The first interview I conducted for the WWE Championship book wasn’t with a former titleholder, believe it or not. Instead, I went directly to the walking sports-entertainment encyclopedia, WWE Hall of Famer Howard Finkel. (Incidentally, you could get the book version of the Encyclopedia here.) I knew that The Fink’s wealth of knowledge would kick me off in the right direction.
Howard was gracious enough to give me several hours of his day to talk about the project. Unfortunately, only portions of what we spoke about wound up in the WWE Championship book. Luckily for Fink fans everywhere, however, here is a large portion of the transcript. No, it’s not the entire transcript … some of that will remain between us.
What does it mean to you to announce a new WWE Champion?
It’s the greatest feeling in the world knowing full well that you are putting your stamp from an announcer’s standpoint on something that the fans will remember. It’s gratifying for me … It’s gratifying to me to have the talent afterward tell me what a great feeling it is for them to hear me announce them as champion. I get a great satisfaction out of doing it. There is nothing like it. You get a sense that you are a part of something that is monumental in the industry and it’s a signature. I’ve been commended on it; I’ve been praised on it. And it’s a good feeling.
I really get emotional about it. When it happens, I think to myself “Here we go … make it good.” And when I make that announcement and I hear the people say “NEEEEWWW” along with me … I know the spotlight is on the Superstars, but internally I’m letting out a very proud “YES!” If that doesn’t tell you about pride …
Do you miss it?
I can’t say that I miss it because I still ring announce on a selected basis. However, when I hear other people try to announce “NEW” as I do … well, I just believe I’ve done it better than anybody else … imitation is the sincerest form or flattery.
Any announcements stand out more than the rest?
I have two benchmarks … I was off Broadway in 1976. I made my Madison Square Garden debut on January 17, 1977… that I take in the grand scheme of things as the initial launch date of my ring announcing career. I was still a work in progress back then because I was still learning the inflection… the highs the lows… how you play on people’s emotions… Just the projection and inflection of your voice. So when Backlund beat Superstar Billy Graham in ’78, that was an accomplishment, but I didn’t really have that zest of the word new… and even in 1984 when Hogan beat Sheik in MSG, I didn’t feel that my zest and my taking that three letter word and making it a 103 letters was there. That developed over time. But Hogan beating the Iron Sheik was terrific. There’s no real moment that stands out over other announcements.
How did the crowds changed after Hogan won the title?
I would say that Hogan’s ascension to the championship was just one spoke in a wheel that was being driven by Mr. McMahon. I liken it back to 1951 when Bobby Thompson hit a home run off Ralph Branca of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who lost to the Giants in a playoff game. They call that the “shot heard ‘round the world” … the shot heard around the world as far as I’m concerned was on January 23, 1984, when Hogan defeated the Iron Sheik. That’s when it all began as far as I’m concerned.
Wrestling fans will always be wrestling fans, but this allowed us to branch out into another mainstream part of entertainment… rock ‘n’ wrestling. It was just not going to be rasslin’ anymore. We were sports-entertainment. More families came to the arenas. More kids. I have a belief in my mind that to a lot of people believe wrestling was invented on the night Hulk Hogan dropped the leg on the Iron Sheik… Anything before that doesn’t exist, which is a shame, because it does. But I’m not gonna quibble or complain about that. But the night Hulk Hogan dropped the leg on the Sheik, that opened a whole new avenue… we became a worldwide entity that one night.
What were your thoughts of Andre the Giant’s reign?
I never thought that Andre needed the title. When I first came into the business, wrestling was comprised of territories. Andre was the kind of individual who would go place to place. That all changed when the new era began. I thought he could stand alone on his merits.
Why is Pedro Morales not normally mentioned among the greatest champs of all time?
They didn’t know him. He won in 1971. People don’t talk about him because they don’t know.
Why was he so great? Because the key was that the people believed in him. That is one of the things that is so pertinent. That’s a lost art in today’s sports-entertainment, but he was able to make people believe him. Ethnicity also played a big part. Pedro, as a Puerto Rican in the Northeast, was god. I was a fan back then and I would attend a lot of shows and there were always a lot of Puerto Ricans in attendance. I’m not saying that’s the whole reason, but Pedro had the believability. He also had another lost art – the interview. He used to talk about the live events coming to your town … we don’t do that any more. Pedro would come and say “you know what, Vince McMahon, I have a lot of support in Springfield (or whatever the next town was) and I need you fans to come out and support me.” And then all of a sudden, here’s the ethnicity—he did a 180 and spoke in Spanish for a few minutes. If that didn’t sell tickets to that segment of the audience then nothing will. So that was one of the keys. People like he and Bruno had that support.
Do you believe Superstar Billy Graham was ahead of his time?
Billy Graham was indeed ahead of his time. He came in here with all guns a blazing. He was flamboyant, charismatic, we’ve never seen the likes of this individual before … tie dye, Ali mannerisms… Your mouthpiece can be your ticket to ride. If you had the natural god-given ability to speak, that was what it was all about it. Billy Graham epitomized that, and there was nobody like him at all.
Greatest WWE Champion of all time?
My definition of a champion is a guy who has everything going for him… a guy who can employ good psychology inside the squared circle, the ability to play to the crowd, the ability to be technically gifted and the ability to use the most important part of his repertoire, his mouth. It’s hard to say; there are so many that have represented the championship well, but my choice is Bret Hart.
I just saw the commercial that “Big” and his guys in WWE’s promos department put together for the WWE Championship book. They did a great job (in my humble opinion). Check it out here. And, of course, pick up your copy of the WWE Championship book here.
On the eve of the release of the WWE Championship book, I thought it would be appropriate to post excerpts from one of my favorite interviews during the book writing process–Lanny Poffo (aka, The Genius).
I called Poffo to get a brother’s point of view, as his brother is, of course, former two-time WWE Champion Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Poffo’s responses to my questions were very candid. Here are some quotes I didn’t use in the book:
Were you there at WrestleMania IV to celebrate with your brother?
I wasn’t any where near Atlantic City at the time, so I don’t know what was going on there. My mother, father and myself and my wife and daughter were all very thrilled for him. It was an intense evening.
I was there in 1971 when he as ignored in the Major League Baseball draft and I was there when he made up his mind that he was going to be at a free agent tryout in Busch Stadium in St. Louis and out of 300 free agents, he was the only one signed. He signed for no bonus and $500 a month. He supplemented his income by playing cards with the bonus babies. After five years, he got cut from every team he played for. He played for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Reds and the Chicago White Sox.
Then in 1975, he started over as a professional wrestler. Ten years later he made it to MSG. Two years after that he’s a world champion. That’s phenomenal. I’ve seen him overcome so much diversity; he’s a tremendous example to me as a younger brother. We may get disappointed, but we never get discouraged
Were you ever jealous of your brother’s success?
I speak at a lot of schools … I’m a public speaker. That’s the question that everybody asks me.
I could take the attitude to be jealous, but I would have a big hole I’m my liver right now because that’s no way to live. I also believe that God didn’t make a mistake when he made me. I’m very proud of my career and my accomplishments. At the age of 55, I consider myself healthy wealthy and free. I owe it all to wrestling. To be jealous of my brother would be ridiculous because my career would never have reached the heights that it did without him. He got me into WWE, I knew I would make it to the top spot.
One of the greatest moments of my career is when Randy Savage became Macho King Randy Savage and I wrote a poem for him. That’s the only time we were in the ring together. They kept us apart.
I believe there is no such thing as a jabroni in this business. We’re the ones who make you look good. And eventually my turn came too. I had a seven-year run and I’m not ashamed to talk about it.
How important was Elizabeth to Randy’s success?
He was going to be successful anyway because he was there three months before. Then she came and got over like brand new money. She made Randy look large and when you stand next to somebody who is diminutive, you look larger, which is something that Sensational Sherri could not do, she was a big woman. I believe Randy would have succeeded anyway. It was garnish that she was there. She became an amazing star and it’s sad to say that both of these valets are gone now. But Randy is 57 years old and he’s doing well now.
Did Randy have any apprehensions over the WrestleMania VIII storyline with Ric Flair?
[Randy and Elizabeth] put business ahead of everything. I imagine there were a couple of things they wouldn’t do, like pose nude in Playboy. They did draw the line at a few places. But they believed that the show comes first. Even if you don’t like the position that you have, you do the best you can with what you got.
Later in WCW, even after the divorce was public, since so many people were asking about Elizabeth, Randy brought her in as part of a storyline and turned her heel. No matter how they felt inside, they were never above doing things like that.
I thought the worst thing Randy did that I would have never done was let Jake Roberts’ snake bite him. He got a 103 fever and the snake died. Jake “The Snake” Roberts was the greatest talent to ever throw it all away. But he was different, unique special.
I must admit that I’m a little awed by the support I’ve received for the upcoming WWE Championship book. Everybody has been great in helping me promote the release, including WWE.com, who posted an interview with me on their main page earlier today. The fact that they would give me so much space on their site on the day of a pay-per-view is really overwhelming. Thanks to all the people over there, including (but not limited to) Mike McAvennie, Craig Tello, James Wortman and Mitch Passero.
As many of you already know, space restrictions prevented me from including all of the interviews I did with the Superstars in my WWE Championship book (order now). Because of this, I’m publishing many of the quotes that weren’t used in the book right here. I hope you enjoy them. Here’s a few excerpts from my conversation with Big Show that were not used in the book:
Were you nervous entering WWE from WCW?
Big Show: Absolutely. When I came from WCW, I came from an organization where I was very well protected and I was very naïve. My first day as a WWE Superstar I was in New York at a toy convention. I saw my new merchandise, all the different products that WWE had and WCW never had. I took a tour of the headquarters in Stamford. Everyone in the office was not only an employee, but everyone was a fan. That was a big difference from WCW; you go to CNN and no one in the office knew who you were, let alone a fan. And then to come up and be a part of the locker room with guys who were so seasoned—not arrogantly seasoned, though. You know WCW had their guys who had worked hard before, but they were kind of in cruise control as far as their intensity level of putting on good shows and working hard to put out the best product. I got to WWE and it was a different level. Guys like Undertaker and Stone Cold went out and were tearing the joint down every night. There was a mater of pride with them. It wasn’t about the money or taking it easy, it was about putting on the best show possible.
One of the biggest differences was the level of competitive in the locker room. They were competitive and wanted to put on the best match and walk through the curtain and let everybody know, “hey, try to follow that if you can.” WCW was more of “let’s go out and have a good match, take care of me, brother; I’ll take care of you, brother …” That kind of stuff. It was different when I got up to WWE. You really had to have your stuff together. It was a shark tank. You really had to up your game and know what you were doing in the ring and be a solid contributor to the product or else you got left behind. It was very intimidating.
Did the WWE locker room welcome you right away?
Big Show: Yes and no. There were some guys that I knew there. But our locker room was very competitive. I was a young kid … A new star, so to speak. I was going to have to make a position for myself, they weren’t just going to welcome me in and give it to me. We were very competitive. We knew we had to work hard and knew that the person next to you was going to work just as hard, if not harder. When you’re new in a situation like that, you start at the bottom, basically. I didn’t have tenure. I didn’t put in horrible trips and food poisoning and pneumonia and all these different things that guys have worked through. In WCW, if you had a hangnail, you took two weeks off.
How did you celebrate your first WCW Championship win?
Big Show: When I won the WCW title the first time, I wore it through the airport because I was so damn green. Nobody told me that I didn’t have to let everybody know that there was a new champion, so I wore it in the airport like an idiot. Winning the WWE title was a very proud moment, but I was very insecure about it. I looked around at all the great Superstars at the time … I was like “my god, I don’t deserve this, I shouldn’t be carrying it.” I don’t know if every champion has that self doubt, but I did at the time. I knew there were guys in the locker room that were a lot better than me at a lot of things – media, promos … When I won the WWE title, the first thing I wanted to do was run home and hide in the house.
If you like what you’re reading here, you’ll love the WWE Championship book (I know, I’m biased). You can order your copy here. And for more unedited content, follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/sullivanbooks
While writing the upcoming WWE Championship book, I had the honor of interviewing nearly every living former titleholder. Of course, each interview came with its own set of questions, but there was one query that I asked every last Superstar: Who do you think was the greatest WWE Champion of all time?
Believe it or not, every Superstar found this question nearly impossible to answer. But being the true professionals that they are, they all eventually offered up their opinions. As we get closer to the Nov. 23 release date, I’ll reveal many of their answers. Due to space restrictions, none of the below quotes made it into the book. Let’s consider them “web exclusives.” Enjoy:
Ric Flair: In terms of drawing money, it has to be Stone Cold or Hulk. But in terms of work rate, there’s about five guys… Hunter, Shawn , Undertaker, Cena, Dave Batista, Randy Orton, Edge… All those guys, they don’t have to, but if they were asked to wrestle an hour every night, they’d do it. And they carry that belt and prestige of that title in high regard, which is really important. People can see in your eyes, if you’re the champion, you’re the shit. If I was champion now they would really have a hard time living with me.
Bret Hart: I guess that would be me (after much thought) … Actually, I’m not sure who would be the greatest champion of all time, but I know of all the champions they ever had, none of them gave any more than I ever did in and out of the ring. To me it was a big honor that I took pretty serious and I think that people remember about me today. If there is any criticism about Bret Hart the wrestler, he’s the guy who took it too seriously. If that’s the only criticism I get, then I can take that. Yeah, I’m the guy who took it too seriously. I really had so much pride in being the champion and being the wrestler that I was. Maybe that’s what makes me stand out today.
You have young wrestlers like CM Punk and different guys wanting to be the champion that they remember me being. They want to be proud and they want it to mean something and they want people to understand that there’s a big honor there. You look back and you can say that I was always s a good champion in that way; I made you take pride in the belt. I can remember kissing the belt every time when I climbed up on the second rope in the beginning of the match and at the end of the match when I won. When I kissed that belt, it was my reminder that I was living a dream and that I had a responsibility to be the champion that I saw as a kid when I watched world champions work for my father. They always had class. I wanted to be a champion like them, like Bruno or Dory Funk or Harley Race. They had a certain pride and respect everywhere they went. I always tried to be that same champion for the fans, company and the wrestlers themselves.
Kevin Nash: Hulk Hogan (without hesitation). When he came back, I didn’t think anybody could be hotter than Steve and Rock at that point. We were in Chicago that night when we came back with the nWo and Rock went toe to toe with Terry. I remember thinking it would be 60/40, maybe 70/30 in favor of Rock. It was 90/10 Hogan. I said “Hulk’s Hulk.” That was the night I realized it.
As far as performers go, I think Shawn Michaels is the greatest. I’ve used this equation one hundred times: He is the Michael Jordan of sports-entertainment. Performance wise, Shawn Michaels is the greatest champion.
Shawn Michaels: Greatest is an overused word and I don’t know what defines greatest anymore.
I finished the final edit of my upcoming WWE Championship book about six weeks ago. Since that time, I picked up several other books (I’ll fill you in on them when I’m allowed), which has redirected my focus. I wouldn’t say I completely forgot about the WWE Championship book, but it was definitely stored on the top shelf of a closet in the back of my mind. Then, one my new Twitter friends (@ZachTakes) messaged me last night to let me know that Amazon had posted the image of the book cover. Here it is:
I must say that I’m rather impressed with what WWE did here. It’s simple, but still possesses the flash that should always be associated with the WWE Championship. Some people on Twitter have commented that they don’t love that the current version of the title was used on the cover, but I really think it makes sense, especially since even the most casual fan will be able to see the cover and know they’re looking at. That’s important, in my opinion … Too many of today’s fans are confused by the two World Titles in WWE. This cover should definitely clear up any doubts. As always, feel free to pre-order the book on Amazon. I may be biased, but I think you’ll like it.