One of the most important things in a wrestling promotion are the commentators. They are often the unseen ring generals. They not only share the match’s commentary with the fans, but they are also tasked with making sure the matches come off without a hitch, or as close to that as possible.
They have ways of getting the wrestlers and referee’s attention to get them to slow things down, speed it up, or keep them in line with what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s a pretty ingenious and intricate system of checks and balances that exist to keep us entertained.
This is why we’ll often see some old school commentators with newer ones. They bring a balance between old school methodology and new school ideas through various ways.
The most obvious is their communication with the fans in the arena and at home. It’s a difficult job, like finding the perfect group of actors or athletes that gel and have good chemistry as well as charisma. The better they perform together can erase any individual mistakes they may make. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we’ll come across some that are as or more entertaining that the wrestlers.
Commentators as characters
Anyone remember their favorite commentator or one-liner they ever heard?
The first tandem I heard when I first started watching was Vince McMahon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura on Saturday Night’s Main Event. They’d bicker back and forth with McMahon being the play-by=play and face commentator, and Ventura as the color and heel part.
Say what you want about Jesse Ventura, but he was a character. He played the part perfectly whether he was with McMahon, Gorilla Monsoon, “Mean” Gene Okerlund, or any one else. Another character we all love and remember was Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Heenan brought a whole new cerebra style that insulted fans while Ventura’s was based more on arguing with McMahon or Monsoon.
In the 1990s, we were blessed once again with a couple of greats in Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler. As exciting as JR could make a match with his play-by-play, Lawler’s over the top goofiness played perfectly during the Attitude Era. He’d throw out insults that were as carefully worded as Heenan’s, but instead of getting boos he’d often be greeted with cheers.
These were commentators that raised the bar in their profession and became true characters.
Time stops for no one
The biggest issue with these legends is they grew old. Their replacements have, forgive me for putting it so bluntly, been horrible more times than not.
Most sound like they’re reading their script in an elevator. There’s no believability or reason to care who’s speaking or why. It’s like they’re trying so hard to please their boss, they’re afraid to have fun. Say the wrong thing, get fired. Don’t say the right thing, get fired. Throw your hands up and give a phoned in performance you keep your job.
The truth is we need more commentators as characters like Lawyer, Heenan, and Ventura. If we don’t agree, great! That’s part of what makes it so much fun. It gives us an interest in seeing what’s going to come next, what can they possibly say or do that’ll make us laugh and boo them at the same time?
One way to look at it is we’ll always remember the Heenans, Venturas, Lawlers, and Heymans. We won’t remember the ones that sound like they’re reading stereo instructions.