On the latest episode of AEW Unrestricted, Dean Malenko joined Aubrey Edwards and Tony Schiavone to talk about his career in Japan, WCW and WWE. Malenko worked for WWE for over a decade before signing with AEW as a producer and a coach. Malenko discussed why he left WWE and the exciting challenges of working for AEW.
“I thought it was just time to move on. There’s a little birdie that sits on his shoulder and tells you it’s time to make the next move, it’s time to move on, and I haven’t looked back since,” Malenko said. “I’ve had nothing but fun and some really good group of guys here working with Tony and Cody and everybody here in the office just marvelous to work with.
“It’s a startup company, so you’re a little nervous, but at the same time I like taking chances and taking risks. I did that when I left WCW with three other gentleman with me at the time going over to WWF. It’s always been a lot of fun, and I like anything that’s new or exciting or some different to give me a challenge.”
Malenko went through his early career with Edwards and Schiavone talking about being a second-generation wrestler. He also revealed that he was contacted by WWF to be a referee for Saturday Night Main Event.
“When I was 18-19, I was training from Japan, and WWF at the time was working in the Florida area. I get a call from Pat Patterson, he was booking at the time, and gave me a couple dates. I was working West Palm Beach, Tampa area. The one that connects that you see me in a still on is the Saturday Night Main Event in Tampa. It was at the Sun Dome, USF. I was refereeing Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage with Elizabeth at the time against George ‘The Animal’ Steele,” Malenko revealed. “That was a nighttime television show on NBC at the time. It was working pretty good for the company. It was my first [time being] known as a ref. So that’s pretty cool.
“That was the ’80s. A couple of really big guys that didn’t listen. It’s kind of like my kids but just bigger. I got to referee Hogan’s match against Orndorff, Shiek, Putski a bunch of guys.
“One good thing about refereeing is I have nothing but total respect for referees after doing that, going forward. I know how hard it is to referee and to be there. You’re the third person on the match, and you can make or break a match being there at the right time or the wrong time making the right call making a judgment call.”
Malenko has talked about the challenges AEW will face when speaking with press. However, he talked about adapting to today’s style and working with AEW’s young talent. When asked if any young AEW talent stands out, Malenko named Darby Allin saying he has the “It Factor”.
“It’s a different era, different time. It’s about adapting. Change is inevitable in any business or any walk of life that you do, and that’s part of our industry. As much as sometimes I don’t agree or opinionated on how a match goes, you have to look at the other side too. What’s good? What’s bad now? But I’ll tell you, the future looks great in this company from the standpoint of a lot of young up-and-coming, a lot of potential. A lot of potential.
“The first one that sticks out to me, and I always mention it, is Darby Allin. We always talk about the ‘It Factor.’ He’s just got this thing that just makes him different,” Malenko said. “Yeah, there’s a lot of guys who do flips and tumbling acts and dive through the ropes but just something about him that he does different and has his own stamp on it more than anybody else. He understands the audience. He understands that part of the business, understands about getting himself over and doing anything to get your name out there, your face out there. He’s done a great job, and I look forward for to the future of his career.
“Darby’s not a guy you want to hold back. If guys want to do stuff and it’s something that maybe that we don’t agree as a whole for myself to Tony himself or were Cody, then pull the guy back a little bit. It’s easier to do that than try to force a guy to go out and try to get over.”
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit AEW Unrestricted with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.