For instance, imagine Stone Cold Steve Austin’s first World Wrestling Entertainment heavyweight championship victory over Shawn Michaels or Mick Foley’s unforgettable Hell in a Cell match with the Undertaker being called by someone other than Jim Ross.
Or imagine Vince McMahon’s famous “boyhood dream” Shawn Michaels moment coming from the mouth of someone other than Vince himself.
Or someone not named Gorilla Monsoon likening Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant to the irresistible force or the immovable object.
That’s because the announce team in wrestling is as important a part of a match as the referee or even the competitors inside.
In the case of House of Hardcore, the brainchild of legendary hardcore wrestler Tommy Dreamer, Dreamer has put his faith a longtime friend and fellow wrestler in Daniel Morrison, a.k.a. Danny Doring (Sugarmask) and Vic Travagliante, a young man whose family roots run deep in the broadcasting world.
Both men speak passionately and eloquently about the wrestling business, one a grizzled veteran who has worked all over the world, the other a lifelong fan fulfilling what he believes to be his destiny.
For Morrison, 41, the journey from the glory days of Extreme Championship Wrestling to HOH colour man has been a wild ride, one that traces back to his childhood.
“My mother, (a) single mom, worked and I’d be at home a lot with my great aunt,” Morrison said over the telephone.
“She lived at the house and she loved watching wrestling, or rasslin’ as she called it,” he added with his signature chuckle. “We had this small, black and white 13-inch TV and every Saturday we’d watch it. She’d get a big kick out of it and I liked seeing her get a kick out of it.”
For his younger sidekick Travagliante, now 30, his love affair with wrestling also traces to his extended family.
“My first wrestling memory was watching old school, late ’80s with my uncle Dave,” Travagliante said. “When I went to my uncle and aunt’s house, I watched wrestling with my uncle, because that’s all he did.”
Both men vividly recall their earliest wrestling influences.
“When I first saw Randy Savage on WWE television, or WWF as it were before they got the F out,” Morrison quipped, “everything fired on all cylinders for me. Every aspect of what he did just hit me, instant fandom. I was the only kid in my school who was an anti-Hulkamaniac. I couldn’t stand Hulk Hogan and I was the only one.”
Travagliante’s influence came in the form of the legendary Canadian Bret (Hitman) Hart. And what an introduction to wrestling it was.
“One of my earliest memories of actually going to a show was at the old Richfield Coliseum, which was where the first Survivor Series was,” Travagliante said. “I think three of the first four were in Richfield. One of my first memories as a far was Bret Hart was the world heavyweight champion at the time and he was facing Mr. Hughes in the main event. And Bret Hart hopped out of the ring, took off his sunglasses and handed them to a fan. And that was me.”
The best part, Travagliante said, was the show was a complete surprise to begin with.
“My dad told me we were going to an Italian Sons and Daughters Association of America dinner and all of a sudden we pulled up into the Richfield Coliseum for WWF live,” he recalled, that early influence still clearly one of the greatest memories of his life.
Childhood wrestling fandom was exactly where the similarities between the future broadcasting duo would end in those days. Morrison would go on to pursue a career in the crazy world of wrestling. Travagliante, however, would take the road less travelled and follow in the footsteps of many before him and venture into broadcasting.
“I was always fascinated with (wrestling),” Morrison said. “It seems prehistoric at this point almost, but back when I was growing up, there was no Internet. I know that might be jarring for some people, but there was no such thing. There weren’t very many local shows either. The only wrestling we got was WWF television until I was in high school, when we got a little bit of WCW or NWA or whatever.”
It was following the introduction to the now revolutionary ECW that Morrison found his in.
“I tuned in one day to ECW and they had a segment called Beulah’s Box, which (saw you write) into Beulah McGillicutty and ask her fan questions and stuff like that. I’m sure most of them were asking weird requests, but my legit question was (how could I get into the business),” Morrison said. “I was in good shape, I was an athlete and I saw a lot of guys that quite frankly weren’t. I thought, ‘I can do that, I can be there and I want to be there, I want to do that, I’m going to do that.’ ”
Beulah’s Box segment helped Morrison see that anything was possible.
“The one thing about me is I always did everything I said I would, despite the fact people always laughed at me. Even playing football, I was a skinny kid. I played four years varsity, went on to play a little bit of college and I played four years semi-pro before I got into wrestling. So when I said I was going to do that, I said ‘I want to be in that arena, the ECW Arena, I’m going to wrestle there, I’m going to do this.’ ”
While Beulah’s Box was never opened for Morrison, another opportunity came not long after.
“A couple weeks later, they opened a school, House of Hardcore. I called it and took the train ride down to Long Island, which was about a three-hour ride and met up with Taz and Perry (Saturn),” Morrison said. Admittedly, Morrison said he was was quite intimidated, “but I said, ‘You know what, I’ve never quit anything in my life, I’ve never backed down from a challenge so let’s do this.’ And 12 long months later, I got my debut.”
For Travagliante, his destiny seemed to be in media.
“My family history is in broadcasting,” he said. “My grandfather helped build two television stations and (was an engineer for) the (Cleveland) Indians during their run in the ’48 World Series. He was the one who helped build a remote control production truck, back in the ’40s.” His uncle, Lawrence Travagliante, who was a deejay by the name of Kid Leo, was vital in bringing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Cleveland. He also has a brother, Chris, who is involved in the entertainment side of the music business.
Morrison, a natural athlete, vividly remembers his days at the House of Hardcore school, working with many guys now considered legends and pioneers in the business.
“Kind of surreal,” he answered when asked what it was like to work with the likes of Taz, Dreamer, Paul Heyman and others. “I remember seeing Kronus and just being like ‘Wow, this guy shoots like crazy, he’s nuts.’ Basically, if anybody has seen Kronus’s promos, that’s how he was. He wasn’t playing a character. This is the guy that I met.”
Oddly, Morrison said, despite his inexperience, he felt right at home.
“Something just seemed right about it. I was like ‘This is a kooky bunch of characters and I think once they get to know me, I think I’ll fit right in with them.’ ”
Travagliante, a lanky kid from Cleveland, knew an in-ring career was out of the question for him, given his physical limitations.
“I got into broadcasting because I knew that I loved sports but I was never going to be a professional athlete,” he said. “I just knew growing up that I was going to be skinny and lanky and the odds of me becoming a pro athlete – while I did play basketball in college – were slim. That was a way for me to know I had a future in sports in some way was to become a broadcaster.”
Both men flourished in the respective vocations.
Morrison, as Danny Doring, spent five years with ECW at the height of its success, eventually forming a popular tag team with Roadkill and capturing the ECW tag titles. He would later also work for Total Nonstop Action and WWE before resurfacing with Dreamer’s House of Hardcore in 2012.
It was during his time in ECW that Morrison forged a friendship with Dreamer that flourishes to this day.
“Growing up, me and my friends were all fans (of ECW),” Morrison said. “We thought Tommy Dreamer was the guy. The man. The top babyface of ECW. We felt like Tommy was to ECW at the time like Hogan was to WWE or Flair was to WCW. I know it sounds funny now, because I’m such good friends with him, but that’s how me and my friends (perceived) him. There was something about Tommy that stood out.”
After earning Dreamer’s trust and friendship, Morrison got to know the man he now considers one of his best friends in the world.
“I was a little bit more nervous to be around him (in the early days),” Morrison said. “He was a nice guy, same guy then as he is now, but at the same time, it was eyes open, ears open, mouth shut. Being around Taz more than not at the time, we worked out with Tommy a lot at the school and we were around hin in the locker room, but it wasn’t until Taz left that we got to be around Tommy more and eventually, after I graduated from the ring crew portion of the paying the dues ECW experience, I got to travel with Tommy for a while. … Once I really started travelling with him, we developed a real friendship.”
Travagliante’s journey to wrestling was anything but standard.
“I’ve had a unique career, I guess you could say,” Travagliante said. He worked for CBS for a while, and has covered a wide variety of sports, including the NBA, Major League Baseball, NCAA tournaments, World Cup qualifiers, the Olympics, and tragic events like the Boston Marathon bombings.
But Travagliante’s biggest run was in the NFL. “I’ve worked with the Cleveland Browns Network. The job I had was a job that, if you think about it, only 31 other people have because there are only 32 teams in the NFL. To appear on an in-game broadcast on the Browns network that’s across the country and on Sirius XM and on the Browns website, there are only 31 other people that have that job. And I’ve had that for four seasons.” he said.
“All of that,” Travagliante said, “was to hopefully make myself marketable so that a wrestling company would want to have me be a part of their broadcasts, of their shows, of their companies.”
To Travagliante, wrestling is, quite simply, perfect.
“Wrestling is the greatest form of entertainment,” he said. “There are phenomenal athletes, both men and women. It’s entertainment like you’d see in a movie or on television. There are the fireworks or music like a rock concert. It has everything that you could possibly want in a show.”
In short, it’s a broadcaster’s dream.
“My passion is pro wrestling,” he said.
So much so that he has put his money where his mouth is, turning down a contract to work for CBS, choosing instead to put his faith, and skills, behind Dreamer’s vision.
“CBS offered me a very nice, lucrative contract and I turned it down. I literally said no to the biggest broadcasting company in America in a top 30 market so that I could continue to pursue my dream of wrestling,” Travagliante said. “That’s just how much I do care about the sport. That’s how much I’m willing to sacrifice for the business. That’s how much I believe in House of Hardcore. That’s how much I believe in Tommy’s brand and vision, that I’m willing to literally sacrifice livelihood to try to make this work.”
Both men speak with passion, admiration and respect when Dreamer’s name is mentioned. In fact, they believe Dreamer’s importance to pro wrestling cannot be overstated.
“More than a lot of people do actually realize, and a lot more than people give him credit for,” Morrison said when asked what Dreamer means to the business. “He’ll never say that because he’s not one to toot his own horn, so to speak, so sometimes you have to have a loudmouth, arrogant guy like me to do it for him”
“He’s just as important, if not more important, to ECW as Paul (Heyman) was. He (learned) from Paul, he’s been around Paul his whole life, so he has that knowledge, but on top of it, he’s so super well respected. I can’t think of anybody that has anything negative to say about him.”
If the respect and admiration of an entire business aren’t enough, Morrison said, add to that Dreamer’s great sense of someone’s potential.
“The guy’s got an eye for talent,” he said. “If anybody has seen who he’s hired through WWE’s developmental system, when he was there, they could see he has an eye for talent. And now, with House of Hardcore he’s got a keen eye for who to use. He’s got vision. He can see things before they happen, almost like a quarterback anticipating a rout. He can see these things and he can almost see the future. He knows what guys are going to be big stars and what guys are going to be hanging around a little bit.”
Travagliante met Dreamer through their mutual friend, Rhino. He ended up driving with the duo to Detroit over the Easter weekend, eventually inviting them to his home for Easter dinner. A friendship was forged that day that changed the talented broadcaster’s life.
“I’ve been very lucky that I’ve surrounded myself with those kind of people,” he said of Dreamer and Rhino.
The pride is evident in Morrison’s voice when he discusses the faith Dreamer had in him when he tapped him to be one of the voices of his company, which is holding its 10th and 11th shows in Philadelphia and New York on Nov. 13th and 14th respectively, on the heels of its most successful show in Toronto in July.
“He knows how much I love this, too. He knows how much he can trust me with his baby. If House of Hardcore was his baby, he could leave it for a week at my house and it would come back fatter than it was when he left,” Morrison joked., before getting serious. “He knows how much I want to be around it. He also knows I have a good, well-rounded knowledge of all things wrestling.”
Both men have been soaking up information like sponges since landing their assignments.
“The colour commentary thing is kind of new to me,” Morrison said. “I’ve never really done anything like it. I’m learning on the fly. I’m watching the Jim Rosses and Joey Styleses and a lot of these guys that were doing it for a long time. I’m also watching sports broadcasts … boxing, football, basketball, and I’m trying to do a hybrid style of wrestling in real athletic competition and mix that along with my own personal wit.”
The Fight Network deal, which saw the broadcaster air 10 highlight-package episodes of House of Hardcore in the weeks leading up to the Toronto show, gave the duo some needed experience. The episodes remain available on The Fight Network channel via Roku streaming devices.
“I always felt like the first four shows of House of Hardcore that we did were kind of me getting my feet wet, and the last six that we did, on The Fight Network I thought were a better feeling of what we could do,” Morrison said. “I felt like our work at the last show in Toronto was our best stuff together.”
“Danny and I had only worked together a handful of times (to that point),” Travagliante said. “The more we started working together and sitting in a studio for X amount of hours or sitting at a show for X amount of hours, and calling X amount of matches, you’re only going to get better as time goes on. When you all want to succeed and you all have the same path, it only can improve from Show 1 to Show 2 to Show 4 to Show 6 … and you saw that.”
Both men have nothing but love and respect for each other, which is evident by the on-screen chemistry.
“I’ve gotten to know Vic Travagliante and come to really, really enjoy being around Vic,” Morrison said. “Vic knows this part of the business so well. This is what he wanted to do. He gets a lot of insight from guys he knows. He’s been helping me out a lot. I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Vic, personally and professionally. I think together we’re developing a nice chemistry.”
Travagliante echoes his friend and partner’s sentiments.
“Danny’s been really fun,” he said. “Broadcasting wrestling is very different in some regards to broadcasting football or basketball. I’m still learning as I’m going along. I’m learning different tricks, different ways to say things, little nuances of letting a crowd breathe a little bit so that it comes through on television. Danny, Danny’s a former world tag-team champion. Danny’s in-ring speaks for itself. This is new to him so it’s kind of like we’re coming up together doing this. It’s a fun learning experience for me because I can pick Danny’s brain about what’s going on in the ring or why this is happening or what’s going to happen next and why? And then Danny’s asking me, ‘Well, wait a minute, what should I say here?’ Or ‘How should I respond to this?’ in the broadcasting world. And at the same time, while we’re going back and forth with each other, we’re also going back and forth with Tommy because we’re trying to pick Tommy’s brain on how he wants something to be done.
“I genuinely want to learn about this industry. I think that’s what makes me come across a little bit better than I am, because I have guys like Danny who have helped me so much. And I’m helping Danny. We get along. We have fun. We help each other out because we both have the drive to want to succeed from a broadcasting level in wrestling. It’s been an amazing, amazing time working with Danny.”
Morrison and Travagliante bleed black and red when it comes to their loyalty and belief in Dreamer and HOH.
“House of Hardcore is something that is a revolutionary,” Travagliante said. “It’s because it’s giving fans what they want to see and it’s rewarding them with a surprise. We all know how much Tommy loves surprises. When you go to Toronto for the first and you set an indoor attendance record, and you’re selling out shows that they’re turning people away, there’s obviously those out there who want to watch the product, who want to watch the show.”
Dreamer, Morrison said, is simply listening to the fans and drawing from his vast experience.
“Tommy is not trying to re-create ECW, but he’s not reinventing the wheel either. Like I said earlier, he knows what the fans want. He’s never going to start HOH with a 30-minute promo in the ring. People want an alternative and I think he’s creating that with the whole ‘no politics, no BS, just wrestling.’ ”
Above all else, Morrison and Travagliante are honoured for the opportunity Dreamer has bestowed on them.
“I don’t take (the opportunity) lightly,” Travagliante said. “I put a lot of time into the matches. I put a lot thought into what I want to say, a lot of research into each individual performer so that it comes out in the show. I put a lot into each match. I put a lot into each show. This does mean a lot to me. Each show that goes on, I put more pressure on myself. Tommy could have went out and got anybody he wanted and I’m the guy he chose to run with, by design or by default. He keeps bringing me back.”
For Morrison, the thought of having started his career at a place called House of Hardcore and the prospect of finishing at one of the same name is rather poetic.
“I think it would be as close to the storybook ending, the walkoff home run, the winning the Super Bowl and walking off into the sunset that I can think of,” he said. “I know people would say that it should be WrestleMania, but to me, to say that I started at a place called House of Hardcore and end at a place called House of Hardcore would be apropos for me. The fact (Dreamer) trusts me to learn and pick this up, that means the world to me.”
House of Hardcore 10
When: Friday, Nov. 13
Where: 2300 Arena, 2300 South Swanson St., Philadelphia.
Meet and greet: 6 p.m.
Belltime: 8 p.m.
Main event: Tommy Dreamer and Yoshihiro Tajiri vs. Ethan Carter III and Eric Young.
Also featuring: Rhino, Abyss, Bobby Roode, Austin Aries, Chris Hero, Lance Hoyt, Tommaso Chiampa, Colt Cabana and others.
Tickets and information: houseofhardcore.net
House of Hardcore 11
When: Saturday, Nov. 14
Where: Elmcor Center, 107-20 Northern Blvd. Corona, N.Y.
Meet and greet: 5 p.m.
Belltime: 7 p.m.
Main event: Tommy Dreamer vs. Ethan Carter III in a New York Street Fight
Also featuring: Yoshihiro Tajiri, Sabu, The Wolves, Abyss, Bobby Roode, Austin Aries, Chris Hero, Jade, Colt Cabana and others.
Tickets and information: houseofhardcore.net FBI), Thea Trinidad, Jade, Justin Roberts and more!