The case against Michael Cole

Hard to replace "the guy," that much is understandable. - Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The on-camera voice of WWE, much like the face of WWE, is in danger of outright rejection from a disenchanted fan base. Here's why ole' MC is in desperate need of a refresher course.

There are two things that any play by play voice needs in professional wrestling to be both credible and popular amongst a wrestling fan base of virtually any type. Let's attempt to keep it as simple as possible as it will become increasingly clear that Michael Cole, despite his spot of gold, is 50% of the performer he needs to be to change history's impression of how well he replaced the best that ever spoke into a microphone.

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It was Royal Rumble 1999, yep, the Russo-heavy show where Vince McMahon won the Rumble match, that yours truly first remembers hearing Michael Cole as a top announcer on a pay-per-view broadcast. Cole wasn't particularly flashy and he had no "slobberknocker" or "Hulk Hogan you can go to hell, straight to hell" in his repertoire, but he was solid. He had to be with that card, though he was treated to the "I Quit" match that Mick Foley would just as soon forget. Jim Ross was having health issues and in a feeling that would become recurring backstage amongst the Titan suits, Ross did not "look" the part that the hopeful Hollywood types and Tinseltown washouts would prefer in the booth. Never mind that JR walked out to a standing ovation prior to virtually every live RAW or SmackDown taping, the "suits" knew better.

Some things never change.

Cole would take over, though Ross returned to call Austin/Rock at WrestleMania XV in Philadelphia, at Austin's request, and much to Cole's apparent on-camera chagrin. Again, at this point Michael was serviceable to respectable, not earth shattering and certainly not a world-beater, but better than adequate and still fresh enough that his shortcomings weren't immediately annoying...but that would come.

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As a child of the south, it was the NWA that formulated what I believed an announcer both could and should be, and when I worked in the role myself throughout a large portion of my career, it was that knowledge and that style that shaped my own performance. Before Hell in a Cell 1998, Jim Ross had already become the best in the business. As a matter of fact, in 1989, when Ross was the voice that led the Crockett audience through Terry Funk's heel turn at Music City Showdown, Flair's retirement and un-retirement in time for the Bash, and the Thunderdome cage match at the first Halloween Havoc, Ross was running circles around every one else in his profession. Teamed with the likes of Bob Caudle, the great Jim Cornette, and a newcomer who made news with his huge cell phone and who at the time called himself a "Dangerous" guy but would later have others calling themselves "Heyman guys," Ross could work with anybody and everybody. He was superb at delivering on every Clash, every Saturday spot, every PPV, and was also masterful at the now extinct true 30 minute pre-show countdowns prior to the super-events of the year. (Just as an aside, WWF utilized Sean Mooney in this role, another guy that was awfully good at it.)

Now back to our premise, the two things a play by play voice needs to not only be good at, but be consistently great at to truly be considered solid at the job.

UNO: GET OVER THE ANGLE

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It's professional wrestling on television. As that product changed from traditional job matches to much more competitive in-ring action week to week, the main focus of TV still never changed: Get people to the house shows. To do it, the announce team had to make its viewers care about the back story of the guys involved in combat in front of them. The audience needed to know about the backstab, the affair with the pretty lady, the vicious assault, the verbal assault, the triple team beat down in a parking lot, or the former friends from high school who dreamed of a wrestling career together. Whatever it might be, the play by play voice has to make that story both important and engaging, while keeping it simple for the mass crowd tuning in on that particular night.

Michael Cole is pretty good in this facet of the job, even if he gets quite a bit of it through an earpiece. In the early days, Jim Ross would often reportedly be backstage feeding Cole information and lines and would help him during matches. Of course, Vince McMahon would do the same and still does the same. The angle is the soap opera and Cole gets it.

DOS: GET OVER THE MATCH

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It's this second necessity where the trick comes in and where Michael Cole isn't just below average, he's absolutely atrocious. A wrestling match is a story. A wrestling match is a performance designed to elicit reactions built on triumph and defeat, hope snuffed out before a true comeback, and the little things that put the proverbial icing on the cake. An internal formula has always dictated how and when certain ideas would take place in order to take the audience on a mental roller coaster ride of emotion. Allow the following question to soak in for just a moment:

When is the last time Michael Cole got over a match for what it was, not what it would be months later and just called the action in the ring...or maybe has he EVER done it for the mid card?

Michael Cole did not attend the figurative school that teaches and emphasizes the concept that helping tell the wrestling story in each match is central to respecting the effort of the workers in the ring. Cole's deficiencies in this area range from simply not calling moves, which he does continually, to the even more disappointing tendency to completely bury what's happening in a lower card match in favor of basic jokes and ridicule with his cohorts or to sell some product for the company. While the latter is likely a mandate from above, "above" deserves just as much disdain.

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Randy Orton gets "vintage" in every match, but with the exception of the three or four biggest moves, no one is putting the match over from the broadcast position. Daniel Bryan worked heel for the first nine minutes against Orton two weeks ago and while it would be inappropriate to point that out, Cole never mentioned the intensity level of Bryan in the early stages of that main event. He worked like Steve Austin, who always blurred lines. If submissions are key, Cole either blows them off or uses them as rest holds for a broadcaster, not giving the moves the kind of attention that would make them matter. The Yes Lock or the STF not withstanding, Cole doesn't believe in giving a reverse chin lock, an arm bar, or just about any interstitial move any credit.

Withleather.com's Brandon Stroud told me last week that he's discovered that many WWE fans now attend shows to see the wrestlers, not the matches. He's right, but why should they? The audience has absolutely no reason to get deeply involved in a match for the reasons that Jim Ross, Gordon Solie, Joey Styles, Lance Russell, Gorilla Monsoon, and even Tony Schiavone among many others provided on a weekly basis. Solie was the gold standard for such a long period of time because he was committed to the craft of providing actual COMMENTARY on a WRESTLING MATCH, not just the guys in the ring but the actual moves, blows, and transitions. The reason Ross surpassed him is because he was able to get over both the match but also the angle to an immense degree.

Imagine if Jim Nantz or Gus Johnson or Marv Albert or the best play by play man in sports, Mike Emrick, didn't call the action on the field, court, or ice and instead talked about other games in that sport or constantly tried to sell you fattening food from Sonic or reminded you that Jingle All the Way 2 is indeed a thing...and sadly, it is. It's impossible to know how much of what annoys us about Michael Cole is directed from on high, but it's patently obvious that he simply does not call the match. Even a four star match between Cesaro and Daniel Bryan happens without a trace except in the biggest moments, but the sheer quantity of smaller nuances that take place in the mid card matches where the participants are trying to make an impact is impossible to ignore.

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Here's one quick example: back on RAW just after SummerSlam last year, AJ Lee competed in a match where she literally faked a concussion on the floor, then sold in the ring and played dead before immediately turning it into a finishing sequence. Not only did Cole miss what happened on the floor, he never called what happened back in the ring and instead was talking about other Divas until the bell rang. He then said..."And oh, AJ gets the win!" You have got to be kidding me.

I feel for those whose characters and gimmicks are lacking but who can work their butts off...because Cole makes it very apparent that the work doesn't mean a damn thing. Storytellers in the ring are completely forgotten by many because there's no voice dedicated to making that story special. Furthermore, the story in the ring is neglected...and it may well be because the man given the all-important job of telling that story in actual words...

is completely incapable of doing so.

I use the phrase "main event syndrome" to describe the propensity of a worker who reaches the main event to cease all innovation. A mid carder who is beloved often has charisma but also has a wide array of offensive weapons in the ring mixed with a solid ability to sell. The philosophy of main event wrestling from the very beginning is that fans want to see two big guys duke it out with punches and kicks and just a bit of variety outside of the brawling. When most wrestlers hit the top of the card, everything becomes a pattern.

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If a main event talent would take the time to learn and add just three new regular moves to their portfolio each year and vary the order in which they performed spots between the brawling, most fans would never realize that they were popping for even the most limited of workers. But when a Lex Luger for example hit the big time, it was two clotheslines, a running forearm (loaded or not,) a powerslam, and a backbreaker. When Randy Orton became a main eventer, it became the draping DDT, the duck under into the powerslam, the backbreaker, the RKO, and occasionally the punt. When Cena got there, it was the shoulder blocks and the Shuffle, the Protoplex, the AA and STF, and for big matches, the top rope reverse leg drop.

When Michael Cole was a mid carder as an announcer, Michael Cole called wrestling matches. When he became "the guy," he quickly stopped with all that nonsense and simply hit his own verbal version of the running strikes, the power move(Vintage), and the finish. All the little stuff that separates the good from the iconic, that stuff either faded away...or maybe it was never there. Michael Cole caught a bad case of MES and unfortunately, it's contagious. Matches have minor impact outside of the main event to many fans past the wins and the losses, especially when Cole lacks energy. You want bad? Listen to Cole on an overseas tour, tired and jet lagged.

And so at 50% passable, missing one of the two requirements he needs, the case is incontrovertible. Michael Cole is insufficient at this time.

He can sell a mean order of tater tots though.

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