The following is a personal anecdote from Place to Be Nation Member Andy Atherton
It was January 16, 1996. I attended a house show at Madison Square Garden. I was there with my friend Steve and his friend Shawn. We had pretty good seats, first row off of the floor. If it was a hockey game, we would’ve been in the front row. I was 23 at the time and I actually didn’t own a wrestling shirt to wear to the show. So, since we were going to MSG, I decided to wear my Brian Leetch NY Rangers away jersey. It was hockey season and we were going to their home arena so I figured it would be okay.
We grab a few beers, a couple of hot dogs and a WWF ice cream bar (man, I miss those.) We get to our seats and the show is about to begin. At the time at some house shows, they’d have a master of ceremonies, so to speak. This guy’s job is to pump up the crowd and keep them interested and engaged in the show in between matches. So, he comes out (I honestly don’t remember his name) and starts making announcements about the card and some of the giveaways that are going to happen that night. He also says that they will need some volunteers from the audience as well: a guest flag bearer for Lex Luger, a guest manager for The Bushwhackers and a special guest ring announcer. I thought that should be fun for whomever they pick. I would assume that the guest manager would probably be a kid since it was for The Bushwhackers. As for the other two, I really didn’t give it much thought.
The show begins, I don’t remember the order of the matches, but here is the card courtesy of The History of WWE.com:
WWF @ New York City, NY – Madison Square Garden – January 16, 1995 (7,500; 5,400 paid)
Included Jeff Jarrett as a guest of Shawn Michaels’ ‘Heartbreak Hotel’
Aldo Montoya pinned Steven Dunn
Duke Drose (w/ Dick Murdoch) defeated Timothy Well (w/ Steven Dunn); prior to the match, Murdoch cut an in-ring promo about being in MSG and his plans to win the Royal Rumble; moments later, Well insulted him; after the contest, Murdoch beat up both Well & Dunn
Henry Godwinn pinned Bob Holly
WWF Women’s Champion Bull Nakano pinned Alundra Blayze with the leg drop off the top
The Undertaker pinned Tatanka with the tombstone; after the bout, King Kong Bundy and Bam Bam Bigelow attacked Taker
Bret Hart defeated Owen Hart in a no holds barred match via submission to the Sharpshooter; after the bout, Bret kept the hold applied until several referees came out to pull him off; after releasing the hold, Bret then briefly reapplied it
Lex Luger & Davey Boy Smith defeated King Kong Bundy & Bam Bam Bigelow via disqualification
WWF World Champion Diesel pinned Jeff Jarrett (sub. for Bob Backlund) (w/ Shawn Michaels) with the powerbomb; after the bout, Michaels hit the superkick on Diesel, threw the world title belt down on him and spat at him
I’m sitting there with Steve and Shawn (I think the Henry Godwinn / Bob Holly match was going on) when all of the sudden the master of ceremonies guy comes up to me and says, “Hey, you want to be the special guest ring announcer?” I was caught completely off guard, so I stammered an “um, um.” Shawn says, “I’ll do it.” I snap out of the sudden shock and I say to him, “Hell no, he asked me.” So I say yes to the guy. He proceeds to lead me backstage. Now if you’ve ever been to an old school show at MSG, the entrance aisle isn’t on one end of the arena, but in the middle. It wasn’t that far from our seats so it was a short walk. I go down the stairs and through the curtain and the guy introduces me to Howard Finkel. He was a super nice guy. He asks me how to spell and pronounce my name and I tell him. He then hands me a waiver which I have to sign in order to participate. At this point, I’m starting to get nervous and I sign it, of course. I have no idea what it said at the time. I’m guessing it had to do with an injuries or using my likeness in any videos or photos taken while I was out in the arena. Next, a backstage worker comes over with a WWF Go Ahead… Make My Wish Tour t-shirt. I ask if I can put it on over my Rangers jersey and they say okay. While I’m standing there, Shawn Michaels walks by all decked out in his HBK gear. A moment later The British Bulldog walks by in the other direction. Of course, I was getting awe struck.
Howard hands me a yellow piece of notepad paper which has the copy I was to read on it. He then leaves for a moment to go introduce the next match, Alundra Blayze vs. Bull Nakano. I look down at the paper to see which match I would be the ring announcer for and I was a little disappointed. It was the Aldo Montoya vs. Steven Dunn match. I thought, “Hey I’m about to announce a match at MSG, who cares who’s wrestling.” As I’m reading a few more people are walking around the backstage area. I try to stay out of the way, but I want to check out the woman’s match that’s going on. Howard walks back through the curtain and asks how I’m doing; I say that I’m great. He tells me in a few minutes he’ll have to go announce the winner of the current match and then he’ll come back and bring me out to the ring. I say okay. I go back to watching the match through the curtain. The next thing I know, Lex Luger is standing next to me watching. Bull Nakano was on offense at the time. Lex turns to me, “F*ck that Japanese girl is good.” I nod my head and I think I said yeah? He turns and walks away. The midget wrestlers involved in the Jerry Lawler vs Doink The Clown feud walk in. They were the happiest bunch and having a good time, ribbing each other back and forth.
Back in the ring, Bull Nakano hits her top rope leg drop finisher and gets the three count on Alundra Blayze. The bell rings and Howard announces the winner. As soon as I heard that, my heart sinks and my nervousness is turned up quite a bit. Howard comes through the curtain and says, “Ready Andrew?” I nod my head and we walk through the curtain. From this moment forward, it was a surreal experience. As I walk, a few kids hold out their hands for me to slap, so I oblige them. We get to the ring; Howard walks up the steps first. He sits on the second rope and holds the top rope open for me. I enter the ring, tried to be as cool as I could be. I’m just glad that I didn’t trip and fall on my face. I take my first step and it was like walking on a mattress. I did a few small bounces to see how the ring really felt under my feet. Howard announces me, “Ladies and gentlemen. At this time, let me introduce our special guest ring announcer, from Bronxville, New York, Andrew Atherton!” The entire crowd proceeded to boo me and I loved it! He hands me the microphone and I stand in the middle of the ring. Howard cues me. I say, “The following contest is scheduled for one fall.” He gestures to me to wait for his next cue. Van Halen’s “Right Now” starts playing. I had no idea that Steven Dunn was using that as his entrance theme? I guess only at a house show could they get away with it. Steven comes through the curtain and Howard gives me the cue. “Making his way down the aisle, one half of the team Well Dunn, weighing in at 225 pounds, Steven Dunn!” Steven gets into the ring, plays up to the crowd for a moment and his music fades down. Aldo Montoya’s music starts and Howard cues me again. I say, “And his opponent, from Lisbon, Portugal, weighing 215 pounds, The Portuguese Man-O-War, Aldo Montoya!” Aldo gets in the ring and plays up to the crowd as well. To be honest, neither guy got much of a reception.
Howard then leads me out of the ring and we sit ringside and watch the match. This wasn’t a televised event, but it was being videotaped. The camera kept coming over to us, so I kept having to smile, wave and give the thumbs up. The match itself was fine. I have to be honest, the thought did cross my mind to “turn heel” and interfere in the match when Aldo went up to the top rope for his finisher. But I am a normal human being and I didn’t feel like spending the night in jail and getting banned from future events at MSG. He hits his finisher, the ref counts three and the bell rings. Aldo’s music starts playing and Howard gives me the cue to stand up and announce the winner. I say, “The winner of the match, The Portuguese Man-O-War, Aldo Montoya!” After the wrestlers make their way to the back, Howard walks me to the curtain, shakes my hand and he heads back down to the ring to announce the next match.
I return to my seat to a standing ovation. Shawn is still pissed that they picked me. Steve is still bewildered and shocked at what just happened to me. A few people shook my hand and gave me some feedback. They told me that I sounded good and I tried not to let the boos bother me and that I was visibly nervous. Wouldn’t you be if you were announcing a match in the middle of MSG in front of thousands of people? Of it being 1996, there were no cell phones or social media at the time or else I would have a complete video and it would’ve been all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Luckily, Steve had his camera and took a few photos of me in the ring, so I do have proof that this happened.
Later that night, I go to the bar in the bowling alley I used to work in to meet up with a few people and a couple of my friends, Gary and Lil come up to me. Lil says, “We saw you in the ring tonight.” I had no idea that they were at the show as well. They were on the floor on the other side of the ring from where I was sitting. Lil worked in a stamp shop and her boss also worked for Coliseum Video at the time, so she used to get hooked up with tickets from time to time. She actually appeared in a video with Mr. Perfect. He was on a search for “perfect things” and Lil helped him find the “perfect stamp.”
Being a wrestling fan in the Northeast Tri-State area, I’ve been pretty lucky with the amount of big shows that I’ve been able to attend over the years. In addition to the shows at MSG, I went to two Summerslams at the Meadowlands Arena; a couple of ECW shows in upstate New York; a RAW at Nassau Coliseum and a rare WCW show in the Northeast at the Meadowlands arena as well. Although, I did take a number of years off while I was still married and having kids, so most of these experiences happened in my 20’s and early 30’s. I do have a few more stories to tell, although it will be very hard to top this one.