Earlier this week, Seth Rollins shocked the world when he turned his back on his brethren in The Shield and unleashed the chair shots heard ’round the wrestling universe.
The audience at home, and thousands in attendance sat in stunned silence as Rollins delivered repeated chair shots across the back of Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. The only people not sitting in silence were the three people who really should have been the quietest — the Raw announce team of Michael Cole, Jerry “The King” Lawler and John Bradshaw Layfield.
Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in the 1988 World Series is one the biggest moments in World Series, possibly even baseball, history. Vin Scully, the greatest baseball announcer of all time and the Dodgers announcer, was calling the game for a National Television audience. An estimated 36 million people, 62 million sets of ears and eyeballs tuned in to watch a hobbled Gibson homer off Dennis Eckersley, the almost untouchable A’s closer.
Gibson’s shot sails over the right field fence, Scully makes the call that the ball is gone, and as the Dodgers’ slugger shuffles around the bases… Scully says nothing. After Gibson triumphantly thumps home plate with his cleats, Scully says nothing. As the Dodgers’ roster devours Gibson and showers him with screams, vicious helmet taps and aggressive hugs, Scully says nothing. Scully goes almost a full minute without uttering even a single word as an audience of millions visually ingests the moment.
Scully stayed quiet because as a veteran broadcaster he realized the actions would speak way louder than his words.
Rewatching the footage of The Shield heel turn more than a few times, since the moment was so huge, it becomes obvious how perfectly executed it was by Rollins, Reigns, Ambrose and Evolution standing outside the ring. But each viewing makes it more obvious to fans that the Raw announce team is ruining the TV product.
Rollins’ first chair shot to the massive back of Roman Reigns is muffled by Michael Cole’s boyish scream of “Oh my god!” Cole’s vocals land before the chair does. Seconds later, right in the middle of another shot to the gut of Dean Ambrose and The Shield’s alliance, Jerry Lawler asks in a befuddled tone “what just happened?” sounding more like he wasn’t paying attention to the action in ring. Almost as if he was doing a Sudoku puzzle when Rollins delivered his first evil blow.
Cole ads insult to the in-ring injuries by telling the fans at home exactly what they’re watching on their TV screen. “Rollins just hit Ambrose with a chair!” for all of those watching television blindfolded or for The King’s benefit because he’s now leafing through the newspaper funnies and giggling at a Nancy. Wanting to chime in, because the WWE pays him a substantial amount to do so, JBL injects with the most obvious question of “They were on top of the world, why would Rollins want to do this?” which seems like more of a question for the WWE creative team than the viewing audience. Yes, why do this? But that’s a topic for another time.
The biggest moment on Raw in the last few years, not involving a children’s choir, and the Raw announce team is verbally defecating on the amazing performance in the ring. This isn’t an isolated incident. It’s a recurring problem, week after week, segment after segment. The issue with the WWE Raw announce team is threefold.
Just sell, don’t tell
Announcing any sporting event is an unenviable and arduous task. Few people like really appreciate the work that goes into the job but they’re quick to point out when an announcer or play-by-play guy ruins the on-field product. Hell, I’m analyzing it right now. Ask any fan, of any NFL team, their thoughts on Joe Buck. Ask any baseball fan the same question. Probably not going to get a nice response. Most NBA fans didn’t like Reggie Miller as a player and really can’t stomach him as a color guy. These guys are good at their job, but sometimes, it’s going to piss some people off. Especially the people on the losing end of the game.
There is one advantage that wrestling announcers have over the men and women adding color and descriptions to professional sports — the WWE Raw announcers know the outcome. Even if they don’t know the exact script, since it changes so frequently, they’ve got to have a strong idea of how each segment is going to play out. I don’t imagine WWE Creative booking a moment as huge as a Rollins’ heel turn without going “Hey guys, just a heads up, this major thing will happen.”
Wrestling announcers have one job — selling to fans. Announcers are supposed to sell viewers on a wrestler, angle or match. Michael Cole is supposed to sell fans on the fact that he got word from the back that Stephanie McMahon is in the building and she’s angry. JBL is supposed to sell fans that in all his years in the business, he’s never seen a man physically dominate other men the way Rusev does. Jerry Lawler is supposed to sell fans on the idea that his sequenced Ed Hardy knockoff shirts are still all the rage and that every Triple H sledgehammer shot could end a career.
If the Raw announce team got paid based on these sales, they’d all be flat broke. They don’t sell. They just tell.
In the words of a legend, ‘know your role’
In my opinion, there has been no better announcing team in wrestling history than Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon. Monsoon was the consummate straight man, a former ring veteran who called the action and kept the fans informed of wrestler names, in-ring tendencies, maneuver names and any other important back story to move along an angle.
Heenan was the evil, yet hilarious, heel. Heenan was the guy that’ll pat a guy on the back before sticking his most heinous henchman on him just because he didn’t like the look on his face. Heenan poked fun at the wrestlers, the fans and even Monsoon. No person or topic was off limits when it came to the sharp tongue and cutting remarks of “The Brain.”
The agendas of both announcers were clear — Monsoon was the voice of the people and all the baby face heels those people paid money to cheer. Heenan spoke for the villains. As soon a wrestler made his way to the ring, it was obvious who each man was going to back.
Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler and JBL have no real persona. Cole is the lead announcer. He’s got one job — call the action. He knows how to do it, he just needs to do it. We will cut Cole some slack since he’s probably got little time to comprehend what’s going on the ring since he’s too busy reading promo after promo for the flailing WWE Network or replaying highlight packages of what fans just missed on Raw — even though it happened two minutes earlier. Cole needs to quit with the banter and stick with the who, what, where, and whys of the story.
Lawler who might be the easiest of the three to fix. The former Raw announce team of Jim Ross and Lawler were made in the Monsoon and Heenan mold. The pair did their best work during the Attitude Era. Ross called the action brilliantly while the early days of The King in the announce booth were spent cutting down any baby face who dared step foot in the ring against the always superior heel. Lawler even sided with all of the most evil moments of WWE head Mr. McMahon. Lawler could be just as evilly hilarious as Heenan, except the long time wrestling champion could back it up in the ring should any superstar take offense to his remarks. This new softer, gentler, almost lost version of Lawler is hard to stomach, but unlike the third member of the announce team, he’s slightly more digestible to the Raw audience.
JBL brings nothing to the Monday Night Raw show. Nothing. He tries to play the heel role, but he slips in and out, and often times sounds like he almost forgets he’s supposed to be hated by fans. Take the Rollins turn as an example. The first words from the mouth of the former heel champion should have been something like “Good! Good! Give it to them Seth! Make them pay!” even if he really wasn’t sure why the turn was happening in the first place. It would have been like a “welcome to our side now” even though Rollins really didn’t need any extra heat. JBL needs to bring the meanness from his days as World Heavyweight Champion on Smackdown to the broadcast booth if he’s going to continue to be a part of the TV product.
Two is fine, three is too much
Sometimes, it’s just a numbers game. Just like too many cooks spoil the broth, too many voices, fighting for dead air, spoil the action.
There really is no need for three announcers on Raw. It leads to too much talking for the sake of talking, uninteresting points or anecdotes, and sometimes just dumb comments. Each man fighting to make a sound over one another.
Two men in a booth is the winning formula. Especially if each man knows his specific role. It should sound like two fans watching an event who were lucky enough to get microphones to let their voices be heard.
It will be interesting to see how the angle between Evolution and The Shield plays out. Rollins will have to explain his action this Monday night on Raw. Hopefully he’s the only voice coming through the TV screen when it happens.
Chris Illuminati is the lead wrestling writer for Guyism.com. If you want to talk to Chris, email him at cilluminati[@]guyism.com or follow him on Twitter.