First of all, I'd like to point out that I hate this headline. I've been a fan of Jerry Lawler since the days when he was still wrestling, since the days when he was feuding with Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. I won't go into the rest of his storied career, most of us know it, if you don't, take a few and Wiki it. Point is, Jerry Lawler is a Hall of Fame legend and deserves that honor, partially due to his transition after retiring from full-time wrestling to a position behind the broadcast table on WWE's prestigious flagship show, Monday Night Raw.
Last few years, though, his commentating has gotten...well...a bit tired. Just listen to him, these days, he actually sounds genuinely like he's out of breath and lacking energy. Which is a damn shame...
Fans my age (I just turned 30 in September, by the way) hear the name Jerry Lawler and think of a classic wrestler who just couldn't keep his mouth shut. He held a King's Court every so often on Raw, where he'd call forth inhabitants of the locker room to the ring so he could lambast them with bad put downs and quick wit. His jokes back then were pretty hit and miss, often times pretty corny, but he really made it work for him, and when he really needed to, his wit put out some really awesome promos, some of the best for the day. When he couldn't stand to wrestle the tougher guys, he transitioned to the broadcast table for commentary, where his voice really stood out and shined.
Quick quiz, who are the most recognizable voices of Monday Night Raw? Answer? Easy...The King and JR. In fact, you have to word it that way to be right. If you said Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross, you'd be wrong. But if you said JR and The King, that'd also be acceptable. The two of them had real chemistry because like The King, JR's voice was beloved, recognizable...even spat out a catch phrase or two. Who could forget when Kane would appear "through Hellfire and Brimstone," and the infamous "slobberknocker." But what made JR great was the wealth of knowledge he had in addition to how much charisma he had as a play-by-play man. JR could give you tons of info about the past, call up relevant info about what's going on currently, and relate it to what was going to happen in the future. JR was also great at boosting the credibility of faces, while his tag team partner, The King, would be the expert/heel/color guy...all three at once!
The two worked absolutley perfectly. Now, if you look back in time to early Raw? You'll see a much different equation. Specifically, an equation that was +1...
Quick quiz number 2, debut episode of Raw, name the commentators. Can't do it? Okay, here they are...Vincent Kennedy McMahon, Macho Man Randy Savage, and Rob Bartlett. As for that last guy, don't ask me who it is, I have no idea, but if you watch early episodes of Raw, you'll hear the perfect mixture of broadcast responsibilities. Rob Bartlett, although a relative no-name (at least nowadays), was a great voice for the heel wrestlers. He was later replaced with Bobby The Brain Heenan, which was a much more relevant choice with a wealth of managerial experience at the sides of many famous names, as well as another extremely solid heel voice. Whoever it was, Rob or Bobby, that seat was largely reserved for those who supported the bad guys. Hell, even when HBK filled in, he usually took that seat in particular, and the back and forth between face support and heel support really worked right. Macho Man was another expert commentator who added some great, simply put insight into wrestling and being a fan favorite, he was a great face voice. And Vince McMahon made the sandwich complete by offering incredibly energetic play-by-play, a little bit of extra boost for the faces as a personal touch, and provided lots of information for us to chew on.
So, how does this relate to Jerry "The King" Lawler...simple.
JR and The King had great chemistry, as I said, because both could accomplish all the responsibilities I just expressed in just a two-man team, but with JR's departure from Raw, someone else was needed to fill the Oklahoman's seat. Enter Michael Cole (who, by the way, I passed in a diner once...short ass dude). At the time, he'd been the voice of Smackdown and was now, in the eyes of many, moving up to the big leagues. For a while, King carried Cole in much of the talking aspect of commentating, but Cole held his own and for a long time...kinda stagnated as a very standard voice. He gave us info, but it was mainly info we already knew. Wasn't calling up anything from the past, no lesser known accolades of note, basically...just the facts, ma'am. Also, Michael Cole was filling the seat of a face voice, this is very important, because meanwhile, during Micahel Cole's stagnation as a voice, The King's own HEEL voice's strength was dwindling, and I mean FAST! I want to say this had much to do with his induction into the Hall of Fame, as once you get there, you're almost guaranteed a huge pop at every appearance. I remember years ago, even though many enjoyed The King's commentary, he'd still get booed coming out to the announce table! Unheard of these days, isn't it? Thus, The King wasn't exactly offering a counterpoint to Cole's ass-kissing of all the faces anymore.
In essence, we now have a very one-sided commentary team on Raw. No commentators to support the heels means...the heels get absolutely no respect and fans really have to fight with themselves to like them. No desire exists to put heels in any kind of position of power. With The Brain, The King, HBK or even JBL rooting for the bad guys in many situations, it was real easy for fans and viewers who weren't on the side of names like The Rock, John Cena, and Triple H to say, "yeah! Those guys do suck! See? Even he says so on TV." Without those heel voices...the bad guys' strength had gotten a bit dim.
It deeply saddens me to say it, but I think this is a result of The King's voice no longer supporting villains and enemies.
If you've been watching, though, the same thing happened on Smackdown. With the loss of JBL on commentary, someone needed to fill the seat. Matt Striker was an okay choice at first, but soon, even his voice became bland and face-driven as well.
So, what can be done?
Todd Grisham, though I don't consider him that bad, is a bit too neutral to do well on his own. One of the main factors that inspired me to think on this was an article written by a B/R writer named Cec Van Galini, regarding Todd Grisham losing the support of Vince McMahon, seen here, check it out and comment for him please...
In it, I posted a long comment (which I will respectfully not repeat, you can check it out yourself) discussing how perfect I feel that Smackdown's new broadcast team has become. Despite my support of Striker as a commentator inspiring me to write what would become my application article for this site in July, Grisham and Striker alone have proven pretty boring overall. However, with Michael Cole slowly but surely embracing this new heel voice, it's made me enjoy Smackdown 100x more than I have in a long time. I can check out heels like Alberto Del Rio and enjoy watching him so much more because I know I have a commentator to agree with, or perhaps, a commentator who agrees with me, however you feel like looking at it.
As for Raw, they're currently struggling with a two-man show. How long Cole will stay with Smackdown's team, I really can't say, but I hope if they change their minds about Grisham, they'll keep Cole in as well. What they need to do with Raw's table, I have no clue. Personally, I'd like to see HBK fill that seat, though since he's retired and happy with it, I'm not sure that's possible. One thing I'm reasonably sure of, as much as it kills me to say...
I feel as if The King's days behind the headset should be drawing to a close.