Talk the Talk, Don’t Walk the Walk
by Noah James
Based on all the emails I received after my last column, it seems like a lot of you had some great ideas on what should really happen with Undertaker and Barrett. That’s great! Also, there were far fewer hate emails than I expected. If I haven’t emailed you back yet, I promise I’ll get to you soon. Moving on…
Like you, I’m looking forward to some sort of resolution between Lawler and Cole – but maybe not for the same reason as you. See, I miss the storytelling aspect of wrestling. There are some wrestlers (both new and vets) who can provide a compelling match. However, the ring announcers are the true front-line of the story. And let’s be honest, the front-line has been pretty weak lately.
I’m not here to simply complain and whine about the announcers being crappy – because I don’t think they are, per se. I just don’t think there’s been a strong chemistry (for both WWE and TNA) between the personalities for quite some time. On the flip side, I don’t think all is lost.
In the olden days (the late 1990’s), both WWE and WCW had a strong weapon in their Monday Night Wars arsenal – the ring announcing team. Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler for WWE, and Mike Tenay, Tony Schiavone, and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan were the Dream Team of WCW. For my money, you can’t get much better than that.
By no means is this a slight to WrestleZone’s own Mark Madden, who was a ring announcer for WCW at one point. I had broken up with WCW well before he stepped into the booth, so I can’t comment on his performance since I’ve never witnessed it. Unlike editorial writers on other websites, I don’t give opinions on subjects I know nothing about.
I loved how those three guys in WCW seemed to blend perfectly to tell the story of not only what was happening in the ring, but of what the significance of the match was to the big picture of that feud. Tenay was the Encyclopedia Brown of the team, throwing out historical information on every wrestler, seeming to know everything about everything; Heenan provided the snarky attitude; and Schiavone was the glue that put those pieces together and complemented the others. Just like the four kids (and their stupid friend with the monkey) would join rings to call on Captain Planet, those three WCW personalities would combine to tell this great story-in-progress that would get you emotionally involved in what was happening – even if you were tuning in for the first time!
I was saddened recently when I read the behind-the-scenes piece where Heenan and Schiavone seemed to hate each other – but back at the height of WCW’s success, those guys were pure magic. Granted, I always felt uncomfortable when Tenay called Nash “Big Sexy”, but that’s not really relevant right now. I loved their partnership so much, that I always cringed when someone came to do guest commentary for a match. When people like Bischoff sat with them, it always threw off the chemistry to the point where I felt it did a disservice to whatever match was currently in progress (one of many reasons I hated 1997’s Souled Out).
On the other side of the wrestling world, you had Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler. I’m not really going to tell you much about their partnership, since most of you have been a witness to their announcing supremacy. Those two have a natural flow that you just simply can’t teach. Both had strong personalities; but Lawler seemed to have this child-like enthusiasm that would spill out, and Ross had this master craftsman ability to weave Lawler’s exclamations into the importance of the scene the viewers were witnessing. It was a thing of beauty.
For the record, I personally think Jim Ross is/was the best wrestling announcer in the history of the sport. I know it’s a big statement to say. A HUGE statement! However, no matter how great other commentators were, there are certain memorable feuds that would not have the impact they still have had it not been for JR’s words granting them credibility. His work (which has been consistently top-notch every time he’s provided commentary) has turned wrestlers from great to legendary. When I think of The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Jericho – I hear JR. As corny as it sounds, he made me believe I was watching history being made. No other commentator has had that impact for me, so that’s why I feel he’s the best.
And he’s a company man in the best possible way. From being released as announcer (due to health reasons) to people emailing him his thoughts on what they perceive as stupid things happening on Raw or SmackDown – the man stands by WWE with his full support. I was aggravated that they took his voice out of the opening promo for WWE (his voice deserves to still be a part of that), but he seemed to take it in stride. Jim Ross never ceases to be a class act.
And far be it from me to tell anyone what they should do, but I would recommend to those readers planning on emailing JR – asking him when he’s returning to the booth – to maybe email him with a “thank you for all the years of amazing work” instead. As much as I would love for him to come back home to Raw behind the table on a full-time basis, I just don’t think that’s in the cards. Whether it’s due to health concerns, or just wanting a changing of the guards, I think he’s not going to reclaim his (rightful) spot. Do I see him announcing occasionally (maybe even for WrestleMania)? Yes. However, I don’t think he’ll fully come back.
Let’s fast forward to present day.
In TNA, we have Tazz and Mike Tenay. As great of a wrestler as Tazz was, his real gift is commentating. I’ve enjoyed his announcing personality since he retired the onesie. Like I said previously, I used to love Tenay on WCW with his endless supply of knowledge and real love for sports wrestletainment (you can use that word I made up, but every time you do you have to send me $1). That said, something is off with their collaborative effort on Impact. I can’t quite place it. Maybe they don’t have great chemistry together, or maybe it’s how their words are trying to make sense of the stupid and/or illogical stories being told currently on TNA. Anyone know what I’m talking about, or have an idea why they haven’t gelled?
This brings me to why I named this column what I did. Something is happening in both TNA and WWE that I don’t like – when the announcers get physically involved in the story. TNA had that months back when Jeff Jarrett was beating down a wrestler to the point where Tazz stepped out of the booth and stopped Jarrett saying he went too far. I’m sure Tazz was more than happy to be put in that situation, but it has little appeal to the viewer, and it’s just…well…lame and illogical.
Ok, I would like to take this time to give a side note addressed to wrestling promotions: If you book a situation where a wrestler “goes overboard” dealing out punishment – decide if you will have officials come out or if you will just let this go on until they stop – but don’t do both. We understand that what we are watching isn’t really real, but like any other TV show/movie, you have to follow the rules you’ve created in your world. If you don’t follow those rules in your created reality, it takes us (the viewers) out of the experience. One of the reasons the Friday the 13th movies are so inferior to other slasher flicks is because they refuse to follow the logic in the world they created.
When Tazz came out to stop Jeff, it completely took the viewer (or at least it did for me) out of the story being told. I went from thinking “man, he’s being brutal” when he Jeff was beating the guy down to “well, I guess that was scripted” when Tazz came out. In a way, it could potentially weaken the point Jeff was trying to make – since had he really been a threat, officials would come out to pull him away (like they’ve done for other incidents). But nope, he is stopped in his tracks by someone two inches shorter. That doesn’t really make him more intimidating than before.
And for the love of Ray J, can Jeff please retire the guitar smashing?? Every time I think he’s done doing that, he brings it back! At this point, I think the only thing that will end the tired gimmick is if he gets sued for diminishing the rainforest.
Now let’s look at WWE. I actually think their announcing personnel has some strong players, but they need to find the right balance. I personally wasn’t a fan of the Lawler/Cole/Striker commentary on the Pay-Per-Views. Nothing against any of the guys, but there rarely was cohesion. Lawler is notorious for one-liners, and JR was amazing at improv in the sense that – without skipping a beat – he could take those random comments and use them to enhance the story. I love Lawler, but JR made him look even better.
Now-a-days when Lawler states random comments, no one builds off of it; his corny puns (which he is notorious for since the PG rating) become what I call a “dad joke” – where your dad says some cheesy pun with the facial expression saying he thinks it’s hilarious, but the only laughs he gets are awkward ones. This is exactly what’s happened since JR left. His corny jokes are followed by awkward silence.
I know a lot of people do this, but I’m not going to bag on Matt Striker. I don’t think it is his talent level’s fault he wasn’t working out in the booth – I believe it was more the failure of how they positioned him. Without a doubt, the Powers-That-Be wanted for WWE what Joe Rogan is for UFC. They have a similar look and sound – and Rogan is brilliant when it comes to calling out the technical aspect of fights. While his co-host announces who is winning the fight, Rogan fills in the “why” aspect to the victory. WWE wanted to try that concept out at the booth, so they got Striker to point out the “why” of successful moves and holds.
My problem with applying this concept for wrestling is that the more specific he got on what muscles were being affected by the hold (and the injury that could result from it), the more I was reminded that what I’m watching isn’t 100% real. This problem brings me back to ECW in the 90’s. There would be these absolutely insane moves that would just make your mouth drop … only to be occasionally ruined by the commentator over-selling what just happened. One match had a wrestler being thrown out of the ring and through a table; the announcer yelled: “OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!! HE COULD HAVE BEEN DECAPITATED!!!!!” Rent “The Rise and Fall of ECW” and you’ll see what I’m referring to.
So this is why I feel the concept – not the actual individual – of Striker is what doesn’t really work. Hopefully they can refresh his character, because I would hate to see such great talent be thrown aside.
I actually like Josh Matthews and Todd Grisham. I think they are hard workers, enthusiastic, and hopefully have a long future with the company. One thing that’s held them back somewhat is they don’t have distinctive characters – so they don’t always stand out. What they need to do is concentrate on learning to tell a story, and being able to incorporate off-the-cuff comments made by their announcing teammates into the narrative. If they do that, I have no doubt their future with WWE will be secure.
The last thing I read had Booker T and Josh Matthews providing commentary for the majority of WrestleMania. I’m both nervous and excited to see how they do. That’s a lot of pressure to step in that role for the first time on the grand stage; but I think they’ll do well. I’ve always liked Booker – that is, when he wasn’t doing the stupid King Booker or saying “Sucka” (as a child of the 80’s, that word will always belong to Mr. T) – and found both his wrestling and promos to be impressive. I think he’ll be a great announcer for WWE.
And then there was Michael Cole. This guy has gone from working his butt off trying to prove himself, getting massive heat from fans, to finally embracing and utilizing the WWE Universe’s scorn. Personally, I think he has a great voice for commentating – but I find his storytelling lacking. Sometimes, I’ve felt like storytelling has gotten confused with repeating the wrestler’s gimmick. For example, I noticed in the last three PPVs of 2010 – whenever Orton would mount his final assault – Cole would call him The Viper and say, “He hears voices in his head!!” That pulls me into the importance of the match just as much as it would for a Cena match if Cole yells “Did you see that? He knocked his shell off!!” You see, Cole, there’s a difference between telling a story and saying lyrics from their entrance music.
Like I said, I do love Lawler. I’m very happy that he gets to have a match at WrestleMania. However, I hope once that is done we can finally reestablish the wall between wrestlers and announcers. First with The Miz fighting with Lawler – and now Lawler and Cole fighting – the actual matches seem to lose their importance. Cole getting all this heat and attention (and spectacle with his Popemobile-esque booth) is devaluing the wrestlers in the ring, and the significance to their feuds.
Before the Twitter incident, I didn’t think the Lawler/Cole feud was going to end at WrestleMania. Since so much heat is generating on this angle – even though it’s at a boiling point – I could see WWE trying to milk this until SummerSlam. Maybe Cole wins due to interference, and for the next few months continues to mock The King for losing; then at SummerSlam, Lawler ensures no one can disrupt the match and just destroys Cole. However, Cole’s tweet provides creative a great opportunity. With this, they could have Lawler win and Cole gets banned from Raw for a few months. During that time Cole can have those tolerance sessions where he learns that, hey, words hurt. Then he returns a humble man a few months later.
I wanted to also address his tweet. Listen, I’m not shocked that he made an off-color comment to a close friend. While I personally think that “F” word is an ugly one, it is a common practice in our society for bromantic friendships to jokingly refer to each other using inappropriate language. It isn’t Politically Correct, but the world isn’t PC. What I am shocked about is – in all the years that Michael Cole has been in the public eye – he never learned not only the difference between public and private conversations, but also the fact that when you put something online it’s out there in broad daylight forever. You can delete or remove content as much as you want, but it can always be unearthed. I’m just so surprised he didn’t even consider the fact that his comment could be seen by others. There’s no way he thought that word was totally harmless. Dude, did you think you were sending a text?
I want announcers to announce, and wrestlers to wrestle. I think both promotions have the tools to successfully narrate a story, but they aren’t there quite yet.
Noah James is a professional actor, published author, humanitarian, and (at times) a snazzy dresser. He also has an entertainment website at iamnoahjames.com. He can be emailed constructive compliments or hurtful words at [email protected]