Former manager, WWE referee and beloved SmackDown GM Teddy Long will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, joining a class that includes the legendary Kurt Angle and The Rock 'n' Roll Express.
The Class of 2017 will be honored two nights before WrestleMania 33 on March 31st in Orlando.
In an exclusive interview with Fox Sports, Long reflected on his 30-plus year career in professional wrestling, the impact The Undertaker had on his career, and entering the Hall of Fame. You can listen to the full interview here.
Fox Sports: First off, congratulations on making it into the Hall of Fame. What was your first reaction when you got the call?
Teddy Long: Well, I was really surprised, you know? I had thought about being inducted into the Hall of Fame and I thought ‘well, if they’re going to do that, I’m pretty sure my time will come one day.’ And that’s what did happen. I was real excited, it’s such an honor to be a part of something like this. To go into the 2017 WWE Hall of Fame… man, it’s just great. It don’t get no better than that.
I just want to thank Vince McMahon and the McMahon family, and the WWE Universe, and all the people that just hung out with me and wanted some more Teddy Long. I’m just excited right now so I’m kind of lost for words.
Fox Sports: I want to go back to the start of your career, because you’ve done just about every job there is to do in the business over the course of a few decades. What inspired you to get into professional wrestling, and how did you break into the business?
Teddy Long: Well when I first broke into the business it was back in the ‘80s. I used to go down to Georgia Championship Wrestling in the old WTBS studios where they used to film it. Me and my son would go down there and watch them film wrestling on Saturday mornings.
Finally, I had the chance to meet Abdullah the Butcher. He came into down and he was like fresh, new, he didn’t know his way around, and he asked me to start showing him around, taking him around Atlanta.
By me doing that, on Saturday mornings he would come by and pick me up at home and I would go down to WTBS studios with him. That way I had a chance to go in the back where all the guys were. So I eventually started doing that and hanging out in the back. I used to go to the ring, when the guys got in the ring and would take their jackets off, I would take their jackets and stuff from them back to the locker room. I didn’t get any money for that or nothing, I was just doing that on my own. Finally a job came through where they needed somebody to put up the ring and take the ring down. So I got that job, that was the first job I got.
Teddy Long on his first job as a referee:
Teddy Long: One night I took the ring to Cobb Civic Center in Marietta, Georgia. We set the ring up and it was almost 30 minutes before showtime and there was no referee. The referee didn’t show up. So the promoter, Louise Manning was her name, she got a referee shirt and brought it back and she said ‘Teddy you’re going to have to get in and referee tonight, we don’t have a referee.’
… As I stayed around, refereed, put the ring up, took the ring down, I got a chance to start riding with Kevin Sullivan and “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert, God rest his soul. These two guys were great minds for the wrestling business. I mean, they knew the ins and outs and they knew the business real well. By me riding with them, they finally wanted to know my background is, what did I do? In my younger days I was a disc jockey on a radio station, so I used to turn the radio down and I would DJ for them. They found out I could talk, so once they found out I could talk, they went to Jim Ross - I think Jim Ross was doing the booking at that time - and they told them that I could talk and Teddy Long needs to be a manager.
I didn’t have a clue about any of this. So next thing I know, I got fired on TV from being a referee because I made a fast count, but that was they way they were going to bring me in to have me start managing. The next thing I know, I started managing Butch Reed and Ron Simmons, they were called Doom, they were the first African-American World Tag Team Champions. I had Marc Mero, who was known back in the day as Johnny B. Badd. Also Sid Vicious, Danny Spivey, they were The Skyscrapers. I had Norman the Lunatic.. I had a bunch of guys. Ice Train. Scott Norton. I’m trying to give credit, I don’t want anybody to say ‘well you managed me and you didn’t say my name!’ Anyway, that’s kind of how my career started.
Fox Sports: It was in 1998 when you came to WWE. I know it was a difficult transition for a lot of guys from WCW to go to WWE, so what was that transition like for you as a referee?
Teddy Long: Well the transition for me was fine, because at the time I didn’t know what was happening at WCW. I was there for about 10 years too, and a lot of guys didn’t know what was going on. So to be able to go somewhere and get a job, you know, that was great. It wasn’t really bad for me. I went to the WWE in ’98 and I walked in and started refereeing. Lot of guys came in and said ‘well how can you do that with this talent you have as a manager? You’re going to go back and put the referee shirt on?’
Yeah I’m going to put the referee shirt on! They pay me. They give me a check every week. And that’s what I’m gonna do. It didn’t bother me, man. I walked in, put the referee shirt on, I was getting my check every week and I was doing my job. Eventually Vince McMahon found out what I could do.
One day I was called up and they told me they wanted me to walk out and start managing. I walked out on TV the first night with D-Lo Brown and I started talking. When I came back through Vince McMahon looked at me and he said to me ‘I couldn’t believe I’ve had you right under my nose all this time.’ That’s how it started.
Fox Sports: So is that how you eventually transitioned to becoming a GM as well? WWE just found out you had the talent for it?
Teddy Long: Let me tell you something. Vince McMahon, this man’s a genius. He can see stuff that a lot of people can’t see. I found that out during the years that I worked there, because I’ve seen some things that I thought wouldn’t work in my opinion. ‘Why are we doing this?’ And the next thing I know Vince turned that thing around and made it work. And he did the same with me.
I think what happened is after he found out that I could talk, for the general manager role you need people that can talk and be in that role, to be an authority figure. I don’t know what he seen in me, but whatever he seen I’m glad he saw it. And that’s why I gave him 100 percent every time I walked out of that curtain and walked into the ring. That’s why I was able to stay, I guess, in my position for 10 years.
Fox Sports: Being a manager, being a referee, being a GM… you did it all, so which role did you enjoy the most?
Teddy Long: Well, you know, I really enjoyed doing the heel manager roles. I really had a great time doing that, being the bad guy. And also, well it’s kind of a toss-up, too, because when I became general manager… I kind of got a better understanding of what that role was and what I was supposed to do there. So I enjoyed that too, I had a great time. I really had a great time doing whatever I’ve done, because it didn’t bother me whatever role I was in. Whatever I’m asked to do, then that’s what I do.
Fox Sports: You only did this a few times, but you did step into the ring and wrestle. The match that comes to my mind is against Eric Bischoff at Survivor Series. How did you prepare for those types of matches? Were the guys in the back training you?
Teddy Long: You know, you don’t have to prepare… I’ve been in this business for over 30-some years. I started back in the ’80s. And so being a heel manager, you had the opportunity to get into the ring and take a lot of bumps, because I had a lot of heat back in the day and a lot of people wanted to see me get my butt kicked. So I had experience from back in the day getting into the ring and doing stuff. Just let me know what you want me to do, and that’s what I went out there and did.
But for me, this is my opinion, I thought that was the worst match in the history of wrestling. In my opinion, it was just bad [laughs]. And I never forgot that. From then on I said ‘if I ever do this again, I’m going to make sure that I make this a whole lot better.’
Fox Sports: Who would be the people you would say were the most influential on your career?
Teddy Long: Well, The Undertaker, Mark Callous, me and him are good friends and we go back in the day. I used to manage him back in WCW when he was “Mean” Mark Callous. One of the nicest guys that you could ever meet. Great guy, and he gave me a lot of advice. I had the chance to sit down and talk with him a whole lot and he was very instrumental in my career.
Kevin Sullivan I learned a whole lot from. Like I said, he has a great mind for the wrestling business. In fact, he was a big part of the NWO when it was in WCW, he was doing a lot of the booking and writing for that. Kevin was a great inspiration.
“Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert, once again. I learned a whole lot from him. Guys like that that I had a chance to ride with back in the day. I learned a lot from everybody, I was able to get along with basically everybody. I might have had a lot of heat with some guys, but you know, who cares. I was able to get along, and I was able to make it in this business thanks to a lot of the guys that helped me and told me the truth.
A lot of guys will lie to you in this business, and tell you you’re doing good when you’re really not. But I had a lot of guys who were really honest with me that let me know when I was doing bad, and I was able to critique myself, too.
Fox Sports: Just before the WWE Draft in 2016 you made a return to Raw. What was that experience like, being backstage again?
Teddy Long: I was happy to come back. I love Vince McMahon to death, man. This man is the reason I am where I am today. Any time he calls, I’m ready to go, and I’ll come for Vince any day. I was just happy to go back. I watch the show, and I was real excited to meet some of the guys - Enzo and Cass, I really like those guys, I was happy to come back and meet them.
And I was happy to walk out on TV and do something… I didn’t really think much about it, I’ll go back and do whatever they want me to do, but to get the reaction from the people that I got when I walked out. That told me, ‘hey, I’m missed. These people miss me.’