Where Are They Now? Skinner
When WWE.com recently caught up with Steve Keirn, the wrestler once known as Skinner had to put our conversation off for a little while. He was in the middle of one of his proudest moments.
“How often do you get to see your son graduate and become a doctor?” he told WWE.com after the University of Central Florida’s graduation ceremony. His son, Cory, received his doctorate in physical therapy. After the tassels were turned and degrees distributed, Keirn hit the road, heading back to his hometown of Tampa, Fla., back to his own group of eager students.
His classroom isn’t a lecture hall or laboratory, but rather the squared circle. Keirn is the president of Florida Championship Wrestling, the developmental territory of WWE. Along with a staff of experienced coaches, he’s in charge of preparing the Superstars and Divas of the future.
For the 60 year-old, it’s one of the biggest jobs he’s held in a sports-entertainment career that began when he was 13. ( CLASSIC PHOTOS)
Keirn grew up in Tampa with a group of children who would go on to enter the world of professional wrestling, including the legendary Hulk Hogan. One friendship, though, changed his life.
“I made real good friends with a kid named Mike Graham,” he explained. Mike’s father was WWE Hall of Famer Eddie Graham, the longtime promoter of Championship Wrestling from Florida, the territory that flourished with stars like Dusty Rhodes and Kevin Sullivan while Gordon Solie calmly called the action.
Keirn’s relationship with the Grahams was strong, which was helpful during a tough time.
When Steve was 13, his father, Richard, a pilot in the Air Force, was shot down in Vietnam. “From the time I was 13 until I was 21, my dad was a prisoner of war,” Keirn explained to WWE.com. He had also been taken prisoner during World War II.
During the eight-year stretch when his father was in Vietnam, Keirn grew close with Eddie Graham, which led him to his eventual career path.
“Eddie Graham kind of helped father me along, and in doing so, I fell in love with the wrestling business and the wrestlers, and I just started blending in,” Keirn said. “From 13 on, I made up my mind: that was what I was going to do.
Keirn spent his teenage years selling soda and popcorn at shows, watching some of the greatest wrestlers in history ply their craft inside the ring. “There were so many tremendous wrestlers at the time that were so influential,” he explained. “Eddie Graham, Hiro Matsuda and Don Curtis.”
One, however, stood out to him.
“Jack Brisco was my idol.”
When the 1970s came around, Steve Keirn was ready to enter the ring. During the early years of his career, he was mainly a tag team competitor.
“At that point, I was eager to learn just about any aspect of the wrestling industry,” Keirn told WWE.com. “Being a tag team wrestler taught me the industry.”
Keirn teamed with a who’s who of wrestling stars, including Stan Hansen, Bob Backlund, Mike Graham and others. Eventually, though, he wanted to break out on his own.
“I was starting to get tired of having to depend on partners,” he explained. “When they wanted to quit, you were forced into quitting. When they got sick, you didn’t work. They got injured, you didn’t work. I started realizing that the only one who was going to take care of Steve Keirn was Steve Keirn.”
Florida was mainly where Keirn flew solo, but he soon ventured out into other territories, like Georgia and Charlotte. “When I first went to Tennessee, working for the Jarretts, I started out as a single,” he said. That would soon change.
Jerry Jarrett had an idea for marketing a new tag team in the early '80s. “MTV had just come out, everything was based off music videos,” Keirn said. Jarrett and Jackie Fargo decided to pair Keirn up with Stan Lane for this experiment. “We were similar in size and look and experience,” he said. “It was a magic mix.”
Clad in top hats, bow ties, suspenders and sequins, Keirn and Lane shot to superstardom as The Fabulous Ones. Jarrett produced music videos featuring The Fabs working out, going hunting and heading out on the town. The duo were in photo shoots for countless magazines and even appeared on Sally Jesse Raphael’s talk show. The fusion of rock ‘n’ roll and wrestling proved successful.
“It was glamorous, it got to be a rock star situation,” Keirn said. “The response from the audience was phenomenal.”
In addition to the adulation of wrestling fans across the country, The Fabulous Ones found success in the ring, capturing multiple tag team championships while facing vicious opponents like The Sheepherders and The Road Warriors. ( WATCH)
Still, the photo and video shoots caught up with Keirn. “It was a pain in the butt sometimes,” he explained. “You’re wrestling seven nights a week and producing videos in the daytime. You’re working quite a bit.”
By the end of the 1980s, though, The Fabulous Ones were through. Keirn and Lane split up, with Lane moving on to Jim Crockett Promotions to become part of The Midnight Express with Bobby Eaton. Keirn, however, headed back home. “I didn’t want to travel anymore, I had very young children that were just starting school,” Keirn told WWE.com.
Keirn settled down in Tampa, going into business with Mike Graham, Rhodes and Solie. The group opened up a wrestling promotion in Florida that lasted several years. When that ended, Keirn found himself on his way to WWE.
Keirn joined WWE in 1991 and drew on personal experiences to come up with a new persona.
“I had just participated in the alligator harvest in Florida,” he said. “I killed 15 alligators … I ended up with a record, killing 10 more than 12 feet long.”
He took that expertise with him into his first meeting with WWE Chairman Mr. McMahon.
“I brought in a lot of alligator parts with me,” Keirn explained. “I brought a skull, a hide, a paw, a bunch of pieces of alligators and laid them on his desk and said, ‘I don’t know what you want me to be, but I just killed 15 alligators, if that gives you any idea.' "
He went back to Florida to train for about a month. When he returned to WWE headquarters in Stamford, Conn., his path in WWE had been set.
“When I walked in the door, [Mr. McMahon] said, ‘Steve, have you ever seen the movie ‘Deliverance?’ " Keirn detailed. “I said, ‘Yes, several times,’ and he goes, ‘I want you to be one of those guys.’ "
“Immediately, I’m thinking he’s talking about Burt Reynolds. I say ‘Sure, I can be Burt Reynolds!’ ”
The Chairman, however, had something different in mind.
“He stopped me and said, ‘No, no, no … I want you to be one of the two guys in the woods with Ned Beatty,’ ” Keirn said.
Thus, Skinner, the tobacco-chewing alligator hunter from the Florida Everglades was born. With a Bowie knife in his teeth, Keirn starred in vignettes promoting his emergence from the swamps to wreak havoc on WWE. For him, it was a welcome opportunity. ( WATCH)
“It was the first time in my whole career that I wasn’t Steve Keirn,” he explained. “I used my real name out of respect for my father, but this was my first opportunity to depict a character. I relaxed and had a blast with it.”
As Skinner, Keirn took on all of the WWE’s top stars, including “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Bret “Hit Man” Hart. ( WATCH) He even made an appearance on The Grandest Stage of Them All, facing Owen Hart at WrestleMania VIII.
Keirn left WWE by 1993 to wrestle in WCW and on the independent scene. After his in-ring career wound down, his involvement in the wrestling business took a new turn.
He had been training wrestlers since 1981, first using Jerry Jarrett’s ring in Nashville, Tenn., to teach students the ropes. During his time as a producer for WWE, however, a different opportunity came up.
“I was constantly wanting to help teach, but in the arenas, you really didn’t have that much time,” Keirn said. “John Laurinaitis approached me and asked me if I was interested in taking over the development of talent.”
As a producer, he had observed talent at WWE’s previous developmental territories and had his own ideas about how future Superstars should be prepared.
“[In other territories], there was only one ring for 30 guys and I would see a lot of people sitting on the outside for a long time before they had their opportunities,” he explained. “I said if I had an opportunity, I’d set up a place with three or four rings so everybody’s busy all day long.”
That opportunity came in 2007, when WWE asked Keirn where he wanted to put his training center. The answer was simple. “I said Tampa,” he told WWE.com. “It’s where I started. It’s a great place to live. There’s no state income tax and an opportunity to have the beaches right by you. It’s great for young people.”
While the beaches may have been enticing to the first class of prospective Superstars that came to Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) in the summer of 2007, the initial training center was decidedly less so.
“We were literally in a warehouse with canned food and soda,” WWE Tag Team Champion Kofi Kingston said. “There was no air conditioning whatsoever. Imagine being there in the summer and having to go an hour long in your matches.”
That intense environment quickly showed the group what Keirn wanted from his students. “You must be a sponge and really infatuated and obsessed with this industry,” he explained. “This is not something that you just come into and give it a try.”
FCW continued to grow over the years, while Keirn added to his training staff, who he credits with the success of the students.
“Tom Prichard, the head trainer is phenomenal with talent," Keirn proudly said. "Norman Smiley’s a great technician. Joey Mercury’s a guy that’s recently been on a roster and knows what young people are thinking like. They’re kind, patient people and passionate about wrestling.”
The staff, along with students willing to absorb their expertise, has made FCW extremely successful, producing countless WWE Superstars who have gone on to be champions, including World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus, Kingston, Wade Barrett and many others.
“Steve does a great job of facilitating competition and riling up the boys, trying to get us to outdo each other at shows or in practice,” Jack Swagger, another FCW graduate, told WWE.com. “He understands that’s how stars are made.”
Since its opening, FCW has grown by leaps and bounds, evolving from rings in a warehouse to a fully operational training center and arena, which is hard to believe for some alumni.
“FCW is amazing now,” Kingston exclaimed. “Top of the line technology, cameras everywhere, an arena in the building. When we got there, there were just three rings in the back.”
With FCW consistently pumping out Superstars, Keirn is continuing to reach for the stars when it comes to the territory’s future.
“I’m a very competitive person,” he explained. “I only want the best, I won’t settle for less. I see FCW continually succeeding, producing the best talent in the world and giving the WWE Universe new faces of the highest caliber.” ( CURRENT PHOTOS)
When he’s away from FCW, Keirn still has a little bit of Skinner in him. “I’m a water person, it’s one of the reasons I live where I live,” he said when talking about Florida, where he lives with his wife of 32 years.
“That’s where I get my peace.”
For more information on Florida Championship Wrestling, visit FCWWrestling.info