“GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY! THAT KILLED HIM! WITH GOD AS MY WITNESS, HE IS BROKEN IN HALF!”
There have been many great and memorable calls in the world of professional wrestling, but this one stands out to me and to many other fans as the absolute pinnacle.
In 1998, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, The Undertaker and Mankind made history. Mere minutes into their Hell in a Cell match, Undertaker gripped Mrs Foley’s Baby Boy by the back of his tights and heaved him 16 feet straight down onto an announce table that exploded under the impact of the near-300-pounder. It was an incredible, unexpected moment that stupefied every person watching; apparently none more so than WWF commentator Jim Ross.
The words he screamed as Mankind lay motionless beneath the debris of the destroyed table became burned into the minds of wrestling fans worldwide. That moment became one of the most talked about and remembered moments in all of wrestling history. And that wasn’t just because of the insane display of brutality we all saw, but also because of the genuine horror we all heard in JR’s voice. It was a perfect call. It wasn’t scripted. It couldn’t have been scripted, and that brings us to the problem with commentary in today’s WWE.
Raw’s commentary team currently has three members: Corey Graves, Michael Cole, and Byron Saxton. Smackdown Live’s team has 4: JBL, Mauro Ranallo, Tom Phillips, and David Otunga.
This is as clear-cut an example of ‘too many cooks’ as you’re likely to see.
Historically a commentary team consists of just two people: A play-by-play guy, who calls the action and a colour commentator, who draws conclusions and conveys them to the audience. This worked brilliantly with JR and Jerry Lawler. Both did their jobs very well and this meant that the product was fun and accessible, even to new viewers.
Contrast that with Smackdown Live today. You’ve got four guys all trying to say their pieces, all talking over one another trying to make sure they don’t appear redundant. It just doesn’t work as well.
It’s not like WWE doesn’t have the talent available to create the next great two-man commentary team. Raw would have a fine team if they just went with Cole and Graves. Cole is the perfect professional and can fill the play-by-play spot (when he remembers the names of the actual moves being performed) while also pushing the sponsors (a task which has become just as much a part of the job in the modern product as anything else). And Graves, with his charisma and wit, is a great colour-commentator. I don’t know why Byron Saxton is there. He doesn’t do anything the others can’t.
It’s the same over on Smackdown Live. They would have a decent two-person team in Mauro Ranallo and JBL. Tom Phillips, while good at his job, just doesn’t add anything, and David Otunga is basically stealing a living at this point. When he does manage to get a word in, that word tends to be confusing and distracting from the action.
It isn’t just the number of announcers causing the problems, either. The way they call matches doesn’t work.
Like I said, WWE have talented guys at their disposal but they seem unwilling to just let them do their own thing.
The previously mentioned call by JR is a shining example of the absolute gold that can be produced when you hire a guy who is great at something and then just let him do it. That doesn’t happen in WWE anymore. Almost every word you hear has been scripted beforehand and it really shows.
There have been moments over the last couple of years that could have been amazing, but that ultimately fell flat due to calls that were clearly not spontaneous and clearly not genuine. Hell, at times it sounds like some of these guys are literally reading the words as they say them. And when they’re not reading from a script, they’re repeating lines that are being forced on them from backstage. I can’t be the only one who has a mental image of Vince sitting in the gorilla position screaming “SELL THE NETWORK, DAMMIT!” into a microphone. One look at JBL’s face whenever he is on-screen is enough to be able to tell that he is listening to orders being barked at him through his earpiece rather than paying attention to what is going on around him.
It would be that simple. Just cut away the deadwood, use guys that are great at what they do and let them do it! It’s such a shame that, at a time when the quality of the actual wrestling on show is at an all-time high, something that seems so easy to fix is still putting a dampener on the product overall.
I know this might not seem like a huge priority to everyone, but think of it like this:
The commentators are usually the first thing a channel-hopper or a potential new fan will hear. They’re the voice of the product. Viewers tune in and hear commentators that seem like they’re being fed tired lines; reacting to the action with feigned, phony-sounding enthusiasm; or even, as I have begun to notice happening more and more, completely ignoring the action happening in-front of them, instead discussing something else entirely.
It all basically boils down to one point.
If the voice of your product doesn’t seem invested in the action, why should anyone else be?
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