A quiet upheaval at ringside may be underway on WWE SmackDown with announcer Mauro Ranallo rumored to be on his way out of the company.
The details are hazy. Little has been confirmed. But it's looking more and more like the voice of SmackDown will no longer be calling matches for the blue brand.
It's a disappointing development on a number of levels. For one, the lack of Ranallo's presence will make Tuesday nights decidedly less electric. And if there is any truth to the speculation and hearsay surrounding why he's departing, a toxic workplace ousted a man with a history of mental illness from his dream job.
Ranallo has not appeared on SmackDown for several weeks in a row, including missing out on WrestleMania 33.
The announcer has been vocal and open about his bouts with depression and bipolar disorder. Many assumed he was simply dealing with those issues during that absence. A brief hiatus, however, is potentially poised to morph into a divorce with the company.
Brian Campbell reported for CBSSports.com: "Ranallo, 47, is not expected to appear on camera for the remainder of his WWE contract, which he signed on Dec. 15, 2015.
If this story ends with a Ranallo-less SmackDown commentary team, things simply won't be the same on the blue brand.
A Brand Missing its Heart
Ranallo's energy and passion bolstered every bout on SmackDown. His MMA and boxing background gave an added air of authenticity to the action.
And while some didn't like his infusion of pop culture references, there's no denying he made big moments grander. From heels cheating to win or challengers becoming champions, Ranallo often elevated what we saw onscreen.
WWE Universe @WWEUniverse
"@WWEBrayWyatt rose from the ashes in Phoenix to taste ultimate glory!" - @MauroRanallo #WWEChamber #WWEChampion #EaterOfWorlds https://t.co/4MrCZRsSxc2017-2-13 06:45:38
The remaining SmackDown commentary crew—David Otunga, John "Bradshaw" Layfield and Tom Phillips—is a far less electric group.
Phillips is a serviceable announcer. JBL often wavers from grating to humorous during the same match. Otunga has been out of his depths from day one. He is to announcing what The Great Khali is to wrestling—a bottom-of-the-barrel talent.
That's who SmackDown will be left with if Ranallo doesn't return.
Many fans won't care that much about the switch, but the quality of the product overall will undoubtedly go down. WWE's loss will be boxing and MMA's gain, though.
Bleacher Report combat sports writer Jonathan Snowden called him the best play-by-play guy for the sweet science today:
Jonathan Snowden @JESnowden
No matter what, @mauroranallo is the best play-by-play guy in boxing and I look forward to hearing him on the top announce team in the biz.2017-4-9 22:16:19
We've seen WWE move on from great talent, be it in the ring or behind the announce desk, before, but the rest of the blue brand's commentary team will have trouble matching what Ranallo produced.
A Less Crowded Stage
The one advantage of losing Ranallo is that SmackDown's four-man booth would shrink to a more manageable number.
Three voices at the commentary desk is already a lot. The blue brand's quartet made for an awkward arrangement. Phillips rarely said anything during matches, only to speak up between segments to plug a match or upcoming show.
Minus Ranallo, there is now a clearer role for Phillips.
He will have the opportunity to develop into the lead voice of SmackDown. He will be more present and less of a third wheel.
That's not exactly enough to compensate for the loss of a top-notch announcer, but it's good news for Phillips' career.
Although Ranallo's exit isn't yet official and the speculated reasons for him leaving aren't confirmed, WWE is suffering a public relations hit right now.
Former announcer Justin Roberts detailed incidents in his book Best Seat in the House where he claimed JBL was a bully backstage. Many have assumed that kind of behavior directed at Ranallo led to his departure.
JBL has denied it and refuted one of Roberts' stories:
John Layfield @JCLayfield
@JoeCroninJCS No Joe, and I won't-I shouldn't commenting on Internet stuff. I play a heel. I sincerely wish Mauro nothing but the absolute best.2017-4-7 03:03:35
John Layfield @JCLayfield
I won't answer Net rumors-but I didn't take Justin Roberts passport. Could have been anyone/he was hated by the whole crew. He's an idiot.2017-4-7 11:50:07
What's true and what's exaggerated is unclear, but there is still negativity swirling around JBL and WWE.
JBL's reputation among fans isn't great. As David Bixenspan wrote on Deadspin: "Backstage tales of Layfield's hazing and bullying have long been legion among hardcore wrestling fans."
Now with Roberts' allegations come to light and some presuming JBL played a role in Ranallo walking away, WWE is receiving the kind of press it can't be happy about. Sean Rueter of Cageside Seats noted: "It's certainly a situation a company like WWE, involved in promoting anti-bullying campaigns, doesn't want getting mainstream attention."
Depending on what transpired between the announcers, there could be a potential legal fight ahead. Certainly the pressure to remove JBL will mount from fans online.
Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Radio (h/t Gerwreck.net; contains NSFW language) commented on the circumstances. "Something should happen to him. Without a doubt," Meltzer said of JBL.
We can't connect the dots when not all of them have materialized. The full story hasn't come out yet. This is a headache for WWE regardless. The company either has a bullying problem to sort out or a misunderstood situation to clear up.
And SmackDown is simply not as good without Ranallo, no matter what led to him stepping away from the announce desk.