Long before Justin Roberts, Lilian Garcia, Tony Chimel, and Howard Finkel were putting inflection into their voice, there was a boxing and wrestling ring announcer by the name of Jimmy Lennon Sr. He was the gold standard, and he commanded his voice unlike any other.
The Greatest Wrestling Ring Announcer of All Time
David LaGreca and Tommy Dreamer recently declared on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s Busted Open that Howard Finkel was the greatest wrestling ring announcer of all time.
These kinds of proclamations and arguments are respectfully subjective. Having been a friend of “The Fink” for many decades, that usually would be hard to argue.
“How” (as his friends warmly used to refer him) oversaw many vital moments as lead WWWF, WWF, and WWE ring announcer for what became the world’s biggest wrestling company in no small part due to his many contributions and achievements there.
He was WWE’s longest-serving employee (40 years), and his “and NEWWWWW” remains part of wrestling culture today.
“That always worked crowds into a grappling lather,” Howard put it the first time I interviewed him on my old Cable Radio Net show “WrestleTalk” in 1999.
His tone, inflection, pre-show limbering-up rituals, and more will forever influence anyone who follows in his footsteps in that company and others.
The best ring announcers of today, such as Ring of Honor great Bobby Cruise, AEW’s Justin Roberts (who learned a lot directly from Howard, as did Lillian Garcia), Tony Chimel, amongst many others, have absorbed Finkisms while cultivating distinctive voices of their own.
Sadly passing away at the age of 69, Howard Finkel left an indelible impact on professional wrestling, and he will be forever missed.
Jimmy Lennon Sr. – Boxing and Wrestling’s “Gold Standard” Ring Announcer
Having had the privilege of covering and being in and around the wrestling business since the 1970s, I would like to shine a light on another individual, an unsung one who deserves their rightful place on any “best ever wrestling ring announcer” list: Jimmy Lennon Sr.
Jimmy Lennon Sr. was arguably the greatest pro wrestling ring announcer in terms of voice.
He began as a pro boxing announcer and is in nearly every boxing hall of fame.
However, his decades of work in the Hollywood, Los Angeles, Jules Strongbow/Cal Eaton, and Mike Lebell (Gene’s brother) wrestling promotions were equally masterful and magnificent.
Jimmy Lennon Sr. was born on April 13, 1913, and served in WW2 as a commissioned instructor “and a chef feeding the masses,” as he once told me.
“Those were grim times for this country,” Jimmy continued.
“I also tried to entertain them when we had USO type shows [morale boosting entertainment shows for the troops] since I’d sang and danced since I was a small child in my church.”
Jimmy was a resilient teen, forming the first of the musical groups in his family, “The Lennon Brothers,” near Santa Monica Beach, just south of Venice, California.
When his father Herb died at an early age (Jimmy was only 17), he and his older brother John Henry worked all sorts of jobs to support their large family.
They would put on shows, singing, performing at baseball, football, and patriotic events. They even performed for the Los Angeles Police!
Jimmy began announcing at the classic SoCal Ocean Park Arena near the famous Pacific Ocean Amusement Park (AKA, “POP”).
He would sing the national anthem and be asked to fill in for the regular announcer whenever he no-showed.
“The boss liked me so well, they got rid of the other longtime person and hired me!
“I was already wearing my traditional tux to do the anthem for the fights and never stopped wearing them no matter what I was announcing from that point on,” said Jimmy.
Jimmy Lennon Sr. appeared in 75 films, including Academy Award winner Raging Bull, Main Event, Robert Altman’s classic California Split, and Sly Stallone’s Rocky III.
Jimmy Sr. would also make appearances in wrestling or boxing segments on popular television programs such as the Jack Benny Show, The Munsters, and more.
He was also in the famous 1966 The Monkees episode entitled “Monkees in the Ring” alongside a young Nick Bockwinkel.
Jimmy Lennon Sr. paid attention to detail, and he was a master of correctly and precisely pronouncing foreign athlete names in perfect Spanish, Japanese, Tagalog, Mandarin, French, or whatever far-out lands the wrestlers came from.
Many wrestling, boxing, and later MMA ring announcers mispronounced or stepped on names they tried to introduce. Not Jimmy.
I even once saw him backstage at the classic Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium at 18th and Grand Streets, asking athletes how they pronounced their names and their city of origin.
"A man is entitled to the dignity of his own name," he once told the Los Angeles Times.
He learned to work hard out of necessity.
Jimmy Sr. played a significant role in helping bring the incredible tag team from Mexico, Black Gordman and Great Goliath, over for us in Los Angeles by announcing them initially as “from Mexico by way of NEWWWWW Mexico,” to later simply as “by way of NEWWWWWW Mexico.”
The long emphasis on the word “NEW” started in 1970.
Years later, “The Fink” would adapt it with the same excitement but for title changes.
Fink and I talked several times by phone and email about his respect for Jimmy Lennon Sr.
He wanted to hear more about Jimmy, including what he was like on the road or away from the venue.
Jimmy was a former barber when he was a teen. He cut his own hair and some wrestlers who had complete faith in his abilities, like John Tolos, Don “Arson” Carson, and others.
Jimmy Sr. was also the uncle of the famous singing “Lennon Sisters,” who shot to fame on ABC’s old Saturday night 1960’s U.S.-based Lawrence Welk Show before the Lennons went off to do their own thing.
PBS has a documentary they run regularly on them with some commentary on Uncle Jimmy, who was closely tied with them.
One of Jimmy’s best friends was Welk until both passed away.
The “Champagne Bubble Meistro Welk” (decades before Jericho’s “Bit O’ The Bubbly”!) relied on Jimmy Sr. to organize and run his annual Lawrence Welk Celebrity Golf Tournament in Los Angeles.
In May of 1971, while our two weekly Hollywood Wrestling Office TV shows (KCOP13 Saturdays, KMEX-Hispanic 34 Wednesday nights that were syndicated by Spanish International Network around the U.S.) aired regular footage showing Freddie Blassie blinded and put into Santa Monica’s St John’s Hospital.
His rival John Tolos had thrown boxing Monsel’s Powder into his eyes to set up our August outdoor L.A. Coliseum spectacular card.
Around this time, Fred was shown on Los Angeles ABC affiliate KABC-7’s Regis Philben’s morning talk show playing golf at the Welk Tournament.
As in not selling his “critical injury” when he should have been.
Freddie was heard on a live mic hilariously saying, “Hey, don’t put me on camera! I’m supposed to be injured and in the hospital right now!”
However, he was live on-air.
The beloved babyface Fred Blassie finally got his revenge and beat monster heel John “The Golden Greek” Tolos at our office’s masterful August 1971 Los Angeles Coliseum mega outdoor show after six months of selling “the injury.”
Jimmy Sr. was in rare form that night.
The rest of the card had dream matches that Jimmy announced, such as the co-main and long-running global Sheik vs. Bobo Brazil feud, heel dream tag Kenji Shibuya and Masa Saito (yes, Mr. Saito) versus Black Gordman and Great Goliath, Mil Máscaras against his then greatest Mexico City rival El Solitario, Fabulous Moolah putting up her Women’s Title against California Champion Betty Niccoli (who was long married to AJPW, KC and WWF wrestler Akio Sato) in a bout with legit heat for many reasons, and many others.
Jimmy often would start an intro for a first-time mega main event, like the first-ever Roddy Piper vs. Chavo Guerrero Sr. bout in ’75 with, “Well ladies and gentleman… herrrrrreeee we goooooo!”
Office staff, the boys, and fans alike often echoed that just hearing Jimmy say those words would make the hair on their arms stand up from the emotion and inflection he put into his calls.
Or when he’d announce our most beloved babyface (yep, from top heel to beloved babyface) Freddie Blassie as “weighing in at a trim 242 pounds, El Rubio de Hora, the man of the hour, your America’s Champion, Classy Furrrrrrrrrrrrredddddddie Bulllllllllllasssssssie!”
Each year Jimmy got celebrities and even wrestlers and boxers like Louie Tillet on where they would promo upcoming shows “at RI9-5171, The Olympic Auditorium in Downtown L.A.”
He was truly one of a kind.
The Legacy of Jimmy Lennon Sr.
We lost Jimmy Lennon Sr. on April 20th, 1992, at 79 of heart failure, but his imprint is still strongly felt.
His son, Jimmy Jr., has carried on the family tradition. Sounding nearly precisely like his father reincarnated, Jr. has called major professional boxing events on Showtime, Fox Sports, and ESPN. He has also done ring announcing in MMA (Elite-EX, Strikeforce, etc.) and has worked in film, just like his pops.
Besides his namesake Jimmy Jr., Jimmy Sr. left behind his other children, Robin, Kim, and Scott.
Of all his Hall of Fame inductions worldwide, he was most proud of his one in the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
He was also on the first ballot in the 1997 WON Hall of Fame just five years after he passed.
There was no other voice like his. Sports announcing’s original GOAT. Jimmy Sr. was the gold standard. Our Howard Finkel? Pretty darn close in a close “race.”
Just listen to his voice below, and you’ll hear what I mean.
These stories may also interest you:
- Freddie Blassie – The Truth (and Somewhere In-Between)
- Big Time Wrestling in San Francisco – The Wrestling Territories
- Bruno Sammartino and Freddie Blassie – Too Real for the Mob
- Pepper Martin – A Champion’s Final Fight
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