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Heel Turns: In need of better broadcasters

Posted by Achilles Heel On August 11

Achilles HeelEveryone loves to complain about wrestling broadcasters. Perhaps that’s because everyone thinks they can do that job.

Only the truly delusional fans – and there is a significant segment of them – think they can be professional wrestlers. But a large percentage probably think they could be good broadcasters. But being a good broadcaster is much more difficult that it appears. And it’s also more important than many people realize.

The broadcaster’s job is to describe the action, inform the audience of the storylines and get the talent “over” with the fans. Oh, yeah. You also have to be entertaining while not stepping on the toes of your broadcast partners. All of that has to be done while listening to instructions coming through your head set and, in the case of WWE’s live shows, making sure you hit your cues for commercial breaks, video clips and backstage interviews.

One of WWE’s problems is it doesn’t have a truly great broadcaster on its flagship shows. Given that I just described how difficult it is to be a broadcaster, it may seem hypocritical for the Greek God of Wrestling to criticize the broadcasters, but my critique reflects how important I think the broadcasters are to the promotion.

A few years ago, Achilles Heel listed his top 10 broadcasters, with Jim Ross and Gordon Solie occupying the top two spots. Even though broadcasters from territories I did not hear regularly were omitted – some were placed in honorable mention – it would be difficult to argue that anyone from WWE, Global Force Wrestling or Ring of Honor today belongs in the top 10.

If we use the terms we use for wrestlers, none of the current broadcasters are above the upper mid-card. None of them are main eventers.There isn’t a Ross or Solie among the current lead broadcasters. There isn’t a Bobby Heenan or Jesse Ventura among the analysts.

WWE’s “play-by-play” broadcasters on Raw and Smackdown are far from great. Michael Cole probably takes too much crap from fans, partly because he took over from Ross as the lead broadcaster on Raw, so the Greek God of Wrestling is hesitant to pile on. Cole is good at his job. But he’s not great. And he’s certainly not exceptional.

Booker T has improved significantly since his last stint as an analyst. Achilles Heel was a big fan of Booker T as a wrestler, but not as a broadcaster. Although he’s improved dramatically – and WWE made the right decision by making Booker T’s “temporary” role as David Otunga’s fill-in a permanent move – Booker T still isn’t better than average. There are still too many occasions when it appears that Booker T starts talking without knowing exactly what he’s going to say.

The gem on Raw could be Corey Graves. He still needs something distinct to hang his hat on, so to speak, but he seems like a sharp guy and he doesn’t run off at the mouth and he doesn’t scream and yell to overhype a situation. He’s not a top guy yet, but he demonstrates the potential to get there some day.

The lead broadcaster on Smackdown is Tom Phillips. He is solid. If he were a wrestler, he would consistently produce solid matches from a technical standpoint, but his matches wouldn’t be overly exciting. But Phillips is relatively new to Smackdown, so let’s give him time.

JBL is Achilles Heel’s favorite broadcaster on Raw or Smackdown. In addition to his “old school” references, JBL is quick with a quip and provides interesting analysis. For example, during the Smackdown Tag Team Championship match between the Uso and New Day at Battleground, JBL discussed the strategy of New Day using Xavier Woods as Kofi Kingston’s partner instead of Big E. JBL returned to this strategy several times, including how it affected the Usos, who, according to JBL, prepared for the larger and more physical Big E.

Byron Saxton, the third member of the Smackdown broadcast team, adds almost nothing.

The best play-by-play broadcasters on WWE’s roster are Ross, who only does special projects, and Mauro Ranallo, who broadcasts NXT after his controversial departure from Smackdown earlier this year.

Shifting our focus to other organizations, Global Force Wrestling is in worse shape. The first question is how fans are supposed to forget that Jeremy Borash and Josh Matthews were feuding for months earlier this year? Regardless of any edict or warning from management, you can’t pretend that these guys weren’t on opposing teams at Slammiversary.

The bigger problem is that Mathews, Borash and “The Pope” D’Angelo Dinero constantly scream and yell to overhype moves. Even on moves that generate little reaction from the live audience, Borash uses a tone that should be reserved for a hurricanrana off the top of Hell in a Cell through a stack of three tables. Mathews and The Pope, who used to be much better, generally join in the exaggerated tone.

It has been difficult to judge Ring of Honor because Ian Riccaboni has had a rotating list of commentators since replacing Kevin Kelly as the promotion’s main voice, so it’s tough to develop any chemistry. The Greek God of Wrestling generally likes Colt Cabana, but Ring of Honor has returned to rotating analysts again the past few weeks.

Terrific broadcasters are essential to promoting a wrestling organization’s main asset, which is the wrestlers. Right now, though, there aren’t any Ric Flair’s, Bret Hart’s or Kurt Angle’s – or anyone even approaching superstar level – among the broadcast ranks, and that’s an underrated weakness for the major companies.

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NEW MATCHES FOR SUMMERSLAM: Four matches were added to the SummerSlam card this past week. John Cena will face Baron Corbin, Finn Balor will battle Bray Wyatt, and The New Day will defending the Smackdown Tag Team Championship against former champions Jimmy and Jey Uso. The Raw Women’s Championship match will be changed due to Bayley’s separated shoulder, with the winner of the match between Sasha Banks and Nia Jax on Raw this Monday challenging Alexa Bliss at SummerSlam.

The card is pretty full, although there is the possibility of a Raw Tag Team Championship match, with Sheamus and Cesaro defending the titles against a Shield reunion of Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. Matt and Jeff Hardy could be added to this match, as could Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Intercontinental champion Miz also does not have a match.

SummerSlam (Sun., Aug. 20) is headlined by Brock Lesnar defending the WWE Universal Championship against Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman in a fatal four-way. Shinsuke Nakamura will challenge Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship. A.J. Styles will defend the United States championship against Kevin Owens, with Shane McMahon as the special guest referee. Other matches include Natalya challenging Naomi for the Smackdown Women’s Championship, Randy Orton vs. Rusev, and Akira Tozawa challenging Neville for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship.

The Greek God of Wrestling will have a complete review of SummerSlam in next week’s Heel Turns.

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LAST-MINUTE CHANGES: The name of the company may have changed, but other things have not. Global Force Wrestling is still booking matches at the last minute, which doesn’t allow for proper buildup. Destination X, which is supposed to be one of the company’s biggest shows of the year, is next Thursday (in the Impact Wrestling time slot), but three big matches weren’t announced until one week before the show.

Alberton El Patron will defend the GFW Unified World Championship against Low Ki, the newest member of LAX. The storyline makes sense, and there’s a chance that El Patron and Low Ki could produce a terrific match, but there should be another week or two to promote the match. It was also revealed on Thursday that Gail Kim will challenge Sienna for the GFW Knockouts Championship. I’ll give GFW a pass on the Super X Cup final between Taiji Ishimori and Dezmond Xavier because the semifinals were just last week, but not on the other two matches.

The card also includes Bobby Lashley vs. Matt Sydal and Sonjay Dutt defending the X Division Championship against Trevor Lee in a ladder match. By the way, there’s also the promise of Bruce Prichard making a “major announcement that will shock GFW,” a trademark tactic of TNA.

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PHILLY IS HARDCORE: Speaking of not announcing matches until the last minute, no matches have been announced for Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore on Saturday (8 p.m.) at 2300 Arena. In addition to Dreamer, Bully Ray, Jake Hager (Jack Swagger), the Rock ‘n Roll Express and Sami Callihan are scheduled to be there.

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INJURY BUG SHORT-CIRCUITS REVIVAL: In last week’s Heel Turns, the Greek God of Wrestling touted the Revival’s chances of being the most successful tag team to emerge out of NXT. They had already overcome Dash Wilder’s broken jaw, but not they have been sidetracked by injury once again. Scott Dawson ruptured a biceps tendon, which could cause him to miss up to six months.

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HISTORY MATTERS: The Greek God of Wrestling is pleased that the history between A.J. Styles and Shane McMahon, including their excellent match at WrestleMania this year, was brought up rather than ignored on Smackdown while promoting Styles’ defense of the United States Championship – with McMahon as the guest referee – against Kevin Owens at SummerSlam.

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RESULTS-ORIENTED: In the main events from two Delaware Valley wrestling cards last Saturday, CHIKARA Grand Champion Juan Francisco de Coronado defeated Rory Gulak, and Shane Strickland retained the Combat Zone Wrestling World Championship against CZW legend Masada.

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PHILLY TICKETS: If you got shut out trying to get tickets for January’s Royal Rumble, which was an immediate sellout, you can still be part of the action by getting tickets for Raw and Smackdown at Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 29 and 30, respectively. Tickets for both events are on sale now. With the Rumble getting the most attention, there are still good seats available for both Raw and Smackdown.

Tickets for NXT Takeover: Philadelphia, which takes place the night before the Royal Rumble, will go on sale on Dec. 1.

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NXT IN BROOKLYN: A match between Johnny Gargano and Andrade “Cien” Almas has been added to NXT Takeover: Brooklyn on Aug. 19, the night before SummerSlam, at Barclays Center. Bobby Roode will defend the NXT Championship against Drew McIntyre in the main event. Other title matches include Asuka defending the NXT Women’s Championship against Ember Moon and The Authors of Pain defending the NXT Tag Team Championship against SAnitY. Both of those tag teams may eventually end up in WWE. Aleister Black will square off with Hideo Itami.

McIntyre will face Roderick Strong this week, with Strong earning a title shot if he defeats McIntyre. What incentive is there for McIntyre to win this match? Roode will obviously play a role in this match. Tune in to NXT on Wednesday (8 p.m., WWE Network) to watch the match, or you can find out what happens right here in Heel Turns.

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MEET WWE STARS: There are numerous opportunities to meet WWE superstars all over the New York metropolitan area during the week before SummerSlam. Check the WWE Web site for details.

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