Wrestling is often defined by performances. Iconic moments in the ring such as Hulk Hogan lifting Andre The Giant, Eddie Guerrero winning the WWE Championship and Stone Cold Steve Austin turning heel at WrestleMania 17 are all burned into our collective memories. This can make it rather easy to forget about the other people that make wrestling feel real to us. There was one person that concept applies too heavily.
Gene Okerlund, commonly referred to as “Mean” Gene Okerlund (or MEAAAN BY GOD GENE if you ask Ric Flair) is an icon in wrestling, and there’s no mistaking him when it comes to memorable voices of wrestling. While Gene may have just been a man with a mustache, his personality was just as big as the countless people he interviewed.
Gene, of course, is probably best known for his run with the WWF when he started in 1984. With his calm, but stern demeanor and a style of backstage interviewing that can only be associated with him, he was a major cog in the engine that was the “Rock n Wrestling” era of sports entertainment of the 80s and into the 90s. The fact of the matter is that Gene WAS sports entertainment embodied in a simplistic, yet powerful manner.
Gene Okerlund was rightfully honored for his accomplishments with his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006, and quite frankly, there is nobody that can ever replace his impact not only on every wrestling promotion he was with, but the entire sports entertainment industry altogether. If you ask legendary voices such as Jim Ross, they will tell you that it was Gene who paved the way for them.
As we all know, Gene was best remembered for his countless remarkable backstage interviews with colorful personalities. But with a litany of interviews to choose from, which ones stand out? Well, each interview had its own unique charm added in, but here are a few of my personal favorites.
You can pick any one of his interviews with Randy Savage for one. One of the qualities that made Gene stand out from the crowd was his ability to remain cool in front of ridiculous characters. Announcers commonly react positively or negatively to the actions of superstars in the ring based on whether or not they themselves are supposed to be good or bad. Gene did not care. A simple pillar of comedy is remaining calm while the other goes insane. And in the earliest era of sports entertainment, few personalities were as eccentric and unique as that of the Macho Man.
Here is another classic..
Another one of his classics came when he interviewed Andre The Giant, and one of Gene’s most underrated qualities are exhibited in spades here. Pay close attention to how he approaches interviewing a mammoth of a human being. He doesn’t sell Andre The Giant for you. He lets Andre sell himself. He doesn’t change his voice expression and look back in awe at how huge he is. He simply interviews him as if he’s a normal human being and lets him explain what makes him unique. His calm demeanor is what carries his interviews because he doesn’t want to place too much attention on himself. He recognized that Andre on his own terms was a unique being. He simply had to get out of the way and act normally.
Of course, 90s WCW Ric Flair and Gene was a match made in heaven.
But when he wasn’t being a backstage interviewer, he still somehow managed to remain the same, and I always loved him for that. Whatever your feelings of Hulk Hogan are, just look at the chemistry of these two in their primes.
There’s no easy way to put it. The world of sports entertainment lost an icon and a pillar of consistency and greatness that makes the product what we love today. I cannot say that I was born around his time or grew up watching him, but I am not ignorant of his impact and have watched plenty of film. He is an all-time great. He is a legend. And the world of sports entertainment will only have one Mean Gene. Thank you for all of the memories, and wherever you are, we know that you will continue to be same lovable, yet simple guy, we all fell in love with. Rest in peace, Mean Gene. There will never be another.