(7/21/05 11:20 am)
Craig Johnson (Jon Horton) Interview
Originally posted on 10/19/03
Craig Johnson (Jon Horton) worked for the GWF and the USWA as their Play-by-Play announcer. In this interview, he discusses the GWF, USWA, WCW, and more.
Q: Why did you enter the pro-wrestling industry?
A: I was a long time fan of the sport as a little kid. As a teenager, I spent many a Friday summer night at Charleston County Hall at the Mid-Atlantic Championship Matches. Then when I moved to Texas, I was a regular fan at the Sportatorium during the Freebird/Von Erich rivalry. After graduating, I began work with Lee Martin Productions in Dallas, the company that Max Andrews did syndication for. I told Max that if ever he needed a fill in host when Marc Lowrence was on vacation, that I would love to do it. I was a regular sport Play-by-Play guy, but loved the idea of doing wrestling. On my birthday in 1991, I went out to Dallas to fill in for Lowrence, but found out he had retired from announcing. I was not going to be auditioning to be the fill in - I was going to be the guy if they liked me. Well, my first meeting with Jerry Jarrett was interesting as I brought a different style of announcing to the table. I had done my research on the wrestlers before coming in - just like I would have done for a basketball game or a football game. When I went out for my first taping, I brought all that knowledge with me, and at the intermission, I went back to the dressing room, where the guys and Jerry were monitoring the show. They all were convinced that I had done wrestling before. I said - guys - I am a sports broadcaster and today the sport is Wrestling. I was hired to work there on the spot.
Q: Why did you work under the name, "Craig Johnson" as opposed to your real name? Was this ESPN's idea?
A: I wanted to save my Real Name for actual sports Play-by-Play, and I really thought this was going to be a summertime fill-in thing. My original name was Jon Craig Horton, but my parents changed it at the last minute, so that's where the Craig came from. The Johnson was because I was John's son.
Q: What was the best part about being in the business?
A: Easily, it was the friendships I made. I still keep in touch with [Scott] Hudson, [Joe] Pedicino and [Steve] Prazak. It's always great to see some of the other guys, but I was never one to be invited backstage like a lot of my other friends were. Don't know why, but it only happened once when Percy Pringle brought me backstage at a WWF event to see some of the guys.
Q: What are your thoughts on the following former USWA members:
STEVE AUSTIN- Great guy, and really wanted to be the best he could be. It's amazing to see what his persona has become. He has always had the charisma, but I don't think any of us would have ever thought he would be where he is today. He deserves it.
CHRIS ADAMS- Chris and I got along, but to be frank, I think he was always looking out for himself and how to get himself over. I never saw the bad side of him, but I never saw something that would make me want to be his friend.
JEANNIE ADAMS- Jeannie and I became close friends during my stint there, and even went out to lunch once. As a single guy, I thought it was great, but never thought of it as anything but friends (although I thought she was sexy as all get out). I had no idea she was going out with Steve. Call me naive. Our favorite moment came during an interview where she was talking about cutting Toni's hair. She had broken her wrist the night before, and was holding the scissors with the hurt wrist. During the interview, she spun around and almost stabbed me in the nether regions - yep - down there. Well, I winced and left the interview handing the mic to Percy while she could not stop laughing. We did everything in one take so she somehow got herself together, I stepped back in and we went to commercial. When I came back to the dressing room, we were all cracking up about it.
JERRY JARRETT- I enjoyed working for Jerry. And I think he thought I was a pretty good announcer - different, but good. The best Jerry story I can think of was during an early Saturday production meeting upstairs at the Sportatorium, he was telling me about an angle they were doing with Akbar and Jeff. I was half asleep... and found myself engulfed in a fireball. My chair toppled back, I hit my head on the wall and everyone lost it. I laughed the hardest. He just said "Wanted to see if you were awake Craig." After that I was!
TONI- See the note about Chris. She was nice enough, but not someone I ever got to know.
Q: Why did you leave USWA for the GWF? Were you actually under contract with ESPN and therefore worked for the GWF when they replaced the USWA as ESPN's wrestling show, or was there another reason?
A: I never under contract to anyone. I worked because I wanted to. My leaving the USWA came from the fact I had a real job - and that was as the Play-by-Play voice of George Washington University basketball, and as an announcer for the Major Indoor Lacrosse League. Jerry flew me in for some massive tapings, as he had lost the Sportatorium for a while, and we taped on the road. But when he got the building back, he brought in Michael St. John. In my early days of doing USWA, I was also working on the syndication end of the business. It was there I first talked to Boni Blackstone, as WVEU was one of the stations that USWA aired. I called her and asked her what she thought of my work. She passed the phone to Joe Pedicino, who was there putting his Saturday show together. Joe gave me a critique. I found out later that he thought that I knew about the Global deal, when in fact, I just wanted to get a critique of my work from someone in the business. About four months later, I had lunch with Joe and Boni at a barbeque place in Dallas. They asked me about my background and wanted to know if I wanted to do the business full-time. I said it sounded interesting. It was there he told me about Global. In fact, he had already decided on Chris Cruise to be his main guy over another announcer who had also applied. His name was Eric Bishoff. For some reason, Joe liked my attitude and style, and decided that I would be the Voice of the GWF.
Q: When the GWF first started, it had been believed that Joe Pedicino had a backer from Nigeria who was going to invest $10 million dollars into the company. When did it become apparent that the GWF did not have the financial stability that it was originally believed to have had?
A: Olu Oliami was a con artist. That's the simple fact. It was when the Overstreet family and Joe decided to go on with the project that I knew it was not going to be a high-dollar promotion, but it was a job. When the Overstreets pulled out, I thought time was going to be short. It actually was longer as Max funded things. However, my job was not paying enough for me to carry on, and they did not want to travel me. So I just said goodbye
on good terms.
Q: What are your thoughts on the following former GWF members:
SCOTT HUDSON- One of my best friends and possibly one of the funniest guys I know. I wish I lived in Atlanta to keep up my friendship with him and Prazak (Steven DeTruth) but I am on the West Coast with my real life. I miss those guys a lot. Steve and Scott were both groomsmen in my wedding. The Shenanumake Post newsletter that we all put together is still some of the funniest stuff I ever was a part of. We still talk about it to this day.
BRUCE PRICHARD- A great guy who I stayed in touch with when he went on to the WWF. He was appreciative of me lobbying to bring him into the GWF, but I could never get him interested in me coming to the WWF.
STEVEN DETRUTH (now with NWA Wildside as Steve Prazak)- See note about Scott.
MIKE DAVIS- Funny guy. I don't think either one of us thought that Viper gimmick would last - I didn't think it would be my last moment in wrestling either.
EDDIE GILBERT- I miss Eddie. There were two parts to Eddie. The first was the guy who brought Madusa to my house for a badly cooked Spaghetti dinner, and told me that it was one of the nicer moments he had had in a long time. The other was the side that was so creative that it bordered on Genius. It's sad he went like he did - but Eddie never slowed down. I really think that if he were around today, and he had cleaned up his act, he would be writing Raw and we would all be loving it.
BARRY HOROWITZ- He was the only guy I ever got to write a gimmick for, and luckily, he thanks me for it. The Winner actually had a lot more to go on the angle when the money ran out. Barry was not going to win another match, but he wasn't going to lose either. It was a funny idea, and one I wish I could have finished.
GIANT WARRIOR- Big Guy - only saw him once. Can't remember that much. I'll bring it up here. Those guys were a lot shorter to me than they were to the fans. I actually stooped to make them bigger, as I am a legit 6-4. When they brought in the guy who was supposed to be a 7-footer, and I was head to head with him - I had to make myself small quickly.
SCOTT ANTHONY (now with NWA-TNA as Raven)- One of my favorite guys to work with. Sent him a note a couple of years ago that made him laugh. He's so funny, yet his character is so dark. Never knew the Raven side of him, but think he could have gone a long way with a funny character. Shows what I know.
JOE PEDICINO- Like a Dad to me at times. He and Boni called me "their thun" (you have to do a Dusty accent when you say that). I still talk to him today, about business. He is a person I greatly respect and wish nothing but the
MAX ANDREWS- I saw Max last year at a Broadcasting convention in Las Vegas. He's the same guy. I think he had a good thing going, but thought that he would be a good talent instead of sticking with what really made him money - syndication. I think it might have cost him. He's in Oklahoma now (home for him) working in Education. He seems great, and I hope he is.
DOYLE KING- Never liked his commentary - and I think he would probably say the same thing about mine. Just thought he did not get it.
Q: During your time with the GWF, the promotion was being presented as a company that not only had an American office, but it also had a main office in Barcelona, Spain. The main home for GWF shows was the, "Globaldome". The first World Tag Team Champions were supposed to have been The English Lords, a team that had never actually existed. Do you think that the GWF would have benefited financially if they instead would have acknowledged that their shows were actually done at the world-famous Sportatorium, and that they were a brand new promotion based in Texas featuring stars of the future and the best pro-wrestling entertainment?
A: I think Joe wanted to start new rather than being a Texas show. People were used to the USWA and World Class. We were not wanting to stay in the Sportatorium forever. I think the Globaldome was our Center Stage - a great place to shoot that didn't cost much. As for the English Lords and Baron Von Steiger/Steiner/Stagger - I think that was a mistake - but a small one.
Q: Both you and Scott Hudson had a very unique announcing style. During a time period when WWE and WCW never mentioned a promotion by name (unless it has a promotion that they were working with), it was very common on GWF-TV to hear both of you mention other promotions by name, and whenever a talent left GWF and went to WWE or WCW, it would be stated. Did Joe Pedicino ever have a problem with this, or did he consider that the sign of a good announcer?
A: That was actually my idea, and it came from my background as a regular sports announcer. In basketball or football, you always referred to an athlete's school or college, and established their background by what they had accomplished. We brought the same to wrestling. If they did well in another promotion, it helped establish them as credible wrestlers. You will also notice I talked about their other sports and their legit athletic backgrounds as well. It was very much on purpose, and Joe loved the idea. Sure got everyone talking. When someone left, we always wished them well, because in EVERY case, they left by saying thanks for helping them get to where they were going. We knew we did not have the money to keep them around, so we made the best of it and talked about them after they left.
Q: Did you prefer working for the USWA or the GWF?
A: Both were great. The GWF was a full-time job - so I got to be a bigger part of that promotion, including some creative stuff which was fun.
Q: Why did you leave the GWF?
A: Money, and the lack of it.
Q: If the GWF had given you creative control, what would you have done differently? Do you think that they would still be here today if you had been at the helm?
A: I don't think anything short of a network contract could have saved it. We were talking to Pay Cable (HBO or Showtime) about a new show. We also were planning a Pay Per View which would have been on the deck a US Navy Aircraft Carrier, There were a lot of fresh ideas, but no money to make them happen.
Q: Which do you feel was your best match that you ever called?
A: The Terry Gordy-Cactus Jack match ranks up there, as does the Lightning Kid-Jerry Lynn classic, which people still talk about today.
Q: Which match did you enjoy calling the most?
A: The Kid-Lynn match
Q: Did you have any interest in becoming a heel announcer?
A: I was a heel manager for one night in Georgia for an indy that only ran one time. I had them put my name in small letters on the posters, even though I might have been the best known person on the card that night with all the ESPN and television exposure. I turned heel after I was shoved by one of the bad guys who blamed it on a good guy. One of the most fun nights I ever had.
Q: Were you a wrestling fan before you were in the business?
A: I started watching Wrestling and Roller Derby on WDCA TV 20 in Washington, DC. I really got hooked when I spent the summers in Charleston, SC and got to see Mid Atlantic and World Wide wrestling.
Q: After leaving the business, did you continue to follow pro-wrestling, meaning watching it often on television, going to shows, etc.?
A: Still watch it now, although I tape it and fast forward through most of it. I went to Wrestlemania by myself last year when it came to Seattle. Thought it was an awesome show, and had the thoughts of - wow - Steve Austin is down there and I am sitting up here in the stands. I could have been there as an announcer - but oh well.
Q: In a 1996 Eric Bischoff Prodigy Chat, you had introduced yourself to Bischoff as, "the announcer who was too tall to work for you". Had you really ever seeked employment with WCW?
A: Yes - Definitely, and Bischoff told me under no uncertain terms that I was too tall and could NEVER work for him. So I basically gave up, but I did try for a long time. I never gave the WWF much consideration, and they never thought of me either. I really think I could have done well in either, but who knows. I tried to contact Jarrett for TNA, but never got through to him. That was my last attempt to become Craig Johnson again.
Q: How do you want wrestling fans to remember Craig Johnson?
A: As an announcer who genuinely got excited about what he was doing, and wanted to be the best announcer - wrestling or otherwise - that I could be.
Q: What is your long-term goal?
A: I am now on the creative side of television, and am even pitching a Sitcom I created to Paramount later this month. I have Six regional Emmy Awards and 17 nominations, all for production of sports shows. I would have never gotten any of those working in wrestling. I hope to get the Sitcom and a could of game shows off the ground soon. If people want to see what I ended up doing, they can visit my company website at www.flyingcolours.tv.
Thanks for the opportunity to talk about the old days. I always love to look back, and if ever anyone needs an announcer - I probably have a couple of good matches left in me (grin).
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