What’s up, wrestling fans? Welcome to another segment of Kayfabe Kickout.
In this edition, I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Kevin Kelly, former WWE announcer and on-screen personality.
For those of you that were around during the WWE’s greatest period of time, the Attitude Era, you know that Kelly was a huge part of that era. It was always a real treat seeing him conduct interviews with some of the greatest WWE superstars of all time like The Rock, Steve Austin and others.
Before Kevin started in professional wrestling, he was a disc jockey at a local AM radio station after graduating from Florida State University. He started his announcing career in pro wrestling in the IWF (International Wrestling Federation).
Kevin received his big break in 1996 when he was called up by the WWE at the request of Billy Gunn, who was a fellow alumnus when the two worked together in the IWF.
Kevin worked in the WWE until 2003, but is still involved in professional wrestling, hosting various Internet wrestling programs and still makes appearances on the independent scene.
In 2010, Kevin became a part of the Ring of Honor announce team and adds a whole new level of excitement and professionalism to the successful promotion.
I spoke with Kevin via e-mail about the WWE as well as Ring of Honor:
Richard: For wrestling fans that might not know what you are involved with in Ring of Honor, can you just give us an update on what's going on in the busy schedule of Kevin Kelly?
Kevin: Since September of 2011, Ring of Honor has aired a weekly television show, now available in over 30 percent of the U.S. on broadcast TV and globally available on the internet through ROHWrestling.com. We have continued to produce great pay-per-views that also air on the internet and have two biggies coming up at the end of March. "Showdown in the Sun", two days, two events, 16 matches, over 30 international stars. Friday March 30 at 8 p.m. Eastern and Saturday the 31st at 1 p.m. Eastern.
We have also maintained production of great live event DVDs and have felt like things are improving on all fronts. Things aren't where we want them to be yet but they are getting better each time out. The team continues to grow and develop in their roles, both in front of and behind the camera.
Richard: Can you tell the fans about what it was like working as a disc jockey early in your broadcasting career?
Kevin: Fresh out of Florida State University, I got a job working at an AM station, playing "Easy Hits of the '50s, '60s and '70s". I started off as a board operator but was named the morning show host only three months in when the previous host got fired for making some ill-advised comments on the air. But, all the while I was also starting my career in pro wrestling announcing, after I got a chance to announce shows promoted by Cliff Anderson in Fort Pierce, Fla. Cliff also got me an audition with the IWF out of Universal Studios Florida and the great Eddy Mansfield. I am forever in debted to Cliff and Eddy for their faith in me, as well as Billy Gunn, who helped me get an audition with the WWE in 1996.
Richard: What was your initial reaction when you found out you were hired by the WWE in 1996?
Kevin: I was shocked. I never thought I was good enough to work for them and quite frankly, I was never was a huge fan of the product. I was a Florida guy, an NWA fan. Ric Flair was my champion, not Hulk Hogan, and my goal was to work for WCW. In fact, when Billy Gunn called me to tell me I had an audition and to call Bruce Prichard immediately, I was in between shows at a WCW taping at Disney-MGM Studios. They had me warming up the crowd, getting the audience to react, as most of the audience were tourists who wanted to get out of the heat and be on TV. When I talked to Bruce, we talked about the upcoming audition. They brought me up, put me through the tests and I'm surprised I got hired. It's opened up so many doors for me and I am eternally thankful.
Richard: What was it like going into work everyday when you worked in the WWE during the Attitude Era?
Kevin: The work was fun. We had run of the second floor at Titan Towers and we busted each others' balls all day, but we turned out some great creative product on that floor. From the magazines to the early days of the website to the input we had on the creative process, every day was fun. Vince Russo was a trying guy at times but he was so swamped. Jim Monsees ran the website and we worked so well together. I look back at that time with great fondness for what we did behind the scenes. On the road, that time was unbelievable on TV and everyone knows the history. The best part of the Attitude Era to me was the experience and fun I enjoyed with my friends, both on the road and in the office.
Richard: Who was your all time favorite WWE superstar to interview during your tenure with the company?
Kevin: I think I will forever be linked to The Rock and he and I were great friends. There was always something special and intimidating about interviewing the Undertaker. And what can you say about the experience of interviewing Stone Cold Steve Austin. I am one of a few that got the chance to interview all three as well as all the other stars I shared the stage with.
Richard: Switching gears to Ring of Honor, where would you like to see the company grow in the next few years in terms of the business of professional wresting?
Kevin: I think in the next few years, fans will see some great changes in Ring of Honor. I think we will open and run live events in many more markets and we will see an expansion of our presence of content on the website, like podcasts and specialty shows. I think we will also see an increase in the number of live events offered online as well. Fans will also continue to see the fruits of our labor in the area of talent development and scouting. Ring of Honor will also continue to work with fine promotions like Chikara and look for more opportunities for those partnerships when they arise.
Our first co-promotion, "Synergy" with Chikara takes place in Chicago Ridge, Ill. on April 28th. On Sunday the 29th, we are debuting at the Hara Arena in Dayton, Ohio and are working with the Arena Football team, the Dayton Silverhawks, to assist with the promotion. When everyone looks back on ROH five years from now, my hope is we didn't leave any stone unturned. When you make goals and accomplish them, you always have to make more goals. But those would seem like reasonable goals for me.
Richard: What are your thoughts of Nigel McGuiness as a member of the ROH announce team?
Kevin: Take a guy who's never done announcing, drop him into the booth on a brand new show and then have that guy hit a home run. That's Nigel McGuinness. I never gelled with someone so quickly. From the start, we never step on each other, pick up each other's thoughts and bring the audience something they can't get anywhere else. I have been so impressed with Nigel and his dry wit kills me in-between segments. I have incredible respect and admiration for Nigel and the best is yet to come.
Richard: Do you think Jim Cornette is the savior of ROH and the man that will save professional wrestling?
Kevin: Cary Silkin will forever be known as the savior of ROH, for without him, the promotion would have died many years ago. It's a great question about what Jim's legacy will be, as no company has ever attempted to do what ROH is doing and has done for 10 years now. Professional wrestling has been crushed, brutalized and abused over the past twenty years. It will never be what it was but it can be much more than it is today. If Cornette can get ROH to meet its potential, turn it into a profitable promotion, expand its global footprint and develop a generation of ROH fans, lose them due to age and then cultivate a next generation of fans, I don't think anyone can deny his place as the leader of a reniassance in professional wrestling. Any promotion can get hot for a short period of time but Cornette's ROH must do it over the long-term to say that wrestling has been saved.
Richard: Do you see yourself in more roles, either on-screen or behind the scenes in Ring of Honor beyond the announce table?
Kevin: I would like to continue to expand my role on the website as well as in Talent Development. I have 20 years of industry experience as well as over a decade of sales experience as well to add to the mix. I've been blessed with talents from God and it's up to me to maximize them. I believe in what we are doing in Ring of Honor and I know that before long, I'll be overrun with work, above and beyond what I currently do on the air.
Richard: How do you feel about the current direction that the WWE is going, in terms of focusing more on sports entertainment rather than professional wrestling?
Kevin: It's not my cup of tea, but it's what they want to do.
For more information about Ring of Honor and their upcoming iPPV, "Showdown in the Sun," on March 30, check out www.rohwrestling.com and order the iPPV via www.gfl.tv
You can follow Kevin Kelly on Twitter @realkevinkelly.
I want to personally thank Kevin for taking the time to speak with me here on Kayfabe Kickout and on Bleacher Report.