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Remembering Mean Gene Okerlund

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Ite Lemalu looks back at the amazing career of Mean Gene Okerlund, a talent who can never be replaced.

“Well you know something, Mean Gene!” This phrase, made famous by Hulk Hogan is just one of many lines that are associated with ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund. The legendary wrestling broadcaster was an active part of the wrestling profession for almost 50 years, having worked as the lead interviewer with the American Wrestling Association (AWA), WWE, and WCW.  Sadly, Gene Okerlund passed away on the 2nd of January at the age of 76.

Okerlund’s career in broadcasting began as a disc jockey at a top 40 radio station in the 1960s. In the early ’70s, Okerlund worked in sales at a television network that also housed and broadcasted programmes for Verne Gagne’s AWA. During one weekend when the regular commentator was unavailable, Okerlund was approached by Gagne to fill in on commentary.

Okerlund eventually became a full-time announcer with the AWA where he was positioned primarily as a television interviewer. As part of his role, Okerlund worked with members of the AWA roster to record segments which promoted their matches. It was during his time with the AWA where Okerlund was given the nickname ‘Mean Gene’ by his associate, Jesse Ventura. Okerlund was a pioneer of wrestling interviews, he would skilfully control the dialogue while putting the focus on those that he conversed with. In addition to his ability to guide wrestlers through the process, he was also instrumental in helping them to develop their communication skills. He would continue doing this with many wrestlers throughout his career.

‘Mean’ Gene signed with the WWE at the end of 1983. The WWE had begun taking steps to expand to a larger promotion and therefore they sought after some key players like Okerlund, Hogan, Ventura and Bobby Heenan. These figures were regarded for the ability to appeal to a broader audience and were essential to the WWE’s quest to building a national and international following.

As the WWE became a worldwide promotion, Okerlund remained at the forefront of all the company’s high profiled interview segments for weekly TV and other major extravaganza’s such as Saturday Night’s Main Event on NBC and the first nine WrestleManias.

In November 1993, Okerlund joined WCW as the company was preparing to grow and compete with the WWE. Okerlund became the premier voice for WCW and remained with the company until it closed down in 2001.

Okerlund returned to the WWE as a guest commentator for the Gimmick Battle Royal at WrestleMania 17, however, he did not return as an interviewer on weekly television. Instead, he appeared in a special capacity fronting shows from the WWE studio. These projects included a show called WWE Confidential and history based programmes, Madison Square Garden Classics and Vintage Collection. Okerlund was also the master of ceremonies at the first several WWE Hall of Fame inductions. ‘Mean’ Gene himself was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006 by Hulk Hogan.

‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund was a significant and recognisable figure in the wrestling profession. He contributed his own flavour to the interviews so that the wrestlers would enhance their appeal with the fans.

 

RIP ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund

Ite Lemalu Writings

 


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Rob: Has Pro Wrestling Become Too Soft?

The Undertaker took the online wrestling community by storm with his comments on the current product, and Rob offers some perspective!

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The Undertaker WWE WrestleMania Boneyard Match

The Undertaker took the online wrestling community by storm with his comments on the current product, and Rob offers some perspective!

So……the Undertaker had some things to say about how the kids today just aren’t doing it the way they did back in his day, and that it’s hurting the product.  In short he said it was harder to watch now because it was soft, and the guys weren’t real enough men – they spend too much time trying to look good and do things like play video games instead of packing heat.  Uhh………yeah………ok, Mr Callaway.

Now look, we can talk about the ring work – I for one think that there are way too many matches that look more like a gymnastics floor routine than what’s supposed to be a fight, from the indies all the way up to the WWE.  If he wants to stick to that than I think he’s worth listening to.  But that’s not what he focused on.  No, he spoke about how guys used to carry guns and knives in their bags, and that guys ‘handled stuff’ back in the day, and weren’t so occupied with grooming or playing video games with each other.  And that the changed behavior over the last few years has made the overall wrestling product harder to enjoy.  Help me out here but I don’t see how playing video games with each other and paying more attention to how you look, smell, etc makes for a worse wrestling product.  The ring action, sure.  The promos, which I didn’t see mentioned in the quotes I saw, sure.  Whether or not you do your hair…..really?  Does he not remember the many male wrestlers of days gone by who were sold to women fans as good looking men they’d want to go home with?  The Von Erich boys, the Rock on Roll Express, Ravishing Rick Rude, the Fantastics, Magnum TA?  Does he not remember commentary damn near yelling out loud ‘HEY LADIES, AREN”T THESE DUDES HOT?’ when those guys and many others were in the ring?  Does he not remember guys like ‘Gorgeous’ Jimmy Garvin, who was a proverbial man’s man but also had his valet (his real life wife Precious) spraying his hair while he was cutting promos?

But I got another question:

What kind of locker room does he think should exist? 

One where guys are dropping dead before the age of 50 or are concussed into oblivion?  Or one where they can work longer and not look pathetic if they so chose, or move on early if they want?

One where guys like Darren Young and Jake Atlas have to stay in the closet or where they can be out and accepted, where a guy like Randy Orton with his own checkered history will come up to them and say ‘if anyone gives you any crap, let me know?’

One where guys mostly keep each other out of trouble by doing things like……playing video games together or one where they’re out closing down the bar every night, getting into it with the police, etc.?

One where the men engage in all kinds of trifling behavior towards the women on the roster or one where they get along well enough for there to be genuine friendships where people look out for each other and even form some lasting romantic relationships?

And lastly in regards to guys carrying knives and guns instead of video games, do you want a locker room where guys work things out in a more civilized manner or one like where Bruiser Brody was stabbed to death?

Now he’s not the only one who says this kind of stuff.  A lot of guys from his generation have offered similar sentiments and there are a lot of podcasters who pine for the days when things felt more real and what not.  Well if we’re gonna keep it 100 a lot of those gave off more gravitas and sounded more real because they were legit living hard, messed up lives.  Drug problems.  Alcoholism.  Multiple marriages and divorces.  Bad relationships with their children.  Broken homes and childhoods that they were still traumatized over.  Failed careers in other professions.  I don’t know about you but I think it’s a plus that more of the guys seem to be living and working in such a way that they’re able to avoid those things.  I’ll take hearing Kofi and Xavier talk about their kids on the New Day Pod than a bunch of stories about how they were out boozing and cheating on their spouses in between shows.  The latter can be romanticized by guys who tell good stories and all, but the reality is a lot more grim (for good reference take a look at the ESPN documentary on Ric Flair).

And this goes beyond pro wrestling.  A lot of those old guys in our lives who say the same kind of things have suffered the same fates as their counterparts in the wrestling business.  It’s not healthy, full stop.  Just because you can’t relate with the guys who aren’t living and playing like you did 10, 20 years ago doesn’t mean that they’re doing it wrong.  As for the guys being ‘too pretty’ now…..it’s a lot easier to get opportunities to do things outside of wrestling if you look good, are well groomed, etc.  Acting gigs, TV gigs, magazine covers….you think Xavier Woods would have gotten a hosting job on the relaunched G4 network if he looked and groomed himself like Abdullah the Butcher?  Do you honestly think New Day would be more popular if they looked and acted more like what you consider to be real men?  I don’t see it.  And in an entertainment industry where women have to look damn near perfect just to get an interview I don’t think that men choosing to look as good as they possibly can is a negative.  And let’s not pretend that any of New Day can’t put their ring work alongside any guys from any era.  The video games, the gear colors and everything else don’t mean a damn thing as far as their abilities go.

Look man, time stops for no one.  Things change, and in this case I think they’ve changed for the better.  That he can’t see a trail several miles long of broken families, broken bodies, and premature death behind the ‘right way’ that he speaks of is kinda sad.


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NXT Minus 6: Anatomy of a Wrestling Match

Bradley Jay digs into the HISTORY MAKING night of WWE NXT. HISTORY! (And Timothy Thatcher is the only person to ever win in Fight Pit.)

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WWE NXT Fight Pit

Bradley Jay digs into the HISTORY MAKING night of WWE NXT. HISTORY! (And Timothy Thatcher is the only person to ever win in Fight Pit.)

Other than in-ring action, there are a lot of factors that can make or break a match.

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6. I’m running a new feature for the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic: the History-O-Meter! How many times can lazy announcers reference making history in one show? This week, TWELVE!!! Every ten minutes that gaggle of human of microphone stands reminded us we are witnessing HISTORY MAKERS MAKING HISTORY EXCLAMATION POINT!!!

7 Ups And 1 Down For WWE NXT (Jan 20) – Page 3

5. I have dubbed this year’s DRTTC “3.5 Live.” Most of the matches have been solid, nothing great. The best so far? The Way versus KUSHIDA and Leon Ruff. KUSHIDA gets an extra ½ star by himself. He hits an armbar suplex into a bridge for the 1-2-3. I’ve never seen that. It’s too much fun watching him figure out how to twist his opponent into a pretzel. 

Pete Dunne looks to take the torch from Finn Bálor: WWE NXT, Jan. 20, 2021 - YouTube

4. Pete Dunne cut a scorching promo this week. Clearly the Bruiserweight didn’t spend all his time away getting shredded beyond belief. Finn Balor isn’t going to pass the torch so much as Dunne will break his fingers and rip it out of his hand. Speaking of Balor…

3. The Prince needs a tag team partner to face the Brit-Am Brawlers. Of course he calls in a favor from Kyle O’Reilly. Everybody’s favorite Canadian accepts but clearly isn’t excited about it. Are they letting bygones be bygones? Oh Hell no. I’ve never been so happy to see two guys not shake hands. Gonna be some tense teammates Wednesday night. The little details take it from good to great. Balor and O’Reilly are two of the best. 

WWE NXT Results: Timothy Thatcher vs. Tommaso Ciampa [Fight Pit Match] - The Overtimer

2. First and foremost, wrestling is about the story being told in the ring. However, it takes more than that to create a great match. One of those elements is production. We’re having a nice Fight Pit match. Tommaso Ciampa is whomping Timothy Thatcher on the platform above the ring. Then we go to a commercial. When we get back, the two men are in the ring?!?! No explanation. No split screen with “Here’s what happened during the break.” The production crew could not have screwed that up any worse. It was like reading a 10-chapter book that’s missing chapters 3-6. Awful.

WWE News: Timothy Thatcher Beats Tommaso Ciampa in Fight Pit, Beth Phoenix Returns to Announce Table | 411MANIA

1. Announcing is another element that can make or break a match. I can almost forgive Wade Barrett for screaming like he’s watching his mom die in a house fire. Here’s what I won’t forgive. Did you know there’s only been one other Fight Pit in history? And Timothy Thatcher is undefeated in the Fight Pit?? Did I mention that this was only the second Fight Pit in history? The second one! In history! And Thatcher is undefeated in the Fight Pit? Because this is only the second one in history! AND THATCHER WON THE FIRST AND ONLY OTHER FIGHT PIT!!!  I spent half the match wishing Ciampa and Thatcher would join forces to kick the crap out of the announce team. Better announcing and better production could have made this the match it deserved to be.


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