Ever since I got back into wrestling, I was always a fan of Kevin Kelly. He always came across as a likeable, down to earth character in a world of larger than life figures and always took what ever they through at him in his stride. He was a creative driving force behind some of the biggest angles in WWE and was involved in the notorious Brian Pillman shooting angle which is still discussed by fans today, over ten years later. Now involved with Ring Of Honor, Kevin is still an important figure in todays wrestling landscape.
Therefore, I was delighted when Kevin accepted my invitation to do an interview for the site, a few days before Ring Of Honor’s Glory By Honor IX show (which was a brilliant show by the way!, and proved that he really is a cool, down to earth guy, with a lot of interesting opinions on the wrestling world. Here’s how our conversation went:
You got involved in wrestling very quickly after graduating from Florida State university. Had you always wanted to go into wrestling or how did you manage to land the ring announcing gig with the International Wrestling Federation?
Ever since I heard Gordon Solie on Championship Wrestling from Florida when I was nine years old, I wanted to be a wrestling announcer. I majored in Communications at FSU, working on Radio and TV, in hopes of getting into wrestling. Opportunity came through a promoter calling the radio station looking for a ring announcer and the rest as they say is history. Just very fortunate and blessed, really.
You joined the WWF, as it was called then, in 1996. What promotions were you involved with between 1991 and 1996 and in what way were you involved in wrestling?
I was very involved in the scene in Florida between 91-94 but when my wife and I were expecting our first child in 1995, I began to lose interest. I had sent tapes into both WWF and WCW but nothing came out of it. But thanks to Billy Gunn, he helped get me in the door. Again, very lucky and thankful.
Joining the WWF must definately been a career highpoint. How was it working with Jim Ross and Michael Cole?
Both were fun to work with in their own way. Cole and I traveled together for a while (with the Coach) and JR was my boss in Talent Relations, so it was a different kind of relationship but cool. I learned from both along the way and was glad to have the chance.
Did it take long adjusting to life in the WWF?
I had no problem but the life was very tough on my family, especially my wife. I loved the travel and was excited to get to work every day, even when times were tough. I looked forward to proving myself yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Vince McMahon is notorious for shouting through the headset at commentators during broadcasts, even famously driving Mick Foley to quit as Smackdown announcer. how did you deal with it?It really can’t have made the job very easy.
It was easy for me. I just turned the volume down and then would apologize later. He never said anything to me that was accurate or helpful on the headset. Now, JR, on the other hand was a terrific producer for the announcers and the few times I worked with him in that capacity, it was great!
Did you prefer working as a backstage interviewer or broadcaster. I’m sure interviewer was less stressful but being an announcer meant you were right in front of the action.
The thrill of live TV is second-to-none so announcing a live show was best. Live interviews were great too.
Were you ever nervous that when a wrestler was put through the announce table, you might get caught up in the action?
No, because I was always aware and ready to make an escape if necessary. I was always worried for the safety of the wrestlers and that still holds true today.
During your time as an interviewer, The Rock mad a habit of mocking you. Were you and The Rock friends behind the scenes? What was your reaction to him nicknaming you as ‘hermie’?
Yes, we were friends and I never took anything he said to me seriously. I consider those interviews the highlight of my WWE career.
You famously took part in the notorious ‘Pillman’s got a gun’ angle? Did you know at the time you were part of such a notorious and groundbreaking angle? What were your feelings on the angle?
I was just saying to a fan over the weekend at ROH’s Glory By Honor IX event that the Pillman-Austin Gun story is the one thing that fans ask me about more than any other. I thought it was well done but I never thought it would have caused the shockwaves that it did, or have the legs to stick around here in 2010.
Did you get any vibes of Brian at the time that everything wasn’t right in his head?
Brian was always right in the head. It was in his leg that he wasn’t. I think he knew it was over for all intents and purposes and that scared him.
What were your favorite memories of your time in the WWF?
On the road with the crew… hanging out in the Pretapes Room with the gang. Giving opportunities to great talent like Low-Ki to wrestle in places like Madison Square Garden.
You were also involved in the Byte This! webcast and the insider WWF Confidential programs. Personally, I loved these shows as they provided fans with an insider look at the company. How did you find working on these projects. What were your favorite episodes of each?
The Ric Flair Plane Crash story was mine from the start and I loved it. Same with the Jimmy Snuka story. Byte This was a trip each week. We did so much stuff that I can’t remember one episode… I did enjoy the live pre-game shows we did before PPV’s or big Raws.
You were released in 2003. Did you have any desire to pursue any projects at this time?
I painted the house… oh you mean “work”? It was tough. No other wrestling companies around (TNA wasn’t hiring) and not the right kind of experience for regular television meant I looked for a career change. I wound up transitioning into sales and have worked in that industry ever since.
You found work with Major League Wrestling? How did you find working for this league?
Court Bauer was a jabrone who had no business being in the wrestling business.
You were rumored to return as the host of WWE Superstars. Any ideas how these rumors came about? Would you accept an announcing role with the WWE again?
It was a simple error where the folks at Direct TV carried over the information from the old listing, the version of Superstars that I hosted way back when. No, I would not go back to work for the WWE. Too much nonsense there and it’s too stressful on a family.
You have been made the voice of ROH’s online PPV’s. The ROH product is so much different to the WWE’s. Which style of wrestling do you personally prefer?
I like wrestling. I like good guys, bad guys and titles worth fighting for. I can’t stand “sports-entertainment”. The philosophy with ROH is pretty simple. Wrestlers who look like stars wrestling in wrestling matches on a TV show that makes fans want to buy tickets to see those same wrestlers wrestle at live events.
Who in ROH impresses you?
Ignoring Tyler Black for a moment, I like everyone, really. There is so much talent that is just bursting to come out that the future is very bright for ROH.
Tyler Black has just signed for the WWE. What do you think his chances of success up north are?
I like Tyler so much, both personally and professionally. He has no problems succeeding in anything but his success in the WWE isn’t really up to him. I am confident that Tyler will do all he can to be as great as he can be in that company.
You were involved creatively with the WWE, even having a hand in the McMahon-helmsley storyline. Do you feel you received proper credit for your creative contributions?
Sure because creative contributions are always a team effort. I was glad to be a part of the conversation and took advantage of Vince McMahon’s open door policy on story line suggestions.
Would you like to contribute creatively to ROH?
I would like to contribute to bringing the fans the best wrestling action in the world and there are so many creative people involved in the product that it’s great to collaborate with a group like this.
Beside announcing for ROH, what does the future hold for Kevin Kelly?
I have lots on my plate, including a wife and two kids. I am active in my church and just enjoy life. Things are good!
Kevin Kelly writes a regular column for Wrestlezone.com, which is worth checking out to hear his opinions on todays wrestling landscape.
For more on Ring Of Honor, please visit www.rohwrestling.com