A SuuuUUUuuuper Interview with Tony Chimel About His 38 Years in WWE
Tony Chimel (@thetonychimel) is a ring announcer who was a WWE employee from 1983 until 2020. He joins Chris Van Vliet to talk about life after WWE, his new job at Trader Joe's, how he came up with his iconic "Rated R Superstar" introduction for Edge, the many jobs he has behind the scenes including driving the ring truck, growing up on the same street with Gorilla Monsoon's son Joey Marella and how he got started working in wrestling, his friendship with longtime referee Mike Chioda, and he tells a great story about a crazy bet with Jonathan Coachman.
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“Yeah it was nice and lasted a long time. I never thought it would be like that and start out like that. But one thing leads to another and the next thing you know it is 38 years later.”
“Well that’s what I am thinking. I was ready to go when it first hit. I flew back from a show in Washington DC and flew home. The next show, I think it was in Detroit. I was getting on a plane and asking my boss ‘Are we doing this show or not?’ He was like ‘Just go like you are going to the show. And if you hear from me then we will let you know if anything changes.’ So I took off and I flew from Florida to Charlotte, and when I got to Charlotte I was told that the show is cancelled, so I turned around and went home. I never worked another show after that so yeah.”
“I was working in the production office and making sure that everyone who should have rooms had rooms. Also making sure that the trucks get loaded, taking care of runners at the shows, dealing with bills and all that other stuff.”
“Oh yeah. Most of the time the ring announcing gig was the second part of my job. I have never just ring announced.”
"I figured out there is life after WWE, because you figure I started when I was 22-years old and now I'm 60. I found a job at Trader Joe's, which I never really knew about. I had heard of Trader Joe's, but I didn't really know what it was. And when I first told my daughter that I was working at Trader Joe's she was like 'oh dad, that's great. You gotta get this and get that' and I was like 'what are you talking about?'. There's a lot of similarities because at WWE they always wanted to put smiles on people's faces and at Trader Joe's all they want to do is wow the customer and make the customer feel happy. I've always been a big customer service guy and traveling for a living, you don't get any of that crap from the airlines and you get crappy customer service from hotels. At Trader Joe's, if you call the store they actually answer. If you're in there and you're looking for something, we'll help you and we'll walk you to where you want to go. And the customers there are like cult followers, I didn't get it at first but now that I've been there for a year I'm one of them. A lot of people love it and they swear by the store. The people are great, the bosses are great, the manager is great. Everybody's great there."
“Yeah. Back in 1983 I was working the ring crew with Joey Marella. All that we did was drive the truck, go to the town and set the ring up. Then when the show was over we would tear the ring down and go to the next town.”
“He is Gorilla Monsoon’s son, and that was how I got into it. I grew up in South Jersey and they happened to live 4 or 5 houses away. That was pretty cool having Gorilla Monsoon and their family as neighbours.”
“When we were in high school, Gorilla owned part of the business, and he had a ring. So on the weekends and in the summer, we would drive to Baltimore, Washington, Scranton, wherever the show was. We would do the show and get paid like $50. To us, it was great. We were young, we could get out of town and hang out, do a job and get paid. I think when Vince’s dad died, Vince bought out Gorilla and he didn’t have the ring anymore. A few weeks after that, Vince called Gorilla and said ‘Does your son still want to set up the ring? Because he can set it up for me.’ Gorilla asked Joey and he was allowed to bring one other guy with him, so Joey asked me. We drove to Stamford and filled out the forms and we became employees. I think I was employee 33 of the company.”
“Well the first time it happened we were setting up the ring in Pennsylvania. The show is about to start and Joey comes to me and is like do I want to ring announce? I said ‘Ring announcing? No, I don't want to do that. I've never done it before.’ Then he’s like ‘They need somebody. The guy didn’t show up and they want you to do it.’ I’m dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt, so what do I do? Then they said they’ll pay me $50 so I’m like OK, I’ll do it. They said to me ‘All you’ve got to do is not go in the ring. Just sit by the table and announce the guys as they come out.’ That was what I did and that was it. After a while when the business started to get bigger and bigger, we would be there timekeeping, taking jackets or playing music. You get to see what these guys were doing and how they are doing it. I don’t know how it evolved after that. But eventually it was like ‘Why do we have to fly someone in to do the show? Chimel will do it.’ I just started doing it in smaller venues. You see how other people did it and it went from there.”
“I don’t know. I’ve always had this voice. I would just work on some syllables, lengthen some here and there and just be louder.”
“So here’s the thing about how that started. I used to travel around with Jimmy Korderas, the referee. We would talk and solve the world’s problems or whatever. If someone said something stupid, we would say something like ‘Wile E. Coyote, Super genius!’ So when the Mexicools came to WWE, I started introducing Super Crazy as [high pitched] Super Crazy. Then they left, and when Edge was The Rated R Superstar, I would introduce him as The Rated R [high pitched] Superstar! He loved it every time I did it. I was happy to do it. He would show up once in a while after retiring and he would say ‘Hey Chimel, you got your suit? Because you are going to introduce me tonight.’ I’m like really? I didn’t know he was coming. But that was fun and a pleasure to do.”
“Vince was always good to me. He was just like a regular guy that owned the company. He knew me for so long, if he saw me in the hallway he was like ‘Chimel, you still working here? ’I’m like ‘Yeah I’m still here Vince.’ Either that or I would say ‘Yeah I’m here but I’m not working.’ He once came to bat for me big when I was ring announcing. I would get paid a certain amount to ring announce or time keep, and I was getting paid for both. After a couple of years of that, they said that they weren't going to pay the timekeeper anymore, so I lost money. So I went to my boss and asked for more money for ring announcing so it evens out. He said to me ‘Chimel, where would you be working if you didn’t work for WWE?’ I said ‘Well I don’t know, but I am working for WWE.’ My boss always told me ‘If you have a problem with what I am doing then you can go to Vince.’ So I did. I said ‘Vince this is the deal. I’m doing both of these jobs, they took one away, I just want my money back through ring announcing. I will still ring the bell.’ And I told Vince what my boss said about not working here. Vince said ‘Please tell me he didn’t say that.’ I said he did. So I was tearing down the ring that night, my boss comes up and said we will talk about my pay on Monday. Vince must have pulled him aside and said to take care of him or whatever. I will never forget that Vince did that for me.”
“Well I did and I didn’t [want to step away]. At one point when you are there for 25-30 years, and I am teaching the Lilian Garcia or the Justin Roberts or whoever. Basically they are telling you that you are teaching them because they will be doing your job. That was why I wanted to do something else, I wanted to make myself valuable and do something else other than ring announcing. The ring announcing is the show, bit what are you doing 8 hours before or 2 hours after. There was a point where I didn’t want to be on the shows for 24 days a month and do all the house shows. There was a point where it was enough, my kids are teenagers and I didn’t get to see them grow up. It would be nice to be home 15 days a month instead of 7. I was OK not ring announcing if I could do production or just do TV. The house shows were such a grind back then because they would run so many. Friday, Saturday Sunday, do TV Monday, fly home Tuesday and my kids hated me on Wednesday. You get all your sh*t in on Thursday, then you go on Friday and do it all again. Then they would run the overseas tours in Europe, where you are on the road for 17 days straight. It was a great living and great job, but after 25 years I was like I don’t mind, someone else can ring announce.”
“Yeah. I never not wanted to work. I was willing to get on a plane from day 1 to do anything. But when COVID first hit, I was sitting at home and was like well this will be great if it lasts a couple of weeks and I get a pay check. Then they started running shows in Orlando and I said I would be willing to go. They said it would be laid back and I didn’t think much to it. A couple of months go by and I ask if I can still come and kept wanting to come in. They were letting the independent contractors work, not the employees. Then I got furloughed, couldn’t do anything. Then I got the call from Kevin Dunn, who said there was good news and bad news. The good news was that I was going to be getting my pay check back. I’m like cool, because I got an email saying some are coming back in October, November or December, mine said I would be back in December. He was calling me in November and he said ‘You are going to get your paycheck because we are going to have to let you go.’ I said ‘Well the email says that I’m coming back in December. He asked me who sent it and I said human resources did. He wanted it forwarded, but he called me and said that’s it. I was getting my salary back because it was my severance, I was being let go.”
“I always loved introducing John Cena, he was a good guy. The Rock was always good. Some names were easier to get out than others and I could get my sh*t in, but they were all good.”
“Well if I did it now I wouldn’t know anybody. But when you are doing it for 5 days a week, like I’m announcing The Undertaker at 275lbs, it’s pretty much the same guy. If I write it, I would remember it more, so I would write down where they are from and their weight. Then when I sit down I am looking at the next match before the match in the ring finishes.”
“So back in the day, this was before [full time announcing] I was doing ring crew and announcing SmackDown. So during the Raw show, I would just hang out in the pre-tapes room. We would sit and watch Raw, me, [Michael] Cole before he did Raw and Coach. We would just be sitting out there and I told Coach ‘Hey Coach, I’ve started working out, running on the treadmill.’ Stuff like that. He said ‘Well what are you running?’ I said I was running a 10 minute mile. So he goes ‘[scoffs] 10 minute mile? That sucks!’ He starts getting on my case and doing that, we start going back and forth and he is like ‘I could beat you by 30 seconds.’ Cole then says ‘Well we are doing TV in a couple of months at state college in Pennsylvania. There is a track outside the arena, you guys can race and bet.’ So the bet was Coach would have to beat me by 30 seconds. I could either have a 30 second head start or start at the same time, whatever I wanted, but he would have to beat me by 30 seconds. I was actually starting to train and practice, Coach wasn’t doing much of anything. [Chris asks if Shane McMahon trained him] Well no, not necessarily. A secret promoter gave me some advice and bought me some new running shoes as well. I don’t know if it was Shane or not, it could have been. But anyway, I am training for this race and getting some advice from somebody, whose last name may have been McMahon. So we have this press conference backstage, this is all while work is going on at TV. I say ‘I’m training and I’m trying my best, cutting down my time, working out and eating better, this and that. I just hope I have a good race.’ Then Coach gets up and starts blabbing his mouth and saying this and that, he’s like ‘30 seconds? I’ll beat him by a minute!’ The Rock is at the press conference and he is like ‘Well why don’t you put your money where your mouth is? Make it a minute.’ So Rock called him out and Coach had to then beat me by a minute.
So the day of the race comes, and most of the company wanted Coach to win. There was only [Mike] Chioda, maybe the person that bought me the sneakers wanted me to win. But there wasn’t a lot of people that wanted me to win. So we are setting up for the race at college, and they bring out camera guys, Cole was doing commentary with The Rock and Kevin Kelly, they were doing commentary on this thing! I don’t know where the tape is but that’s got to be worth some money. I started to start the race at the same time as Coach. I was down to a 7 minute mile at this point, so I’m like he’s got to run a 6 minute mile, so God bless him. We started the race and Coach is maybe 20 or 30 feet ahead of me. Bruce is timing us on the first lap, we go around and it’s like 1 minute 25. We do another lap and Coach is still a little bit ahead of me, so he is going to have to start opening it up. We go around the 3rd time and he is only 30 feet ahead of me. I’m like Jesus, we are on the 4th lap, he’s really going to have to start opening it up. We are coming around and it’s the stretch of the race, I feel good so I start kicking it. I’m running and running and as Coach got to the finish line he ran a 6 minute 35 race I ran 6 minute 36, so he beat me by a second. So I won the bet. So the bet was if I lost, I would have to do a push up every time he said ‘Give me a push up.’ and I would have to say ‘I am a fat piece of sh*t.’ But I won, so he had to do a push up whenever I said and say ‘I am Tony Chimel’s bitch.’ So every time he did a push up, he had to say ‘I am Tony Chimel’s bitch.’ I had 100 push ups I could use at any time. We couldn’t do it like if he was doing an interview or if I was announcing.
We do the show and there is a production meeting the next day. Vince is in the meeting and he says ‘Hey Chimel, I hear you won the big race yesterday?’ I’m like ‘Yeah I did.’ He’s like ‘Any chance you can have Coach come up here and do a push-up on the table in front of me?’ I said ‘Yeah. Coach, get your ass up there.’ Vince was loving that. Then during the show, this is when they are having it taped, the timekeeper says to me that they want me to call Coach out in the middle of the ring. I’m like I can’t do that because we are at work. They say ‘They are on headset, they want you to do it.’ The next thing I know, Michael Cole comes down the ramp and he is explaining the race and the whole thing that happened the day before in front of 20,000 people. He calls me in the ring, calls Coach out and I made him do it.”
“No, I saved 2 for when he is ready to deliver his first child and when is at the altar waiting to get married.”
“I don’t know, 5 years?”
“Well if you are going to be a ring announcer, try to get involved in something else other than ring announcing. They love it when you can do something else as well. I was given a microphone and grew with the job as the job grew. Another important thing is that you are not more important than the talent you are announcing. Put over the talent, not yourself.”
“My wife, my kids and my grandson.”
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