AEW Voice Tony Schiavone Recounts His Storied Career in New Graphic Novel
Tony Schiavone is one of the most recognizable voices in the history of pro wrestling. He helped provide the soundtrack for the prime of the Four Horsemen, was in the trenches of the “Monday Night War” and today works for the buzzy new kid on the block known as All Elite Wrestling.
The legendary broadcaster is taking fans on a colorful journey through the five decades of his career with a new graphic novel. Over the course of 14 chapters, Butts in Seats: The Tony Schiavone Story recounts touchstones and experiences in a visually entertaining way.
The title is a nod to his infamous 1999 call, spoiling a WWE main event on WCW Nitro. “We understand Mick Foley, who wrestled here at one time as Cactus Jack, is going to win their world title. That’ll put a lot of butts in the seats,” Schiavone said as reportedly instructed by boss Eric Bischoff. The move had an adverse effect and swung the pendulum back in the favor of WWE. Along with this reason, there was another for the project’s title.
“It’s actually what wrestling announcers are supposed to do. Put butts in seats, get you to come to the arenas, get you to watch a pay-per-view,” Schiavone adds. “I didn’t want the title at first because I thought it had a negative connotation. I think the whole thing was overblown. If people think that’s the reason the ‘Monday Night War’ turned, maybe I had a more profound impact on the business than initially thought.
“People still remember it. I talked to Mick at a comic book convention back in September. He said, ‘I want to thank you and [Jim Ross] for making my career, for what you said that night and what Jim said when Undertaker threw me off and through the cage.’ That made me feel good about it. He is one of the legends in the business.”
We caught up with Schiavone to talk about the making of the project and help preview AEW’s last pay-per-view of the year, Full Gear.
Tell me about your decision to go the graphic novel route to tell your story.
Tony Schiavone: Growing up I was a comic book fan…I don’t think there have been many graphic novels based on someone’s wrestling career. I think Jim Cornette had done one. I really enjoyed the process. I enjoyed not only talking about my career but seeing panels, illustrations of my career—the fact that we used 26 different artists to draw the different chapters. I liked the collaborative effort, so I thought it was a good way to go.
These stories can be perfect for the format, but were there any that were more challenging to get across visually?
I really think the biggest challenge was the chapter we dedicated to the night I mentioned butts in seats on TV when Mick Foley won the WWE championship. It was a chapter that was showing the emotion that went through me and how I talked to Mick over the phone. I think that chapter was the biggest challenge because it focused on me and Mick Foley.
What do you make of your newfound popularity? AEW has really helped keep your passion for the business.
It helped light the fire. I had a very unusual day [in 2019], and it’s in the book. I was contacted by WWE and AEW on the same day…I called Conrad [Thompson], who is a friend and helped get me back into wrestling through our podcast. The first thing Conrad did was call Cody [Rhodes]. Cody sent me a text saying, “I don’t want you to work for WWE.” I never did go after a job. I let the chips fall where they may. Cody set up a call with [AEW head] Tony Khan. After talking to him and listening to his enthusiasm for the business and how much he loved it, I thought this was the right thing. His passion for the business is unlike anything I have ever been around ever. It all fell into place when I never thought it would fall into place again.
Tony Khan has also shown to be compassionate, with the most recent example being him showing support for Jon Moxley as he entered an inpatient alcohol treatment program.
I’ve often known him as a genuinely good person given the structure he has with his company. I never witnessed going to a wrestling show and having a doctor, a couple of physical therapists, and a whole medical staff. That told me he genuinely cared about the well-being of the wrestlers. AEW has had concussion seminars. Reaching out to wrestlers [saying] that if they are having problems coping with anything, here is the availability for mental health—they take care of their people. I got a good idea of it when the pandemic hit. Tony had a meeting with everyone in the back saying, “If you don’t feel that you should be here because you are sick or concerned about your well-being, don’t come. It won’t be held against you. Health comes first.”
Now the Jon Moxley situation and Brodie Lee situation show how much he cares about the people that work for him. It’s beyond anything I’ve seen in wrestling. When I first started, you had to wrestle or you didn’t get paid. It has changed so much now. I’m not sure what they do in WWE, but I’m sure it’s somewhat similar. But I can’t imagine any employer taking care of their wrestlers and staff the way we do.
AEW has the Full Gear pay-per-view on November 13. What match are you looking forward to most?
After what we saw Friday night on Rampage, I can’t wait to see Eddie Kingston and CM Punk. That interview is going to resonate with me for years. When I think about the great moments in AEW, I can’t think of anything as incredible as that. It will be a great match. I would say I’m looking forward to MJF wrestling Darby Allin, but I don’t look forward to Darby Allin doing anything. We saw a great match between the Lucha Brothers and the Young Bucks in the last title defense, but I think FTR will be another. But that CM Punk and Eddie Kingston match really upped the ante.
Talk about putting butts in seats.
I also need to do a shoutout to Britt Baker too, because if I don’t mention her name she’ll read this and contact me. As much as I think Tay Conti is a great wrestler, I think Britt right now is as unbeaten as you can find. I’m looking forward to her retaining her title. I’m saying that as a friend.
Butts in Seats: The Tony Schiavone Story hits comic book stores November 24 and Amazon November 30.
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