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Mean Gene interview

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Post by THE-KING-OF-KINGS on January 25th 2009, 2:15 pm

"Let me tell you something Mean Gene!" That simple phrase from Hulk Hogan was heard countless times during the 1980's and helped propel Mean Gene Okerlund into a household name. He is one of the most distinctive voices during the past three decades of wrestling. In 2006, Okerlund earned his spot in the WWE Hall of Fame and he continues to work for the company to this day.

Yesterday, I spoke with Mean Gene about his career and also the upcoming Hall of Fame ceremony. The 2009 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony will take place in Houston, TX on April 4th and tickets are now on sale at Ticketmaster.com.

How are things going Gene?

Things are going very good. Of course, this time of the year in World Wrestling Entertainment, things start to heat up and with the Hall of Fame coming up on April 4th, the cat is out of the bag and the first inductee to going to be you know who.

Stone Cold Steve Austin.

What an announcement that is. And sitting here in San Antonio which is kind of a second home for Steve Austin people here are very, very excited about. To tell you the truth, so am I. That’s going to be one of the headliners for the Hall of Fame event which has become such a big part of WrestleMania.

It sure has. Let’s go back a few years when you got inducted into the Hall of Fame which was back in 2006. Tell me what that moment was like for you to be inducted and to stand in front of your peers and be celebrated like that.

It’s a great feeling. Number one – I was the first announcer ever to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame but to get inducted in with guys who were at the top of the game for so long like Bret “The Hitman” Hart and, believe it or not, Verne Gagne is the guy that I started for. He was one of the great amateurs in the ’48 Olympics and became a top professional wrestler back in the old, embryonic days of wrestling television. It was a real kick in the head and then the fact that (Hulk) Hogan had to trash me, you know. No, he presented me into the hall and it just a very, very special night and one that I won’t forget.

I remember your induction speech and at the end of it, you ever told your pundits that they could kiss your backside which I think surprised some people.

(laughing) Yeah, there are a few critics and I am going to make that request with my mortician – bury me face down so my critics can kiss my royal (butt). And I don’t feel bad about it!

With the Hall of Fame taking place in Texas this year and there have been a great number of wrestling stars over the years that came up through that state – who are some of the Texas wrestlers you would like to see make it into the hall?

Well, I can rattle off a few names right off the top of my head and that would be the Funk family out of, of course, West Texas out around Amarillo - Terry Funk, Dory Funk Jr., longtime NWA champion. And how about the late great Dick Murdoch? Wouldn’t you want to throw him into the mix?

Without a doubt. I really think it’s going to be tough for the people who make the decision on how goes into the Hall of Fame this year because there are so many stars that came up through that state.

Well, Texas was a hotbed earlier on. It still is today. They’re hanging from the rafters at live events at any of these towns like San Antonio, Dallas – Fort Worth, going out to Amarillo and down to El Paso and in Houston. Houston is a big, big wrestling town.

Let’s go back to last year’s Hall of Fame when Ric Flair got inducted. You’ve known Ric for many years so what was it like for you watching that ceremony?

I covered Ric’s very first match. We were both from Minneapolis, Minnesota and I was working for Verne Gagne at that time and Ric was just a fresh as a daisy. He was what they called “green” back in those days. To think what he accomplished in three decades really makes me proud of the association I’ve had with the guy down through the years. The match the following night in the Citrus Bowl between he and Shawn Michaels, in my mind, it has to go down as one of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history. One of the greatest matches of all times.

What was it like for you over the years to be around Ric outside the ring and going on the road with him? There always seems to be a story when you’re with Ric on the road.

There always is a story. Like Bobby Heenan said – it’s like traveling with Larry Flynt. He is a mover and a shaker and he loves to get in and mix with the people. He has such a tremendous work ethic for a guy nearly 60 years old and performer the last five to ten years of his career. You just have to love him and respect him. He still can get it done in the ring. I loved tagging along!

You mentioned Bobby Heenan. How is he doing now because I know he recently had a health scare and is dealing with some issues?

Yeah, those are some residual issues that Bobby is probably going to have to deal with for the rest of his life. He was very sick and contracted throat cancer and he had a number of subsequent operations. As a result it affected his speech and for a guy that made a living out of talking, and made a damn good living and was a good talker, it’s kind of a sad, sad thing to see. Same thing that happened to Gordon Solie.

Speaking of talking, you had your fair share of talking in the wrestling business and became one of the all-time great announcers. What was it like for you as an announcer years ago and what it has become now because you did revolutionize the position in some ways?

Even though I do commentary Brian, I should point out that I was actually what you would call a stick man, doing most of the interviews. Interviews became such a big part of television wrestling and that was my claim to fame. So, to be a part of this thing for now going on 37 years – I started in April of 1971 – we’re getting along there so I’ve had good run and I’m still working today and still having as much fun as I’ve ever had. However, the business has changed totally.

What are your thoughts on what the business was to what it has become now?

Well, back in the old days, the people around the country can relate to some of the great stars like Gagne, Lou Thesz, Eddie Graham who was a big star in Florida and the southeast United States. The venues where wrestling played were smoky, national guard armories. People were throwing beer on one another. They probably still do that today though. I don’t think I can say that hasn’t changed. But the one thing, you take a lot at it now with all the pyrotechnics and with the tremendous visual aspect of a World Wrestling Entertainment event, I mean, there is no comparison. I think what I’m saying essentially is the production values have just advanced so far that this competes with anything and everything on television.

Go back 25 years – you’re with then World Wrestling Federation and Vince McMahon has this idea that he wants to put on a huge show, an extravaganza called WrestleMania. What were your thoughts about him taking the big risk and putting on that show because some people thought he was crazy to try it?

Well, he has to have a lot of nerve to do be able to even dream up an event of that magnitude and then when he mainstreamed it with Mr. T and Muhammad Ali and Liberace and the Radio City Rockettes - Billy Martin was a guest ring announcer. I just couldn’t believe it. And back then, you know the cable penetration for pay-per-view availability was negligible. It was probably three or four million homes where today we’ve got one hundred or so million homes. Most of it, and WrestleMania I was done closed circuit at small theaters or small venues where you can seat less than 1,000 or 1,200 people.

Obviously a lot of people tie you in with Hulk Hogan as he helped make you famous with the many interviews you conducted with him. Now when you look at wrestling, John Cena is one of the biggest stars in the WWE. How would you compare the two right now and their respective careers?

You know, quite close because the one common denominator they have is both of those pieces of talent appeal to kids – children, kids and families. John Cena is family entertainment. You take a look at some of these other guys – well, I guess you could say even The Undertaker is. Cena is a top hand, he’s always on time, he’s prompt, he’s courteous and he’s one great in-ring performer. Plus, he’s a very articulate young man. I know you’ve probably seen his movie The Marine but there’s another one that’s going to be coming out very shortly (12 Rounds) and he is proving like The Rock before him that he is going to be a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood

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