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    Thursday, January 3, 2019

    "Mean" Gene Okerlund (1942-2019)

    "Mean" Gene Okerlund is a voice that will forever be synonymous with professional wrestling.

    Known to many wrestling fans for his candor and enthusiasm, Okerlund's voice and presence was a defining trait of wrestling for an entire generation. While most other figures in the sport would tower over the audience with their imposing presence and athleticism, Okerlund's comparatively small frame left an imprint on some of wrestling's greatest moments: as a catalyst, a firestarter, and an earnest interviewer. One could argue that the wrestling promo as we know it was defined by Okerlund's presence. Whenever "Mean" Gene was on, you knew something big was about to come up.

    While Okerlund had his moments behind the commentary desk, it was the in-ring or backstage interview where he truly shone. Like a ringmaster introducing the acts of the circus, he conducted his segments with the excited tone of just about any other fan, but sharpened with knowledge gathered through decades of being in the sport. In the 1980s—the decade when sports entertainment was at its inception—Okerlund was present in some of the most memorable segments in the WWF: be it singing "The Star Spangled Banner" on the very first WrestleMania, or being at the backdrop of some of the decade's most memorable interviews.

    It was in World Championship Wrestling, however, that millions of fans got introduced to the best of "Mean" (by God) Gene. Okerlund brought a sense of both seriousness and spectacle to interviews in WCW: whether he got to the bottom of Alex Wright's dancing antics, or being in the ring as "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan indulged his villainy for the fans watching at home.

    For today's wrestling fan old enough to have watched Nitro, however, Okerlund's segments with "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair—both in his rise and fall as WCW's authority figure in his feud with the New World Order—remain some of the most memorable and important moments in wrestling history.

    Today's interviewers are what they are: interviewers. People who bring the spotlight to the wrestler, the feud, the challenge ahead. In many ways, "Mean" Gene Okerlund was one of the best ever in that respect. But his longevity and enthusiasm made an in-ring interview or backstage segment all the more different with his presence: you knew something big was going to happen. You knew there was going to be a payoff. 

    Years later, as his career wound down, Okerlund continued to bring the big-fight feel to sports entertainment. When the spotlight was on Okerlund, you knew that this match was a must-watch. You tuned in, because "Mean" Gene was not just a ringmaster of a circus or a conductor of an athletic orchestra: he defined the moment that was about to happen. He exuded the fandom and passion for wrestling many fans lay claim to, but very few evoke.

    Just today, the WWE announced the passing of Eugene Arthur Okerlund: the venerable personality of professional wrestling as a spectacle, the man behind some of professional wrestling's most important moments, the wrestling fan many of us aspired and wanted to be. It's said often, but we truly lost one of the greats in Okerlund.

    Rest in peace, "Mean" Gene.
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    Item Reviewed: "Mean" Gene Okerlund (1942-2019) Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Marck Rimorin
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