Well, well, well it’s Don Marnell. To kick off 2018 Sitting Front Row sat down and chatted with the colour commentator of OTT Wrestling himself, Mr Marnell. In between us sat a big bag of cans and the talk flowed like the beer…easy. On screen he may play the brazen bad guy behind the commentator’s microphone but in real life he is a smart and knowledgeable guy with a huge appetite for wrestling. His intelligence for the sport backs up the decision by OTT management to hire him and his on-screen nemesis/off-screen pal Aonghus og McAnally to be their commentary team. They play the age-old good guy bad guy duo and they play it perfectly. In the interview below we discuss a range of topics including; when he first became a wrestling fan and which characters drew him in, the work that went into his personal career before wrestling became a huge part of it, how Aonghus and he got the job with OTT, the joy of a live promo, the upcoming Contenders 5 and Homecoming cards and a whole lot more. So sit back, crack open a cold can of beer and start reading.
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Not only are you one half of Over The Top (OTT) Wrestling’s announcing team but you are also an employee of Guinness so I imagine your schedule is quite busy. How do you balance doing both roles?
I haven’t slept since 2007. Ha-ha, well that’s an exaggeration… but only slightly! The truth is, both roles require similar skill sets and it’s all about conveying a message in the most entertaining, engaging way possible! The Guinness management and OTT “powers that be” have both been extremely accommodating over the last 18 months or so to make sure I have time to carry out both roles to the best of my ability! It can lead to some hectic Saturdays where I’m 7am-6pm with Guinness and 6pm-11pm with OTT but a pint never tastes sweeter than after a long day like that!
When did you originally become a fan of wrestling and who were your favourite performers to watch back then?
Since I can remember, I’ve always been a fan. My earliest memories date back to the mid-90s, catching glimpses of the likes of Undertaker and Shawn Michaels and being mesmerised by these larger than life figures! From 1999 onwards, when we got Sky One in my house, I was hooked. Weekend mornings watching Smackdown, Livewire, Metal and anything else I could! Staying up late, recording Pay-Per-Views on Channel 4 and trying desperately to avoid spoilers in school the next day! Every birthday and Christmas, all I wanted was VHSs of PPVs I hadn’t seen! If the WWE Network had existed back then, I don’t think I ever would have left the house! My Mother was a saint and let me drag her around Dublin to any IWW gym show I could find! My early favourites from across the pond were always The Rock and the Hardy Boys but as I hit my mid-teens, I started finding myself much more entertained by the antics of the comedic heels! The likes of Edge, Christian and Kurt Angle had this incredible way of entertaining you, yet making you hate their guts all at once. I guess that’s what I’m going for too!
Originally an OTT fan, you along with your co commentator Aonghus OG McAnally were of course a part of the Ward Section of loyal fans. Do you have fond memories from those early days?
The fondest! I made friends for life sitting in the front row at the early OTT shows. That’s where I first met Aongo and we found out we had a mutual friend, a drinking buddy of mine who had shared the stage with Aongo, Love Hate’s Ian Anderson. Hang on a second while I pick up that name I just dropped. Even then, I knew OTT were on a path to something big. It was so far ahead of anything we’d ever had on the Irish scene before.
Of course before you started in OTT you were co-hosting the Low Blows podcast. You are also an award-winning comedian and radio presenter. When the idea of an announce team was put to you was it an opportunity you felt destined to fulfil?
Wow, you’ve really done your research! I studied Media in college and picked up some awards for radio presenting and I was certain that’s where my career was taking me. I worked a job in 98FM for about 8 months and got some great opportunities but it wasn’t clicking. I wasn’t ready. A blind date gone wrong resulted in me ending up on stage at an open mic stand-up comedy club (that’s a great story to tell over a pint, actually!) and that began a 4 year career doing stand-up comedy! To be honest though, I hated the stand-up scene. It’s a toxic environment where I really got the sense that everyone was just in it for themselves and would stab you in the back if it meant they got an extra minute of stage time. I was approached with the idea of doing a wrestling podcast and over the course of about 2 years, we had some great times and I think put out some pretty good content. I left the podcast after being offered a job abroad that was unfortunately pulled at the 11th hour because of Visa issues. Knowing I’d be in the country for the foreseeable (future), I was determined to do something with OTT. Aongo and I had become good friends at this point and pitched the idea to OTT management, sending in a demo of us commentating over a couple of matches. The rest is history!
Every OTT show begins with an in ring introduction from Aonghus and you before you make your way to the commentary booth. Along with hyping the upcoming show your promo usually consists of taking shots at some of the fans sitting ringside. Obviously some planning goes into this speech but just how much of it is ad-libbed? Also how satisfying is it to cut a promo every show and see the live reactions of fans?
I did stand-up comedy for four years, used to broadcast every morning to 50,000+ people on 98FM and my day job requires me to do live TV spots, sometimes with up to 4 million viewers…but NOTHING prepares you for what it’s like cutting a promo in front of a hot crowd at a wrestling event. I’ll be the first to admit, it took me a while to find my feet with the promo. Fans were quick to criticise at the beginning but I was in uncharted territory, there hadn’t been a heel Irish colour commentator at this level before, so the first few months I was just trying to find my voice. I had been trying to play “a character” and focus on what I wanted to say and let my mind drown out the things that were being shouted at me. At our last Tivoli Theatre show before our first Stadium show, a fan shouted something during my promo, and without thinking, I turned on the spot and responded to what he said. The crowd erupted! And in that moment, I’d found my voice. I’m a fairly quick-witted individual, so why should I try to drown out what they’re saying, when I can let the crowd shout and roar what they want, and then hit them with a comeback! So to answer your question, at the beginning, I was hitting the ring with a script in my head. Now, I know what points I want to cover and then I just relax and let the moment happen, confident in the knowledge that if someone tries to be smart, I’ll know what to say! When it comes off, it’s incredibly satisfying. Three fans from Limerick approached me after our “Being the Elite” show and said something to the effect of “We came here from Limerick just to hear you insult us!” That’s the sort of stuff I love!
In late 2017 part of one of your promos tackled a rather serious issue which had been hanging over OTT as such. That issue was of course the offensive cat calling towards some of the female members of the roster. You addressed this issue head on in the ring and received a great ovation from the fans who were there live, to witness it. A few months on from that how do you think the situation has changed? Do you feel it has improved since then?
The fact of the matter is, no one at a wrestling show, performers, staff, fans, nobody should feel uncomfortable or victimised, be it in regards to their race, gender, sexual orientation or anything. We come to a wrestling show to entertain and be entertained and forget about everything in the outside world. There is a big difference between a fan booing a heel because of their heel persona and booing them because of something to do with them as a human being. I believe things have improved and if they have, it’s not because of what I said or how I said it; it’s because of the huge reaction that the fans in attendance that night gave to my point. This would have spelled (out) the message loud and clear to anyone who was just screaming obscenities for attention. Maybe they didn’t impress as many people as they thought they were.
As one of the two men in perhaps the two best seats in the building each month you have been lucky enough to witness some of the greatest matches ever seen in Ireland. I know it is hard to narrow things down as there have been so many but which one’s stand out for you?
I could literally choose so many matches here. Several Jordan Devlin and Kings of the North matches come to mind but if you’re narrowing me to choose just one, it would have to be the first ever 5 man/ 6 man tag team match where Tyler Bate pulled double duty and tagged with both The Angel Cruisers and British Strong Style. It was such a chaotic affair that had everything! You could watch that match with “non-wrestling fans” and they’d be enthralled. A great idea, perfectly executed!
Keeping in the same vein as the last question, if you had to pick an overall OTT card so far that you have commentated on, which one would stand out as your favourite?
Again, I could be here all night making Venn Diagrams and charts because every show has had something that I’ll always remember, but first show that comes to mind is Outer Space Odyssey 3: Stranger Things Have Happened! Such a stacked card where you really felt every athlete was trying to put on the match of the night!
OTT launched its Contenders cards in 2017 and this will only grow in 2018. How important is this division for the future of Irish wrestling? How should fans be keeping an eye out for in the future?
It’s difficult to put into words just how important OTT Contenders is for the future of Irish and European Wrestling. Not only is it a showcase where new talent can hone their craft and announce themselves to a huge fan base, but for trainee wrestlers, it’s a clear and attainable goal. If you’re watching WWE and seeing Finn Balor, Becky Lynch and Sheamus and saying “Man, I wanna be where they are!” OTT Contenders should be your first goal. We’re about to run our 5th contenders show and already we’ve seen it open up opportunities for the likes of Scotty Davis, Michael May and Curtis Murray to face off against British Strong Style in front of 2,200 fans in the National Stadium. L.J.Cleary and Nathan Martin have already made debuts in the Tivoli theatre and trust me, it’s just the beginning. The road to success in Irish wrestling has never been as clear and defined as it is today. Those that work hard and take their training seriously WILL be given opportunities. Just getting onto a Contenders show guarantees you a match for your highlight reel with professional production and commentary and often against an internationally recognised name! At OTT Contenders 5 on January 14th, Michael May goes against The Ambassador of British Wrestling Doug Williams, LJ Cleary takes on Dave Mastiff and fresh off his 3 months of training in Canada with Lance Storm, Darren Kearney faces the NLW Heavyweight Champion Jordan Devlin!
What wrestlers would you like to see make an appearance in the future for OTT?
Speaking entirely selfishly, I can never have enough drinking buddies. I’d love to throw a beer back in the ring with Cowboy James Storm. Or while we’re at it, why not invite Stone Cold Steve Austin over and we can crack a can together. And those saying that’s unrealistic are probably the same people who a few years ago would have said it was unrealistic for OTT to book The Bullet Club.
Next month the main roster of OTT kicks off 2018 with its Homecoming event which will take place in The Arena on Suir Road. This change of venue is of course to accommodate the steel cage structure for that night’s main event featuring the Kings of the North vs The Rapture. As well as the National Stadium cards throughout the year do you see OTT outgrowing the Tivoli Theatre? I know there has been talk of demolition surrounding the Tivoli for some time now too.
I’m not 100% sure what the future holds as regards venue, but filling the National Stadium 3 times in 9 months tells me that there’s definitely scope to go bigger. Homecoming sold out in days too, so maybe it is something we’ll have to look at!
I have to ask you about Aonghus. I know you guys are quite close and get along very well. How enjoyable is it to share this whole experience side by side together?
It really is a dream come true. As cheesy as that sounds, it is. Aongo is a consummate professional and he’s so incredibly polished on the microphone. If I run an idea by him he’ll always give me his honest opinion and I’ve definitely gotten better through working with him! I think we complement each other perfectly. I was having a beer with Jordan Devlin just before Christmas and he said his favourite thing about the commentary is that “You can hear Aongo, leaning forward calling the match with urgency and you can hear me leaning back, taking my time with what I say.” It’s two different styles, and that’s just us. Aongo wears the suit, I’m allergic to sleeves! Some of my favourite moments with OTT have been driving to our Belfast shows, putting the world to rights with Aongo and whoever is joining us! And we’ve had some star-studded company on those drives, everyone from X-Pac to Chris Hero, Matt Riddle to ACH. It’s always such a fun trip!
Are there any colour commentators that have inspired your character?
Jerry Lawler and Bobby Heenan come to mind!
You have bulked up your physique over the last few months and it has got fans asking the question, will we ever see Don Marnell compete in the ring? Is this something you ever aspire to do?
Never say never. Knowing the world of wrestling the way I do, referees, managers and even commentators can sometimes get dragged into the ring…and if that ever happens, I’ll be ready!
How do you see 2018 shaping up for OTT as a whole? 2017 was a big year for the promotion and I imagine you guys want to keep that momentum going in 2018?
2018 will be huge. I think you only need to look at the first card on February 4th at OTT Homecoming to see how big it will be! Debuts, returns and our first steel cage match, it’s no wonder it sold out so quickly! We’re also running our first ever all female show and we’ll have plenty of surprises as the year goes on! So sit back, relax and crack a can, because we’re just getting started!
You can follow Don on Twitter @DonMarnell and OTT Wrestling @OTT_wrestling