'Mean' Gene Okerlund: WWE's effortlessly eloquent star
By Anton Toloui, Sky Sports News
Last Updated: 02/01/19 6:29pm
When someone beloved from your childhood passes away the tendency is to wax lyrical about the recently departed in a manner full of superlatives while completely lacking balance.
Some may accuse me of exactly that as I try to put into context the death of Gene Okerlund. If that is your opinion then, respectfully, you are wrong.
'Mean Gene' is one of the most important figures in WWE history and is one of the reasons Wrestlemania is the juggernaut it is today.
In a world of organised chaos, slapstick routines and socially ignorant comedy, Okerlund was the voice of calm, professionalism and expert comic timing.
The first Wrestlemania in 1985 saw an explosion of celebrity as wrestling tried to find its way into the homes of mainstream America. Vince McMahon and other WWE decision-makers did everything they could to get the newly nationally syndicated TV product watched by as many eyeballs as possible.
Liberace, Cyndi Lauper, Andy Warhol, Mohammad Ali, some bloke called Herb from a Burger King advert - wrestling quite simply didn't make sense in the early Wrestlemania days. It needed a sense of authority and aforethought. It needed Gene Okerlund.
Be it sheepishly singing 'Star Spangled Banner' at Wrestlemania I, being lambasted by greats like Andre the Giant and 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper or being the link between the millions of Hulkamaniacs and Hogan himself, Gene was the man to steer the ship from the rocks.
Sometimes it was in lieu of his own reputation, sometimes it was by being the straight guy during yet another shouty promo and sometimes it was just to be intimidated by someone twice his size. Either way, Okerlund made every segment better by selflessly thinking about what would be better for the viewers.
If you aren't aware of his skills as a broadcaster, simply pop Wrestlemania IX in your VCR and listen to him riff with Bobby Heenan on commentary to save what was a fairly poor show.
Okerlund also understood the power of silence. He stood by in awe as Jake 'The Snake' Roberts gave one of the best promos in Wrestlemania history during the sixth edition of the show, simply adding "Longfellow couldn't have put it better himself" to contextualise the wonder fans would have felt at the time.
The tributes from wrestling's elite will flow for days as Okerlund was the man that added verbal finesse to their in-ring prowess.
Eloquent, enthusiastic and effortless, Gene Okerlund is the standard every interviewer and broadcaster should aim for. Not just in sports entertainment but in all of sports itself.