Pro wrestling fans are a difficult group of people to impress, especially if you’re an outsider. In many ways, I get it. When you grow up a pro wrestling fan like I was and constantly have non-fans react to your love of wrestling with “Ew, you like pro wrestling?” and “You know wrestling is fake, right?” it’s not a surprise for those fans to grow up and have a cynical view of a pro wrestling outsider suddenly getting into a top spot within the business.
Adnan Virk became the play-by-play voice of Monday Night Raw the night after WrestleMania. Usually one of the most anticipated Raw’s of the year, the MLB Network man brought a sports broadcasting résumé that feels like a growing trend in WWE.
Like Pat McAfee on SmackDown, Virk’s hiring feels like a shift by WWE to have someone on the commentary desk who has a “legitimate” sports career. That isn’t to demean anyone for making their career solely in pro wrestling, it’s just that with McAfee and Virk, not only does WWE get to portray themselves as being on a level playing field with the NFL and MLB, those guys have the opportunity to cross-promote their WWE work toward a non-wrestling audience within their respective non-wrestling ventures. That’s a platform and an advantage that even someone as entrenched in WWE commentary as Michael Cole doesn’t even have.
Having said that, Adnan’s initial foray into WWE has been rough. After three weeks, it’s safe to say that Virk hasn’t been great. The problem is that Virk is learning pro wrestling commentary on the fly, on one of WWE’s two flagship shows, and fans are noticing so many of the missteps that someone starting out might have that it may turn those fans against Adnan before he even has a chance to be at his best in WWE. Especially given that, despite being a lifelong WWE fan, Virk is a relative “outsider” professionally.
One gaffe that lasted multiple weeks has been Virk’s need to call the Viking Raiders and their finisher “Viking Express.” If you’re doing live commentary for three hours, even the best will make a mistake at some point but he called them “Viking Express” on 4/12 and then called their finisher that multiple times on 4/19. After making the same mistake in back-to-back weeks, that wasn’t a great look for Virk and for WWE’s production staff to be able go back and limit those gaffes. Though in fairness, “Viking Express” is a way better team name.
In another instance, Virk almost missed the finish of this past Monday’s tag match between Drew McIntyre/Braun Strowman and Mace/T-Bar. McIntyre was supposed to just miss the 10 count and lose by count-out and Virk remarked that the ref was only at eight, almost expecting McIntyre to beat the count like what seems to always happen in WWE. Virk quickly corrected himself and salvaged enough of the call to make it work, but it felt like an instance of a commentator trying to assume what’s about to happen and it almost led to a colossal error.
One improvement I noticed over the three weeks is that Virk was getting much better at reacting to what he was seeing in the ring. It seemed like Vince McMahon personally got to Adnan to tell him he needed to be more excited that by the end of the third week, it almost got to be too much and Virk may need to dial that back and find a happy medium. At the same time, if Vince wants Adnan’s commentary to be over-the-top, that’s all that ultimately matters.
There has been one underlying issue about the commentary setup. Virk is paired with Corey Graves and Byron Saxton and while Graves is the heel analyst, Saxton was taking on the bulk of the play-by-play along with his role of being the babyface analyst. That’s understandable, you don’t want to just throw Virk into the deep end as he’s learning. The problem is that by spreading out Virk’s responsibilities to Saxton until he can carry an entire show as the lone play-by-play guy, it may be set in the viewers’ minds that Virk is an unneeded addition to the commentary team and Raw could just as easily work with just Saxton and Graves.
To his credit, Virk has admitted that he needed to get better on commentary. On SI’s Media Podcast, Adnan acknowledged that he thought he was “all right” and “made some mistakes” but that it’s important to improve on that going forward. Thanks to Cageside Seats for transcribing.
“I get home and I talked to my wife and she goes ‘how did it go?’ I said ‘you know, I thought I did all right. I made some mistakes. There’s certainly some stuff I’d like to get back but Corey (Graves) and Byron (Saxton) were great. I think I’ll get better. I thought this was good.’ I’ll only really get better by watching it. So then I rewatched the whole show, I watched start to finish — I haven’t yet for the second one, but I will — and said ‘okay, that was better than I thought, that was worse than I thought.’ I think whenever you make a mistake — again, you’d like to make zero mistakes, you want to bat 1.000 — but if you make a mistake don’t make the same mistake twice, just learn from it.”
Virk might be making fair and understandable rookie mistakes as he’s learning on the fly but that’s what Main Event and 205 Live is for, not Raw. Fans expect that if you’re going to be immediately pushed to Raw that you’re already a finished product and are ready to roll and that’s just not where Adnan is at right now. Is that Virk’s fault or WWE’s fault for putting him in a position to fail? Virk is a long-term project and has the potential to be great for WWE but the company may not be doing him any favors just throwing him out on Monday night for the wider pro wrestling audience to witness his shortcomings each week and form an opinion about the man that might be impossible for him to overcome.
In a way, Virk being on Raw and the fan reaction of him reminds me of when Gus Johnson tried to commentate soccer. Like Adnan, you could tell Gus was a fan and he was trying his hardest but as he was being pushed too hard and being vaulted up to calling the best games almost immediately, it soured a passionate fan base who is notoriously tough to impress and they rejected him. Pro wrestling fans are no different and after three weeks, I’m having déjà vu.
I’m rooting for Adnan Virk and I think if people stick with him, he’ll certainly get better and ultimately prove he belongs in WWE. Despite the occasional forced movie or music reference, this past Monday’s Raw was his best show of the three. At the same time, I also understand the frustration from fans who already want a change and I can’t really argue against them. One positive is that Virk will improve as he does Raw every Monday, it’s just a matter of if the fans are willing to sit through and tolerate his growing pains as he learns on the fly.