The Katz Files – Arnie Katz
All-Time Great Mic Men
The Kingfish Arnie Katz remembers some of his favorites from yesterday and today.
Despite my formidable size – roughly the same dimensions as Vince McMahon – I knew from an early age that I lacked the athleticism needed for a career in the ring. Although early flashes of writing skill marked me as a future journalist, I always thought it would be great to be a play-by-play or color commentator for a wrestling show.
Now, many years later, as someone who has gotten to do some radio and TV and currently hosts an Internet (non-wrestling) TV Show. I still pay a lot of attention to how the men with the microphones do their job on RAW iMPACT and other wrestling TV programs.
A good announcer can turn a so-so match into an audience-grabber. A little background, some insight and a voice that builds the drama makes it much more likely that fans will get into the match.
Bad announcing can negate a ton of great ring-work. Since the announcers’ also must skill for the card in progress and the upcoming Pay Per View – there’s always an upcoming Pay Per View – they sometimes wipe out a match entirely by talking nonstop about something entirely different.
Here, in chronological order, are the ones that left the most lasting impressions on me.
The voice of the WWWF before Vince McMahon was always cringing from Killer Kowalski or some other berserker. His overly dignified, straight-faced character made the wrestlers seem much more exciting.
Morgan also called a pretty good match. “Mr. Morgan,” as the heels always called him, kept up with the action, described it well and never ridiculed the wrestlers or their work.
To understand how good Ray Morgan was, you have to hear idiots like Dennis James call matches. The condescending patter, corny sound effects and disrespect for the performers made James seem more like a freak show barker than a wrestling announcer.
Vince McMahon Jr.
Although Vince started with a persona that clearly derived from Ray Morgan, he soon developed the wide-eyed, perpetual innocence that added so much to the drama of what he announced.
Vince was always deeply shocked by anything the heels did, even if they or someone else had done the same thing a year or so earlier. His moral outrage helped overcome the performers’ acting deficiencies and the absence of scriptwriters to prepare wrestlers for promos and interviews.
Vince brought a superior voice and forceful play-by-play style that helped the promotion break out of the Northeast and acquire a national presence.
Earnest and serious, Gordon Solie was the ultimate pseudo-sports wrestling announcer. Solie’s knowledgeable analysis, extensive wrestling vocabulary and absolute sincerity bathed every match he called in an aura of credibility.
Solie’s genius was his ability to make wrestling seem almost normal. He announced with the same attention to detail as Vin Scully brings to baseball and Keith Jackson to college football.
His low-key delivery set up the wild stuff perfectly, because it was always so unexpected when it came. Solie’s greatest moments came when he described the exploits of the American Dream Dusty Rhodes down in Florida.
The Brain contributed so much to broadcasts without talking himself blue like Jesse Ventura. He could analyze a match, play the heel-lover and zing memorable lines as well as any color man in wrestling history.
Unlike Gene Okerlund, Bobby Heenan had the gift of being funny without becoming snide and condescending. Heenan was irreverent, not disrespectful and never put down wrestlers to get himself over.
“It’s all breaking down in the UWF!” he used to shriek at the end of almost every Bill Watts TV show. Over the years, he has become more polished and self-assured with the stick. He’s now the best broadcaster, in the true sense of the term, in professional wrestling.
The folksy delivery is unmistakable and no one gives fans a better blend of inside information and accurate play-calling. WWE has moved him to Smackdown, but he remains the single most recognizable mic presence in pro wrestling.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this is the wrestling announcer of his generation, even if WWE didn’t seem to realize it. What a pity if circumstances cut short his career before he has a chance to call a WrestleMania.
In a cream cheese world, he’s a crisp mozzarella stick. He has style, individuality and a wonderful sense of the outrageous.
The Professor is TNA’s ace-in-the-hole, a brilliant student of pro wrestling who can also identify the holds and keep viewers involved with the match.
Mike has the sincerity of a Gordon Solie and the naive outrage of a young Vince McMahon. He is a low key- performer who often works best when paired with a “big personality” guy like Kevin Nash or even Don West.
I’ll be back tomorrow with another installment of the Internet’s fastest-rising wrestling column. I hope you’ll join me – and I’d be especially grateful if you tell your friends about it.
– Arnie Katz