This past Thursday was the first episode of WWE Smackdown on USA Network and it was a night full of good news for World Wrestling Entertainment. On a show where both the Intercontinental and Divas Titles were up for grabs (neither title changed hands), the WWE Universe tuned in to give USA Network something to smile about.
This week’s Smackdown drew a 1.93 cable rating, which meant an audience of 2.76 million viewers. It was the most watched episode of Smackdown since the week following WrestleMania 31 last year. Obviously the move to the USA Network from Syfy played a big part in that because it’s a bigger channel, but they also made a significant change with the announcers too.
Smackdown’s New Voice Was The Right Choice
“It felt good and it felt like I’m finally home here in WWE.”
That’s how new Smackdown announcer Mauro Ranallo described his first two hour broadcast that was taped on Tuesday in Laredo, Texas and aired on Thursday on USA Network. Ranallo, who is a veteran Combat Sports announcer that WWE hired last month, called the action with Jerry Lawler and Byron Saxton.
Ranallo, who is 46, noted that it was 30 years in the making because he started calling matches as a teenager. In a post Smackdown interview with WWE.com he said this is what he’s always wanted: “Since I was five years old I’ve wanted to work with WWE as a commentator.”
What made Ranallo stand out from the other announcers in WWE is that he was allowed to call moves the way that a wrestling announcer should be able to. The way WWE produces their announcers is frustrating to viewers a lot of the time because instead of calling the moves, they are really just there to put over the storylines. They are told that it’s television not radio, so you don’t have to describe everything – just try to put it over and carry on a conversation.
Where WWE is failing with their announcers is that they are easy to tune out because of the lack of attention to detail. There are far too many moments in a match where the play by play announcer – whether it’s Michael Cole, Rich Brennan or somebody else – will react to a big move with a “OOOHHH!” instead of saying the name. Let the viewers at home react with the “OOOHHH!” while the announcers do their job by calling the move. It’s the same way that sports announcers are calling their games. Fans are used to it, so let WWE announers do the same thing.
Here are a few examples of where Ranallo shined on Smackdown:
– When Alberto Del Rio was nailing Kalisto with clotheslines in the corner, Ranallo explained that it was done to slow down the high flying masked superstar by hitting him in the trachea and making it tough to breathe. Wrestling fans have seen clotheslines in every match for decades, but to hear it explained like that is refreshing.
– After Kalisto beat Del Rio clean with a hurricanrana, Ranallo excitedly put it over as the biggest win of Kalisto’s career. That was a valid statement that the viewers at home could agree with.
– Becky Lynch is a popular diva that received a Divas Title match against former best friend Charlotte. At one point in the match, Ranallo noted that he was calling Lynch’s matches in British Columbia, Canada when she was 18. Lynch is 28 now, so that shows that Ranallo has credibility when he talks about her because he’s seen how far she’s come to get where she is. Credibility helps any announcer in any genre, even on a scripted “sports entertainment” show like WWE.
– Lynch hit several exploder suplexes in the match. It’s a move where you pick up your opponent by the leg and toss them over your head while sending them on their back. Often times, Michael Cole might call that move a “throw” or just let out a “whoa” because again, they are told to not call moves. To hear somebody call the moves by their actual names is outstanding.
– During the main event with Dean Ambrose defending the Intercontinental Title against Kevin Owens, Ranallo noted more than once that it’s a prestigious championship with over 35 years of history. The title debuted in 1979 and even though WWE did kill it for about six months in 2002/03, it’s still the second most coveted piece of hardware in WWE. Ranallo putting over the history of the title will only help fans to realize how valuable it is to the talent in the ring.
– This is a minor thing, but worth pointing out. When Ambrose went for a pinfall on Owens in their match, Ranallo described it as a “side press.” Often times an announcer might just say somebody was going for a cover. Ranallo actually going out of his way to say “side press” is impressive just because it describes it for the viewer.
– Ending the show on a high note is important. Sometimes the announcers are going to yell about whatever big thing happened to end the show while other times they might get quiet. In this case, after a wild Ambrose/Owens brawl that ended with both men going through a table, Ranallo poignantly called it “WWE’s hottest rivalry” while noting that the rivalry will continue. That’s a great way to describe it because that’s what it is and if you watched Smackdown you were probably entertained by that awesome match.
It was pretty obvious that Ranallo knew what he was talking about. The fact that he’s a lifelong fan of the product will only help him gain the respect and the trust of the television audience.
Ranallo Receives Praise From Others
Joey Styles, who was the voice of ECW as well as the play by play announcer for six months on Raw in 2006 before he fell out of favour, also took to Twitter to praise Ranallo. Styles is one the key people in running WWE.com these days.
Styles sent out another tweet saying he was a big fan of Ranallo while noting they had a similar announcing style.
Ranallo also received plenty of kind words from wrestling announcer royalty.
In a Q&A at his website, legendary WWE Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross (who many believe is the best wrestling announcer ever) praised Ranallo’s performance while also hoping to hear more of him: “Mauro is a skilled pro. Great hire by WWE. I, too, hope that he gets a shot at WrestleMania.”
In addition to those two great wrestling announcers, Ranallo has been retweeting a lot of compliments from others in WWE as well as fans of the product. He seems to be very happy in his new job.
Will he get to call a match at WrestleMania? Right now it seems unlikely for this year’s WrestleMania, but if he keeps up the great work it may be difficult to deny him. Plus, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to freshen things up by having him call a match or two on the biggest show of the year.
The “Old” Jerry Lawler Is Back
The other noteworthy item from Smackdown’s announce team was that the heel version of Jerry Lawler was back on commentary. This was another great decision from WWE’s producers because they must have realized how much he was failing as a boring, generic, babyface announcer.
Lawler is one of the best heels in the history of wrestling. When he was an active wrestler, he wasn’t really known for how many moves he did in a match or how big he was. It was all about talking smack and backing it up in the ring.
When Lawler moved over to WWE as an announcer in 1993, he took those promo skills to the announce desk and shined as the top heel announcer working with Vince McMahon and later Jim Ross. The Ross/Lawler duo is widely regarded as one of the top two announce teams ever along with Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan. In addition to siding with the heels at all times, Lawler was also hilarious and provided a lot of a laughs for the audience.
Now 66 years old, Lawler is clearly at the end of his career with only a few years left as an announcer at best. For the last decade or so, WWE turned him into a babyface announcer because of his legendary status. He’s the guy that squeals like a girl when John Cena’s music hits or always finds the actions of a heel despicable even though he did a lot of worse things in his career.
During this week’s Smackdown, Lawler was back in the heel role. A few examples of heel Lawler:
– When the underdog Kalisto beat Del Rio to open the show, Lawler said he was lucky. The face Lawler would call it a great upset, but this time he was calling him lucky. That’s “vintage Lawler” as Cole might say.
– In building up the Charlotte/Lynch match, Lawler said that Charlotte did Lynch a favor by attacking her on Raw after Lynch beat her. He supported the heel Charlotte teaching Lynch a lesson.
– Ric Flair was at ringside cheating on behalf of his daughter Charlotte and when Ranallo mentioned it, Lawler said that Flair could do whatever he wanted. A week ago, Lawler would have been screaming about it. Now he’s praising the cheap tactics. It’s such a welcome turnaround.
– When Kevin Owens made his way down to the ring for the IC Title match, Ranallo mentioned how Owens has been miserable since losing the title. A few weeks ago Lawler would have called Owens a sore loser, but now he’s praising him and saying you can’t be friends with everybody.
Lawler seems to be relishing his heel ways again because he retweeted dozens of fans praising his work on Twitter. That’s probably his way of showing fans that he appreciates the support while also noting to WWE higher ups that this is when he’s at his best.
Well, my finger is tired from hitting the retweet button. So I'm done for now. But keep telling me if you liked #SmackDown tonight!
— Jerry Lawler (@JerryLawler) January 8, 2016
Kudos to WWE for realizing that Lawler was slipping as a face announcer and putting him back in the heel role that he’s so good at.
There’s no word on if Lawler will be a heel on PPV broadcasts with Michael Cole and John Bradshaw Layfield because JBL is the main heel announcer. They should keep him as a heel on all shows, but it may be tough on PPVs with JBL already doing that shtick. We won’t know for sure until the January 24 Royal Rumble pay-per-view.
Too Much Saxton
Is there a reason why WWE has put Byron Saxton on Raw, NXT and Smackdown? While there’s nothing particularly wrong with the guy, the 34-year-old former wrestler really doesn’t do much to stand out. There must be people in WWE that are really high on him because he’s on all three of WWE’s major shows while nobody else is on more than one.
What’s also weird is that with Lawler turning heel, they really could use a veteran babyface color commentator to go against him. Booker T would have been perfect for the role, yet he was taken off Smackdown commentary and replaced by Saxton.
This isn’t a knock on Saxton at all. He’s solid as a babyface announcer that sides with the good guys all the time and does a decent job of getting the storylines over. I just don’t understand the need to put him on three shows every week. If he was on one show that’s fine and even two is tolerable, but why three? Yes it gets him a lot of experience, but it also makes him over-exposed to the point that it will do more harm than good.
They could really use a fresh voice in that chair whether it’s Renee Young or Corey Graves, who is WWE’s best announcer, that is only calling matches in NXT right now. Graves is the heel announcer there, so maybe that’s why WWE is reluctant to put him on Smackdown. Still, either of them could be better suited to be in that chair over Saxton.
Final Thoughts On WWE’s Positive Smackdown Announce Team Changes
After only one show together, it’s obvious that WWE’s Smackdown announce team in an improvement over what was there for the last several years.
Ranallo is the kind of refreshing change that WWE broadcasts need while Lawler is definitely at his best as a heel. They could use a better third man than Saxton, but as mentioned they probably want him there to get him as much experience as possible. Working with the likes of Ranallo and Lawler will help him.
As for the future, it’s going to be interesting to see what WWE does in terms of using Ranallo more. If management is high on him the way that the fans are then maybe he’ll replace Michael Cole on Raw or PPV broadcasts. The problem with that is they are around the same age while Cole was the one that reached out to bring Ranallo to WWE in the first place. It doesn’t seem like Cole hired him to be his replacement, but you never know if Cole feels like it’s time to step back a bit. If that does happen then it’s okay because the commentary team is in good hands with Ranallo working there.
If you’re a WWE fan that has cut Smackdown out of your life because Raw is enough for you, do yourself a favor and try to watch it because it’s worth your time. The announce team is certainly on the right track.