Last month, Dana Brooke made a rare television appearance. Brooke was dismantled by Shayna Baszler in the ring as WWE re-focused the Queen of Spades, and her wrestling career was dismantled by Raw announcer Corey Graves.
Graves is Ryan Satin’s guest on the newest edition of FOX Sports’ Out of Character podcast, and Satin asked the Savior of Misbehavior if a talent every confronts him about his verbal takedowns after they air - mentioning the Brooke situation in particular. Corey talks about how he followed up with Dana after the Oct. 4 Raw, but mostly talks about his general approach to his role as a heel commentator:
“99.9% of the time, everybody realizes that it’s just me doing what I do. I try to - I love walking the line. I love being provocative. But I also make sure, and I try to take great care, that I don’t ever harm anybody as far as from a character perspective. I always want to make people better.
“For the instance of the Dana Brooke issue, I actually sent her a text message the next morning just saying, ‘Hey, just so you know, no hard feelings. That was not personal.’ Full disclosure, I don’t know what’s going to happen in these shows. I am reacting. That’s my choice. There have been times where I sat in the production meetings, and I have an idea as to what’s what. I prefer to not know what’s happening, because I like to think that my reactions are a little more genuine. I get to use my wit a little bit better than saying, ‘Hey, I got this great line for so-and-so.’
“William Regal actually used to instill in us, back in the NXT days, that commentators are a great tool for a superstar, in that we can tell your story -sometimes better than you can. Or oftentimes, if you - if something goes wrong, I’m almost the last line of defense where I can kind of clean things up sometimes, or explain why something didn’t go so perfectly. But Regal used to tell us all the time, if you as a talent don’t utilize the commentators, then you’re doing yourself a disservice.’ Because Regal used to tell this story about how if you tell me , ‘Hey, I want to convey this emotion, this is the storyline I want to get across, or this is the story we’re trying to to tell in the ring,’ he would go out of his way to enhance that, to add color as a color commentator - same goal that I have. But Regal would also be very open, if you don’t utilize us, and you don’t talk to us or tell us what your character is attempting to accomplish in this instance, a lot of times, we’re just kinda flying blind so to speak, and we’re gonna try to do what we want to do with it, or sometimes you just try to entertain yourself. If you go out there and you don’t tell me anything, and something goes wrong - maybe I’m having a bad day, maybe I just flew halfway across the earth and my brain is not as sharp usual, maybe I’m in a bad mood, you never actually know what you’re going to get.
“But no, there’s never any sort of malice, because I would be doing myself a disservice because my job, ultimately, is to enhance everything. I do it in a very unique way, that is unique to my perspective as the quote-unquote ‘bad guy’ on the show, but I’m basically trying to achieve sympathy for the devil from a viewer’s perspective where, ‘Here’s maybe why this person did this underhanded thing,’ or - but it’s so unique because a lot of people think in 2021 the days of the full-blown heel commentator are passé. And I definitely think, to an extent, it is. Could you imagine Bobby Heenan? He wouldn’t exist in 2021. He would be fired, canceled, tarred & feather publicly, just because that’s the way the world’s changed.
“So I try to be a little more villainous-leaning than full-blown bad guy, justify, always root for the bad guys, only the bad guys, good guys are the wrong - I try to adapt, but again, I grew up on Bobby Heenan, on Jesse Venture, on some of the greatest of all-time. Deep inside me, that’s still what I’m a fan of, so when it comes time to do what I’m doing now and find myself in this role, I just kind of fall back on what I was a fan of. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t.”
The critique of Brooke - that she hadn’t “accomplished much of anything,” and that maybe WWE should cut their losses - wasn’t followed up on in any meaningful way. She lost to Baszler again the following week in the first round of the Queen’s Crown tournament, and hasn’t had a match since. While Graves’ commentary did standout, it’s ultimately just a footnote in her career as a WWE enhancement act.
It’s interesting that it came directly from him, as many fans and some industry observers assumed it was a case of Vince McMahon being in his ear. Graves’ follow-up story about William Regal’s advice to wrestlers in development does seem to indirectly pass some of the blame on to Brooke for not clueing him to her storyline, but it doesn’t seem like she had a creative direction beyond putting Baszler over.
Corey’s comments on not being able to be a “ full-blown bad guy” like The Brain is grist for the #Discourse mill’s always churning cancel culture debate. I’d argue you can be as bad as you want to be as long as you aren’t racist, sexist, queerphobic or generally mocking a performer for who are they are instead of the character they play, and that a smart guy like Heenan would have figured out how to drop those elements of his act, and that Graves actually does a real good job of entertainingly walking that line 99.9% of the time.
But let us know what you think, Cagesiders. And give Graves & Satin’s full conversation a listen here.