The three-man commentary booth that is now the standard for WWE programming has largely attracted scorn from wrestling fans. Three’s a crowd, and the more that an individual announcer is diluted, the less we get to enjoy of their nuances and personality.
SmackDown Live’s team is particularly hampered. Fans are trying to listen to Mauro Ranallo make pop culture references and elevate his vernacular with the pace of a match, and you have JBL interjecting with something about lunatics and Rugby Union statistics. Actually, that’s just a flat-out criticism of JBL, but in general, but there is virtually no cohesion between three announcers to make for a slick presentation.
The only thing worse than the three-man booths is when one or even two wrestlers joins in to watch someone they’re feuding with in action.
It sometimes works: Kevin Owens can do it because, as a polymath and a hero on the mic, he fancies himself as a color commentator and has the attitude and wrestling knowledge to make a good job of it. Dean Ambrose is another regular commentary fixture during SmackDown’s main events, and he’s never annoying because his ability to extol the in-ring prowess of his own future opponents such as, say, Dolph Ziggler, helps to concoct some intrigue in both men’s preparation for their matches. It also works because he’s a better color commentator than both of the men who ostensibly fulfill that role on SmackDown.
In instances like that, it’s a shame that good guest commentators overshadow the rather poor broadcast teams fans currently have to listen to. Other times, the guest commentators completely overshadow what’s going on in the ring, and show themselves up as so dull that they couldn’t raise a toast, let alone a wrestling feud.
Take, for example, this exchange on SmackDown. In the ring are Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss. The latter is a new addition to the WWE roster, and this was one of her first matches on the main roster.
For the audiences at home, it is vital that Mauro Ranallo, a commentator who is taken seriously and is a trusted pitch man for viewers, is able to devote as much time as possible telling us about Bliss’ abilities. Natalya and Naomi were inexplicably on commentary:
JBL: Nattie, I understand that you thought, uh, that you should actually just be given that title.
Natalya: Well, I did say that because quite frankly the title is something that is a God-given gift to me. I was born better.
Naomi: Uhh. I disagree with that.
Natalya: Of course you do.
JBL: Naomi with all that night glow stuff you got on you nowadays when you come down like will.i.am comin’ down the ramp, you’re not gonna turn that championship if you were to win it into something like that are ya?
Naomi: Well, I would like to put my own spin on it, uh, you know, Naomi taste. Give it a little flavor.
It’s all absolutely riveting stuff, but having guest commentators on solely to give a few poor one-liners and talk witlessly about themselves is hugely detracting from the action in the ring.
It also emphasizes the weakness of certain wrestlers when it comes to mic work, and fans are only going to be turned off from a wrestler if too much focus is on their failings.
The week following the above example, during a SmackDown tag team match pitting Becky Lynch and Naomi against Natalya and Alexa Bliss, Nikki Bella was featured on commentary. She spent most of her time talking about her injury, Total Bellas (whatever that is) and other enthralling news of her celebrity life.
At a time where the women’s division on SmackDown desperately needs to catch up with Raw on the quality of its wrestling, is it really doing in-ring exhibitions any favors to have outsiders droning over entire sequences of moves? It splits the viewer’s concentration, they aren’t immersed in the in-ring action and a match feels like it ends prematurely because they’ve been too busy listening to irrelevancies — it’s no better than the days when Michael Cole spent entire broadcasts talking about the WWE Network.
Obviously, it can be cool when a solid worker jumps in on commentary, but not everyone is the Rock. Let’s save skits like that for go-home shows before PPVs, and free up space in an already crowded booth for commentators to do their jobs.