September 10, 2012 was most likely a pretty normal day for most of the world, but it is a day that Michael Cole and the wrestling community will never forget.
It was on this night that WWE Hall of Famer Jerry Lawler suffered a heart attack. It was on this night that for a few moments Lawler was clinically dead. And it was on this night that professional wrestling almost lost a legend.
For those of you that are not aware, Lawler suffered the heart attack during a live telecast of Monday Night Raw. Lawler was calling a match with Cole when he began to "snore" loudly. Chaos would then follow ringside as Lawler was attended to and Cole continued to call the live in-ring action.
Lawler was eventually moved to the backstage area where EMTs worked to revive him. According to some backstage reports, Lawler was clinically dead for somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 minutes. Many people who were involved in the situation, including Lawler himself, agree that it's a miracle that he survived.
According to my friend Jeremy Prophet who was backstage at RAW, Jerry was clinically dead for 20 min before being brought back by defibrilat— Smith Hart (@SmithHart1) September 11, 2012
Lawler would go onto make a full recovery. He returned to Raw and the broadcast booth about three months after suffering the heart attack.
Michael Cole recently sat down for an interview with Dave Lagreca and Doug Mortman on Busted Open. The Busted Open Radio Show can be heard on Sirus 92, XM 208 and on the SportsZone app. Highlights from the interview were transcribed in a recent article on WrestlingInc.com and can be read here.
The entire interview is truly a fascinating read. It touches on how he broke into the business, his perceived feud with Jim Ross, the current state of Raw, John Cena and much more. The interview was done as part of the promotion of WrestleMania XXIX. However, during the interview Cole is asked about the night of the heart attack.
Cole then goes on to walk us through the night as it unfolded:
So in the middle of this match I heard Jerry snoring and I thought he was doing like I used to do when I was a heel, especially back in the NXT days. I thought he was making fun of the match in the ring and I thought he was snoring because the match was boring. So I chuckled because I thought that's what he was doing and then I looked over to Jerry to my left and Jerry was laying down on the table, his head was down, and he was literally snoring. At that point I thought this obviously isn't good, he looked blue.
So I jumped up, first thing I did and I'll never forget this is I hit my mute switch on my box because I was screaming for the doctor. Luckily we had Doc Sampson at ringside. So I'm screaming for the doctor, 'Doc, doc, Jerry needs you,' and I hit the mute switch I think out of instinct but I'll never forget. I remember doing it because I knew something serious was happening. I knew that his family watches the product and I didn't want them to know at that point what was going on because I thought that if it was me I wouldn't want my wife or anybody in my family to learn about what was happening from live television.
So I hit the mute switch and Jerry at that point I grabbed him to try to hold him up and then he fell out of his chair and then the doctor luckily was there. At that point I just went into instinct mode and I just started calling the match that was going on in the ring and didn't reference anything that was going on.
One of the most interesting things that I took from Cole's recount was the piece about muting the microphone. There must have been a million things rushing through his mind during those moments. For him to instinctually hit the mute on his microphone for the sake of Lawler's family, who might have been watching at home, is unbelievable. Generally speaking, it's a fair assumption that in crisis situations peoples' minds tend to wander or freeze.
In this crisis situation, Cole was able to maintain focus and professionalism.
Obviously when you see a friend or a colleague in harm's way, your first instinct is to help them. Cole not only managed to do that for Lawler, but he also protected his family in the process. Then, as if that wasn't enough, he somehow managed to come back and finish calling the match, which is incredible.
That action alone speaks volumes towards the respect Cole has for the business and for Lawler.
Then obviously we went to commercial break and during the break they hauled Jerry off in a stretcher and all that. So I'm down at ringside and I've got to do the rest of the show for an hour. I had no idea what's going on. I've got my producers and Triple H and others telling me and giving me updates in my headset which I would come back on the air and say, 'hey, this is the latest we heard,' and so on and so forth.
Then at about 10:30 eastern, about a half hour before we went off the air, I remember somebody came in my headset. I can't remember who it was, and they said, 'Michael, you need to prepare for the worst.' I'm like, 'ok,' and they said, 'you need to be prepared to deliver the news.' So at that point I knew what they were talking about obviously.
So now we had stopped doing commentary out of respect to Jerry. So now I'm sitting out there with 18,000 people surrounding us and millions at home, no one knowing what's going on, and I didn't either. And now I'm sitting there going, 'ok, now how am I going to deliver this news to millions of people around the world' and 'what am I going to say' and how am I going to say it and how am I going to keep myself composed. All that is running through my head and then almost like it was scripted, and I hate saying that because of the business we're in because it wasn't obviously. But when we went off the air on Raw we had got an update that Jerry's heart started beating on its own and I was able to deliver that news going off the air and that was such an emotion moment.
Cole's walk-through of that night is chilling. To read his account of how it happened and then to watch that match live is eerie.
WWE and Cole did an admirable job that night to keep the show going. I was watching Raw that evening, and you could tell by the lack of commentary and the shift in the audience's attention that something was going on. However, given the camera angles, viewers at home had no idea what was transpiring at ring side.
Credit should also be given to the men that were performing in the ring that night. Even though they were involved in a match, it would have been near impossible for them to not notice the commotion outside of the ring. To their credit they didn't miss a beat in the ring and were able to complete the match.
The entire piece really hits home when Cole discussed how he was prompted to "prepare to deliver the news"—the news obviously being the passing of Lawler.
Earlier in this interview, Cole mentions how he and Lawler have "known each other for 16 years" and are "real close." I simply cannot imagine being in that moment that he was in. For him to be sitting ringside trying to come to terms with the real possibility that he was going to have to tell the world his friend died is unimaginable.
The overall vibe of this night was strikingly similar to that of the Over the Edge pay-per-view in 1999. If you recall, it was on this fateful night that Owen Hart experienced an equipment malfunction, causing him to fall from the rafters to the ring. That night the show also went on. During that broadcast we received an initial update from Jim Ross and Lawler, a few heart-warming comments from Jeff Jarrett and then ultimately the announcement of Hart's passing.
In both situations the life and energy was totally sucked out of the live audience. Being someone that watched both events live, I can say that for myself each passing moment was very tense. It's unsettling to be watching something where there is such uncertainty in regards to someone living or dying. Fortunately the similarities end there since Lawler was able to make it through his ordeal.
The events of that evening were horrible and almost tragic.
However, the one thing the heart attack did was allow for the WWE Universe to see Michael Cole in a new light. Prior to that night, Cole was playing a heel character and was generally hated by most fans. He had been feuding on TV with Lawler and garnering a great deal of heat from fans. The Cole and Lawler feud saw Cole delve into some deep personal subjects from Lawler's personal life. Even before his heel turn, it seemed like the majority of the WWE Universe never really connected with him.
On that night, everyone got to see a different side of Cole. Everyone got to see raw emotion. They got to see a man that was no longer playing a role or following a script, but rather someone who was in agony and struggling to get his thoughts out. WWE fans saw Cole in a vulnerable and emotional state. For many fans this was one of the first real opportunities to connect with him.
That night, Cole turned face in regards to his TV character. In regards to the WWE Universe, I believe it was on that night that fans finally embraced and accepted him.
It's truly amazing what moments in life end up being the ones that define people. Cole has been with the WWE since 1997—that's just over 16 years. In that time he has done some wonderful things for the business. He is hands down going to be regarded as one of the best WWE play-by-play callers. One could even argue that he is putting together a Hall of Fame career.
Despite everything that he has accomplished and everything he will in the future, this night just might be his defining moment. When he wraps up his WWE career this just might be the night that stands out in the mind of fans.
This is not because he doesn't have brighter moments. Instead, it's because it was on this night that he as a person captivated the entire WWE Universe with his emotion and love for his close friend and colleague.