Growing up in northeast Wisconsin, every kid my age knew about AWA Wrestling. We stayed up late on Saturday nights (before VCRs and DVRs) to watch legends like “Mad Dog” Vachon, Da Crusher, Baron Von Rasche, Nick Bockwinkel (who I once met at a WWF show in Madison, nice guy), Greg Game and many others.
Between the matches, the glue holding the show together was an interviewer named Gene Okerlund. Okerlund’s style and ability to sell the product was legendary. He later moved on to the WWF/WWE with the nickname “Mean” Gene Okerlund given to him by legendary wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura though he reportedly was one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet.
Okerlund finished out his career and lived a semi-retired life doing occasional spots for the WWE and also independent wrestling promotions. It was his work for Imperial Wrestling in October 2017 that led us to cross paths.
We had delivered some freight to a small town in rural Oklahoma on a Saturday afternoon then headed to nearby Ardmore, Ok to grab a hotel room for the night.
The next morning, as we were walking into the breakfast room at the hotel, we noticed a small group of people gathered around a table listening to an old man tell stories. It suddenly occurred to me the old man was none other than Mean Gene sitting next to wrestling legend Tatanka!
The breakfast room was full so Michelle and I took our breakfast out to the lobby where I had her lie in wait with camera at the ready. Okerlund soon appeared and I pounced like the fanboy I was, asking for a quick photo and gushing about watching him while growing up in Wisconsin. He took it in stride posing for the photos and mentioning his wife was also from Wisconsin. He then excused himself saying they were in a hurry to get to a wrestling show in Dallas that afternoon.
Sadly, Mean Gene passed away just over a year later but I’ll always have fond memories and my pictures.