A tenuous start, wrestling trivia and the New York Mets: My friendship with Howard Finkel

Apr 16, 2020

  • Arda OcalESPN Staff Writer

Arda Ocal, who currently works for ESPN, was a broadcaster for a variety of platforms in Canada before signing with WWE, where he worked from 2014-16 under the name Kyle Edwards. He shares his memory of meeting Howard Finkel and the friendship they ultimately shared.

There was a wrestling convention in Toronto in 2010 or 2011, and at the time I was working for The Score TV, which was a national sports channel. I had a camera person with me, as well as my good friend Jimmy Korderas, a former WWE referee of over 20 years.

We got to the venue and there were legends everywhere: Roddy Piper, JJ Dillon, Bruno Sammartino — it was a stacked event, but the person I was most nervous to approach for an interview was Howard Finkel.

I hadn’t met Howard up until that point. Growing up, “The Fink” was one of my heroes. Like many people, I loved wrestling when I was young. I grew up idolizing the announcers, the broadcasters in WWE, like “Mean” Gene Okerlund, Gorilla Monsoon and, yes, Howard Finkel. I never wanted to be an athlete, I only ever wanted to be behind the microphone.

This was definitely a big moment for me. and what I didn’t know was that my pal Jimmy reached out to Howard before we got to the venue. “Rib the kid a little” was the charge.

So there I went up to Fink, who was by himself at an autograph table before doors opened to the public — and Jimmy was snickering out of my view behind me.

This was my moment — I finally get to meet Fink! Memories filled my head as I approached him.

“BRET… HITMAAAAAAAAAAN HART!” (He would never say THE Hitman, as he would tell me years later.)

“THHEEEE.. UUUUUUNNNDERTTAAAKKKEERRRRR!!!”

And, of course, whenever a new champion was crowned, perhaps the call Fink is most synonymous with:

“AANNDD NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW…”

He was wearing his trademark tuxedo, with the MSG-branded double microphone ready for fans to take pictures with.

I got within eyeshot of Fink and before I could finish saying “Hello, Mr. Finkel…” He looked at me and said, “Yeah, what do you want? Can’t you see I’m busy here? I’m getting ready to meet all of my wonderful fans! And you want an…interview?! Right now? Are you kidding?

“This is ridiculous…Where is the manager? I want you escorted out of the building!”

I stood there completely frozen, unsure how to even process what had happened. They say don’t meet your heroes. but Fink couldn’t be this kind of monster. What had I done wrong? Was I going to be blackballed from wrestling forever because of this infraction I had just committed, when I didn’t even know what the infraction was?

Finally, after what felt like an entire day (but was only about 10 seconds), Fink broke his poker face, smiled, extended his hand and said, “Howard Finkel…it’s nice to finally meet you, Arda.”

And that started my decade-long friendship with Howard Finkel.

Howard was employee No. 1 at WWE. He wore that with pride. He also wore his WWE Hall of Fame ring pretty much all the time, very proud of that honor as well. He loved his New York Mets, which would dominate our conversations. I know more about the Mets than I ever thought I would simply because of Howard Finkel regaling me with stories of his trips to Shea Stadium, where he watched Tom Seaver and Darryl Strawberry play. Those were his two biggest loves, the Mets and professional wrestling.

When I joined WWE in 2014, Fink and I would go to lunch or talk at his desk every week. I’d usually start the conversation with some random obscure trivia fact — that was our inside joke. I wouldn’t say hello, I’d just walk into the office with a, “Hey Fink, how long did Dean Douglas hold the Intercontinental title for in 1995?” And, invariably, he’d know the answer. “About 12 minutes, Arda.”

So I’d have to get crafty. One time I started with, “Hey Fink, what was the name of the venue where Pat Patterson won the Intercontinental title in Brazil?” He looked at me for a second, with this quizzical expression, then started laughing. Patterson had, of course, been crowned the Intercontinental champion after “winning” a fabricated tournament that never actually took place.

I will miss those chats. I will miss Fink. He was one of my heroes growing up, and one of my dear friends in the wrestling industry. Even though we grew apart in the last couple years, the memories will last a lifetime.

I commissioned a painting in 2012 from the great artist Rob Schamberger for Fink. It hung in his workspace at WWE for several years. It always warmed my heart to see it there, because I know he appreciated it very much. It was a token of my appreciation for the years of memories and inspiration he provided for me.

Thank you, Fink. Rest in Peace.

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