WWE Has an Announcer Problem

Michael Cole might not be the best, but it’s clear that he’s the best WWE has after an uncomfortable call of Monday Night Raw …

The announcing on Monday Night Raw last night just wasn’t good. Byron Saxton sounded mostly nervous, unconfident, and it was definitely apparent that he had someone constantly talking in his ear. But, the debacle last week and the subsequent fumble this week is not Saxton’s fault. This is on WWE for thrusting someone into a position that the company hasn’t adequately prepared the talent for.

Saxton is filling in for Michael Cole, who was “injured” last week in an attack by Brock Lesnar. Saxton took over the Raw announce table last week, by himself, after the attack on all three members of the booth. So the relatively inexperienced, former wrestler-turned-announcer, gets thrown out in the middle of the show to broadcast the company’s flagship show … alone.

But no pressure, kid.

It was reported last week that WWE had Jerry Lawler go to ringside and do color with Saxton a few segments later because he was struggling by himself. When is the last time someone called a wrestling show, with as widespread an audience as Raw, alone? It wasn’t fair to Saxton. And even though he had a week to prepare for this week’s show, they’re still putting him in a position to fail. He’s not ready for this role yet, and it showed. 

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What it shows is that, despite his faults, Michael Cole is the best wrestling announcer WWE has at the moment. And since he dropped his heel play-by-play man persona, which was terrible, he’s been pretty good. He’s not Jim Ross (who is the best ever), but if J.R. is a 10 on a scale of 1-10, Cole has been a seven. Saxton last night was probably a three. But again, it’s not his fault.

WWE has a serious lack of depth at its announce table. Smackdown should be used as the breeding ground in that respect. It’s taped, so you can post-produce the announcers and also, if something goes over like a fart in real time, WWE can have them sit in a booth and re-record things. It’s really the perfect fit.

Instead of having Michael Cole serve as a voice on Smackdown as well as Raw when he returns, I’d put Renee Young, Saxton, and Rich Brennan in that role. Perhaps they could even rotate Tom Phillips in there as well. It’s the perfect spot for the young, up-and-coming announcers. Just like NXT. If they get lost live, there’s a lot that can be done in post-production, including re-recording voice dubs, in order to mask their inexperience. When they get to the point that they can get through an entire Smackdown without any corrections, they’re ready for a bigger stage.

Just like the talent in the ring, WWE has to do something to groom the next batch of announcers. If Saxton was the most ready person they have in waiting, there’s something wrong with their development process. If Michael Cole decided today that he’s going to retire and go home, what next? What would Raw sound like? The grass isn’t always greener … unless you water and fertilize it.

Quick Strikes

1. What a strange sight it was to see Tyler Black (Seth Rollins) vs. PAC (Neville) on an episode of Monday Night Raw. The mid-2000s wrestling fan in me was insanely excited, if not ridiculously confused.

Neville put in a good showing against the WWE World Heavyweight Champion and the crowd also seemed to take to him. He’s insanely entertaining in the ring, but WWE management — particularly television producer Kevin Dunn — is not going to like his lack of facial expression, his accent or his hair, I’m guessing. Dunn is one of the primary reasons Jim Ross — you know, the best wrestling announcer alive today — is no longer on WWE television. He has a southern accent. It’s stupid, really, but totally expected if you look at WWE’s track record for wanting Ken dolls in announce positions.

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But back to Neville, I fear he runs the risk of running into similar roadblocks in WWE. He’s a great wrestler, but to survive in WWE’s machine he’s going to have to find some character outside of just being the flip guy.

2. John Cena successfully defended his U.S. Championship against Stardust in another solid match. If WWE continues with Cena’s “open challenges” every week, this could get very interesting and also not only elevate a lot of guys, but the belt. It’s almost turning the U.S. Title into a World Television Title, which ECW did great things with in the late-90s with RVD as champion.

There are a lot of potential matches here for Cena that we otherwise probably wouldn’t see. Why else would Stardust ever wrestle a singles match against Cena?

Also, Cena is having good matches. Last week with Ambrose and this week with Stardust. He’s going to get the win and keep the title, but those two guys were both elevated despited losing. It’s also going to give a huge rub to whoever beats Cena for the belt, I hope months down the road.

3. WWE, at least for this week, almost seems to be operating under an unofficial brand split. There was no Intercontinental Champion, Daniel Bryan, on this show. We also didn’t see Dean Ambrose or Dolph Ziggler, at least in the ring.

Smackdown almost appears to be Bryan’s show. When he came back from injury in January, he was the main event name they were building that brand around. In an effort to elevate the U.S. and Intercontinental belts, it might be a smart move to keep one on Smackdown as exclusively as they can. It can help give that show at least a shred of unique identity, instead of feeling cookie-cutter like the rest of WWE’s programming.

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If Smackdown sees a ratings boost with Bryan on top as I.C. champion, it could also mean good things for him potentially getting involved with the World Title scene, although I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Match Results

1. Randy Orton def. Kane via disqualification

2. Seth Rollins def. Neville in a non-title match

3. John Cena [c] def. Stardust for the United States Championship

4. Naomi & Paige def. The Bella Twins

5. Ryback def. Luke Harper

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6. Lucha Dragons def. New Day

7. Roman Reigns def. Big Show

8. Sheamus def. Mark Henry

9. Miz def. Damien Sandow

10. Randy Orton def. Ryback & Roman Reigns to become the No. 1 Contender for the WWE World Hvt. Title

The Finish

When compared to WrestleMania and Raw from last week, anything would have been a letdown, and that’s generally what this show felt like. No Daniel Bryan or Dean Ambrose or Dolph Ziggler. They’re being saved for Smackdown, it appears. Plus the main event was really short and generally blah. It’s not the greatest indication that there won’t be a post-WrestleMania lull, but it’s just one week.

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