By Jeff Lutz, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@JLutz82)
I hope Tony Schiavone loves wrestling.
I’m pretty sure he loves baseball. My only personal encounter with Schiavone came back in 2007, when I worked as an intern for MLB.com covering the Atlanta Braves. Schiavone was doing radio work in Atlanta and often showed up at Turner Field to collect player interviews on his massive tape recorder.
I didn’t even recognize Tony at first. He had facial hair and had gained a lot of weight, and he didn’t look anything like the guy who was calling WCW Monday Nitro only a few years before.
But once I found out who he was, I was immediately starstruck. For some reason, professional wrestling personalities have always done that to me. Not rock stars or actors or even major league baseball players in the summer of 2007. Sure, Chipper Jones is fine. But give me the guy who was on lead commentary for Royal Rumble 1990.
I wasn’t able to pick Tony’s brain about wrestling nearly as often as I wanted to. In fact, after our initial meeting I pretty much left him alone, stifling the urge to ask him what Hulk Hogan liked to eat before a show or how Bill Goldberg spent his spare time. Maybe I was projecting, but Tony seemed far removed from his time in wrestling and no longer interested in reliving it or discussing it.
Maybe I was wrong or perhaps it was just too soon. In the last couple years, Schiavone, who turns 62 this week, has reinvented himself by falling back on the thing that made him a star in the first place – pro wrestling.
It started with his podcast with Conrad Thompson, What Happened When Monday. In the first handful of episodes, Schiavone sounded like the distant guy I’d perceived back in 2007. Talking about the business of pro wrestling, the behind-the-scenes aspects, did nothing for him and even less for the audience. He didn’t remember much and had few opinions on how everything went down during the 1990s. It was over.
Then the format of the podcast changed. Instead of focusing on “what happened,” the show became off the cuff, turning Schiavone loose to almost satirize the business. He poked fun at colorful characters in a good-natured, honest way, laughed with the audience about how ridiculous WCW became, and even let listeners in on his personal life.
It was real. It was genuine. Wrestling was fun again, and maybe Schivaone, without taking himself too seriously, began to remember who he was.
Schiavone was close to quitting the podcast to focus more heavily on his job as the play-by-play radio announcer for the Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers in Georgia. That never happened, and here Schiavone is back in wrestling every week as part of the announce team for All Elite Wrestling Dynamite along with Jim Ross and Excalibur.
Schiavone has arguably been the best part of what has consistently been a solid show through its first five weeks. He has found the right tone during serious and less-serious segments, has found his place among a three-man booth and reminded fans why he and Ross were worthy of the often-used title, “voice of my childhood.”
Wrestling, especially at its highest levels, doesn’t always leave fans with people to root for. It’s a politically driven industry that seems more focused on a corporate image or, in WWE’s case, on appeasing stockholders. It often comes across as phony and the wrestlers, sometimes through no fault of their own, get dragged through that mud and see their images harmed.
Schiavone seems real. He sounds genuine. With AEW, he doesn’t get to call anyone a slapdick or make his wife, Lois, a recurring character. But he gets to work in his comfort zone, with a wrestling product that treats fans intelligently, gives them a straightforward product and hearkens back to the glory days of WCW. It’s right in Schiavone’s wheelhouse.
Schiavone looks good, having slimmed down considerably from the days I saw him 12 years ago. He sounds good. He sounds like he’s having fun again. Like he’s doing what he loves.