU THINK WE NEED MORE OF THAT IN THE BUSINESS?
“He’s like what Nikita Koloff was, and kind of what Baron Von Raschke was. They were over the top characters in many ways. They lived their gimmick when they were around the fans. I agree with that — I absolutely agree with that. I think that’s one of the reasons he’s going to be successful. Until of course, he goes to WWE and they tell him what to say. [Laughs] I’m sorry.”
Catch Tony Schiavone this Friday night on beIN SPORTS, when he makes his return to live, national television for MLW: Zero Hour. You can also watch MLW on TV every Friday night, or every Saturday completely free on YouTube.