In recent months, WWE programming has seen its once famous broadcast teams undergo some considerable changes.
For a long while, we've had Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler on Raw and on Smackdown, Todd Grisham and Matt Striker. It's been standard, to the say the least.
However, two very important things occurred recently that seem to have shaken up management's idea of what makes a good broadcast team.
1) Smackdown's move to the SyFy network provided Michael Cole an additional place alongside Grisham and Striker. Not only did his budding heel voice really show through, but the inadequacies of Grisham and Striker showed through as well. Grisham was now seen as a lifeless, boring, everyman whose play-by-play didn't inspire anyone to action. Striker, although extremely intelligent and analytical, was seeing his sense of humor and obscure references squashed at every step.
2) CM Punk's hip injury and subsequent surgery forced management and/or creative to make a decision. Find any way possible to keep Punk on TV or let him sit at home, and risk losing one of Raw's last few big talents. To many of our delights, WWE chose to put him on commentary. Even the news sounded good to us, and his witty, brash, unafraid sense of humor and insight was extraordinarily refreshing. Seeing him return to action made many of us hesitant, though even with him leaving the booth, his short time there left a legacy.
Many of us now want much more from our commentary teams than we were dealing with for the past few years. Subbing Grisham out for Mathews may not seem like a major change, but as I'll get into shortly, this adds more than one might think.
When news hit earlier this week that Booker T, who made his surprising return to WWE at this year's Royal Rumble, was going to be doing commentary on the Friday, February 4th episode of Smackdown, the initial feeling was neutral, as it could be hit or miss.
After all, Booker was known for being funny in promos in the past. He had a strong and tough personality and charisma, and he was willing to poke fun at himself to an extent. The potential for this to go well was great, but so was the potential for it to fail.
After his first night, I'm willing to deem the experience a great success.
Although a few moments felt a tad too scripted, overall, Booker really took each match seriously. A veteran of the game, we can all figure Booker's been there and done just about everything, so for him to really play along as much as he did, and really sound like each pinfall could be a gamewinner, made me more excited to watch.
He didn't jump into conversation in too gung-ho a fashion, however Josh Mathews, like a true professional, found any and all reason to turn to Booker for insight or comment, up to and including stepping on Michael Cole to do it.
By the end of the broadcast, Booker was effectively being the perfect face counterweight to Cole's monumentally powerful heel voice.
As I expected, he gave the commentary a similar feel as Macho Man Randy Savage gave the Raw commentary team so many years ago. You could tell he was experienced, you could tell he knew his stuff, but kept his descriptions and remarks on a level that most fans could relate to and understand.
That was among Matt Striker's biggest problems. His references were too Dennis Miller and not enough Gorilla Monsoon. His jokes were a little too obscure and his use of childish euphemisms was going a bit too far.
I've heard him say "B's to the wall," a few too many times on Smackdown, and I've even read one of the reasons he was taken off commentary on the weekly Friday broadcast was his use of "Holy cow," during the Royal Rumble.
I happen to be a fan of the PG format, however for those who aren't, spouting remarks like that only makes the PG situation that much more blatant. Similar to how Edge and Cena do it, though I don't want to digress too far.
Booker's sense of humor was fair, definitely not as powerful as CM Punk's biting humor, but the jokes he threw in were casual and naturally delivered. Very easy to determine that they weren't written for him. He did his own material, at least, it sure seemed that way.
All in all, I felt a bit nostalgic listening to Booker comment on the action and give his take. Although he wasn't as loud as Cole, Booker's influence alone still counterbalanced Michael Cole pretty perfectly, which is great to see.
I'm a defender of Cole's value to commentary, even though I acknowledge how far over the top he goes, and I'm confident many of Cole's critics would likely quiet just a bit if they knew a commentator sitting next to him was willing enough to challenge him.
Last night, like a true snake, Cole found any little crack or window to yell at Booker and make fun of what he was saying, but much like his in-ring style, Booker held his own and didn't stifle himself just because Cole was being an ass.
Personally, I found it very enjoyable. After all, Bobby Heenan was kind of a jerk of a commentator, but he had others to effectively balance out his blind loyalty to heels.
Now we just need a third person on the Raw broadcast team to keep Cole down. Much as I like Lawler, he's not getting the job done by himself.
Any ideas, ladies and gentlemen?