Show: Wrestling Epicenter
Guest: Craig DeGeorge
Your Host: James Walsh
In the late 1980's, Craig DeGeorge was part of the TV announce crew for the World Wrestling Federation. After his WWE departure, he worked as the main TV announcer for Herb Abrams' UWF with Bruno Sammartino as the color announcer. With the recent Dark Side of the Ring documentary on Herb Abrams, we thought Craig DeGeorge, real name Craig Minervini, would be the PERFECT person to talk about his UWF and wrestling experience. And, boy, were we right!
Hear Craig DeGeorge discuss being "Mean" Gene Okerlund's backup, interviewing Hulk Hogan on a boat in Long Island Sound for the Hulkamania 3 VHS tape, his sudden and surprising release from WWE, his work with Herb Abrams' UWF, NAWA, the movie Here Comes the Boom, and now his role in Miami as an on camera personality for the Miami Marlins and Panthers. We also discuss his return to the McMahon payroll as a TV announcer for the XFL, Notre Dame football, and more. Lots of golden gems here to listen to from an interesting guy who saw wrestling's glory days from the inside!
To listen, visit www.WrestlingEpicenter.com!
On the Dark Side of the Ring Documentary on Herb Abrams' UWF:
"I'm dying to see it but I have not seen it yet. I got to work with Herb very closely. I did not all but I believe most of the UWF broadcasts. I think Herb did a few of them himself doing play by play. He was always running around. He was one of the most bizarre people I've ever worked with but he was a likable guy. He even tried to pull off a pay per view down here in Florida, I believe it was Bradenton, called Beach Brawl. I'm not sure we had as many viewers as you have listeners here, James! (laughs) I have no idea what the numbers were. But, we had a great time with it other than the fact that the Boogie Woogie Man (Jimmy Valiant) came over and kissed me in the middle of the show. He was 140 pounds of tattoos, gross, and kissed me! ARGH! (laughs) My wife got a kick out of it at the time."
On if he was asked to take part in the Dark Side of the Ring special:
"No, actually, I wasn't. In fact, I was involved in a lot of these topics in my time in the WWF and then with the UWF."
On how he got involved in wrestling:
"Good question! I always tell my kids this about doing an Internship and doing something you enjoy for free because you never know how it is going to pay off. For me, it was a meeting with Bruce Beck who is a well known sportscaster in New York with WNBC and used to be with MSG. I met Bruce at a Rutgers/Syracuse football game when I used to go to Syracuse. I asked if there were any internships and he gave me the name of Pete Silverman at MSG Network. So, I called Pete. This would have been after my junior year because I did Triple A baseball after my sophomore year. So, I took the subway and I went to MSG every day, pretty much 9 to 5. No money. Believe it or not, I used to go to the big library there in New York (New York Public) and copy microfiche articles of old (New York) Ranger games. But, when you're there every day, you make an impression on people. One of the guys was Phil Harmon, Executive Vice President. He got to see me come in every day, good attitude, excited to be there. I got my first job as a Sports Director in the middle of nowhere, West Virginia. I got a call from Phil (Harmon) and he asked, "Would you like to work for the WWF?" I was like, "Woah! National TV!" So, I went up for an interview and I got the job!"
On why he changed his name from Craig Minervini to Craig DeGeorge for pro wrestling:
"(laughs) I should have used Craig Roberts because my middle name is Robert and that has a better flow to it. Vince McMahon didn't like my name Minervini. He thought it was too Italian. It was in vogue then to change your name, shorten your name, make it easier to remember. I didn't get wind of it until I was at the Sun Dome in South Florida. That was my first ever WWF event. I had been hired but I was only supposed to watch and then, "Hey, lets use the kid!" Gene Okerlund, down the hall, screams, "Hey! The big guy wants to use you tonight!" I said, "Great, when?" Gene said, "Oh, in about 25 minutes." I said, "Great!" Then, he turned and looked back and said, "Oh, by the way, he wants you to change your name!" What!? Change my name? Now, this was 7:10! I had 20 minutes! Now, this wasn't West Virginia. This wasn't Fargo, North Dakota. This was national TV! Some people go their whole life thinking of what name they would use if they got famous. I had 20 minutes! This is a true story, honest to God. Gene and I got out a phone book and started going through the phone book looking at names. Gene liked Luna. "What do you think of Craig Luna?" Nah, nah. That's... No. So, I was about to do my first national TV broadcast which was stress enough and I was down to 10 minutes to come up with a name. Then, I thought of my mother's maiden name. So, I called my mother up and asked and told her I was comfortable with Craig DeGeorge." So, I used my family name... And now none of them will talk to me anymore. No, I'm kidding! (laughs)"
On working with "Mean" Gene Okerlund:
""HEY KID!" (Gene impression) He was the best! That guy! I used to love him on the plane. He'd say to the stewardess, "Why don't you give it all up and come away with me?" holding her hand. (laughs) He was truly the best. I kept in contact with him over the last few years of his life. But, I am so sad, really, that I never got to see him again. He was a mentor. He was not only the best broadcaster ever in the WWF/WWE that didn't do play by play but he was also the best interviewer ever. Nobody even came close."
On if he realized his time in the WWF would be considered by many to be the golden era of wrestling:
"I think so. Growing up in New York, I was a fan. I really liked Vince McMahon and I am not just saying that because I later worked for him. In fact, I worked for him twice because I also called the XFL. But, his expressions and the way he called it, his seriousness. I enjoyed that. This was a different time in the 70's. But, I can't say I was a monster fan. But, this thing that came at me in the 90's, this was a more unfamiliar thing to me because I really only knew of Hulk Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage. But, I really do think this, James. I think they wanted more of a local sports guy.. More of a meat and potatoes sports guy rather than a screaming wrestling guy."
On Hulk Hogan's appeal back in the 80's:
"Look, I've been to every major sporting event. I've covered everything. I will put up Hulk Hogan coming to the ring, Real American playing, in a packed house... That moment, the excitement of that crowd... I will put that up against any event I've ever been around. I'm not just talking about WrestleMania III. I'm talking about Thursday night at the Buffalo Auditorium or the Kiel Center in Saint Louis... If I was on the podium to interview him and that music hit or in the crowd for one of his matches, I'd put that excitement up against anything! It truly was the golden era! I didn't realize it at the time but I knew we were hot. I mean, just the recognition I was getting. I was only on TV for a few weeks and people already knew my name!"
On interviewing Hulk Hogan for the special selling point of the Hulkamania 3 Coliseum Video:
"(laughs) I don't remember the bad mood. But, I do remember the interview! We went out on Long Island Sound on a speed boat. The boat had the front and, as was typical in cars then, a seat that went all along the back. We were sitting on top of the boat with our feet on the seat to give the camera guy some room to shoot. Now, Hulk (Hogan) is like, what? 6'6? 300 pounds? I'm 5'10, 170, 180... Probably 170 pounds. He (Hulk) says to me, "Hey, brother. Would you mind sitting down on the seat?" I was like, "What?" He was like, "Could you..."... I said, "Yeah!" He's a foot taller than me! You never would do that! But, now I'm sitting and he's like 4 feet above me. Very awkward! It was almost like Andre the Giant. Vince had the cameras for Andre on the floor to make it look like Andre was 30 feet tall! I think that is what he was going for. But, it was kind of awkward! (laughs) It was a neat thing for me to have Hogan one on one for an interview that will live forever on one of those Coliseum video tapes. I have a picture in my office, James, of that moment with him (Hulk) looking down on me from 5 feet higher like a King on his throne."
On being featured on many top shows:
"It was completely different. We were red hot. And, lets face it, I was a very small part of it but I got to do a lot of the big shows except for the (Saturday Night's) Main Event which was the NBC show. I got to do 100, 150 interviews per week for the syndicated show. We would go to the cities on the dark match and do these interviews that were custom made for the show. I was in on everything! I was Gene Okerlund's back up. Gene was the man! But, the number two banana, me, certainly did not suffer from a lack of air time. I was all over the place!"\
On staying in wrestling calling international action after WWF:
"I went to the UWF but before that, I was doing some work... Oliver Humperdink over in Tampa, Hiro Matsuda would bring over these shows where it was like Mexico versus Japan. I remember they had the Corona logo in the ring... Corona beer, not the Coronavirus, fans. (laughs) I remember Jushin Thunder Liger was one of the stars on those shows."
On going to the UWF:
"I got a call from New York, I think it was from a guy I knew named Brian Ricco, for the UWF. It was a smaller venue. But, I knew a lot of the guys. I know Sunny Beach, who i think was just on your show. Herb (Abrams) went for name guys. He didn't go for "Who is that" guys. He had guys right off of their WWF exposure which is probably how he got Sports Channel America. The UWF was a national show. It was on Sports Channel America. Herb was a big fan with money, a mark if you will. But, because he was such a big fan, he was able to get a lot of really big names. Captain Lou Albano, I did the broadcasts with Bruno Sammartino. We did it across the street from Madison Square Garden at the Penn Plaza, I believe. It was a great time with some big names and big cards in a small, ballroom type atmosphere. He was really a unique guy to work with."
On having Bruno Sammartino as his broadcast partner:
"I always respected him because I grew up watching him like most kids from the 70's. So, he was really a hero of mine. I got to work with him in the WWF although Vince (McMahon) had the call with him. He did not like the theatrics of wrestling. He liked the black trunks and one hour matches. He approached it about as seriously as Michael Jordan would approach calling a basketball game. That was his style. The last chance in the ring for Bruno. Was he the most exciting broadcaster in the world. No. But, that was his style. He was pretty much black and white with incredible integrity. I loved working with him."
On Beach Brawl being a disaster:
"You did? (order the PPV) Oh! So you were the one! (laughs) I didn't see the show. But, I assume it was a financial disaster. Being live cost a lot of money. Most of the UWF TV shows were what they call "Live on Tape" which kept the costs down. But, this was a live pay per view which was much more expensive. First, as a broadcaster, you love live! I got to work with all those guys. I have the VHS around here somewhere. I'll have to pull it out and watch it! It was a lot of fun except for that moment with the Boogie Woogie Man! (laughs) And, believe me, that was not scripted. I don't know why he bothered me. But, it was a lot of fun. I honestly can't remember what happened in the matches."
On finishing up with the UWF:
"I'm sure it would have been around then (1992) but I can't remember exactly. I didn't do every show but I did most of them. What I do remember is I was not paid for my last show. And, herb passed away when? (1996). So, it was a few years later. It (the UWF) had a good run! In a lot of ways, it was a miraculous run. For a guy to come from the perfume or clothing industry!"
On Herb Abrams' many quirks:
"I'll tell you this. You couldn't wear perfume around him. He was nuts! No perfume, he would have none of it. And, he was very particular. Door handles, like on his limo, he wouldn't touch them unless they were brushed with a handkerchief. He would've been good today with the Coronavirus. (laughs) He was very peculiar but he was ahead of his time. He would have been a good Coronavirus guy. But, he was a very, very unique man."
On leaving WWF/WWE & His Relationship with Vince McMahon:
"I did not want to leave the WWF when I did. It was a very quick exit. I was surprised because I thought they liked what I did. And, I know it wasn't anything personal with Vince McMahon because he later hired me for the XFL. Vince was kind of like a hard coach. I loved working for him. Growing up as a kid from Long Island never dreaming of being involved in wrestling, he was a great person to work for and very insightful. To get to know him and work with him was a great experience."
On the Miami Marlins doing Legends of Wrestling shows:
"Yeah, one year they had matches on the field and set up a ring. Bret "The Hitman" Hart and Jimmy Hart were there with me on the PA mic. I even brought out my old light blue WWF Wrestling Challenge suit jacket which did not fit anymore, by the way, for the occasion. I remember one of our guys (Marlins) hit Goldberg, or someone like that, with a chair. And, I remember that Brutus Beefcake's wife had an unscripted fight with another lady. (laughs) Those were fun nights at the ballpark!"
On his role in the movie Here Comes the Boom:
"One of the greatest things I've ever done as far as a fun standpoint. I got to work with Henry Winkler! The script, and it is funny, was so short, I could have read it in 3 seconds. "A wrestler from Boston, Scott Voss!" But, my brother Richie had an in with Kevin (James). He's a good stand-up comedian. Look him up, Richie Minervini. I said, "Can I extend this at all?" He told me, "Do what you want. But, they may ask you just to stick to the script." So, I did this thing... Ed Darren was a famous boxing announcer. I'm a student of broadcasting and PA announcers. I have loved that since I was a kid. I'd impersonate them and used to entertain my family. So, Ed Darren was a famous announcer, he was on USA Fights for years. He would always say the boxer's last name twice. And, everyone was a "fine young man" or a "nice gentleman" meanwhile the guys just came out of Attika state prison! (laughs) So, I took a little Ed and I extended it, "This fine young man weighs in at an even 282 pounds and has a record of 1 win and no defeats..." So, I turned my 2 seconds of fame into maybe 12. And, they kept it all in! (laughs)"
If he, as a Miami Marlins announcer, thinks there will be an MLB season:
"I think there will be baseball. I think we're going to get half a season. But, I think it is going to be Hell because figuring out distancing and maybe playing games with no fans at first... And I just heard the Los Angeles Mayor said nothing for 3 months so some teams are not going to be able to even play in their own ballpark. So, it is going to be tough to figure out. But, lets put that all aside. The big thing, after you deal with the health, is finding a way to pay the players to where the players will agree to it. First of all, they have already agreed to a prorated salary - They'll play half the year, they'll get half their salary. But, that isn't going to work for the owners because it is half the salary but you will if you have no gate, nobody in the stands, where are they going to get the money? But, baseball has never had a salary cap. They don't operate like the other 3 big sports (football, basketball, hockey) where the players get a percentage of the revenue. It would be cheaper not to play! So, the players are going to have to agree and history shows that they haven't always been interested in that. But, I hope they do. I hope the players, the rank and file, get together and realize that we need them. We need baseball. We all do. We need entertainment while we're at home. We are tired of watching Tiger King! There's only 7 episodes!"