wrestling / Columns

Mean Gene: The Best We’ve Ever Seen

January 10, 2019 | Posted by Dino Zee
Gene Okerlund

Last week, on January 2, this world of ours – that world of professional wrestling – lost one of the most beloved figures of the last 40 years when “Mean” Gene Okerlund passed away. I wasn’t able to give it the proper coverage last week, as I had already prepared the Impact: Homecoming piece.
So this week, I’d like to pay homage to one of the single-most important individuals on my personal journey as a fan of professional wrestling. While I’d love to talk about WrestleKingdom 13 or Homecoming, it just doesn’t seem right. This week we’ll abandon the fun of ZWI, and simply remember the voice for my generation.

When I was a young kid, I loved wrestling more than absolutely anything else on the planet. And as a young kid, Hulk Hogan was my favorite wrestler. And there was nothing better than hearing that familiar Well lemme tell ya something, MEAN GENE! Yeah, it meant that Hogan was going to lay out his plan to take down whichever Bad Guy of the Day was giving him trouble. And yeah, that was going to be a great sight to see! At the same time, things just didn’t seem to be as important when it was Lord Alfred holding the mic, or Sean Mooney, or any of the other guys that did the same job.
Gene Okerlund’s mere presence was enough to let you know that this was high-stakes. He was the one that would help hype the match with the heroes, while openly chastising the villains and their managers. Okerlund was never afraid to give some type of smart-aleck comeback to something he heard, even if it meant risking physical retribution.

While he did wrestle a match (teaming with Hogan in the mid-80’s), Gene was never to be confused for a wrestler. He was one thing, and one thing only – the very best interview man in the industry. Whether he was trying to get a reaction out of some rapscallion, trying diligently to get the answers we needed, or simply trying (unsuccessfully) to stifle a laugh, Gene Okerlund always showed us how to get things done.
For me, his ability to so flawlessly move from serious to comedy – and back again – was his greatest attribute. Whether he was grilling Jimmy Hart or Bobby Heenan after one of their charges launched an abhorrent sneak attack, or whether he was dancing with the freaking Gobbledy Gooker, Gene always belonged.

When Gene left the WWF and headed to WCW in the mid-90s, he would continue his same stellar work in his new home. He was there every Monday, ready to hold a mic and get the thoughts of the Horsemen, Dungeon of Doom, n.W.o., and anyone else who wanted to talk.
I remember Ric Flair always hitting us with the “MEEEEEAN… WOOO… BY GOD GENE!” during those episodes of Nitro, and the WWF mark in me would always feel like Flair was just trying to create a cheap version of Hogan’s “Well lemme tell ya something.” Even as something I considered cut-rate, I still enjoyed it every single time.
Gene’s ability to react without having it border on caricature is something else that I always cherished about the man. It felt like he really was angry at the nonsense justifications he was being told, or that he was really hopeful that one of the fan favorites would, indeed, get the revenge they were preaching to achieve. Especially in today’s world where most announcers / interviewers just fake loud indignation, Gene’s presentation still feels so fresh and authentic.
Knowing that we’ve lost him – that we’ve lost that connection to a bygone era, that we’ve lost access to all the tips and information that he had inside – hurts. I never met the man, but I have no problem saying that this was a loss that really affected me. I loved Gene Okerlund.
I tuned in Monday night to watch RAW, to see Hulk Hogan speak about his long time partner in crime. My lady asked if I was going to be all right. I had to tell her, somewhat embarrassingly, that I wasn’t going to be. And when Hogan spoke of Gene, and when that video played, I definitely cried a little. It’s so silly – almost stupid, really – but it’s still the fact of the matter.
I’m getting married in May. I’ve joked about reciting my vows in the style of a wrestling promo, even starting it off with a little “Well lemme tell ya something…” It started off as a joke. I almost feel like it has to happen now.

While we always recall the wrestlers we loved when we grew up – the Hogans, Flairs, Warriors, Harts, Austins of the world – we sometimes forget the other faces that were so important to that time as well. Gene Okerlund is absolutely one of those people, and in no way will he ever be forgotten.
This may be shorter than the usual fare, but I felt like this was the right thing for me to do this week. He deserves it.
I’d really just like to open up the comments for everyone to share their memories of “Mean” Gene Okerlund. My condolences to his family and friends, and a sincere Thank You for the years and years of entertainment, from the AWA days until the last appearance on RAW.

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Gene Okerlund, Dino Zee