Though his career also includes work for the Georgia Bulldogs and Atlanta Braves, the voice of Tony Schiavone is still most associated with pro wrestling, especially WCW. Schiavone, along with co-host Conrad Thompson, regularly revisits wrestling shows of the past on the podcast What Happened When? On May 24 at 10 AM at Starrcast (and available to watch remotely through StarrcastonFITE.com), he’ll join a less heard in the wrestling world, Sting, in a look back at his own career in WCW, the NWA, and beyond.
Schiavone talked to With Spandex about his plans for “Behind the Paint, With Sting,” his career as a commentator, what he thinks could steal the show at AEW‘s Double or Nothing, and more. That conversation is below and has been edited for length and clarity.
With Spandex: So we’re talking about the “Behind the Paint, With Sting” – are they calling it a panel at Starrcast or are they calling them stage shows?
Tony Schiavone: It’s called a stage show, Emily. There are two stages. There’s like the Starrcast Stage and then there’s the Pro Wrestling Tees Stage, and this is going to be Friday morning, the first show, at 10 A.M. with Sting and I, and it’s going to be… We’re going to just sit down and talk about his career and the fans will be able to ask him questions. And it’ll be the first time really that I can remember that Sting has had, you know, a sit-down, shoot interview about his career because his career was well-storied as far as when I knew him, and then there was a time when WCW went down and he kind of stepped away from the business and came back and his personal life, and we’re going to get into all that, so it’s going to be pretty cool.
And how did the show come about?
Conrad was – Conrad Thompson, who puts this together – wants to do something that the fans had never done. You know, Arn Anderson’s going to have a show too; I’m not so sure if I’m going to co-host that or not. But it’s a chance for the fans to talk to people, talk to wrestlers, and get to know the wrestlers on a personal level that’s never been done before, so Conrad wanted to do something that’s not been done. And he approached Sting and Sting agreed to do it. You know, sometimes I feel that if you just take the time to talk to these guys and approach them, in this day and age they go back and think about their career and you know, yeah, they’d like to talk about it.
Sting was very receptive to it. Conrad approached him and they all agreed to it. And then Conrad talked to me about it and, shoot, I was all in for this one too. To be able to talk to Sting – it’s funny, Sting and I, since WCW went down, which was 2001, Sting and I have only really talked one time since then, and that was last year very briefly in Virginia – we both had an appearance. So, you know, there’s a lot that I know about Sting and it’s one of those things where Conrad just approached him, and Sting agreed to it.
Is there something you are looking to find out from Sting? I know you know him a lot better than the fans, but is there something you’re curious about?
Yeah, I’ll tell you what I’m curious about. I never really got into this when it happened, but at Starrcade ’97, it’s probably one of the most talked about matches that he’s ever had, he was to face Hulk Hogan. It was the build-up to the nWo vs. WCW and Sting had become The Crow and it was really our biggest night and it was a finish that has been long discussed and debated and complained about by the fans and rightfully so. Even me calling the match, I didn’t know what the hell had just happened.
And I want to get his reaction to it. I want to get his feeling to why it happened and what he thought about it because it wasn’t good. It wasn’t good for him. It wasn’t good for us. And I could just imagine that he wasn’t too pleased with it. And I don’t know, maybe he didn’t even know it was going to happen that way, because sometimes crazy things can happen when finishes come about.
I want to get his reaction. I want him to tell the story of what happened that day at the arena… and how it all transpired, and did he come to the event that day knowing that he was not going to win the title? I mean, we all thought he was going to win it and he didn’t. He eventually did later but we all thought he was going to win it that day. Did he think he was going to win it? Was he told he was going to win it and he didn’t? How did he feel?
I think that’s a really, really interesting story from his perspective that I want to talk to him about because after it happened, Emily, I left. I didn’t talk to him about. It just kind of became another match, another stop on our tour, so I didn’t really talk to him about it, but I think it’s an interesting story to find out his feelings on it.
Do you have a favorite Sting match that you called or moment that you called?
Yeah, it’s the Sting vs. Ric Flair match from the first Clash of the Champions. That really was the one that kind of made him a star or, if you want to use the term, superstar. We knew Sting had potential. We knew Sting was great. He had the look, he had the charisma, the face paint, but he turned in a tremendous performance that day. JR and I made the call and it was great working with Jim and we did some work together before and after that, and it just seems like that was Sting’s coming out party, so when I think about calling Sting matches… that’s the one I go to and that’s the one I think about most of all.
A lot of the fans when I’m on the podcast or especially when I go out and do our show live they want me to say, you know, “It’s Sting!” and talk about him coming down from the rafters as The Crow and talk about all the crazy stuff we did back then and that’s memorable to people who grew up in the ’90s, but to me, what happened in ’88 in that first big match is the one I’ll always remember.
You’ve been doing the What Happened When? podcast for a couple of years now and revisiting these events and shows. Is there something you’ve gotten the most out of revisiting?
As far as personally?
Well, it’s rekindled my love of wrestling. I walked away from it in 2001, attempting to reinvent myself, and I kind of did working for University of Georgia and working for the Braves and some radio. And I thought, well, that part of my life is gone, and I’ll never see it again. And then Conrad came around and got me to do this podcast.
Then I started watching wrestling again. And I was a big wrestling fan before I even got into it, and all of a sudden, I realized, man, I really love this, and I really enjoy it, and just the realization that “Gosh, what have I missed?” Because I didn’t watch it from 2001 to 2017 I didn’t watch it. The last Nitro that we did – I don’t even remember the last match I called on that Nitro; I know we watched it on one of our podcasts, but – the last Nitro that we did, I’d never watched another wrestling match until I watched the Royal Rumble in 2017.
So there was just a long time where I said, “I’m not even going to watch it. I’m not even going to get into it.” Then I got on Twitter and I tried to tweet about the Atlanta Braves, I tried to tweet about the Georgia Bulldogs and nobody wanted anything to do with it. They wanted to talk wrestling with me, alright? So then I started watching it again and I realized, “Man, what have I missed?” I really enjoy it.
So I that’s what I think What Happened When? has done for me personally. It’s brought me back not only to wrestling and remembering some of the good and bad times working, but also remembering the great times as a wrestling fan. I missed that.
And what do you like about the wrestling that you’ve seen since you’ve started watching it again? Is there a company or performers that have really stood out to you, or matches?
Well, you know, I never watched any ECW. And we started – Conrad was – he’s considerably younger than I am – Conrad was a big ECW fan, and he said, “You’ve got to watch this stuff,” and I said, “No, I don’t want to watch it.” Because even back then when we were doing things and there were guys coming to us from ECW, I was not that familiar with them. I was so caught up with what we were doing…
So we started watching some ECW and we did watch-alongs – that’s how we do our podcast, and I started watching ECW and now I’m thinking, “Man, this stuff is great.” This stuff – it’s hardcore, obviously, that’s what they were about. The performers were doing just some incredibly crazy stuff and I saw Francine for the first time and thought she was absolutely beautiful and I saw some of the crazy stuff that Taz was doing, the impact stuff that Sabu was doing, and some of the in-ring interviews for the Dudleys and I’m thinking, “What the hell have I missed?” But it was just entertaining stuff.
And I kind of think that their style of wrestling is the kind of style that has stood the test of time in many ways. If you go back and think about what we were doing and what the WWE was doing back then and what they were doing, their hardcore, you know, jumping out of the ring, doing flips, doing acrobatic stuff, is kind of like what you see a lot of now in today’s wrestling, especially on the independent circuit. So I think they’ve stood the test of time. I don’t think they get enough credit for doing that and that is one thing that I think has been really cool since coming back.
Also, I look at stuff now and some of the stuff, you know, we would leave an arena thinking, “Oh boy, that sucked,” or we would leave an arena thinking, “Oh, that was pretty good.” And I go back and watch some of the stuff that we did and it’s not as bad as I thought sometimes and it’s not as good as I thought sometimes. It’s amazing how your perspective change, you know, twenty years later or twenty-five years later, so that’s been very eye-opening for me too.
With that in mind, are there any shows you haven’t covered yet that you’re really looking forward to or not looking forward to covering in the future on your podcast?
That’s a good question because I was just looking up some things on the Network now – because what we do is we ask you to go to the Network, we tell you what show it is, we queue it up, we do a countdown, we ask you to hit play, and we watch it along with you. But we try make it so you don’t necessarily need to watch it, because I know a lot people listen to us as they’re driving their trucks. There’s a lot of drivers and delivery people that listen to us…
I would really like to go back to some of the Hidden Gems they have on the WWE Network and watch some of that stuff. They have some Mid-South Wrestling and the quality is not that good, but it’s old school. And they’ve got an AWA When Superpowers Collide [when] AWA and Verne Gagne and Jim Crockett Promotions got together and did a show together… I would like to go back and just take a look at some of the things that, I don’t know, that maybe fans were not privy to or fans would like to see that they were unaware of when wrestling was completely different.
Now, I do realize this, that as far as downloads are concerned, we go way back and we watch some old stuff, a lot of times there’s not a lot of fan response. In other words, if we do a Nitro or we do a pay-per-view from the 90s when the fans grew up we’ll get a lot of downloads, a lot of listenership. And sometimes that old Jim Crockett stuff or the stuff back in the 80s just doesn’t play for the fans. But for me personally, I would love to see that.
And I want to go back and see – we’ve done a few WrestleManias – the last WrestleMania we did was WrestleMania 3 – I worked WrestleMania 5 with Vince when I was there and I worked WrestleMania 6 – I’d like to see the WrestleManias that I missed. We’ve seen a couple of them, but I’d like to go back and see some of the other ones. Because we know what WrestleMania became and how big it’s become, I’d like to see some of those.
We did some matches. We did The Rock and Hulk Hogan, we did Sting and Triple H, but I’d like to go back and see some WrestleManias before they began eight-hour shows. (laughs) I don’t want to do an eight-hour podcast. But I’d like to go back and see maybe some that were in the ’90s while I was working for WCW, some of the WrestleManias that were going on at that time I think would be pretty cool.
For you as an announcer, you said you left calling MLW because of the taping schedule, but can people expect to hear you calling any wrestling in the future?
Well, I’m not so sure. I know I got the schedule from Court at MLW and it looks like that there’s not going to be a date in 2019 when I’m going to be able to call the matches. But I’m still under contract to him, so let’s hope if I’m still around in 2020 that we can work something out.
I like doing it because I can do the matches now and walk away from it. Back then, I was also the producer, so I was caught up in the matches and the behind the scenes and the production end of it and it was all stressful, so it was very enjoyable to be able to do it and walk away from it, but yeah, the door’s still open for me to do some stuff… I have a lot going on here right now with the podcast and working for the University of Georgia and working for the Braves. I work for a radio station part time, so I’ve got a lot going on and I never thought I’d be this busy this age in my life, but I am.
But still, yeah, I’d like to do it because I really enjoyed working with Matt Striker and Rich Bochhini and I know there’s some fans out there that say, “Come back to MLW and be able to work with Jim Cornette,” which would be cool because Jim and I have always been friends, but we’ll just see what the schedule says. I never thought I’d be back into wrestling, so – you can never say never in wrestling. I know it’s an old cliché, but I know it’s true.
With so much experience in the wrestling business – Starrcast is not officially attached to Double or Nothing, but it’s happening the same weekend – I’m wondering as someone who’s been a producer and everything, how do you think about how the show is coming together? Is there any match you think will really blow people away?
Well, I don’t think there’s any question to me that Cody and Dustin is going to be phenomenal. It’s just a great story… You can do so many great moves and so many great counter-moves and do so many great things in the ring that have the fans cheering, but when there’s a really good story behind it that’s what makes a great wrestling match… Plus, the fact that Conrad and I recently called a match where Dustin wrestled and we were talking about “Man, that kid was – back in his prime, he was phenomenal,” and Cody can go, and so I think that’s going to be a great match. I’m really looking forward to that only because so close to the Rhodes family. I knew Dustin when I was younger. I knew Cody when he was a kid… so I’m looking forward to seeing those two and that was pretty big announcement.