(WFXR) – Tony Schiavone’s heralded professional wrestling career began as a fan in the mid-1970s in Augusta County.
As a teenager, he watched his first game when he stopped by his uncle’s house to take a break from his grocery packing job at the IGA in little Craigsville.
“I stopped to see Uncle John and we had lunch. We watched Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling and that’s where my interest started, watching it on TV in the mid-70s, ”said Schiavone.
He became such a fan that he and his friends frequently hit the road to attend live events in Richmond, Greensboro and Roanoke.
Schiavone said, “I don’t think I missed an event in Roanoke from 1975 to 1980. I remember Blackjack Mulligan. I remember the Anderson brothers, Wahoo McDaniel, Ric Flair. We have always tried to have our seats at ringside. We just liked being right on the edge where we could boo the bad guys when they came out. “
A big sports fan, Schiavone has set himself the goal of becoming a baseball announcer.
Shortly after graduating from James Madison University, he landed a job in baseball for the Charlotte minor league team owned by the Crockett family, who also owned Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling.
Schiavone said he constantly pressured the baseball team’s general manager Francis Crockett to let him work in promoting his family’s wrestling. “I would go see Francis periodically and say, ‘Hey, do you need a wrestling announcer already? You know I love wrestling and I used to stand in front of a mirror with a brush pretending it was a microphone. I would pretend to interview guys.
In October 1983, the Crocketts finally gave him his chance.
“She said we needed you to go to Ric Flair and do an interview,” Schiavone said. “They need an advertiser and I just [said] ‘Wow!’ So I went to Ric Flair, I did an interview. Ric loved my job and told the Crockett’s that they could probably start using me.
Shortly after that, fate struck again when promoter David Crockett took Schiavone out of the stands in a wrestling event when the ring announcer failed to show up.
It was that night that he learned about wrestling part-time by advertising a job on the radio that was better paid than full-time.
Schiavone said, “When it was all over they gave me a $ 100 bill and I brought it back to Lois (his wife) and we looked at that $ 100 bill. I remember thinking back then, ‘Dude, we could make some money in this business.’ “
His growing responsibilities for the Crocketts eventually led him to make play-by-play announcements for their program, World Championship Wrestling.
The 6:05 p.m. Saturday night time slot was one of TBS’s highest-rated shows in years.
During this time, he went to work every week with the biggest names in pro wrestling including Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard and Jimmy Valiant.
Even after the Crocketts sold the promotion to Ted Turner, Schiavone remained a fixture in pro wrestling.
During the 1990s, “sports entertainment” was hotter than ever when Hulk Hogan left ship for WCW.
For years, the promotional show “Nitro” dominated cable ratings.
But all good things must end. Fans lost interest and WCW lost tens of millions of dollars.
In 2002, the network canceled all WCW shows.
That’s when Vince McMahon, owner of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), bought the promotion for pennies on the dollar.
Few wrestlers joined WWE, but McMahon’s plans did not include Schiavone.
For the first time since he was a teenager, Tony was out of the company.
“When WCW broke down,” said Schiavone, “it was not a good time for us because our finances changed and for 18 years I did all I could to keep this going. house afloat. “
He went to work for WSB radio broadcasting games for the Georgia Bulldogs and the AAA Atlanta Braves.
But in 2015, cutbacks led the station to let him go.
In an effort to retain health insurance, Schiavone took a part-time job as a Starbucks barista.
For the next 12 years, the former announcer even refused to watch the fight. That changed when an Alabama mortgage broker and big wrestling fan Conrad Thompson called him.
Thompson is also Ric Flair’s son-in-law and he was starting to build a reputation as a podcaster.
“So Conrad contacted me in 2017 and said, hey, do you want to do a wrestling podcast? “
At first, Schiavone didn’t want anything to do with wrestling anymore. But his daughter was getting married and his wife thought it would be a good way to pay for the reception.
“So I kind of said ‘I don’t think I’m going to do this.’ And Lois said, ‘Laurie is getting married. We have to pay for the wedding. I said yes. Not only did he have it. to help pay for the wedding it paid for the wedding because Conrad has a business plan. We have sponsors. We sell goods. We are in our fifth season.
Their “What Happened When” podcast took off and Schiavone’s renewed visibility caught the attention of billionaire Tony Kahn, co-owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was running a national cable show, All Elite Wrestling, and he brought Schiavone back to weekly television.
Schivone’s life has seen as many twists and turns as a wrestling pay-per-view, and now he’s finding his way to the shelves.
A lifelong comic fan, he tells his story in a new graphic novel called “Butts In Seats”.
When he started a Kickstarter fundraiser to help pay, he didn’t think a lot of people would be interested. Schiavone recalled, “We were hoping our Kickstarter would get $ 20,000. It raised more than $ 130,000.
The ten-chapter book was written by Dirk Manning and drawn by 26 artists.
“Butts in Seats” will be on sale in stores and online by the end of November.
With a hit TV show and podcast and now a new graphic novel, Schiavone says he’s very satisfied with his rejuvenated career.
“I couldn’t be more excited than now for the way my life has changed,” said Schiavone. “I don’t like to use the word blessed, because everyone uses the word blessed. But I am blessed. I am really. I am very lucky.
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