Today’s Episode: Who shot J.R.?
First of all, kudos to all of you who actually understand that reference. Don’t feel bad if you don’t; it was probably before your time, as it was mine, but it’s a fun little touchstone that I thought apropos to my topic this week.
On Saturday, I purchased the new WWE DVD, “The Rock: The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment.” It was an impulse buy, on sale for about twenty bucks, and I walked home with dreams of exciting matches and hysterical promos dancing in my head like spandex-clad sugar plum fairies.
However, what hit me the most wasn’t Rocky’s classic ascension from hated rookie to world-conquering superstar, but instead something on the side that many fans tend not to notice if they’re like me, watching a Pay-Per-View in a loud atmosphere with clinking drinks and raucous humor.
I’m talking, of course, about Jim Ross. I listened to his commentary of the first match of the DVD, one from 1997 between Rocky and Hunter Hearst Helmsley, where The Rock took his first Intercontinental Title. Ross was not the screaming parody that he has seemed to become today. Instead, he was much more concise with the moves going on in the ring, calling holds and discussing the psychology of the different maneuvers that the two future champs were performing. It was so much more scientific, so much more cerebral, that I took pause. I had a bit of trouble reconciling this JR, as well as a somewhat toned down, but still weaselly Jerry Lawler, with the man calling the shots today. While 2008 JR is not a bad commentator (although I know many disagree with me on that, infinitely preferring the ECW era Joey Styles and his acumen of knowledge pertaining to different holds), he has become far more of a storyteller and character, while losing a bit of that scientific edge that, now that I’ve been reminded of it, I rather miss.
And so, I began to think what we as wrestling fans really need from commentary today. Even though I called him a screaming parody, I do actually like Jim Ross, and have been enjoying what he’s doing for years, although I think I missed the multiple times he joked about Pat Patterson’s sexuality. I mean, I know he did it sometimes, but EVERY time he saw the man he was cracking gay jokes. Tangents aside, however, what s the preferred method of commentary by the current wrestling scene? Are we looking for someone who calls the names of a few moves while focusing primarily on story elements both inside the ring and out, or would a less story-driven, more MMA or boxing-style speaker be preferable? While this is a column where I typically try to prove a point, I honestly have to say that I’m of two minds about this.
Yet, if I must take the position, I think that Vince, JR, the King and everyone else really need to start speaking seriously about the events going down in that ring. It’s widely known that Vince has been trying to get fans more accustomed to a safer style, even going so far as to tell some of the cruiserweights not to do moves like Shooting Star Presses, or having Shelton Benjamin nearly kill himself every week for our amusement. Of course, this also comes on the heels of One Night Stand, where they have Jeff Hardy PRETEND that he’s doing something incredibly dangerous, but faking it to the point of insulting our intelligence on the level of a fake Stunt-Sting jumping off the WCW-Tron while on fire.
But I digress.
If we’re supposed to get into a safer style, what with more MMA influence from the likes of CM Punk and even the freaking Undertaker, then you’re going to lose those moments where JR would yell about someone being broken in half and, frankly, that’s fine. But if they’re going to go with moves and styles that are based in real-life, then the commentary needs to evolve (or, in a sense, devolve) to where the moves are looked at from scientific perspectives. When Shawn Michaels hits Sweet Chin Music, we KNOW that it’s a knockout blow, but maybe throw us a bone explaining how the force of his kick knocks the brain into the skull, turning the lights out for the unfortunate recipient. Discuss what Undertaker’s hold actually DOES to the person, and give me the strategy that Rey Mysterio should use to defeat Mark Henry instead of just saying that he has to move around a lot.
The world is changing, and as the stiffer-seeming wrestlers rise up through the ranks, and with groups like ROH having incredibly hard-hitting, scientifically-based matches, it’s only a matter of time before we start demanding more realistic or true commentary from the voice of the WWE besides why one guy is a prick and why the other is totally, totally awesome.
Or, at least, I hope it is.