Since signing with WWE three months ago, distinguished commentator Mauro Ranallo has taken SmackDown by storm. With his exciting energy and unique approach to announcing, he has quickly become a fan favorite behind the booth every Thursday night.
From calling the action at New Japan Pro Wrestling to venturing over to WWE, Ranallo has seemingly accomplished it all. Now he can add hosting to his long list of accolades as he joins longtime friend Bas Rutten Friday nights on AXS TV for Inside MMA.
Within a matter of months, he has done a great deal to make SmackDown meaningful again with his colorful commentary. Fans are already speculating how long it will be before he ends up on the Monday Night Raw announce team alongside Michael Cole and JBL.
Ranallo spoke with me on the March 22 edition of WrestleRant Radio to talk about his new gig on Inside MMA, comparing commentary in NJPW and WWE, his inspirations as an announcer, AJ Styles coming to WWE, his status for WrestleMania 32 and more.
As noted, Ranallo will be returning to his roots as a host on Inside MMA Friday nights on AXS TV. Given that was where he started his career, it's only fitting that he'll reunite with Rutten to discuss all the latest happenings in the world of mixed martial arts:
It's almost like going home in many ways because Bas Rutten is instrumental in giving me my mixed martial arts combat career when he recommended me to the powers that be at Pride Championships back in 2003. Because of that opportunity, I was able to begin a program very similar to Inside MMA in my native country of Canada.
In many ways, it's deja vu all over again and everything coming full circle, but it's also a very new challenge in the sense that I'll be working with Rutten again in a different capacity as we break down, we analyze, we tell the stories behind the headlines on a weekly basis.
It's really exciting on so many levels for me, and I'm really happy to be a part of the Inside MMA team. I'm looking forward to adding a dose of my energy to the proceedings.
Few people can speak candidly on the MMA world with more expert analysis than Ranallo, who should be an excellent addition to the show with Rutten. He will appearing on the program while simultaneously doing commentary for WWE, and he has proved to excel at both.
Following the WWE departure of Jim Ross in 2013, no one has been able to replace him as the company's top-tier announcer. Michael Cole, JBL and the rest of the commentary crew have handled the load well but are constantly criticized by the fanbase for their lack of focus on the wrestling going on in the ring.
With his sensational style of commentary, however, Ranallo has drawn comparisons to the WWE Hall of Famer, largely due to the excitement he exudes when he announces. It engages the fans in what they are watching and makes them feel like they are right alongside him at the commentary desk:
A lot of people might think that, always questioning my voice. “How can someone talk like that?” I knew at five years old what I wanted to do for a living. I started reading newspapers and books out loud at a very young age. I was very focused on English and building my vocabulary. I was discovered at 16, so all I've done is be a communicator and an entertainer all my life, and my energy is who I am in real life.
I'm a fan first and foremost. I get caught up in the drama, the emotion of what is happening, whether it's a boxing match, an MMA fight, a kickboxing contest or a WWE matchup. I want to tell the story and paint more pictures. I want to convey the drama and get people emotionally invested, because I think if I'm excited and interested in the proceedings, then I think the fans at home are invested. We're all different personalities. I don't think there's a good or wrong way of broadcasting. The more unique you are, the more opportunities you're going to get.”
Ranallo's voice is much different than anything else the average WWE fan has heard before. This would explain why fans have been quick to gravitate to him since his arrival on the scene, because they are always hungry for something that sounds fresh.
Coming over from NJPW, one would think that Ranallo would have had to completely change his approach to announcing and adjust to the so-called "WWE style," but he denied that claim.
Instead, he made it quite clear that there is virtually no difference in calling the action in NJPW compared to WWE, no matter whether it's Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi or AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho. The transition was nearly seamless:
There is no exception. I think that's what has shocked a lot of people, especially the WWE Universe, with what they think they've known about how WWE handles its broadcasters and its system of announcing. Sure enough, if you go to work for any company, you have to play by their rules, and I've been fortunate enough that Michael Cole, who is the voice of WWE, was instrumental in spearheading the negotiations in them contacting me and gauge interest in whether or not I'd want to work with WWE.
Little did he know it was a dream of mine since five years old to get a spot with that company. Triple H has been nothing but a blessing. Vince McMahon of course rubber-stamping the hiring. They wanted me to be me.
The aforementioned Cole—despite fans already petitioning for him to be replaced by Ranallo on Monday nights—played a major role in the latter's hiring by WWE late last year. Had it not not been for Cole, SmackDown could very well have been as bland as it was before.
Cole has been an integral part of the WWE system for close to two decades, and only in recent years has he evolved into the voice of WWE. As much flak as he receives from fans, he deserves just as much credit for holding everything together every week on Raw.
Cole is often criticized for not focusing enough on the in-ring action or for his relentless promotion for the WWE Network, but that is simply the nature of the beast in this day and age. Ranallo recognizes that and offered high praise for his colleague:
There are so many balls that Michael Cole has to juggle compared to what I have to do on Tuesday and I think sometimes he is unfairly criticized for what he is doing Monday. We'd all like to sit there and call the matches bell to bell. The WWE is a business, and there's a lot of business to tend to, and Michael Cole as a traffic cop doing what he has to do on Monday is vastly underrated.
I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing right now without his assistance. Everyone has made me feel completely at home. The chemistry I have with Jerry Lawler and Byron Saxton amazes me that it happened so soon. I continue to fine-tune every week, and I'm blown away by the feedback.
Ranallo isn't the only product of NJPW to head over to WWE in 2016, however, as AJ Styles followed suit in the Royal Rumble match mere weeks removed from Ranallo's SmackDown debut. He too found his rooting in no time and is currently among the most popular athletes on the rise.
Despite having all the tools to be successful in WWE, there was a belief among fans for years that officials wouldn't utilize Styles to his full potential. Thus far, they have silenced the critics by allowing him to do what he does best and produce phenomenal matches every time he steps between the ropes.
Shinsuke Nakamura, another ex-NJPW talent, made his official NXT debut on Friday at NXT TakeOver: Dallas. Ranallo is excited to see what the future holds for both men in WWE:
It's been surreal. I'm a spiritual human being. I believe everything happens for a reason, I believe in karma, I believe in a lot of different things. For me, the timing is a complement to me. AJ Styles belonged in WWE a long time ago. He's been one of the world's top performers for many years, and yes, watching him and doing what he did in New Japan and take his profile and his talents to another level opened the door for an opportunity with WWE.
I think a lot of people, based maybe on recent history or Mr. McMahon—and let's face it: He's the boss, the most successful promoter ever and a billionaire—everyone has their idea of how things should be done, but for AJ Styles to come in and from the get-go, his debut in the Royal Rumble where he lasted almost 30 minutes before being eliminated by Kevin Owens, and they had a tremendous match on SmackDown, and the rivalry with Chris Jericho. ... He's right where he should be.
In addition to appearing on the NXT TakeOver: Dallas pre-show, Ranallo was able to call the WrestleMania 32 Kickoff show, which featured a United States Championship match, a 10-woman tag team match and a tag team match between The Dudley Boyz and The Usos.
In the short time he's been with WWE, he has been able to call a number of exciting in-ring battles on the blue brand:
In terms of the matches, I think it's unfair to say I liked this one better than others, but just by my cadence and tone of my voice, I'm into all of the Superstars and Divas and what they do. Obviously, I've really enjoyed calling the AJ Styles-Chris Jericho rivalry. I loved Kalisto and Alberto Del Rio. But there's so many and so many more that I'm looking forward to.
Along with pay-per-view kickoff shows, Inside MMA is the premier place to catch Ranallo honing his hosting craft these days, along with SmackDown every Thursday night. He has already added quite a bit to SmackDown in the three months he has been with the company.
What else the future holds for the beloved broadcaster remains to be seen, but if what we have seen so far has been any indication, it's safe to say that it will be nothing short of sensational.
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is a journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.