When I talked to Theodore “Teddy” Long in 1992, he was working as a television commentator for World Championship Wrestling (WCW), the second most popular wrestling promotion in America. Mr. Long was able to accomplish much during his several years in WCW, where he served as a referee, wrestling manager, and commentator.
LONG: I’m from Birmingham, Alabama. That’s where I was born and raised. I went to high school and elementary school in Birmingham. In Birmingham, basically I just followed professional wrestling, always bought tickets, went to the matches. At one particular time, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I started hanging around with Tommy Rich, started running errands for Abdullah the Butcher and a lot of other wrestlers. So finally, one day I got a job. They needed somebody to put up the ring and take the ring down. But I also used to go to the ring with the wrestlers, bring their coats and stuff back to the dressing room. Then they needed somebody to put up the ring and take the ring down, and I got that job. That’s where I learned a little bit about the business.
One night the referee didn’t show up in Marietta [Georgia], and they told me to go and buy me a referee shirt. I did, and I came back, and the first match that I ever worked, I believe, was the most dangerous and frightening–a Texas death match. A Texas death match is where anything goes. They don’t even need a referee, but I guess you have to be in there in case–you know, you can try and stop it if it gets out of hand, where one of the contestants is not able to compete. So I started refereeing and putting up the ring and taking the ring down, all at the same time. Then finally I started riding with Eddie Gilbert and Kevin Sullivan, and I started telling them a little bit about what I used to do–I was a radio announcer at one time. I worked with James Brown for a while. They kind of found out that I did have a talent for the business. So they were the ones who wanted to make me a manager. From then on I’ve been going ever since.
A referee has to keep his eyes open. If you don’t really know what you’re doing, you can get in the way. A lot of times you can be standing and look up, and here comes the guy, and you’re not able to get out of the way. I did get hurt one time, by not being able to get out of the way. [A good referee] is a guy who’s right on top of the action, a guy who makes a bad call as well as a good call. You know, sometimes you can make a bad call, because a referee can be distracted. His attention can be taken away from the ring by somebody–like, say, myself, as a manager, from the outside. Just anything can happen. The only thing you can call is what you see. So if you can’t see something, and it did happen another way, then people think you made a bad call. But, like I said, you also have the chance to make good calls, too.
You have to have a reason to become another character. If people have watched a referee for so many, many years, and then the referee started to do something else, you have to a reason why, or explain why you’re making that change. Otherwise, no one would know exactly what you’re doing. So being a heel referee, the good part about it was that people wanted to see me out of the referee role. They didn’t want anybody like that calling the matches. I was causing guys to lose who shouldn’t have lost. I had belts change hands that shouldn’t have changed hands. They definitely didn’t want me in as a referee, so to get me out was great. The company said I was fired as a referee, but they didn’t say that I couldn’t come back as a manager. So to come back as a manager, I guess I’m doubly hated. To bring two new guys in [Ron Simmons and Butch Reed, aka Doom] and start beating up everybody, it ultimately goes back to all the wrong I started doing in the beginning.
I did a lot of cheating. Whenever my guys got in trouble, I was always there to interfere. I was just talking about what I was going to do, and having the wrestlers to back me up. I had a great time doing my role, but I didn’t like it personally, because I never wanted to be a heel. No matter what all I did, or was involved in, people always came up to me to sign autographs. People even cheered me when I was a heel. People cheered me when I was with Johnny B. Badd [Long’s most recent wrestler]. The loved me. You know, when you go out, you basically have to listen to the people. They’ll tell you what they want. I followed my career, and people told me what they wanted, what they expect of me. There were still people running up to me, little kids and stuff, and now I’m having the chance to sign their autographs.
There’s been some good changes in wrestling, and there have been some bad changes. Like everything, there’s good and bad. The good is the money. The pay is a lot better than five years ago. The bad is just, there’s still a lot of hard work involved, and basically that’s a lot of wear and tear on the body. That hasn’t changed much. In fact, it’s a lot more now than it used to be. So I would just say that would be the bad part, and then there’s just personal things that you get involved in, that’s bad for you. My family has taken it very well. With the traveling I have no problem. They enjoy me doing my work. My family just understood what the wrestling business is all about. If you understand, then you don’t have to worry.
I’d like to become a booker, a guy that kind of calls the shots. I figure I have a lot of ideas that could help this company, you know, any company. Basically, the idea–I’m kind of doing it now myself, is being more of a public servant. Some people may never see a live wrestler in their life. All they’ve ever seen is what they see on TV. And just to go out and shake our hand, sign an autograph, or give some kid some advice, maybe you help one out of one thousand. Basically, I think that’s my idea of involving the community more, involving ourselves in the community.
Thoughts from 2022: Theodore Long realized his wish to be someone who “calls the shots” when he achieved fame as a General Manager in World Wrestling Entertainment in the 2000s. Holla holla holla!