By Dr. Abner Mality
It’s been quite a while since the Good Doctor has ventured into the world of professional wrestling here at Wormwood Chronicles but now we break that drought with a bang! No better way to do it than to speak to a man with 40 years of experience in the rasslin’ business…40 years of stories, anecdotes and wisdom. It is my pleasure at this time to speak to Mr. Gary Michael Cappetta, ring announcer par excellence and the only man in history to announce for the WWF, NWA and AWA at the same time!
As you will soon learn, Gary broke into the business with the WWF of the territory days, when guys like Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales and Bob Backlund ruled the roost. He was there when Hulkmania changed the game and then again when the New World Order became the hottest phenomena in wrestling history. And he helped inaugurate the indy wrestling boom of the 21st century when he worked with Ring of Honor in its earliest days.
Gary is now preparing to tour with an interactive one man show about his amazing ring career. Entitled “Beyond Bodyslams”, the event will be coming to carefully selected cities and promises to be an intimate evening with a man who knew the biggest stars in wrestling personally. I’ve included links at the end of the article with all the details on the “Beyond Bodyslams” tour and where to get tickets. It should be an educational evening for any real wrestling fan.
And now to the ring, for introductions!
WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: The idea for your “Beyond Bodyslams” tour, is this something you’ve been mulling over for quite a while or is it a more recent idea?
GARY MICHAEL CAPPETTA: I had originally created the stage show 14 years ago. It was a method to promote my book “Bodyslams”. So in 2002 I actually performed a version of the show at Newport News, Virginia at Christopher Newport University and also up in Schenectady, New York at the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame induction ceremony. And then I never took it any farther. I went back into the classroom, I continued to teach and I realized this summer that I didn’t make the commitment that I should have made. So I decided to put together this 10 city tour and give it a whirl, because it’s something no one else is doing. It’s not a question and answer, it’s a stage show and it might include question and answer at the end but it’s a set piece about the most significant 21 years in the history of pro wrestling.
WC: That anticipates my next question because I was going to ask what makes this unique. When you say this is a stage show, are there other actors or performers?
GMC: It’s a one man performance art presentation. I take my book “Bodyslams” and I bring it to life by telling stories and showing rare footage video of many of the episodes from the book. So when someone attends the performance, they will most likely receive a program and it will have listed what the different acts are. Depending on the venue and depending on the time that we have, it will probably be a 90 minute performance. There will be an intermission so it’s very well set but it doesn’t mean that I don’t go off on a riff, it doesn’t mean that I don’t rant. It’s not 100% scripted but it’s outlined.
WC: It’s talking points but nothing that’s set in stone.
GMC: Yeah, it’s talking points and then from there it’s stream of consciousness, it’s whatever strikes me, whatever that’s going on at the time. It might be something topical that I would incorporate, there might be something that I see in the audience or something that I recognize that might make me veer into a different direction. Because I was so involved first hand in some very noted instances, I have to include those. It’s sort of like if you go see a band, there are certain hits that you expect to hear, the greatest hits. I have a couple of stories that are my greatest hits because I just happened for instance to be tossed Mick Foley’s ear when we were performing in Germany. So a lot of people want to hear about that and what I did with the ear, what it looked like, what it felt like, how I reacted. I also have a rare perspective of the McMahon family because I worked with Senior, I worked with Junior,I interacted with Shane and so I know a lot about the McMahons in a first hand way. Everything that I talk about is first hand. I will not rattle off about something that I don’t know from my own experience. But over the course of 40 years, you have so many experiences that it’s not difficult to present fun, informative and controversial material.
WC: I take it you’ve got an audiovisual set up that will show movies and stills?
GMC: Yes, that supports the story. Depending on the venue. In some venues, I’ll be using the video projection that’s in-house. In some of the venues on the tour, they’re not set up for that so I’ll be bringing it in and setting it up. But in most cases it will be giant screen video behind me while I’m telling the story.
WC: Let me go back in the past now and ask what your earliest memory of wrestling? What was it that made you a fan?
GMC: Well, when I first discovered wrestling, it was on television and it was late at night. I didn’t know that as a sixth grader I was allowed to watch what was on that screen. Because from that perspective, from a sixth grader’s sensibility, I’m watching two sweaty partly clad men rolling around in the middle of a dark arena with spotlights on them and people cheering. So that’s what I saw and I thought that was kind of strange. And then the next week I tuned in and I saw four women in bathing suits in the same scenario. And then another week I tuned in and I saw midgets doing this. By that time, I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to watch it or not but I was hooked because it was so bizarre to me. It was just very strange.
WC: Cowboys and Indians…
GMC: Absolutely, Gorilla Monsoon was from Mongolia. He didn’t speak English. He had a little manager who was his mouthpiece by the name of Wild Red Berry. And this wasn’t a cartoon! If it was a cartoon, I would have accepted it as something someone made up. But I’m watching these adult human beings acting very bizarre. Scripts…I didn’t know they were scripts. Situations and other adults that you know could be your neighbors yelling and reacting to them. You know, that’s the audience. So I just thought the whole thing was bizarre.
WC: Who was it that kind of showed you the ropes in the industry? Who did you take your cues from?
GMC: Nobody ever directly did that. It was two years before I was ever allowed in a dressing room. This was a time when if you weren’t wrestling or if you weren’t a referee, you did not have access to the backstage area. But the man who brought me aboard and who nurtured me was Gorilla Monsoon. I was his ring announcer. At the time, he was part owner with Vince Senior of Capitol Wrestling, which was the World Wide Wrestling Federation. So each of the part owners had their own little territory, their own little part of the WWF to promote. So wherever he promoted, he brought me with him and I was his announcer. And eventually …I didn’t know it at the time…he was the producer for WWWF television. And so when there was a need to replace the TV announcer, he brought me in. And after two years, I was 23 at the time, after two years he put me on television and I was with the McMahons for 11 years.
WC: He was a pretty good guy to learn from?
GMC: Wonderful. He was my guardian angel. I loved the man.
WC: Do you recall your first actual gig in front of a crowd?
GMC: Oh yes, it was Fourth of July weekend at the New Jersey Shore at a place called Wildwood, New Jersey at their convention center and I was totally in over my head. I had no idea what I was doing. The audience knew that this kid who was 21 was clueless and they enjoyed making fun of me, the wrestlers enjoyed making fun of me and I think that’s the entertainment that I brought. Not intentionally but the entertainment that I brought probably sustained me for that entire summer because we were at the arena each and every week. It was at the end of that summer when Monsoon asked if I would join him for all of his shows.
WC: Quite a different era, when you could have weekly wrestling at the same place.
GMC: Yeah, well, it was a vacation destination so people would rent cottages by the week and basically you’d have a different population every week.
WC: Last week I read an article by you about the time things got a little hairy when you had to announce that Ric Flair was getting stripped of the WCW title. Was there any time that you felt physically threatened by a crowd you were in?
GMC: No. Well, let me take that back. Not with anger directed towards me or what I was announcing. There was one time in Altoona, Pennsylvania where we had an incident with a fan who rushed the ring. That video clip in my story about it on Facebook, it garnered over 20,000 views. And people were astonished by it. But for me, at the time, this was the kind of thing that, as a professional ring announcer, these were moments that I lived for. Because just imagine that my nightly performance consisted of announcing a weight, a place and a name and the same weight, place and name over and over again every night. You know, with a little “don’t forget to buy your souvenirs” and a little “welcome to the arena” and a little “be safe on your way home”. So this was a challenge to me and I was well prepared for it. Every month we would appear in Baltimore and there would be times the main event or someone from the main event would not be there. This was with Jim Crockett’s NWA. In that case, I would have to make that announcement at the beginning of the show, tell people that sorry, so and so cannot be here for whatever reason. Instead, this is the main event you’re going to see and you have until the end of the first match to get a refund.
And I always took that as a challenge to deliver the bad news and I never tried to sugarcoat it. I always acknowledged, this stinks because what we expected, we’re not going to see. But by the time I finished with that announcement, my challenge was to make the people believe that whatever was going to be in its place was going to be even greater than the reason they purchased their ticket. So that they didn’t go for a refund and they didn’t leave the arena. At intermission time, I would ask the promoter, how many refunds did we have tonight? And I would gauge the success of my performance by the actions or inaction of the fans.
WC: That’s a very important job, keeping the lid on a very volatile situation. I’m in Rockford, Illinois, which used to be on the AWA circuit. We had a local weatherman by the name of Jerry Baker who did the announcing there. The biggest feud in many, many years was King Kong Brody vs. Jerry Blackwell. There was a night when neither of them showed and that crowd was mean. And I was mean, because I wanted to see it. And Jerry Baker did a pretty good job of tamping that down. But that one was hard to swallow.
GMC: When I was answering questions on Facebook about the incident where Ric Flair was stripped of his title and he wasn’t going to be showing up live, I had very interesting interactions with the younger fans. I was explaining to them that I was there every month. The ring announcer is the representative of the promotion who’s closest in proximity to the audience. I’m representing face to face the promotion. So I had developed a relationship with the people. Now that may sound odd because I’m announcing to 10,000 people but they knew me. At least they felt that they knew me. They trusted me and they believed what I told them. So it was the same thing the night at the Meadowlands Arena when I announced Flair had been stripped because that was another home arena that I had appeared at for the WWF and then for the AWA and NWA. Every month for years and years. So the people knew me. They trusted me. And so this young fan on Facebook, as I’m explaining this, said , OK, you were like a neighbor and because I knew you so well, I trusted you. And I said yeah, that’s it, that’s exactly right. In a few words, he encapsulated the entire concept and I will always say that the relationship that I'v’ developed with the fanbase is much more important to a promoter than any style of announcing that I did. Than how I looked, how I sounded…yeah, they were important, but my relationship with the fans was key to everything that I did.
WC: Some people probably take that for granted. I know Jerry Baker was a local weatherman for years, announced the local car races. Most people felt they knew him personally.
GMC: There was a time towards the end of my 11 years with the WWF where I was also announcing for Pro Wrestling USA, which was their competition. And it was all in the same arena, it was in the Meadowlands Arena. I have the distinction of being the only performer having worked for the AWA, the NWA and the WWF all at the same time. It didn’t last long. I ended it. I didn’t want it to last because I would go the first Saturday of the month and I would say the WWF was the best wrestling in the world. And then the third Saturday of the month, I’d go in and say the AWA/NWA was the best wrestling in the world. And after two months, I stopped myself. First off, I was amazed that McMahon allowed me to do this. I never heard from the office at all. But I stopped it and I told myself I needed to make a decision. Do I want to stay with the WWF or do I want to go with the AWA/NWA/Pro Wrestling USA? Because I’m losing credibility if I continue to do this. I spent 11 years developing a rapport with the audience and now I’m promoting two competitors? I cannot do that. This is something that you can’t manufacture, you can’t create. It’s something that was built over 11 years. That’s when I decided to leave the WWF and only announce for one of the two promotions.
WC: It took a lot of soul searching to do that.
GMC: It was a step that I never had to take before. I had only announced for the WWF but in all honesty I saw there was no future for me with the McMahons. I knew that that was coming to an end. So I just decided to step aboard the next rocket ship that was coming by and see where that would take me.
WC: I may be putting you on the spot here, but with all the performers you’ve seen in your long career, who in your opinion was the best overall performer?
GMC: I don’t have an answer for you. We’re talking about a span of 40 years with different eras, different styles. There was no one more sincere on interviews than Bruno Sammartino, there was no one more flamboyant and traditional wrestling based than Flair. There are many different wrestlers for different reasons that stood out. To isolate one as the overall best I think would be a mistake.
WC: Was there ever one who was so crazy or intimidating that you felt nervous around that person?
GMC: Absolutely. There was George “The Animal” Steele. The first time that I appeared on television as the ring announcer, he attacked me. He jumped me from behind, I went down, he jumped on top of me. I always wore a carnation boutoniere , he started to chew it. (laughs) His intention was to intimidate me and I don’t know that today’s fan would understand why he was angry, but I will tell you what he told me years later. He said the reason that I was always after you was that you insulted me. The very first time, it was in Philadelphia, you came up to me and you said to me, where should I tell the fans you’re from? What that meant to me was, you’re saying to me that I was a fake and that insulted me. That’s why I attacked you and that’s why I terrorized you for years.
WC: By the time I saw Steele, he’d already transitioned into this lovable goof. But there was a time when he was a real terror and that had to be the time you were speaking of.
GMC: Yeah, this was around 1976 or so. He was a very edgy character and in some ways he continued to be, even though he did transform. Now what he was actually doing, he was doing me a big favor, though I dreaded the nights he was there. He was drawing attention to me. It was something I would have never done for myself. So he was one of several wrestlers who got into quote unquote “feuds” with me. Unbeknownst to me, they were using me as a prop.
WC: They made you part of the show.
GMC: That’s right and they raised my importance, they drew attention to me and I think they were having a good time doing it.
WC: The guy in my background who was similar to that, almost to the point of giving me nightmares, was Mad Dog Vachon. I saw him many times in Rockford, Illinois. I remember one time that was an old lady in a wheelchair at the matches and he whirled her around in the chair. My God, that would never happen today.
GMC: (laughs) That’s kind of funny, I like that.
WC: There were a lot of guys that wanted to go after him. It was a different era for sure.
GMC: There were nights that George Steele would chase me. Every night he chased me I would stay in the ring as long as I could until he entered and darted toward me. He chased me around the ring, he chased me wherever I would go, to the concession stand , to the balcony. He was relentless, he would never stop. Yeah, I didn’t like it, but it was very good for my career.
WC: You said there was more than one who was like that. Do any of the others come to mind?
GMC: Yeah, Jimmy Snuka the Superfly. One night at TV, he came into the ring with his manager Captain Lou Albano. It was always that carnation boutoniere, he came over and he snatched the boutoniere from my lapel. He started eating it, he started chewing on it and then he spit it in my face. For the next TV show, he came in and took my tie off of me. I happened to be wearing a long tie that night. They were playing around with my tie. And the last time, because we did three hours of TV taping a night, at the end of the last hour after I declared him the winner, he took the belt off my pants and started to undo my pants. He started to chase me and I wound up upside down tied in the ropes. So people remembered that , too.
WC: Did you go to the promoter afterwards and say hey, I should start getting wrestler’s pay?
GMC: You know, it was the McMahon’s promotion and we never had any discussion about it but I believe they never liked the fact that the ring announcer was getting the attention. But when I think about it now, all they needed to do…unless they had no control over the performers…was to say “keep your hands off the announcer”. We never had a great relationship. Maybe they just enjoyed me being humiliated. But I now have the long term understanding that it was great for my career.
WC: Was there any point in your career where you had any interest in booking the product?
GMC: No, that never happened. There was a time when I was with WCW and I hosted the Event Center, which was inserted into each show. It was a market specific Event Center saying there were coming to Chicago on a certain date and you will see so and so. During that time, I produced the promos for the local markets. But no, never from the booking side. In fact, when I left WCW, I did have an opportunity to work in the office as well as continuing to announce. I rejected that. If I couldn’t be 100% performer, I had no interest in entering the political world behind the scenes.
WC: And those politics were pretty intense.
GMC: Yeah, and I think that’s what contributed to a 40 year career. I just stayed out of the way of behind the scenes disputes.
WC: Who was the sharpest wrestling mind that you worked with?
GMC: That’s another one that’s tough. Any time you’re going to ask me about who was the most or the best over 40 years, I honestly cannot give one answer for you. Even if you were to ask me who was the most genuine individual was. There were so many wonderful people I had interaction with. You’re talking 40 years! 40 years and probably tens of thousands of people that I came in contact with.
WC: Let’s say from the point of running a promotion or booking a promotion, who had the best and the most clever ideas?
GMC: I would say while it didn’t last, I would say Dusty Rhodes provided the most excitement in the programs that he initiated. There were other things that he did that short circuited his booking career. I would also say…and we’re talking more of today…when I was with Ring of Honor about 10 years ago, Gabe Sapolsky did a great job in creating the storylines and scenarios in which those very talented wrestlers worked
WC: He helped to bring back some of the athleticism back to wrestling, in my opinion.
GMC: When I worked with Ring of Honor I told them yeah, I would come in but my only condition was that I would not ring announce. So if there was anything else that you had for me to do behind the scenes, it would be fine. It didn’t have to be in front of the camera. And Gabe came up with backstage interviewer. When I think of the individuals that I worked with ten years ago and where they went and where they are now…we’re talking Daniel Bryan who was Bryan Danielson back then, we’re talking Samoa Joe, A.J. Styles, C.M. Punk, Colt Cabana, Nigel McGuinness…I mean, the list goes on and on. That was the final training ground before them going to the international promotions.
WC: Here’s a question I’ve got that’s almost mandatory. Any tales of interaction with Andre the Giant?
GMC: There’s so many because I worked with him for so many years. He was very kind to me, he was truly a gentle giant. The last time I saw him…he passed in a January, I saw him the previous September…and that was when I was working with WCW. We had a special Clash of the Champions which was live on TBS that I think was celebrating 25 years of wrestling on TBS and he was a guest at the time. Bruno Sammartino was another guest at the time. After the live show, which was done in Atlanta at Center Stage, there was an after party. So Bruno Sammartino and Andre the Giant were sitting at the bar and I approached them and said, come on, guys, how about a picture? So George Napolitano, who was one of the main photographers for wrestling magazines for years, came over to snap the picture. As soon as the picture was to be snapped, Andre’s hand more than covered my face. And he just thought that was really funny. We retook the picture and as it turns out, the picture of myself with Bruno Sammartino and Andre the Giant is one of my two “Beyond Bodyslams” tour photos. So that brings us up to today. I have to find that. I do have a copy of the picture somewhere with Andre’s paw over my face. Obviously I don’t use that one for the tour photo but maybe I should! Maybe that would be interesting!
WC: Maybe this will put you on the spot, too, but was there a particular era of wrestling that you enjoyed the most or that you preferred?
GMC: Hmmm, well, they were important for different reasons, but when you’re starting …and I started with the WWF, which is the wrestling that I grew up on and which was the only wrestling that I knew, of course it was very exciting to be introducing the heroes that I had watched on television. And then fast forward to my WCW years when I became more accomplished at what I was doing and traveling the world with WCW, that was also very exciting. And then fast forward to just ten years ago, when I was working with Ring of Honor and I was in a different position where after 30 years, I had the knowledge to help younger superstars of tomorrow with their promos and anything else they may have asked me about. So those were three points for different reasons that were very exciting in my career. And that last point continues to be because I still go out when asked and I’ll do seminars at wrestling training facilities and I’ll talk about the business of pro wrestling. How to interact with promotions and promoters, how to handle your money, how to prepare yourself for life after wrestling.
WC: I’m sure a lot of guys would appreciate getting that wisdom.
GMC: They’re trained well for what they do in the ring, but this bridges branding yourself, what you do in the ring and what you do outside of wrestling. I have the unique perspective of having one foot in the wrestling world while having the other foot on the outside.
WC: After the Beyond Bodyslams tour concludes, what’s ahead for you then?
GMC: That largely will depend on how things go on the tour. If I’m happy with how things go, I will continue to do the shows in different cities. I’ll continue to go to conventions, to signings, to do guest ring announcing where I’ll come to an independent promotion and announce their main event. I also want to do more writing but not necessarily about wrestling. In fact, I thought that’s what I would be doing right now. I’d like to write a book of fiction. Also, years ago I had written a screenplay that’s a wrestling based script and I want to tinker with that again, too.
WC: Very interesting! Any last words or thoughts?
GMC: I want to encourage people to come on out when I come to your city to the Beyond Bodyslams multi-media stage show. If I could run down where I’m going to be?
GMC: It starts February 19th in Philadelphia, then I go February 24th to Scranton, Pennsylvania, February 25th to Worcester, Massachusetts, then Saturday March 4th in Indianapolis, the 5th is a Sunday matinee in Chicago. Then I go the next Sunday to Greensboro, North Carolina. Following that is the 18th in Pittsburgh at Steel City Improv and I wind up in Baltimore on Saturday, March 25th. The next weekend I’ll be down at Wrestlecon in Orlando for Wrestlemania weekend where the plan is for me to do a few scenes from the show on their stage there at the Convention.
For Beyond Bodyslams Info and all things Gary Michael Cappetta: Gary Michael Cappetta Facebook
For Chicago tickets: Stage 773
For Greensboro tickets: The Pyrle Theater
OVER THE TOP ROPE >