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Making the case for Byron Saxton

(Courtesy of WWE.com)

Anybody who isn’t the greatest announcer of all time is going to suffer some form of backlash if they’re commentating every single show on WWE programming. But now that Byron Saxton is working exclusively on Monday Night Raw, it is high time that fans took the opportunity to enjoy Saxton in moderation.

Maybe then, they will realize that he is a pretty fine announcer who, far from adding little to the three-man commentary booth that the WWE goes for these days, is actually a part of the only instance in which they have functioned well. This, readers, is the case for Byron Saxton.

In recent years, the WWE has done away entirely with the idea of a babyface play-by-play guy. In days of yore, it was the tradition for the lead announcer, be it Vince McMahon, Jim Ross, or Michael Cole to angrily admonish the heels while their broadcast partners told them to “shut up.”

Nowadays, you have the likes of Mauro Ranallo describing the in-ring action as vividly as possible, but during a beatdown, or any severe heat-generating moment, they are more likely to lower their tones to that infuriating “sad voice” that is barely audible and adds nothing to the drama. That’s fair enough. If you want your program to sound professional and legitimate, it doesn’t make sense to have your unbiased play-by-play guy condemning certain actions, or showing poor journalistic ethics in passing judgements.

Enter Byron Saxton.

For years on end, we have had a traditional heel commentator rooting for the bad guys. So what is wrong with balancing that out with a babyface color commentator to challenge the heel? A three-man booth makes perfect sense at that point, because there are three entirely different purposes being fulfilled, and rather than having the lead announcer detract from their play-by-play by throwing in sprinkles of indignation, it makes perfect sense to give that duty to somebody else.

Saxton’s value in the role is likely to become more apparent now that he is working exclusively on Raw with a stronger broadcast team. In recent months, people were only watching Raw, and didn’t have the opportunity to work out Saxton’s purpose because of JBL’s constant garrulous bellowing.

But those who were paying attention to SmackDown prior to the brand split heard a different side to Saxton. Flanked by the more charitable Jerry Lawler, he was able to get a word in edgeways (Lawler had morphed back into a heel, and a more consistent one at that), and that combination made for some far more entertaining back and forths from within the booth, which were well moderated by Mauro Ranallo.

Byron Saxton is impossible to dislike. He is clean cut, moralistic and conveys very real indignation when there’s cheating going on in the ring. The fact that the cooler announcers run roughshod over his dorky, goody-two-shoes discontent generates sympathy from the viewers at home who don’t like what they’re seeing from the heels.

And therein lies Saxton’s value in the booth.

A bad guy like Corey Graves is going to represent the smark fans who revel in seeing the heels do their thing; a detail-driven, precise and technical leader like Mauro Ranallo (and even Michael Cole when he brings his A-game) is going to cater to the people who appreciate wrestling as a technical showcase. But there are also 9-year-old kids watching, for whom wrestling is still real. And so, Saxton’s condemnation of injustice, and his advocacy for good over evil, exists precisely to validate the indignation and heartbreak of the kid sitting at home, glued to his screen, in his “Rise Above Hate” t-shirt and wristbands, waiting for John Cena to emerge triumphant from a bombardment of obstacles.

The other problem that fans seem to have with Byron Saxton is the way in which the heel commentators run roughshod over him. Just last Monday, Kevin Owens made a complete mockery of Saxton in the booth. Why this is supposed to be to the detriment to Byron Saxton’s legitimacy, however, is a mystery. If being a complete pushover makes you an illegitimate commentator, then the likes of Vince McMahon, Gorilla Monsoon and even good ol’ J.R., ought to be languishing at the bottom of the rankings. Having your heel announcer verbally eviscerating the babyface is a “vintage” commentary trope.

Who can forget Ventura laying into his colleagues? Coy babyface and brash bully exchanges like the ones he had make are a staple of all legendary commentary partnerships. Byron Saxton has the innocent, childlike hope that makes him a perfect partner to bad boys like Corey Graves. The fact that he is a comic foil does not take away an ounce of his credibility, in spite of the IWC’s protestations.

Once Saxton has the chance to start standing up for himself against Corey Graves (those who never followed NXT during his run with Corey Graves ought to get on the WWE Network and pay attention), he is sure to cement his position; if not as the greatest of all time, then at least as one of WWE’s most underrated announcers.

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