It’s tough being an announcer for World Wrestling Entertainment because it’s unlike any other form of entertainment on television. When you watch a sporting event, you are used to hearing the play by play announcer calling the action on the screen while the analyst tries to makes sense of things for the viewer. When you watch a WWE show, the announcers are encouraged to try to tell stories while they are calling the action, so it leads to a lot of frustration for the viewer.
One of the biggest complaints that WWE fans have about the announcers is that they don’t call the moves. Instead of calling a suplex or a body slam by that name, lead WWE play by play man Michael Cole might yell out an “ooohhh” instead of saying the name of the move because that’s what he is encouraged to do. They are told to react to what they see rather than constantly telling the audience what is going on. Could you imagine watching an NBA game as Marv Albert breaks away from calling the action in order to read some tweets by a player while a game was going on? It wouldn’t make sense, but in WWE that’s what they do.
When Cole was interviewed by Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch this past March, he explained the complexity of his job:
“People think I sit down in a chair and I look at the ring and say, ‘Okay there are two guys fighting and this is what they are doing’ and call the match. That is, and I swear to God, so far from the truth. I sit down and in my headset when I am calling Monday Night Raw for three hours, I have my executive producer, I hear my audio technician, I hear whoever is producing us backstage whether it is [WWE Chairman and CEO] Mr. [Vince] McMahon or Triple H or whoever it may be at the time. I also have two guys I have to listen to that I am working with so we can have a conversation on the air. So at any given time I have my voice, the two guys at ring side, audio, the executive producer and whoever is producing that night. So I sometimes have six voices in my head at once while we are on the air on live television. While that is going on, someone might say that the number one trend in the world on Twitter is this and we have to hit on it. I am a traffic cop.”
Another example of the difficulties of the job involves WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley. He did a really good job as an announcer on the Smackdown brand in 2008, but he only lasted about five months because he got sick of McMahon yelling at him on his headset. If a legend like Foley is getting yelled at then it shows that even if you have a history in the business, McMahon will make life difficult for you.
The reason fans tune in to WWE is to be entertained in a way that is an escape from reality. It’s an action adventure soap opera that isn’t trying to hide what they are anymore. The problem is that WWE overproduces the announcers to the point that they are annoying a lot of the time, so much so that it hurts the quality of the broadcast.
Ranking WWE’s Current Group Of Announcers
The three main WWE shows (Raw, Smackdown and NXT) have three man booths for all the shows. Jim Ross, who is a WWE Hall of Famer that is arguably the best announcer in company history, has said many times that it’s easier with just two men. Obviously WWE disagrees since they go with three man teams for those shows as well as their monthly Pay-Per-View specials. Let’s take a look at who WWE currently employs as announcers and who is the best of the bunch.
7. Jerry Lawler (Smackdown, PPV)
With all due respect to The King, he is well past his prime as an announcer and probably should have retired a few years ago. From the time he started in the role in the mid 1990s until the early 2000s he was probably the second best color commentator ever after Bobby Heenan. He always sided with the heels, he made a lot of funny comments and was a natural when it came to arguing with Ross.
Lawler’s 66 years old and is a lot less funny than he used to. Plus, it’s so awkward listening to him supporting the babyface wrestlers. He rarely says anything insightful anymore. It’s easy to understand why McMahon likes him because he’s been in that chair for over 20 years, but at this stage in his career, Lawler isn’t going to bring in the younger viewers.
6. Byron Saxton (Raw, NXT, PPV Kickoff Show)
Give Byron Saxton some credit for making it to his spot as a color commentator on Raw because he has done a number of different jobs in WWE from wrestler to backstage interviewer prior to this. The problem with Saxton is he’s boring. He never says anything that is really that funny or controversial, so what role does he serve?
It’s reached a point now where if Saxton wasn’t on Raw or NXT, most fans wouldn’t even notice because he barely contributes anything worthwhile when he’s there. Clearly WWE has high hopes for him since he’s doing commentary on Raw. I just don’t think he’s the right guy to be sitting in that chair.
5. Booker T (Smackdown, PPV Kickoff Show)
Booker’s role as a color commentator changed in 2015 after being promoted to Raw. When WWE brought back the Tough Enough show this summer, Booker was a coach and removed from Raw. After Tough Enough ended, they moved him to Smackdown without an explanation. Most people thought he’d stay on Raw, so it was a surprise when they put Saxton in his spot.
What Booker brings to the table is experience as a guy that’s been in the business for about 30 years, has been a World Champion and has always been very charismatic. Credibility helps wrestling announcers and he has it as well as a connection with the audience since he was one of the most popular wrestlers of his era. Putting him back on Raw would be better than having Saxton in that spot.
4. Michael Cole (Raw, PPV)
Michael Cole has been in WWE for nearly 20 years. In the past decade, he has gone from Smackdown announcer to the voice of the company. He’s the announcer that McMahon trusts the most, but he’s also the guy that fans hate the most.
A big reason for the hate is because he replaced the beloved Jim Ross as the lead announcer in WWE. It’s not easy following a legend in any job and Cole isn’t the same type of announcer as Ross. It would be easier if he was able to call the moves the way a traditional announcer does. When he gets to focus on a big match with a lot on the line, he’s great at it. The problem is that all of those great moments are forgotten because he’s the one that has to repeatedly promote things like the WWE Network or WWE App, which annoys the audience. Is that his fault or his producers? He’s just doing what he is told.
Cole is not bad at his job. Anybody that thinks that is being unfair. He’s in a tough spot between what his boss wants and what the people want. It’s a no win situation in a lot of ways, but he deserves a lot of credit for how far he’s come in his career as well as his longevity. At 47 years of age, he could be the “voice of WWE” for another decade if he wants to be.
3. Rich Brennan (NXT, Smackdown)
The new kid on the block, Brennan has done so well as NXT’s main play by play guy in the last couple of years that he was promoted to Smackdown in August 2015. After four months on Smackdown, he’s been removed from his chair, but it’s not really his fault – WWE just wanted the more accomplished Mauro Ranallo in the role. (More on him later.)
As the main voice of NXT, he’s allowed to call the moves in the match because NXT isn’t produced by Vince McMahon. They treat it more like a sports broadcast, which must be very refreshing for the announcers. When he’s calling NXT matches he’s able to show how much he cares about the business. He’s doing a great job on NXT and likely will remain in that chair for the long term. Since it’s WWE’s best show right now, it’s not a bad place to be.
2. John Bradshaw Layfield (Raw, PPV)
As the main heel color commentator on both Raw and PPV broadcasts, JBL is one of WWE’s most valuable commentators. It’s his job to really push the storylines in a way that’s the opposite of everybody else. If the others are calling Triple H a jerk for how he treats somebody, JBL has to explain it from the heel point of view. He’s a natural heel that translates well as an announcer after an in-ring career that will land him in WWE’s Hall of Fame possibly in 2016.
There are some fans that really don’t like JBL because he tends to ramble on too much or rely on the same tired phrases every time he sees somebody. Kevin Owens is always going to be called a “prizefighter” while John Cena’s nickname is the “Big Match John” moniker that we here in nearly every match whether it’s big or not. It’s annoying at time, but in WWE they are all about buzzwords like that.
While JBL isn’t at the same level as Bobby Heenan or Jerry Lawler as heel commentators who really stood out, part of it is because of the booking. There just aren’t a lot of great heels in WWE right now. I get the sense that if the business gets hot again, JBL will thrive because he has all the tools needed to be an incredible heel announcer. He just needs a better show to talk about.
1. Corey Graves (NXT, Raw Pre-Show, PPV Kickoff Show)
The best announcer in WWE is Corey Graves, who is a former NXT wrestler that was forced to retire at 30 years of age due to a series of concussions. In his new career as a color commentator, he has become a breath of fresh air that mostly supports the heel wrestlers on the NXT brand. Most importantly, he always sounds like he has something interesting to say and does an excellent job during big matches too.
He’s so good that Paul Heyman praised him heavily this past August: “Corey gets the whole roster over and that’s the key. The job that he’s doing is so phenomenal that sooner than later, we’re going to say that Joe Rogan is the Corey Graves of UFC.”
Graves should stay on NXT because it’s WWE’s best show and he belongs there, but he should also be a color commentator on Raw as well as PPV events. He’s a natural in that role even though his in-ring career wasn’t as successful as his peers.
Rising Star: The New Voice of Smackdown Mauro Ranallo
The addition of Mauro Ranallo to WWE’s announce team as the main play by play guy on Smackdown starting on Thursday, January 7th was a move met by applause from WWE fans. They hired Ranallo because Smackdown is moving to USA Network on that date and they figured it was time to bring in some new blood.
Ranallo’s a Canadian that grew up wanting to be a wrestling announcer. He was calling wrestling matches for Stampede Wrestling about 15 years ago, but ended up really breaking through as a Mixed Martial Arts and boxing announcer. He was also excellent at calling New Japan matches for AXS TV in the last couple of years. When WWE came calling a few months ago (Ranallo said that Cole initiated the talks), he was happy to say yes because he has always wanted to work for WWE.
Ranallo has credibility with the audience due to his success in other genres and he’s got the passion inside of him because he has loved professional wrestling all his life. When he gets excited calling a high spot it’s not going to feel like some guy being told to be excited – it will be genuine. That goes a long way with the audience.
While he may have to take some time adjusting to WWE’s style of announcing, the guess here is that Ranallo will be WWE’s best announcer in 2016. Long term, he would be the best choice to be the main announcer on Raw as well as PPV broadcasts.
The Rest Of The Announce Team
Here are some notes on some other key members of WWE’s announce team, some of whom appear on television regularly while others aren’t featured very often. In addition to WWE’s three main shows, they also air Main Event and Superstars on WWE Network with announce teams that change all the time.
Renee Young – What a breath of fresh air Renee is to the announce team. They really needed a female presence a few years ago, so when they hired her from The Score (now Sportsnet) from my country of Canada I was so happy. Not only does she have a background in sports, but she’s also done improv comedy. That’s the right mix for a “sports entertainment” company like WWE. They should consider putting her on Smackdown commentary with Ranallo because it would be a fresh perspective on things and they would be great together along with somebody like Booker T. She has such a bright future in WWE if she wants to be there long term. Don’t be surprised if ESPN has an interest in her sooner rather than later.
Scott Stanford – He may have the best voice of any announcer in WWE. Stanford works as a sportscaster in New York when he’s not working for WWE. I’ve seen him as a host at WWE Axxess events during WrestleMania as well and he’s such a charismatic guy with a great personality. He would thrive if he was given a larger role.
David Otunga – Remember him as a wrestler? He was never that good in the ring, so he’s found a new role as a commentator on WWE’s Raw pre-show. The real life attorney is a gifted talker and fits well in that spot. It wouldn’t shock me if WWE promoted him to a spot as a commentator on Raw or Smackdown within the next year or two.
Kyle Edwards – Along with Ranallo and Young, he worked for the Right After Wrestling show in Canada. He hasn’t been used that much on television yet, but I know for a fact that he’s like an encyclopedia when it comes to WWE knowledge. Edwards will succeed at anything WWE gives him. He has a chance to be a big star in the long term as well.
Tom Phillips – Unfortunately for him, he was demoted as a Smackdown announcer this year and is working mainly as a backstage interviewer. This past week on Raw, he was slapped repeatedly by Stephanie McMahon as the show came to a close. It hasn’t been a great year for him in terms of his position in the company.
Greg Hamilton – He works mainly on the NXT brand as something of a “hype man” for the live crowd in addition to working as a ring announcer. As somebody that has been at NXT tapings, I can confirm that he’s great as his job and is another young announcer with a bright future.
Lilian Garcia – She’s the long time ring announcer usually on Raw, but sometimes on Smackdown. Also does a fantastic job of singing the national them.
Eden Stiles – Along with Garcia, she does the ring announcing on the television shows as well as live events. She’s also married to Stardust (Cody Rhodes).
Jojo – Originally signed for the reality show Total Divas three years ago, she’s mainly a backstage interviewer and ring announcer.
Dasha Fuentes – She’s currently a ring announcer and backstage interviewer in NXT. She’s a gorgeous woman that could be on the main roster soon because she keeps improving.
That’s 18 people counting Ranallo, who hasn’t debuted yet. It just shows that the professional wrestling business (or sports entertainment as WWE calls it) isn’t limited to just the people inside the ring. They have a deep roster of talent calling the action as well as serving other roles in the company.
What should WWE do for their announce teams on Raw and Smackdown?
For Raw I’d put the team as Cole, JBL and Graves. In JBL they have the older, veteran wrestler that can be a heel. Graves has been a heel announcer at times on NXT, but he would be fine as a regular analyst as well.
For Smackdown the team should be Ranallo with Renee Young and Booker T. Young adds the female perspective as well as more of an appeal to the younger audience.
The role of the announcer is very important. It is often times a thankless job, yet so essential to the quality of a wrestling broadcast. Could the commentary be better as a whole? Absolutely, but they are on the right track in terms of personnel. It’s just a matter of some of the production to improve along the way as well.