411’s Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2007: Gordon Solie
Nicknames: The Dean, The Howard Cosell of Wrestling, The Walter Cronkite of Wrestling, Smokey (to friends)
Promotions Worked for: WCW, CWF, GCW, CCW, New Japan
Honors: WCW Hall of Fame, Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, NWA Hall of Fame, Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame, PWI Lifetime Achievement Award, Wrestling Perspective Editor’s Choice Award, 3 time PWI best wrestling announcer of the year from 1981-1983
Gordon Solie was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on January 26, 1929 as Jonard Frank Labiak. He always wanted to be an announcer since he was a child. After leaving high school he joined the Air Force. Upon discharge he moved to Tampa, Florida and worked as a DJ and radio reporter. He also announced for lesser sports such as stock car racing and boxing. On a lark he took a one night gig for five bucks emceeing a local wrestling show. He became hooked on the business and slowly worked his way into the announcer’s position. Unfamiliar with the inner workings of the sport, Solie had wrestlers apply holds to him so he could truly feel them and better describe events to fans. By 1960 Solie was the lead announcer for Championship Wrestling from Florida and held that spot until the company’s demise in 1987. Here Solie honed his trademark style. He had a deadpan delivery that gave the matches a certain gravity. He described moves in detail and instead of relating all of the outside elements he got over the story of the match itself to fans. He coined the terms “pier six brawl,” “foreign object” and “crimson mask” for a bloodied wrestler and pronounced the word suplex as ‘suplay’ to give it an aire of loftier origins. Solie said in one of his last interviews that it was Cowboy Luttrall who hired him in Florida that instructed him to “treat [wrestling] very seriously. That’s what I did ever since.” In 1964 blind wrestling promoter Leroy McGuirk from Oklahoma told Solie that his commentary on the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Title Match between Hiro Matsuda and Danny Hodge allowed him to ‘see’ a wrestling match for the first time in years.
Solie worked for various companies while CWF remained his home base. He became nationally known thanks to Georgia Championship Wrestling being broadcast over TBS. He served for the company from 1974 to 1985. From 1975 to 1988 he worked for Continental Championship Wrestling out of Alabama. Along with Joe Pedicino he also hosted “Pro Wrestling This Week” that ran down results and news from various NWA territories including from Japan and Puerto Rico. In 1989 he found a new permanent home with WCW and stayed on with them until 1995. During this period he helped to shape the next generation of play by play men such as Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone. After leaving WCW he announced matches via satellite for “Ring Warriors” that aired on Eurosport. The show consisted of matches from New Japan and Solie also did English commentary for the company’s video releases.
Solie was contracted to announce the Heroes of Wrestling pay per view in 1999, but had to pull out due to ill health. Even while battling cancer Solie worked behind the scenes for NWA Florida in an effort to bring local wrestling back to his adopted state. Solie passed away of throat and brain cancer on July 27, 2000. Solie’s wife Eileen also died of cancer in 1997. They had five children. His memoirs were published in 2005 under the title of Something Left Behind.
In a sport filled with larger than life, blustery characters Solie was a realistic anchor. He was serious and earnest. At the same time he was a representative of the common fan, but also a father figure whose opinions were respected and sought after. Every wrestler, angle, match and fan were treated with serious consideration and in that way Solie went a long way in legitimizing wrestling and getting it over to the common man as storylines became more outlandish and characters more colorful. His smoky, gruff voice with a deep tone and clear pronunciation was the voice of wrestling, and is still the voice of wrestling, for many fans. And thanks to videotape Solie will remain so for generations to come. As the man would sign off his legendary CWF broadcasts with, so long from the Sunshine State.
References: Wikipedia, MidSouthWrestling.com, Slam! Sports, Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame