One of the all-time heroes of wrestling and the WWF/E sadly passed away at the age of 69. Rest in Peace Howard Finkel. His memorializing this week across social media and wrestling sites and podcasts as the greatest ring announcer in pro wrestling history is well earned. A ‘lifer’ in the wrestling business, he was also a major league fan.

    Howard Finkel was the first-ever employee signed by Titan Sports, the parent company Vince McMahon formed to buy the WWWF from his father and form the WWF, and was employed in some capacity by the WWF for the rest of his life. Previously hired by the first Vince McMahon to work in the WWWF, Finkel did everything from ring announcing to bell ringing (a role he used to heighten crowd anticipation by almost ringing the bell for every false finish) to ticket sales to early website content development to filing daily “Finkel” reports on the wrestling industry goings-on at large for perusal at daily meetings of WWF staff (and that grew to such importance that Vince was known to postpone a meeting if the Finkel Report was not ready to go). Along the way, he came up with the name WrestleMania (Vince was tossing around calling it “the Colossal Tussle”).

    If you grew up in the 80s and 90s like me, you know the role Howard Finkel played. He was the guy that confirmed who won the match. The result of a match or a title switch wasn’t official until Finkel made it so.

    Take the first Royal Rumble in ’88. There was an unclear finish in two separate matches: Ric Rude versus Ricky Steamboat and Hercules versus the freshly in Ultimate Warrior. In the Steamboat-Rude matchup, Rude pulled the ref in front of a Steamboat crossbody before putting Steamboat in a torture rack. The bell rang as if for submission by Steamboat…until the Fink announces to the crowd that the ref has disqualified Rude. Huge pop for Steamboat. In the Hercules-Warrior match, Hercules suplexed a distracted Warrior but both men had shoulders down. It seemed as if Hercules won but the Warrior got a shoulder up at the last second. A disappointed crowd shifts into a super explosion at Fink’s voice on the mic announcing the Ultimate Warrior as the winner.

    The wrestlers felt it too. They knew that the Fink’s voice was the official closure of the match. Watch the way Roddy Piper smiles when Fink says “…and neeeewwww Intercontinental Champion!” at Royal Rumble 1992 when Piper finally got a WWF title, and you’ll see it. Watch the way Hulk Hogan falls to his knees at the precise moment when Fink says “…and neeeewwww World Wrestling Federation Champion!” at WrestleMania VI after losing the title to the Ultimate Warrior, and you’ll see it. Watch WrestleMania VIII when Finkel knew the perfect adjustment to make and announced the Macho Man as “…once again World Wrestling Federation Champion!” and see the crowd eat it up as Fink manages to pour so much sentiment and storyline of Randy Savage into a single phrase, and you’ll see it.

    Compare Finkel to his rival, if you will, the main event ring announcer for WCW in the Monday Night Wars, Michael Buffer. While Buffer is a legend in his own right and has led an interesting life, he was never Howard Finkel in the wrestling ring. Buffer wasn’t really a wrestling fan, but a professional announcer, and of course had made his mint in the boxing ring. In the same way that Finkel has been a dream announcer for many up and coming wrestlers fantasizing about being announced by Fink, Buffer is the fantasy announcer for boxers. All that greatness and his awesome voice aside though, Buffer was prone to mistakes, clearly reading from cue cards at major WCW events. He never once got “Hulkamania” right, calling Hulk Hogan the “king of Hulkmania,” over and over. Howard Finkel on the other hand never once stumbled or misspoke. He did it perfectly every time. The anti-Buffer, instead of a hired gun with a voice, he genuinely loved the product and what his call could add to it.

    CM Punk may have been almost too corny at times in his desire to create some sort of meta-recapitulation of the wrestling he enjoyed as a kid, but at other times he really nailed it. When he rocked those pink and yellow starred Macho Man tights, he nailed it. And, when he brought back Howard Finkel as his exclusive ring announcer in 2011, he nailed it again. Listen, just listen to the crowd reaction for Finkel at MSG at Survivor Series in 2011 when he came back to do that gig (Punk versus Alberto Del Rio), and you’ll get how much Howard Finkel means. And you’ll wonder why Vince McMahon ever wanted to move him out of the ring.

    But Vince did because Vince was always obsessed with replacing people who look too old. He was forever, since that WrestleMania VI, trying to find the new Hogan to replace his balding superstar, and the same was true of the balding Fink. Really, since the launch of Raw and the New Generation, McMahon was looking toward someone else who might work, bringing in comedians and other semi-famous or known announcers, seeing them time and again fail. Finkel remained the primary ring announcer more or less through the Monday Night Wars, through wrestling’s pinnacle of popularity.

    Around the launch of Raw, 1993, was also when McMahon saw fit to start making Finkel the butt of jokes and schtick on TV—like putting him in a tuxedo to underwear strip match with Harvey Wippleman. Any time a car needed to be destroyed for a storyline on Raw or a pay per view, it was often, unbeknownst to Finkel, his rental car that was destroyed on camera. Thank god none of that detracted from the legend Finkel is.

    Bullshit aside, McMahon clearly saw the value of Finkel, and that’s why Finkel was the longest-tenured employee in the WWF/E. To the end, Finkel was on the payroll, a valued mind and asset for the McMahon family.

    Pour one out for the Fink. There will be no one like him again.

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