Commentary Class: A Guide for Pro Wrestling Announcers (Part 1)
Colt Cabana has a podcast called The Art of Wrestling. There’s also a new independent promotion called Wrestling Is Art. So it’s not too much of a stretch to consider pro wrestling an art form, if not a sport.
I’m going to take that concept a step further. I think pro wrestling announcing is also an art form, and it’s an art form I feel compelled to preserve.
While I’ve been trying to convince Impact Wrestling to make me the first announcer to take the Gut Check Challenge, one of my video ideas was to use my old wrestling action figures to demonstrate how to call the moves.
Since I’ve been watching wrestling since the mid-80s, I’ve noticed that some moves aren’t called the same as they used to. Other moves are being called by names that make no sense.
Still other moves haven’t been called anything at all, so I’ve invented a few move names that I’ve used while calling the action for Ring of Honor, International Wrestling Cartel, Chikara and many other promotions.
I’m not criticizing my fellow wrestling announcers; most are doing a fine job and are repeating mistakes they've heard from past commentators. Now it’s time to set things right.
Moves that are called wrong
Russian Leg Sweep: As seen in Video 1, this classic move was popularized by Bret Hart and Brad Armstrong. Yet somehow, this move started being called a “Side Russian Leg Sweep.”
That would be fine if there was another kind of Russian Leg Sweep, but there’s not. So there’s no need to say “Side,” it’s just a Russian Leg Sweep.
Schoolboy: When you roll up your opponent from behind, it’s a rollup, not a schoolboy. Somehow, announcers started confusing a simple rollup with the schoolboy prank (Video 2) in which you shove someone who goes tumbling over your buddy, who is crouched behind him.
Sidewalk Slam or Spinebuster? As seen in Video 2, a Spinebuster sees the victim land in front of the attacker, while a Sidewalk Slam sees the victim dropped on the side (Kudos to Big Boss Man for performing in the video with a broken arm; he just Scotch-taped it and kept going).
Moves that are pronounced wrong
Enzuigiri: Life was simpler in the 80s, when Bad News Brown said “It’s Ghetto Blaster time, fool!” before delivering a flying kick toward the back of Hulk Hogan’s head.
Sadly, he’s no longer with us, so the move is now called by its Japanese name, the enzuigiri. However, some announcers pronounce it an “en-za-GURRY.”
Watch Video 2, where a spelling expert shows us the correct spelling, and you’ll know this move is pronounced “en-zoo-GEERY.”
Huracanrana: This vertical headscissors is another move where the spelling and pronunciation is all over the map. Some announcers call it a “Hurra-ca-rana” while others pronounce it “Hurren-can-rana.”
Keep in mind that this move was invented by a Mexican wrestler named Huracan Ramirez. Just add “rana” to his first name, and you’ve got yourself a “Huracan-Rana.”
Moves that are not called by precise names
An Inverted Atomic Drop is a very common call for many announcers, but that move has its own name: it’s a Manhattan Drop.
How about a headscissors that is delivered by a wrestler who spins all the way around his opponent? That’s a Satellite Headscissors, because the attacker is “orbiting” the victim.
Moves that are not called anything at all
I had to invent a name for the heel tag-team trick of clapping hands behind the referee’s back to make it sound like a legal tag has taken place. That’s called a Phantom Audio Tag (see Video 1).
How about when a wrestler throws a dropkick at an opponent who is coming at him from the top rope? I have dubbed that a Defensive Dropkick.
Lucha Libre moves
We’re not going to cop out by calling everything a suicide dive. It’s really not that hard. Let’s start with a dive off the top rope all the way to the floor. That’s a Plancha.
How about when you grab the top rope and catapult out of the ring onto your opponent? That’s a Pescado.
A running dive through the ropes is a Tope. Over the top? It’s a Tope Suicida. Over the top with a flip? That’s a Tope Con Hilo.
I can hear you asking, “But Jeff, what about a round-off into a blind backflip over the top rope without touching anything?”
That’s a Space Flying Tiger Drop.
Of course, timing is everything. When you see a move like this, let the crowd’s reaction tell the story. You’ll have time to tell the audience the name of the move while the wrestlers are scraping themselves off the floor.
Indeed, there’s a lot more to being a great wrestling announcer than learning the names of the moves. If you aspire to announce for WWE someday, you need to brush up on your storytelling skills. They care more about connecting the audience with the characters and stories than calling the names of the moves.
In Part 2 of this series, we will examine what separates a good announcer from a great announcer. Because if wrestling announcing is art, do you want to be a house painter or Picasso?
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