Sunday, February 19, 2017

Gateway Interview: Tony Schiavone (Part 4)

We all remember what it was like to be a fan of wrestling when we were young, no matter what area of the country you lived in or what wrestling territory you first discovered. Tony Schiavone grew up in Virginia a big fan of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, watching with his Uncle John as a kid and later driving the 6+ hour round trip to Greensboro to see classic matches that took place there.

So with the launch of his podcast "What Happened When" (WHW Monday) on the MLW Radio Network where Tony and Conrad Thompson will look back on memorable moments in wrestling through his career with Jim Crockett Promotions and WCW, we thought it would be fun as fans to hear Tony talk about his experiences before he got started in a career that would eventually lead to him becoming one of wrestling's most recognizable broadcasters. There are Tony's memories as a fan.

After all - - David Chappell and I are the same age as Tony and we grew discovering Mid-Atlantic Wrestling during the exact same time period as he did. So this is the most fun for us, getting his memories and perspective on things that we love talking about.

So now enjoy PART 4 of what we like to call "Sundays with Schiavone." And be sure to check out the earlier installments of David Chappell's interview with Tony: PART 1  PART 2   PART 3

- Dick Bourne

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David Chappell: Spot shows in the Mid-Atlantic area were great, but nothing beat going to a live show at a coliseum or a building in a bigger town, wouldn’t you agree?

Tony Schiavone: I didn’t know they were called spot shows then, but at the spot shows Butchie and I never saw a title switch and we never saw blood…and that’s what we wanted to see. I guess they just wouldn’t bleed for those spot shows!

Chappell: (laughs) It’s a shame you had to travel further to see blood!

Schiavone: So, we would go to Roanoke and we would see blood and we would see triple main events. (laughs) I remember Butchie the first time we saw blood saying ‘TONY, WE SAW BLOOD…WE SAW THEM BLEED!’ We were so excited!

Chappell: (laughs) And we’ll be coming back to the Roanoke Civic Center!

Schiavone: (laughs) That’s right! But we would never see a title switch, so then we would go to Greensboro…

Chappell: You definitely saw title switches there!

Schiavone: Yes, then we saw title switches. I know I saw Wahoo beat Greg Valentine for the Mid-Atlantic Championship.

Chappell: Right, the payoff in early 1978 from when Greg broke Wahoo’s leg. But then Wahoo lost it right back to Ken Patera.

Schiavone: I saw the U.S. Title and the World Tag Team Titles switch hands in Greensboro.

Greensboro ring announcer Tom Miller and RicFlair
Chappell: Going to Greensboro back in those days, you saw some of the greatest matches put on anywhere in the world. Do you have a favorite that comes to mind?

Schiavone: David, I’ll tell you the greatest match I’ve ever seen. The way we found out about the match, because we didn’t live in the Greensboro market, was that Tom Miller would announce it on the show before.

Chappell: Right, Truckin’ Tom Miller, the legendary ring announcer in Greensboro!

Schiavone: Right! Truckin’ Tom would say, ‘Fans coming to the Greensboro Coliseum, our next event will be October 23rd' or whatever. So one time he announced, ‘And you will see, the World Tag Team Champions DUSTY RHODES AND DICK SLATER defend their tag team belts against Ric Flair and Greg Valentine!’

Chappell: Yes, I remember Rhodes and Slater, who weren’t in Jim Crockett Promotions then, originally being billed as the champs for that match!

Schiavone: All right, now here’s what happened. We came back [to Greensboro], and it wasn’t Slater and Dusty, it was the Anderson Brothers.

Chappell: Yep!

Schiavone: Which kind of pissed me off!

Vintage Audio: Greg Valentine and Ric Flair promote their scheduled match with Rhodes and Slater

Chappell: (laughing)

Schiavone: (laughs) But, nevertheless okay, that match… [the Anderson Brothers] dropped the straps to Valentine and Flair, that match was like the greatest match I had ever seen!

Chappell: And to be there in person for that historic October 30, 1977 title change…unbelievable. I believe Gene Anderson was injured in that match.

Schiavone: I remember I had a friend of mine with me, named Tommy, and we went to the event and as the event was going on I remember looking at Tommy and saying, ‘This is the best match I’ve ever seen!’

Chappell: What made that match the absolute best in your mind? 

Schiavone: (pauses) I guess because we had four great workers, right?

Chappell: For sure.

Schiavone: But the fact of how they would get heat on each other, and they would go down on the floor and they would bleed…

Chappell: (laughs) I figured you’d mention the blood!

Schiavone: Yeah, and the other team would make a comeback, and then they would stop the heat.

Chappell: I bet the ebb and flow was tremendous, and you had a title change to boot.

Schiavone: You know, Flair and Valentine weren’t babyfaces back then…

Chappell: They were definitely heels back then. This was a “Battle of the Bullies” type deal.

Schiavone: Yeah, it really was. And then I remember later on, Tommy and I…his nickname was ‘Hippie.’

Chappell: (laughs) You mean like the 1960s hippies?

Schiavone: Everybody had nicknames when I was growing up! He would always go with me to Greensboro…others would always come up with some excuse, but Hippie would always go.

Chappell: Smart man, that Hippie!

Schiavone: Hippie and I would always try to get the ringside seats that were at the end zone where the wrestlers came out. And we would always try to get the ringside seats, you know where the first eight or nine maybe ten rows were on the floor but then they would have risers, that would go up a little bit…

Chappell: Better sight lines.

Schiavone: Right, so we would get seats that were on the risers so like you said David, we didn’t have to look around people’s heads!

Chappell: Certainly makes for a better viewing experience.

Schiavone: And we tried to get the ones on the end, where the heels came out…because we wanted to see them up close and we wanted to boo at ‘em!

Chappell: (laughs) Of course!

Schiavone: And I remember we went to Roanoke one time and all these heels came out and we booed ‘em, and Angelo Mosca came out and we were too afraid to boo him!

Chappell: (laughs) Completely understandable! They didn’t call him “Big Nasty” for nothing!

Schiavone: He looked big AND bad, okay?

Chappell: No doubt…

Schiavone: (laughs) Yeah, then after I got to know him years later I really got to like him. He was kind of a jovial old big guy and I remember telling him, ‘You scared the hell out of me one day, and now look at you!’

Chappell: (laughs) I’d be interested to hear what you think made Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling one of the best, if not the best, territory in the professional wrestling world.

Schiavone: Well, I didn’t watch any of the other territories. The only way I heard about the other territories was reading about them in the magazines.

Chappell: Right…

Schiavone: The magazines were how you found out about the other territories…

Chappell: It’s hard to believe, now that we’re in the Internet age, but that was very true back in the 1970s.

Schiavone: But I think what made [Mid-Atlantic] great was the great workers. Like Flair and Mulligan, like the Andersons…like Tim Woods, like Ricky Steamboat.

Chappell: We were blessed to see some phenomenal talent over the years.

Schiavone: David, that’s kind of a hard question. I just knew that I loved it.

Chappell: I think maybe a better way to have phrased the question would be what did you enjoy most about Mid-Atlantic Wrestling. Because you’re absolutely right, most of us didn’t see the other territories back then to compare Crockett to.

Schiavone: I think back then the Crockett’s knew how to make you want to watch them. And it’s an art that’s long gone…because they show everything on TV now.

Chappell: Yep, very true.

Schiavone: But you would watch those TV shows knowing that you would not necessarily see a good match, you’d see a squash match or a job match, whatever we’d call it now.

But you’d still watch it because you’d watch it for the interviews; you’d watch it for those two and a half minute interviews to see where Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling was coming to your town…

Chappell: Yes…

Schiavone: And sometimes you would tune in and you’d see Ricky Steamboat win the television title or see a title switch or see some sort of angle. But to me back then, the angles and the interviews were what drew you in and made you watch, and not necessarily a great match between two guys.

Chappell: The TV show was done to get you out to buy a ticket for the arena shows, but it was still must see TV.

Schiavone: Exactly…it was just the way they packaged it, and the characters they had, that made me come back week after week!

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Stay tuned for PART FIVE of our ongoing interview with Tony Schiavone. And don't miss Tony's podcast this Monday with co-host Conrad Thompson. It's "What Happened When" (WHW Monday) and it drops every Monday on the MLW Radio Network and everywhere you get your podcasts.

Read all about the world tag team title match that never was - -Rhodes & Slater defending the NWA World Tag Team titles against Ric Flair and Greg Valentine in Greensboro - - and how that led to the greatest match Tony ever saw as a fan: Rhodes and Slater defend the World Tag Team Titles in the Mid-Atlantic Area - - Almost by Dick Bourne.

See also:

Memories of Pro Wrestling That Will Never Grow Old by Tony Schiavone
Conrad Thompson Announces New Podcast with Tony Schiavone

Follow Tony Schiavone at @tonyschiavone24
Follow Conrad Thompson at @heyheyitsconrad
Follow the MLW Radio Network at @MWL
Follow Tony's podcast at @WHWMonday

Check out Tony's new T-Shirts and support the WHW Monday podcast!