Fifteen years ago Monday, professional wrestling lost its story teller. Gordon Solie passed away, leaving behind a legacy that has been unmatched and a hole in the business of reporting professional wrestling. With all fairness to Jim Ross, no one can touch the subtle tones of Solie’s match calling and his interview skills from the desk at Championship Wrestling from Florida.
As a small child (I think six years old), my brother and I could not wait until noon on a Saturday when we could watch CWF with my dad. It was one of my first memories of watching “sports” as a family. Solie was at the announcers’ desk with Jerry Brisco and Barbara Clary and the wrestlers who came out – Dusty Rhodes, Bugsy McGraw, Terry Funk – they were larger than life heroes of mine.
Solie made me a fan instantly and I have loved the business ever since.
It seems a bit odd eulogizing a man fifteen years after his passing, but Solie has had such a profound impact on wrestling, open doors for the Jim Ross’s and Lance Russell’s of my generation. His descriptive tone, the style with which he interviewed countless wrestling personalities is unmatched and with the title of “The Walter Cronkite” of professional wrestling, he was every bit as important to the growth of wrestlers like Dory Funk, Jr., Jack Brisco, The Iron Sheik and Dusty Rhodes.
And most of all, he was one of my early childhood heroes.
The greatest gift Solie gave wrestling fans was the ability to tell a story, much like Vin Scully has done over the years with the Dodgers. His craft and quick thinking, inserting anecdotes throughout his program added the degree of realism wrestling needed in the era of Kayfabe. And some of the terms he used to describe both wrestlers and matches created the drama wrestling on television needed.
Not only was he the voice of CWF, Solie was the play-by-play announcer working for World Championship Wrestling. Solie was also the regular announcer for Georgia Championship Wrestling, Championship Wrestling from Florida and Continental Championship Wrestling, among others.
The emphasis of storytelling is a lost art these days. Of course wrestling is not the same it was 30 years ago, but matches in the 1970s and 1980s told a story, built an arc and gave fans the chance to “want” to see feuds and rivalries. Frankly, if not for the give and take between Solie and the cast of characters, the careers of Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, Dory Funk and Jack Brisco may not have been as popular or as successful. With the Solie/Rhodes relationship, I liken it to Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell in its development and entertainment value. The same can be said for Solie and his on screen “relationship” with Sir Oliver Humperdink and with Kevin Sullivan after he turned heel.
Wrestlers like Charlie Cook, Mike Graham, Steve Keirn and the masked Assassins would not have been held in such high regard regionally if not for the charismatic enhancement of Solie on the microphone.
Solie’s legacy lives on. Often tried to be imitated, it has never been duplicated. The debate can go on for decades over who may be better than Solie – with Jim Ross the only contender if there is one. But for everything Solie meant to me in my childhood, he will always be the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be.
And in the end, all I really wanted to do was say thanks for the memories.