Tony Schiavone: There and Back Again

Concerning wrestling commentators.

Professional wrestling commentators have been both occupying and captivating the minds of wrestling fans for generations. Quite content to remain outside of the spotlight that is the superstardom known to wrestlers themselves, commentators instead only add to the lore that are these sometimes strange and magical performers. Commentators may seem of little importance, being neither renowned as great in ring athletes, nor counted among the Stone Cold’s or Ric Flair’s of the world, but the gravity of their place in this thing we all love cannot be overstated.

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It has been remarked by some that the commentator’s only real passion is for wrestling itself! Which seems rather factual, as many are bigger marks for the business than those of us merely looking in from the outside! This does nothing but endear them to us even more, as we’re all, whether fan, performer, or otherwise, simply just kids at heart exploring what we love however we can.

Of course, categorizing wrestling as their only passion is unfair, as many of our favorites have a keen set of interests - in the consumption of ales, a loyal love of football, grilling a variety of meats derived from creatures both large and small, video games, or even for collecting Kiss figurines and Batman memorabilia! But where the heart of the passionate wrestling commentator truly lies is in uplifting and providing the carefully chosen words for the stories being created in the ring by their friends and colleagues. All wrestling commentators share a love for this thing of ours. This magical, wonderful, lifesaving, and very perfectly unique thing of ours.

And yes, no doubt, to others their ways seem quaint. But today, of all days, it is brought home to me, it is no bad thing to celebrate a career so unique and influential. A career that resembles a journey like no other, through eras and alterations, from the tops of the highest misty mountains to the depths of the darkest Mirkwood forests, and from passion lost to love rediscovered.

And so, life as a wrestling commentator goes on, very much as it has in all of the ages before - play-by-play calls melding seamlessly with splashes of beautiful color – full of its own comings and goings, with change coming slowly, if it comes at all.

For few things are made to endure in wrestling, save for the beloved wrestling commentator passing from one generation to the next. There has always been greatness living behind the mic in this thing of ours. And there always will be.

Today, we talk about and admire my favorite commentator of all time and place him in his rightful place of wrestling wonder and lore. Today, I honor Tony Schiavone.

First, thank you for allowing me to combine two of my great nerd loves. For those who are not fans of Tolkien or Lord of the Rings, I apologize for the dedicated and long-winded introduction, though I cannot promise I am finished with the references. Only for now.

I do find it fitting though, that a piece on someone I hold in the highest of esteem as the greatest wrestling commentator of all time compares him to one of my favorite literary and cinematic works of all time as well. A story of adventure, of finding oneself, and of becoming who one is meant to be, whether one believes that destiny is warranted or not. Tony’s journey in wrestling resembles Bilbo’s in Tolkien’s work, traveling here, there, and back again, discovering his place, losing faith, and returning home only after all was thought lost.

It’s a story many can relate to, working diligently to claim and live a dream, then falling out of love with it when it wrongs us as things often do. We can also relate to a work ethic born of love for family and a desire to give those we love all we can. More than anything though, I think we can all find hope and inspiration in returning to that first love of ours, the one that perhaps left a sour taste in our mouths, and rediscovering a fire burning deep within, a passion that had never truly died, only slept peacefully for nearly two decades.

When I hear Tony’s voice still, I am immediately sent back to a time in my childhood that I would consider almost perfect. I don’t have many memories I hold in such wonderful esteem, but this one cannot be tattered. In my Grandad’s house, the smell of a mixture of homemade pizza, pipe tobacco, and moth balls would waft through the air on Monday evenings. He’d sit me on his lap and immediately begin telling stories of wrestling superstars larger than life. Historic battles from when he was young, encounters that set the stage for his own life as a fan. His eyes would grow large with excitement and pride, tearing up every now and then as he noticed how he captivated my young mind with tales too wonderful to possibly be real. Only they were.

After a little while, and after he’d refill his pipe, he’d silence his stories to give way to the ones that were like no other for a much younger me. Narrated by Tony Schiavone, WCW Monday Nitro was the fairy tale castle that many other young girls escaped to in their imaginations. For me, the ring, the pyro, and the majesty that was professional wrestling was all I needed, and Tony provided the backdrop for it all.

He has admitted himself that the time in which I remember him introducing me to this magical thing was not his favorite in the business, that he had already soured and was merely existing as a means to an end. I didn’t notice then, but looking back, I can appreciate it much better now. Thanks to the WWE Network and the internet, we can find almost anything we desire to watch from the past, as if it is happening live once again. With this incredible platform, much of Tony’s best work still reigns supreme in not just the minds of fans from those days, but in the minds of much younger fans like me as well. I can relive his early days and marvel at his talent and passion many years before the taste in his mouth turned awful.

When WCW closed in 2001, I didn’t understand. I was just eight years old and it seemed as if the world had taken away my favorite thing, just because. I quickly pivoted to the other guys, because that’s what many of us who had been loyal to WCW did, and I’d look for Tony every week. I did that for a long time. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that my favorite voice was gone, that he wouldn’t be narrating the stories I loved so much anymore.

As time passed, I understood more of what the business had been like during the time when I was introduced to it. The world taught me many lessons, that I used to understand wrestling too. Though I never walked away, the inner workings of the wrestling business soured my view on it as well. I still thought about Tony, and I often wondered what he was up to, if he watched anymore, or if he missed it. I enjoyed the product as much as one could during those years, and I respected those who sat behind the desk, but none of them ever brought the little bit extra that Tony had when I was young, even if I didn’t know exactly what that little bit extra was.

It turned out, that little bit extra was simply genuine admiration and love. Love for the business, love for his colleagues, and love for the chance to do something so many can only dream about. I began to understand this in 2017 when I discovered Tony had resurfaced in the wrestling community, albeit only for a podcast, but it was something, and I was immediately all in. I yearned to learn what he had been up to and wanted to hear the some of the stories I remember being told as a girl, only from his perspective. The chemistry between he and Conrad Thompson hooked me, but so did the humor, the self-deprecation, and the oftentimes brutal honesty about the business and his views on what happened when.

While I loved hearing his voice, I was soon certain that I’d never hear him calling wrestling on a big stage again. I had hoped, but it made sense to me. He had his reasons, and that’s all that mattered.

So, when he began to show up in bits for All Elite Wrestling, in the crowd at Double or Nothing, on little things with Conrad for Road To, and more, that hope I had all but given up on, came back. I followed the rumors for what seemed like forever and eventually my wishes were granted. Tony Schiavone was All Elite. He was back.

I wish I could explain what it felt like to see him on my television screen calling wrestling again. I wish I could convey the emotions that flowed through me when it was his voice narrating again, the stories that still give me butterflies 22 years after the first one. I wish I could do that for you all. But I can’t. I cried the first time I heard him on TNT again, remembering the most perfect of childhood memories. I wept when he and Cody shared the ring so emotionally in the fall of 2019, with emotion so real and friendship to dear between the two men. Tears poured from my eyes as Sting debuted and Tony introduced him like he had for so long so many years before, his voice cracking with the moment’s gravity and such significant impact. The emotion was and remains very real because it represents so much more than wrestling.

Wrestling is in some ways the same for all of us, but in many ways, it’s very different as well. We connect it to different points in our lives and give it life as it does the same to us. We tie in emotions and build relationships through experiences shared and remembered. We memorialize friends and family who brought us to the dance in the first place. It lives almost tangibly in our very souls.

What Tony has brought back to wrestling, what he represents to the fan that is me, is deep. I love the human he is. The dog loving, no shit taking, fun loving, absolute gem of a person he is. I also love what he represents in the business that once took everything from him. He lives to build it up, to encourage the future, and to remember the past. He didn’t come back for a simple payday – though that’s always a bonus – he came back to be a pillar of AEW, to connect generations, and to remind the young ones to not let the business jade them into forgetting to have fun.

Whether hosting the AEW Dynamite post show with his bestest friend, Bug, throwing it to Excalibur or JR at the desk, making everyone laugh with Aubrey or Conrad in the podcast world, taking crap from Jericho or Taz in the ring, or hobnobbing around with his BFF, Dr. Britt Baker, Tony Schiavone is back, and I couldn’t be happier, both for myself and for everyone.

Now if you’ll indulge me in just one more Tolkien reference.

 

“The Road goes ever on and on,

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.”

 

I’m thankful for my own wrestling journey, and I can’t imagine a more beautiful and perfect revelation as Tony Schiavone beginning it all, along with my Grandad, and returning to voice a literal wrestling revolution, one that may have saved this passion of mine all together. With Tony back, a piece of my Grandad is too, as is a piece of that perfect childhood memory, and such is the perfection of what these people do for us as fans.

 

Thank you, Tony, for helping me remember, and for showing all of us the way.

 

 

 

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