As we revisit the “golden eras” of wrestling and wonder, why does the current product not feel as special? The answer could be that it might not be the product in the ring, but in fact the product behind the announce desk.
The feeling that WWE announcing has felt inferior compared to the iconic duos of the past has been building for some time, but at WWE Hell in a Cell, my hypothesis was confirmed. While ordinary matches do not need over the top commentary, specialty matches with high risk spots and vicious bumps call for the hyperbolic shouts.
Both Hell in a Cell matches this past Sunday were memorable and should be talked about for years to come. The fact that I do not have the memorable sound bites from the matches is where the problem begins though.
Before I go on criticizing WWE’s announcers, I would like to point out that I thought Corey Graves did a tremendous job and is far and away the best the company has to offer right now. Graves pointing out of the botched foot on the rope two count during the main event added legitimacy to the situation and avoided the usual Internet mocking.
Another credit to Graves was how he elevated the anxiety of fans watching at home when Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon performed several maneuvers to each other on top of the cell. That is what a commentator is expected to do, verbally communicate the emotion of the match.
Unfortunately Tom Philips was unable to connect with most big moments last night. Following a Frog Splash from Owens to McMahon, Phillips said, “Could this be it?” The same move that capped off a vicious assault on Vince McMahon, and even the main play-by-play announcer was not convinced it would be enough.
Fans who have watched enough wrestling would know that a Frog Splash in a Hell in a Cell match most likely would not get the job done, but it is the announcers job to play along with the story. McMahon surviving a signature Owens’ move to the shock of the announcers, builds the story as the match continues and the spots get bigger.
My issues with WWE play-by-play announcers do not stop with Phillips – another guilty party would be Michael Cole. While he was not on the Hell in a Cell broadcast because he is a Raw announcer, he is another play-by-play commentator that is guilty of communicating the emotion of a match.
While Cole is solid and knows when to increase the volume of his voice, he does have a safe working style. Think about it, how many audio cuts of Cole are truly memorable?
The problem is Cole does not take chances like Jim Ross. Yes, I am comparing him to perhaps the best, but Ross didn’t always hit it out of the park with his over the top style. That said, the style that Ross brought is what made certain matches even more memorable.
If you watch the video below, take notice of how Ross sets up the big moment to where Mankind is thrown off the cell through the table. Anxiety is building in Ross’ voice in the moments that lead to the big spot, which then adds legitimacy to his over the top reaction.
Ross did not just make us think that Mankind died multiple times in Hell in a Cell, he did not just make us root that much more for Stone Cold with his excitement for the Texas Rattlesnake, he also made us despise top heels like Triple H. While there may never be another announcer that can mimic what Ross did during the Attitude Era, it is some of his qualities that made him successful that should be looked for in future commentators.
Mauro Ranallo is an announcer who has some of those qualities. While his pop culture references do not always land, he takes chances, and when he succeeds Ranallo elevates the moment.
While the rest of the announce teams on both Raw and SmackDown just blend in, it might be time to start looking for a play-by-play commentator who can elevate the current talent. As a fan of football and hockey, it becomes very clear how important a game is by who is chosen for the national broadcast.
Right now WWE has their Troy Aikman (I know not a popular reference) in Corey Graves, but they need to find their Joe Buck.