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WRESTLING COLUMNS

They Could Talk The Talk
A Look At The Great Announcers Of Old

August 22, 2003 - by Emer Prevost


W ell, as promised in my previous column, I'm going to look at some of the great commentators of the WWF, WCW, and ECW's past. My Wayback Machine has just been dusted off (we haven't seen it since May 23, when we looked at the Brawl For All tournament) and in working order, so here we go.

First, let's look at the finer things the WWF had...

Naturally, the first stop to make is with the greatest announce team of all time, Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan. This is the announce team that set the standard by which all other teams were judged. Gorilla and Bobby had a chemistry that is unsurpassed. They were able to work off of each other with such grace that it is astonishing. Here, we had two men with previous wrestling experience who sounded like they knew what the hell was what in the business (take that, Jerry Lawler).

While Gorilla would comment about how a move can injure the opponent (even going as far as to tell us exactly what gibberish sounding tendon, muscle, or artery is in danger), while Bobby quipped some of the best one liners in the history of announcing. It was the perfect color/straight combination that fans loved to hear over and over again. Their act never got stale (like JR and King), and never bored the fans to tears (like Coach). It was simply perfect. Speaking of perfect...

Around the mid 90s, the WWF was desperate for commentators, so much so that they would bring in The Macho Man and, yes, the late Mr. Perfect, Curt Hennig. Now, Hennig was pretty good at commentating. He was able to do both color (which was his job) and straight (he had to, Vince wasn't doing it right). But, his color work wasn't the best. Ever time he spoke, he sounded like he loathed being the second fiddle to Vince McMahon's commentary. But, I feel for Curt. I think that Vince's announce work sucked ass. But, I'll cover Vince in just a second. I mentioned another wrestler turned commentator a second ago, didn't I?

Yep, I believe I said Macho Man. Yes, Randy Savage was doing commentary for the WWF about ten years ago. But, like most of his promos, it came off making Savage sound like a jabbering mental patient with rocks in his mouth and smoking about a carton of cigarettes a day. If you think that JR is hard to understand today, picture him with a chunk of his brain missing, filling in all of the dead air with "OOOH, YEAH!!".

Yes, I can say this, I hated Randy Savage's commentary. He never brought anything likable to the role. He never told us anything that we, as fans, didn't already know. And, he made all of these obvious announcements like they were earth rattling breaking news. It was just simply sad, to say the least.

But, Savage was great compared to Vinnie Mac himself.

Yep, I'll happily say it. No one has ruined more good matches with crappy commentary more than Vince McMahon. Once more, I'm going to stave off all the hate mail by explaining my stand. First off, Vince would literally use three different voices while commentating. It was like listening to Mel Blanc (the original voice of Bugs Bunny, Secret Squirrel, and tons of other memorable cartoon characters) on crack.

First, he had his "on camera" voice. He sounded normal here. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. He only used this voice at the start of the shows, when the camera would be on the announcers as they talk about the matches tonight. This is the only soothing voice Vince brought with him to the announce position. The other two are just plain annoying.

His second voice will be dubbed the "pre-'YOU'RE FIRED" (or "Get in there, ref!") voice. I call it this because you can tell that it was this tone that gave birth to Vince's favorite catchphrase. He used this one anytime was caught cheating by Vince. This one was also used whenever anyone would hit their finisher. This voice was tolerable, but still annoying as all Hell.

The third and final voice Vince used will be called his "gasping for breath" voice. This was the rest of the time he called a match. He brought his voice up to sound like he was kicked in the sack. Next, he added to the magic by sounding like he was choking on something (like maybe the ugly tie he wore was on too tight). You know, I always feel sorry every time I hear him like this. On the plus side, since leaving the announce position, Vince has since retired this tone of voice. I think it has to do with the fact that he's wearing ties less frequently and not as tight. But, that's just my opinion.

The other problem with Vince's announce work is that he really sucked at covering up mistakes. If one of the announcers slipped and mentioned something that they weren't supposed to, Vince would try and cover it up, and fail miserably. Watch the main event at Summer Slam '95 and you'll see what I mean. Vince's attempt at covering up for Michael Hayes' (oops, I mean Dok Hendrix) screw-up is almost laughable.

I could probably write about the WWF's past announcers and be done with it. But, I promised WCW and ECW here, too. So, I might continue with the WWF announcers of old in a different installment (or, if anyone else wants to continue it, the door is open). Now, on to WCW...

How can you say WCW without thinking of Tony Sciavone? Tony, is without a doubt, the voice of WCW. I remember my first WCW experience (It was a Sunday night in 1992 at midnight, when "WCW World Wide" was on). I remember only four things, Sting in the opening contest, a jobber named Sunny Trout (I kid you not, this guy was named Sunny Trout) in the second match, a Vinnie Vegas promo (my first exposure to Kevin Nash) and Tony Schiavone commentating the whole show solo. To be honest, I thing that Tony was great as a lone announcer. The problem came when he old WWF announce partner, Jesse Ventura, was added to the World Wide announce team about six months later.

Nothing against, Jesse Ventura. His commentary skills are top notch. But, his announce work with WCW felt a little off. I can't really place it, but it felt like something was missing. But, maybe I was just used to only hearing Tony at midnight on Sundays and Jesse was just a little too much for me, I don't know. Or, it might have been that I was ten (I'm still trying to figure out why I did most of the crap I did when I was ten).

Another cornerstone in the WCW announce team was Bobby Heenan, but I've already covered him (vaguely). Nothing much to really say, the man was a legend when it came to color commentary. He has the most memorable one liners in the history of the business. Pity all those great one liners were from his WWF days. His WCW one liners were great, but just not as memorable.

Mike Tenay is another of WCW's memorable commentators. "The Professor" really knows his stuff when it comes to moves and techniques, but he didn't really have a personality to go with the smarts. He was like a wrestling computer, a lot of data with no soul. Hell, even his voice sounded a little robotic (still does, not that I think of it). He is literally Tazz without the cool factor, or Lance Storm with a bigger stick up his ass (but, Lance has at least remembered to take the stick out every so often). It's sad but true.

Now, for two of the worst commentators in the history of televised wrestling. First, we have Steve McMichael. This former Green Bay Packer (yes, a Chicago Bear, too, but Wisconsin law makes me mention his Packer years first or face penalty of catapult) started commentating on a WWF RAW show. He sucked so bad there that WCW must have thought that it would be a good idea to make him a Nitro commentator. Let's just say that his babble makes Randy Savage's babble sound like Shakespeare. I really don't like covering Mongo's announcing. I'm getting a headache just thinking about it.

Next, we have former WCW online announcer, Mark Madden. Just like NFL great John Madden, Mark is an overweight, loud, brash, annoying, egotistical prick of an announcer. Mind you, I may be an overweight, loud, brash, annoying, egotistical prick, but I'm not as bad as this joker. I really want to know who the hell he spooned to get that job with WCW, 'cuz his talent sure as shootin' wasn't the reason for the hiring. But, I'm not going to delve on this too much. Madden's retarded commentary is barely worth mention here. He was so bad, a large sucking sound can still be heard over every arena he ever commentated in.

Enough with WCW, let's get the Wayback back to the late 90s and to the land of extreme, ECW.

Once more, upon hearing ECW, you first think of Joey Styles. The only man on the face of the earth who could make "Oh my God!" into a catchphrase was one of the best announcers of the time. While JR and Jerry were starting to show some rust, and WCW was swirling the toilet, Joey's style brought ECW into the forefront. He, like Schiavone, was a wiz at working both straight and color commentary with flawless results. If you haven't watched an ECW match and gotten the chance to hear Joey weave his commentating tapestry, you haven't lived. He is gifted.

But, like all commentators, Joey had a down side. Sure, he was able to call a match with the best of 'em, but his catchphrase caught up with him. As fast as you can say "What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?", America was sick of Joey's 1001 ways of saying "Oh my God!". I, myself, can easily say that I got sick of it after a while. But, still, even past the worn out catchphrase, Joey Styles was still a great commentator.

His TNN announce partner was none other than the quintessential stud-muffin, Joel Gertner. Now, Gertner was pretty good, but not great. He was just like Bobby Heenan, carrying tons of memorable and funny lines, but Joel's were in the form of limericks. While a lot of these little poems are memorable (and often times, very quotable), a lot were also just plain lame. But, past that, his skills calling a match were about as good Hennig's WWF work, he just didn't sound like he wanted to do the job.

The final ECW announcer to be covered here will be Cyrus. Cyrus (known today under his real name, Don Callis) is another great announcer. It seems that ECW struck gold in the announce department. Cyrus worked the PPVs and only made it to TV when he was turned into the TNN Network Representitive, where he became the top heel manager in the company. And, whenever he called a match, you knew you were in for a great show. He seemed to have Mike Tenay's knowledge with just a pinch of personality (not too much, he wasn't Tazz by any means.

Well, there we have it. My tenth article is in the books. What will the next ten have in store for my loyal readers? Well, only time will tell. As of right now, I'm reading a $20 joke called "The Complete Idiot's Guide To Pro Wrestling" and plan on writing about it as soon as I finish with it. Just as a preview, you'll hear about great current stars like Rocky Melvin, Chris Kenyon, Lido, and Shawn Michaels' legendary finisher, the "Boot To The Chin" kick.

Until next time, I'll see you all in the Yahoo WWF rooms (under one of my many names, just ask around for a list of names. Mention Hellsing or Vash, and you'll probably get the rest).

by Emer Prevost


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