SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath-the-surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Tony Schiavone on AEW: “It’s been the best two and a half years of my career”
Forty years ago, Tony Schiavone began calling minor league baseball games.
Just 24 years young at the time, Schiavone was on a path to career fulfillment. He had grown up collecting baseball cards (and he still possesses an extraordinary array of Hall of Fame–worthy memorabilia), and he dreamed of adding color and injecting passion every time he called a game on the diamond. However, while Sting’s baseball bat and Dallas Page’s Diamond Cutters have been fixtures of his career, Schiavone had yet to realize that his career was not going to involve the nation’s pastime.
A year later in 1982, Schiavone left his spot calling games in Greensboro, N.C., for a minor league ball club in Charlotte owned by the famed Crockett family, who were also wrestling promoters. After years of watching Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, Schiavone was well-versed in the world of pro wrestling. By 1983, on nights that did not interfere with baseball, he was also providing wrestling commentary for the Crocketts. An ongoing love for the squared circle manifested, creating a deep affinity.
“I knew the Crocketts and their product, and I loved wrestling, so they had me do some wrestling in ’83,” Schiavone says. “That’s how it all started for me. I eventually gave up baseball and went into wrestling full-time.”
Currently in the midst of a career that has spanned parts of five decades, Schiavone is a critical piece of All Elite Wrestling. His distinguished voice carries credibility and a wealth of knowledge from his time in World Championship Wrestling, where he became the lead voice of the company during the height of the Nitro era. Now firmly entrenched in the weekly AEW product, Schiavone has reached a new level of brilliance on the headset.
“It’s been the best two and a half years of my career,” Schiavone says. “It’s worth your weight in gold to work for good people, and it’s a pleasure to work here. And I can’t stress this enough—the acceptance of the fans for my return has been mind-blowing. So for me, it’s really easy doing what I do because I love it so much.”
The story of Schiavone’s pro wrestling run is hitting bookshelves this holiday season. He wrote Butts in Seats: The Tony Schiavone Story, a graphic novel detailing the highs and lows of his career. It includes memories of the infamous night on Nitro when he was fed the line, spoiling Mick Foley’s world title win that was about to air on tape-delay on rival Raw.
“I wanted to call it I, Jabroni,” Schiavone says. “I liked that name because that’s what I am. But everyone else involved wanted Butts in Seats, so that’s what we went with.”
The colorful narrative will arrive in comic book stores on Nov. 24 and will ship from Amazon at the end of the month. Schiavone never intended to write a book, but he found the right fit with the graphic novel.
“My lawyer, Mike Dockins, approached me about doing a graphic novel,” Schiavone says. “I never had interest in writing a book, but I love comic books, so I thought this was a pretty cool idea. He put me in touch with comic writer Dirk Manning, who is extremely talented, and we’d meet on Zoom every week as I told him my wrestling story.
“This is my story of loving wrestling as a fan, getting involved with the Crocketts, working with Ted Turner, spending a year with WWE, then being out of the business for 18 years before coming back.”
The one responsible for reigniting Schiavone’s wrestling passion is the innovative Conrad Thompson, who still teams up with Schiavone on their What Happened When podcast.
“Conrad kick-started all this, getting me back and doing the podcast,” Schiavone says. “That’s something I’ll never forget.”
Alongside Jim Ross and Excalibur, fans will be treated to the sound of Schiavone’s voice as well as feel his passion this Saturday at Full Gear. He is ready to provide the soundtrack for what appears poised to be a very memorable night in the business, as AEW delivers a star-studded card for the pay-per-view.
“I’m excited to see Hangman Page get another shot at the title,” Schiavone says. “He had a chance against Chris Jericho at the first-ever AEW pay-per-view [Double or Nothing], and now he gets his long-awaited shot at Kenny Omega. That’s going to be a great match.”
Running through the card, Schiavone’s passion piques as he discusses the different matches.
“I’m looking forward to seeing MJF get hit in the face,” he says. “I’m genuinely excited every time I see Bryan Danielson in the ring, and I think Chris Jericho is going to have a lot of surprises in store for all of us during the Minneapolis Street Fight.
“CM Punk and Eddie Kingston, that interview from last week, that was great s---. I’m looking forward to seeing that as much as anything else.”
When asked for a prediction on the women’s championship bout, Schiavone was quick to share his belief that Dr. Britt Baker will retain her title.
“I’m not going to discount Tay Conti, who is a great fighter, but I can tell you right now that she’s not going to beat Britt,” says Schiavone, who has a playful-but-tenuous on-screen friendship with Baker. “And I say that under duress. If Britt heard me say otherwise, I’d be in a lot of trouble.”
There is a noticeable joy in the way Schiavone approaches his work. Seasoning and experience help make his calls unlike any of his peers, and he is also a bridge between generations of viewers. The voice of a past era, Schiavone has connected with current viewers in a remarkably authentic fashion.
“It almost makes me numb how much people care about me,” Schiavone says. “I never thought I’d be back in wrestling. It’s like I was reintroduced to an old love. Wrestling fans welcomed me home, and I’m forever grateful.”
The (online) week in wrestling
- Bobby Lashley returned on Raw, and he will be part of the brand’s team at Survivor Series. WWE also announced that there will be champion-vs.-champion matches at the pay-per-view, including Big E–Roman Reigns and Becky Lynch–Charlotte Flair.
- Rocky Romero gets the chance of a lifetime this Wednesday on Dynamite, as he is set to wrestle Bryan Danielson. Romero and Danielson trained together in 2002 when New Japan opened its Los Angeles Dojo.
- New champions crowned over the weekend in New Japan Pro-Wrestling at Power Struggle in Osaka included Kenta (new IWGP United States champion), El Desperado (new IWGP junior heavyweight champion), and The House of Torture’s Evil, Sho and Yujiro Takahashi (new NEVER openweight six-man champions).
- Buddy Matthews (formerly Buddy Murphy) will make his New Japan debut on Saturday at Battle in the Valley against Kazuchika Okada, who will be wrestling for the first time on U.S. soil since 2019.
- Okada will also be headlining the first night of Wrestle Kingdom in January, challenging IWGP world heavyweight champion Shingo Takagi.
- Laredo Kid is now the top contender for Trey Miguel’s X Division title, which is a match that has the potential to be outstanding.
- Welcome back to New Japan, Tetsuya Naito. After being out for the past two months, his return is a welcomed addition.
Only one mask in WWE, yet room for so much more
Last week’s releases by WWE included Gran Metalik, Lince Dorado and Katrina Cortez. The exit of those three masked luchadores further underscores Vince McMahon’s disregard for lucha libre.
Outside of Rey Mysterio, WWE has no interest in masked wrestlers. Given what Mysterio has built over the course of his career, especially in WWE, that seems especially shortsighted. Clearly, there is an audience in wrestling for lucha. While the mask is an integral part of the lucha culture, it is one that the most profitable wrestling company in the world chooses to largely ignore.
Gran Metalik had been with WWE since 2016. During that stretch of time, the incredibly talented performer appeared on the main card of only three pay-per-views. Although he entered the company with some momentum in the Cruiserweight Classic, his time with the company was a tremendous disappointment.
While lucha and the mask have a place in pro wrestling, that is not true in WWE with the lone exception of one lucha legend. Considering Mysterio’s extraordinary success, one would think the powers-that-be in WWE would desperately want to find their next lucha star. But someone like Bandido, who is phenomenal, would likely be simply overlooked in WWE because of his style as a luchador. In a competitive marketplace with a new challenger emerging in AEW, not to mention hours of television to fill on a weekly basis, it is inconceivable that those in power in WWE could not find a place for Metalik or any other masked stars.
Tweet of the Week
In and out of the ring, Big E adds a joy to pro wrestling.
- NJPW’s Juice Robinson Enters a Pivotal Stretch in His Career
- AEW’s Jon Moxley Entering Inpatient Alcohol Treatment Program
- Jim Ross Intends to Keep Working During Cancer Treatment
- Chronic Mismanagement Spelled the End for Ring of Honor
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.