The voices we hear while we watch pro wrestling can add so much to the product, or they can detract from the action. Typically, we hear a babyface play-by-play announcer paired with a heel color commentator. As they banter back and forth they help advance plot points, develop character nuances, and focus our attention on an important detail. They can make or break the fans’ pro wrestling experience, but it all depends on which announcers call the matches…
TODAY’S ISSUE: Professional wrestling’s commentators/announcers.
From Gordon Solie to Joey Styles, wrestling fans in the US have experienced some amazingly entertaining, prepared and interesting play-by-play and color commentary throughout the years. Unfortunately, we’ve also been exposed to some horrid nonsense.
I’d like to take a look at some of the announce teams I’ve listened to throughout my years as a fan. I’m not listing them in any particular order, or ranking them. This is merely a discussion of what I like and don’t like about certain teams.
Jesse “the Body” Ventura and Gorilla Monsoon – The old school WWF tandem of Jesse and Gorilla has always been one of my favorites, and a highlight of the older WrestleManias. They had a good give-and-take without the overly annoying, argumentative banter of some other heel/face announce teams. I especially enjoyed the moment between the two at WMIV, when Jesse unveiled his big “surprise”. He got the special intro from The Fink, climbed out onto the ledge and did some flexing to a raucous ovation. Classic stuff.
Tenay and West – “The Professor” Mike Tenay is the best in the business today. He focuses TNA’s commentary on the right point at the right moment, knows how and when to elevate his emotion, and is consistent as a rock on play-by-play. While Tenay rules, his partner “DW” Don West is too much for even the Professor to carry. As much as I enjoy listening to Tenay calling the action, West drags down the team. I’ve always wondered what it takes to become a wrestling announcer, and I don’t think West knows either.
JR and King (and Coach) – Jim Ross and Jerry “the King” Lawler have become the most long-standing announce duo (accept for the short Paul Heyman era) in quite a long time. JR has always been the knowledgeable, serious play-by-play man, drawing attention to storyline points and calling the action with intensity and fervor. However, in recent years he’s changed a bit, and I speculate he might be at the tail end of his great run. The King is a favorite of mine, but I absolutely despise the “Dirty Uncle Jerry” routine he always does. It just gets old, and it detracts from the wrestling in the ring. I could go years without ever hearing him scream about “puppies”. When the King plays the veteran, former champion, his commentary is terrific. Watch the Rock/HHH Iron Man Match at Judgment Day 2000 for some of the King’s best work. I’m not sure that Jonathan Coachman is adding anything worthwhile to RAW yet. I’ll give the new 3-man team some more time to gel before I decide.
Michael Cole and Tazz – SmackDown’s team of Michael Cole and Tazz are highly overrated. Hearing Tazz call Cole “girl-pants” is not amusing, and hearing Cole scream the word “damn” to show his intensity is not engaging. “This was a damn setup all long!” “Why don’t they stop the damn match already!” “He’s a damn liar, that’s what he is!” Here’s a sample of Michael Cole’s outstanding work, from this past week’s Friday night show. In a tag team match, Chris Benoit hit a drop toe hold on Christian that propelled Christian’s head directly into the crotch of his partner, Orlando Jordan, who was woozy and propped up in the corner. Cole says (rather excitedly, I might add), “Now THAT is what Friday Night SmackDown is all about!” So, your show is about partners accidentally slamming each other in the nuts? Whatever. They almost make me long for Tony Schiavone.
Tony Sciavone, Bobby “the Brain” Heenan and various third members – Speaking of Schiavone, you could hear his abrasive and ranting commentary during many WCW broadcasts and pay-per-views, alongside the Brain and third men that included Dusty Rhodes, Eric Bischoff, and Steve “Mongo” McMichael, among others. The Brain is awesome, and did a marvelous job, even while he hated every day at work down in Atlanta. There’s the good news, now onto the bad. Schiavone was so difficult to hear, I’d sometimes hit the SAP button on my remote, and I don’t speak Spanish. You could barely understand the mush-mouthed American Dream, and with terms like plunder, filibusterin’, and the verb to wobbleleg (as in, he wobblelegged him!), Rhodes’ commentary was nothing short of an adventure. Far worse, of course, was Mongo, and the less said about him, the better. Bischoff was ok until he morphed into the badass, leather-sporting, nWo leader, at which time he became amazingly annoying.
Shawn Mooney and Lord Alfred Hayes – The pits! The worst! I hated listening to Mooney calling every match an “encounter”. It’s a wrestling match! He had no ability to advance storylines or draw the viewer into the show. Mooney was more like a c-level game show host. Lord Alfred had that easygoing way about him, and didn’t match up well with the Mooney, who may have been the lovechild of Todd Pettingill and Michael Cole.
Gorilla Monsoon and Lord Alfred Hayes – On the other hand, Gorilla was a better fit to partner with “His Lordship”. I loved hearing Lord Alfred gush about Gorilla’s play-by-play. More comical than other teams, they were still a lot of fun.
Vince McMahon and Mr. Perfect – “Mr. Perfect Kurt Hennig had the unique ability to remain a heel announcer without foolishly burying the faces, or mindlessly siding with the faces. He did a great job of straddling the line of common sense, while maintaining the required heel/face arrangement. On the other hand, Vinnie Mac may very well be the worst commentator to ever call “major league” wrestling in the US. He doesn’t know the correct names of any moves, he did that horrible laugh at whatever amused him (this is pre-evil owner gimmick), and was more one-sided than any face announcer has ever been. I was happy to see his heel turn back in the day, because ten minutes on the mic from inside the ring is way better than all night on the headphones!
Honorable mention goes to: Lance Russell, James E. Cornette, and Paul Heyman.
There’s nothing better than a focused commentary team reminding us, for example, that Babyface Wrestler A is already suffering from a recently injured shoulder, so that series of common-looking attacks to his arm has really done some heavy damage. Sitting in the stands, you might not recall that key factor that turns a typical match into a brilliant show of guts and determination by the face in peril.
Obviously, this represents only a sample of the voices of pro wrestling throughout the years. Some have been good, some have been great, and others have completely stunk up the joint. The gap between capable announcers and those akin to fingernails on a chalkboard never ceases to amaze me.
What about you? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with your fondest memories, or your favorite modern day play-by-play and color men.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.
p.s. – Why do they call it a TV set when you only get one?