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RECAP AND REVIEW: Talk is Jericho with Kevin Kelly on his first meeting with Vince McMahon, the major angle he pitched, the member of WWE management who didn’t like him, working with NJPW, why he left ROH, the word he forgot during the Brian Pillman gun angle

Talk is Jericho – The New Japan World of Kevin Kelly

Release date: November 14, 2018

Recap by: Caitlin Lavelle

DIRECT LINK TO LISTEN/DOWNLOAD

2:55 – Kevin Kelly on life between WWE and Ring of Honor

Kevin Kelly left WWE in 2003 due to company-wide budget cuts. Kelly says that he looked for jobs within the wrestling industry, including placing a call to Jeff Jarrett (who told him TNA didn’t have the money to bring him in at the time), but was ultimately unable to find any opportunities and didn’t find a job for almost a year.

Eventually, Kelly tweaked his resume, removing ‘wrestling’ and replacing it with ‘sales’, and says he got five interviews within a week. Kevin would find a position in radio sales. He says working in sales has made him a better commentator.

5:55 – Kelly on his WWE audition

Kevin says he got his WWE audition through Billy Gunn, who he’d met on the Florida independent wrestling scene.

When WWE was coming to Florida, Kelly says he had reached out to Gunn to see whether they needed a local announcer. Kelly was auditioning for WCW at the time, hyping up the crowd off-camera during WCW’s MGM Studios TV tapings.

While at the WCW taping, Kelly was paged by Gunn. Kevin called Billy, who told him to call Bruce Prichard to schedule an audition for a WWE announcer position.

During his audition, Kelly interviewed Jim Ross, who was pretending to be a heel wrestler with a match against Shawn Michaels at Madison Square Garden. He also did commentary over a match with JR.

Kelly, who was being evaluated by Bruce Prichard, Kevin Dunn and a woman from Human Resources, says he thought he did terrible, and was given a Raw T-shirt as what he assumed was a consolation prize. However, on the way back to the airport, Kevin’s driver got a call to turn the limo around, and bring Kelly back to Stamford so he could meet with Vince McMahon.

Kelly says he met with Vince in a conference room. He doesn’t remember much of what they talked about, but Kevin says he does remember emphasizing loyalty, because he had been thumbing through a Raw Magazine prior to his meeting with Vince and found an article about Nash and Hall leaving WWE.

Kelly got the job, and starting doing commentary on WWE’s international syndicated shows. He says he was working closely with Gorilla Monsoon, who he is actually related to – Kelly’s great uncle married Monsoon’s sister-in-law.

10:55 – Kelly on Vince McMahon taking care of Mr. Fuji

Jericho and Kelly talk about the guys who were “taken care of for life” by Vince McMahon, including Arnold Skaaland, Gorilla Monsoon, and Chief Jay Strongbow.

Kevin says that when WWE was in Knoxville, Tennessee, Mr. Perfect came to the building and told him he’d seen Mr. Fuji. Perfect said Fuji was in bad shape, and that he was tearing tickets at a movie theater for money. Kelly says Mr. Perfect also told referee Dave Hebner, and that Perfect & Hebner went together to tell Vince about Mr. Fuji.

When Kelly caught up with Mr. Perfect later in the day, he told him that as soon as they told Vince about Mr. Fuji, “Vince got $10,000 cash, put it in an envelope, and said, ‘Take this to Fuji.’”

12:30 – Kelly on Vince’s influence on the announce desk

Kelly says he always had a good relationship with Vince, and that the idea of him always screaming in the announcer’s ears wasn’t the case during his time at WWE.

Kelly says Vince would sometimes feed him a line and it wouldn’t fit, and that they would just skip over it. He said Vince would sometimes repeat, “say it, say it”, but was never screaming and yelling.

Kelly tells a story about a Sunday Night Heat taping where Kevin was fired up and screaming right off the top of the show. As soon as he finished, Kelly says Vince was actually calming, saying, “Take a breath and relax, it’s an hour-long show.”

13:50 – Kelly on WWE’s ‘transitional phase’ (Mid-90’s to Monday Night Wars)

Kelly started at WWF on June 24th, 1996, the day after Stone Cold’s legendary Austin 3:16 promo at King of the Ring. Kevin says the company was in a transitional phase at the time, and was having profit improve-ability meetings to figure out how they could cut costs. He says they were doing things like sharpening pencils all the way down and turning off lights when they left a room.

Kelly says Vince & Linda McMahon had a profit-sharing plan with the employees, and that 1996 was first year in a long time when there was no profit shared because WWF lost $6 million.

15:30 – Kevin Kelly on Kevin Dunn, Vince Russo and changing job departments at WWE

Kelly says Kevin Dunn never liked him, and that Dunn called Vince McMahon during a writing meeting (where Vince Russo was present), informing McMahon that he wanted to let Kelly go.

Kelly says Dunn was on speakerphone, and that Russo asked if Kelly could transfer departments and work for Russo. Dunn agreed, and Kelly transitioned to a job at WWE’s corporate office. He says he helped with the magazine, website, Byte This, and was eventually also brought back to be part of a 3-man team for the first hour of Raw.

17:00 – Kelly on pitching Vince McMahon as the Corporate Champion

Kevin says he would occasionally pitch creative ideas to Vince Russo, and that one of these ideas what Vince McMahon becoming the Corporate Champion.

Kelly remembers that Vince McMahon used to symbolically present the World Title belt to new champions and that, when Stone Cold Steve Austin won the championship, McMahon wore the belt to the ring for the presentation. Kelly said he thought that sign of disrespect from McMahon should make Austin’s character mad, and that Austin should challenge McMahon to a championship match as a result.

Kelly says he pitched this to Russo, who pitched it to McMahon, and that they both liked the idea and went with it.

23:42 – Kelly on the WWE TV Studio ‘turning the tide’ during the Monday Night War

Kelly says he believes the WWE’s success during the Monday Night Wars that allowed them to eventually overtake WCW all started in the TV studio. He says the people working in the studio knew the look and feel of the show needed to change, and that this is where the RAW is WAR concept came from. He says this created the adversarial atmosphere that fans gravitated towards.

26:40 – Kelly on Vince McMahon’s angry reaction to a Raw Magazine article

Kevin says the concept for RAW Magazine was to go behind the scenes and shoot with fans, while WWF Magazine was still family-friendly. While Kelly says Vince McMahon was a fan of the RAW Magazine format, he remembers a time Vince got upset at the magazine team for pulling back the curtain.

Kelly says they wrote a small, 1-page story in RAW Magazine, covering a ‘Funkin Dojo’ tryout with Adam Copeland (Edge) and Shawn Morley (Val Venis). He says Vince McMahon, “Flipped his lid,” when he saw the article, called Vince Russo yelling, and wanted the magazine to be pulled off the shelf. Kelly clarifies that McMahon didn’t want Edge or Val Venis to be seen until he’d come up with creative ideas for them.

Kelly says he tried to get production of magazine stopped, but that it was too late. Luckily, Vince never brought it up again.

Jericho says this is classic Vince: That he’ll have a big reaction, then never bringing up the issue again. He says if Vince it mad at you, you should take your medicine, move on and never say anything about it again, because Vince has already moved on.

30:20 – Kevin Kelly on his respect for the WWE TV Studio

Kelly says the WWE’s TV Studio team were proud of Jericho’s debut promo, because the fan reaction was, “Validation for all the work they had put in on the countdown to the millennium. They’re uncredited. That’s the validation they get.”

Kelly names David Sahadi & Adam Pennucci as the guys leading the team responsible for the intro clips, vignettes, and titantrons that connected with fans. Jericho calls WWE’s production better than the NFL’s, and says people take Monday Night Raw’s slickness for granted.  

Kelly calls WWE Director Kirwin Silfies an innovator on how to light crowds in all of sport, and brings up XFL’s ‘sky-cam’ innovation. Kelly says WWE doesn’t get enough credit for their innovations in production.

32:50 – Kelly on The Rock

Jericho asks Kelly why The Rock called him “Hermie”. Kelly explains this was an idea pitched by Brian Gewirtz, and that, while Kelly originally wanted to punch Brian, the Rock assured him that he would make it funny.

Jericho presses, asking why they called Kelly a hermaphrodite, and Kelly deadpans, “Because they said I had equally working parts of male and female genitalia. I don’t, by the way. I’m sure it was written out of some evil spite, but we turned it into fun.”

Kelly says he knew The Rock from back in his Florida independent wrestling days when Rock was playing football at University of Miami. Kelly was ring announcing at a show where The Rock came in to make the save on a match between his father, Rocky Johnson, and the Cuban Assassin.

35:40 – Kelly on making himself shorter and forgetting his lines

Kelly says, “Vince had a big thing about, the announcer couldn’t be taller than anyone else.” He says he would take his shoes off, spread his legs, and try to step towards the background when he conducted backstage interviews. Jericho brings up the Tom Phillips ‘Tomspiracy’, confirming that this edict is still in effect today.

Kelly says he would always try to make the crew doing backstage pre-tapes laugh, and that the only time he went blank live was at Pillman’s house during the ‘Pillman’s Got a Gun’ angle.

In the melee, Kelly says he couldn’t come up with the word ‘gunshot’, was stammering and stuttering, and kept saying “Explosions.” He says the boys in the tape room had their fun with that, and laughed at Kelly screaming, “Call the police!”

Kelly says WWE got in trouble with USA for the Brian Pillman segment, because they didn’t warn the network that there would be a gun involved.

38:30 – Kelly on USA Network’s reaction to the Chyna & Jericho kidnapping storyline

Kelly says WWE also got in trouble for the Chyna & Chris Jericho storyline where Jericho kidnapped Chyna and smashed her finger with a hammer.

Jericho says he was looking for something to do with Chyna during their fued, and that he came up with the hand smashing idea because she always wore gloves.

Kelly remembers that USA was not happy with it because of the ‘violence towards women’ aspect, and that the angle “didn’t go over well” internationally.

46:00 – Kelly on New Japan Pro Wrestling’s growth

Kelly says he started working for New Japan in October 2015 at New Japan World’s King of Pro Wrestling event, and that his relationship with New Japan started through Ring of Honor. In 2015, Kelly says, “Everything was trending up, but room there was room for improvement. Now, they’re on the cusp of doing 40,000 at the Tokyo dome.”

Kelly says this is because New Japan has a strong pillar of its because pillar of four stars on top of their company (Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kenny Omega), and that everyone underneath is clicking as well. He calls New Japan’s booking smart, and says the product is easy to digest and follow.

Kelly explains that the departure of A.J. Styles, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson didn’t hurt New Japan, because they had a of bench of talent that was ready to step up. He says that if A.J. hadn’t left the company, Kenny Omega would have had 2017 that he did.

50:00 – Kelly on calling New Japan shows

Kevin says he tries to call New Japan in an old school way with a new era edge. He says that, although the performers in the ring are Japanese, he tries to keep his work the same as if he were calling an American show. Kelly says there’s no language barrier with wrestling, and that he can understand the emotion behind promos even when he doesn’t understand what wrestlers are saying by reading their body language and facial expressions.

Kelly says he’d never been to Japan before working for NJPW, and that he wishes America was more like Japan because the people are so polite and kind (although he later tells a story about being turned away from a restaurant with Don Callis for being American).

After starting for New Japan, Kevin says he quickly realized he needed to commit the wrestlers’ and company’s histories to memory, so that he would be able to recite facts more quickly. He says he receives basically no instruction from TV team at New Japan.

Kelly says he takes pride in the fact that he and Don Callis are called the best commentary team in wrestling. He says he’s there to get the wrestlers over, to sell their catchphrases over and sell their T-shirts, not to get himself over or sell his own merchandise.

Kelly says he’ll go up to all of the New Japan talent and ask them to tell him anything he should know before the show, and that he uses the information he learns on-air.

Kelly says the Japanese announcers, “aren’t smartened up to anything.” Kelly says he likes to know crucial points in the match to make sure he get’s those aspects over and foreshadows what’s to come.

55:30 – Kelly on the different commentary teams for New Japan World & AXS TV

At the time of this interview, Kevin Kelly and Don Callis are the commentary team for New Japan’s streaming service, New Japan World, and Jim Ross and Josh Barnett provide commentary for New Japan’s show on the AXS TV channel.

Jericho asks Kelly how he feels about the separate commentary teams. Kevin says the New Japan brass feels the AXS TV team is better for the casual fan, due to how recognizable JR is and the strength of Josh Barnett’s reputation in Mixed Martial Arts.

Kelly thinks New Japan needs to step up their streaming service, and that once New Japan World becomes available across more devices their growth will explode.

1:03:20 – Kelly on leaving Ring of Honor

Kelly says he left ROH on his own accord in June 2017, explaining, “it was just time. We couldn’t make schedules match up.”

Kelly says he’s busy in Japan and hasn’t been doing much domestically, aside from a few camps, seminars, and calling some matches here and there.

1:04:30 – Kelly on working with Kane & Undertaker and pitching the Stephanie & HHH Wedding

Kelly says one of his favorite things he got to do in WWE was participate in the angle where Kane & Paul Bearer dug up Kane & The Undertaker’s parents. He remembers shooting the footage where he followed Undertaker to the gravesite, only to find the burial plots empty. He calls the segment “hokey”, but says they had a blast filming.

Kelly also says he was the person who originally pitched that Triple H should marry Stephanie McMahon instead of Test, and that he typed up this pitch and sent it in an email to Vince McMahon, Vince Russo, Shane McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, Kevin Dunn & Jim Ross. Kevin says Vince McMahon was the first to respond, emailing back, ‘THAT’S GREAT SHIT!’ He says Shane McMahon also poked his head in Kelly’s office to tell him he loved the idea.

1:06:40 – Kelly’s on his favorite wrestlers in New Japan

Kelly says some of his favorite current New Japan wrestlers are Evil and Sanada, Juice Robinson, Tomohiro Ishii, the Young Lions & Cody. He says he absolutely thinks the current New Japan product can make jump to the states and be successful, and that their current product can speak to everyone.

Kelly says New Japan is building a legion of fans, one fan at a time, and that being a part of their renaissance is one of the greatest joys of his life.

Rating: 7/10

I believe this conversation was recorded a while back, because this interview has been teased by Jericho a number of times only to be bumped for more relevant content (Kevin Kelly was quickly becoming to Talk is Jericho what Lindsey Buckingham is to SNL’s What Up With That?). However, this is a fun episode with some cool stories I hadn’t previously heard.

Timestamps

1:33 – Introduction
2:38 – Interview begins
2:55 – Kevin Kelly on life between WWE and Ring of Honor
5:55 – Kelly on his WWE audition
10:55 – Kelly on Vince McMahon taking care of Mr. Fuji
12:30 – Kelly on Vince’s influence on the announce desk
13:50 – Kelly on WWE’s ‘transitional phase’ (Mid-90’s to Monday Night Wars)
15:30 – Kevin Kelly on Kevin Dunn, Vince Russo and changing job departments at WWE
17:00 – Kelly on pitching Vince McMahon as the Corporate Champion
20:35 – Advertisement
23:42 – Interview Resumes
23:42 – Kelly on the WWE TV Studio ‘turning the tide’ during the Monday Night War
26:40 – Kelly on Vince McMahon’s angry reaction to a RAW Magazine article
30:20 – Kevin Kelly on his respect for the WWE TV Studio
32:50 – Kelly on The Rock
35:40 – Kelly on making himself shorter and forgetting his lines
38:30 – Kelly on USA Network’s reaction to the Chyna & Jericho kidnapping storyline
41:50 – Advertisement
45:15 – Interview resumes
46:00 – Kelly on New Japan Pro Wrestling’s growth
50:00 –Calling NJPW
55:30 – Kelly on the different commentary teams for New Japan World & AXS TV
1:03:20 – Kelly on leaving Ring of Honor
1:04:30 – Kelly on working with Kane & Undertaker and pitching the Stephanie & HHH Wedding
1:06:40 – Kelly’s on his favorite wrestlers in New Japan

Writer Bio

Caitlin is a wrestling fan who hopes to one day discover that she is the illegitimate daughter of Vincent Kennedy McMahon and the rightful Anonymous RAW General Manager. Until then, she’ll keep on living in Orlando, Florida with her husband and son.

 

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