Not long after WCW closed its doors in 2001, Tony Schiavone thought he put pro wrestling in the rear-view mirror.
That was until last year when the long-time broadcaster linked up with podcast and mortgage broker extraordinaire Conrad Thompson. The two started a weekly show on the MLW Radio Network reflecting on Schiavone’s decades in the business called What Happened When.
Recalling the good, the bad and the ugly of his career was ultimately a gateway. Appearances followed and so did the opportunity to return to the commentary booth for MLW.
The Court Bauer-led promotion was reborn in October with the aptly titled One Shot event at Gilt Nightclub in Orlando. The inaugural show saw Schiavone call the action for a streaming audience alongside former WWE broadcaster Rich Bocchini.
Although his day jobs with the likes of the minor league Gwinnett Braves, Sports Radio 92.9 The Game and Georgia Bulldogs Radio Network keeps him behind a mic, there was a feeling of conscientiousness with broadcasting wrestling again.
“I was wondering if I can still do it,” said Schiavone, who will be at MLW Zero Hour on Thursday, Jan. 11 from Gilt Nightclub.
“I was wondering if my voice would hold out. The good thing was and is Rich is doing the play-by-play, and I’m doing the color commentary. So, I can rely on him for a lot of the stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever been nervous, but I was wondering if I could still do it both physically and if maybe the sport had passed me by.
“…With the podcast, we are talking about the old days. With MLW, we are talking about the new kids who are trying to make a name in wrestling for themselves. Though the podcast got me involved in wrestling again. Interested in what was going on because I hadn’t watched it and been removed from it for 15 years. It got me interested in the product again.”
During the hours before doors open, Schiavone got acquainted with his surroundings and met with many of the performers. He could feel the respect the men and women had for the business.
“All of them knew about my work and obviously followed it and were wrestling fans. That surprised me,” Schiavone said. “We then had a little meeting. I was reading the stuff Court had sent to me. Court had provided me with more information, inside information about the wrestlers than I ever had in the years at WCW. I never had sheets like this. It was almost like I had game day notes if you go to a baseball game or football game. I never had anything like that. It made the preparation very easy for me. I was put at ease and enjoyed myself. My voice held out. I say that back at the end of WCW, I was over-the-top, and my voice cracked and talked real loud. Now 15 years, I didn’t know if I had it or not. It all worked out. It was a really good night for me.”
The positive experience played a role in him agreeing to return for more, even though Schiavone’s mindset was one and done. The reception was warm for the former voice of WCW.
“I was working in wrestling when politics were heavy in the backstage area with guys jockeying for position. You couldn’t trust this guy or that guy. When you’re working in television, it’s a high-pressure industry,” he said. “I just felt good about the guys that were there and who I was working with, I didn’t feel pressure like I did in the past. It made me feel good about it again. I thought, ‘Why not give it a shot?’ The fact I was doing color, analysis if you will, is kind of a different place for me. And I’m kind of into that as well.”
Thompson thought his co-host would do an independent show one-off here and there, but never imagined he would actually work for a promotion on the regular.
“I think he’s a perfect fit for MLW,” he said. “MLW is trying to be a major league presentation, and I think Tony’s involvement helps legitimize that. Tony was comfortable halfway through the first show. He’s been calling traditional sports for two decades but calling wrestling again was like riding a bike.”
Schiavone has fallen back in love with pro wrestling. In the weeks leading up to the shows, he reads about the performers and watches videos. Schiavone is a fan of some of the emerging talent who appear on MLW events.
“I think everybody likes Ricochet, and we saw him at the first show,” he said. “The stuff he can do. Shane Strickland is just a phenomenal athlete. I like MJF because he is a cocky little millennial. He reminds me of some of my kids. I like him and the stuff he does. I’ll tell you I really like Darby Allin. He just does some unbelievably great stuff. I know he has a skateboarding background. I know those skateboarding kids throw caution to the wind and think they are bulletproof anyway, but he just does some incredible stuff in the ring.
“I even talked to him and said, ‘You know kid, you’re going to kill yourself out there.’ He said, ‘No, I’m going to be fine.’ They kind of shrug it off when they do this crazy stuff. Another, MVP, is just a tremendous pro. I really enjoy working with him. He appreciates the business. He is really old school. I’ve got to also talk to Tom Lawlor a lot, who has the UFC background. He and Jeff Cobb are in a tag team match. The guys with the UFC background have a new-found respect and love for wrestling. I like seeing them in the wrestling ring trying to do something different. So, I’ve enjoyed all of that.”
Schiavone believes Bauer has a good business plan and people working with him. He enjoys the production meetings over the phone, lending feedback when it comes to the announcers.
“I’ve never gotten that in the past,” he said. “Back when I worked with the WWE, WWF at the time, I think Vince asked me for my opinion one time. Then back in WCW when you would give your opinion, they would look at you like, ‘Oh, he is trying to move up the ladder and take my job,’ which is stupid. That’s the way it was perceived. It was just so political. It was a mess; so I like how Court is doing it. They are doing a great job making the Gilt look good for television or streaming.”
In relation to WWE, it’s easy for Schiavone to tell the commentary is overproduced. The nature of the beast today.
“I like Tom Phillips. I really do. I think he is a really good announcer. I like Booker T. I know a lot of people give Michael Cole a lot of grief, but I have always liked him. Corey Graves and all those guys are just very, very good. However, you can tell when they get lines,” he said. “It kind of bugs me, because I remember back when I was doing WCW at the end, I was constantly being fed lines. It’s like you hired me to do this and to bring your own personality into it, but if you continue to feed guys lines, they just become a talking head for what you want.
“I just don’t think it’s right. It’s overproduced on many levels. Not just announcing, but production. The look is sensational. It’s to the point where if anyone wants to try to compete with Vince McMahon on a national level, they would have to put tons of money into production to make it look good. That means a lot in television.”
Speaking of his former boss, there has been speculation and buzz that the WWE chairman is eying the XFL again. Schiavone can see why McMahon might be interested in re-launching his football league.
“Maybe he is thinking because the numbers are down because of the National Anthem thing and apparently people are turning away from the NFL. I don’t know if that’s true, because when I hear something about politics, I immediately turn the channel.
“It just seems to me he thinks it’s the right time to get back into it. He’ll make the product look good, but it still has to be good on the field, or the fans will turn away from it. That’s the rub there. There are a lot of great football players out there looking for a job, and this will be the chance.”
Even with a robust sports broadcasting resume, Schiavone doesn’t anticipate hearing from WWE if the XFL returned. At the same time he isn’t waiting by the phone. Not when he already has commitments during the football, basketball and baseball seasons. Schiavone grew up wanting to cover sports, meaning he is truly living the dream.
“There are still people out there who don’t like my work. That’s fine because everyone can have an opinion,” he said. “I think a lot of not liking my work was the over-the-top stuff I did at the end of WCW and the fact you heard too much of me. I think overexposure was terrible. I was doing Nitro, Thunder and the pay-per-views. Every time you tuned into WCW, there’s Schiavone again. Now, 15 years later, it’s nostalgia. Anybody I’ve talked to has said I was a big part of their childhood. That means the world to me.
“There have been a lot of people on social media saying I need to go into the WWE Hall of Fame. I don’t want to discredit the Hall of Fame because there are a lot of great people in there, but that’s not important to me. What’s important to me is the feedback I get from each and every fan I talk to about how important I was to them. I didn’t realize it at that time, but when someone says that I was the soundtrack to their childhood. That’s high praise. It really means a lot to me. I don’t think I would have ever heard this feedback had I not gotten back into podcasting or back in the business.”
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