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November 28, 2007

The best and worst wrestling announcers

My esteemed colleagues Ray Frager and Peter Schmuck are by no means pro wrestling fans, but they did indirectly give me the idea for this blog entry. In Frager’s sports media blog, Medium Well (I don’t get the title, either), he wrote yesterday about a poll in The Sports Business Journal on people’s favorite sportscasters. And last night on The Steve Davis Show on WBAL radio, Schmuck and Davis discussed sports.aol.com's Worst Sports Announcer tournament.

As usual, my mind never strays too far from the squared circle, so the best and worst sportscasters topic got me to thinking about the best and worst wrestling announcers. Dividing the field into two categories – play-by-play men and color commentators – I have selected my three favorite and three least-favorite announcers in each. This is not meant to be a definitive list of the best and worst of all-time, just my personal opinion. There are plenty of wrestling announcers that I haven’t heard enough of to consider for the list.

With that disclaimer out of the way, here’s the play-by-play announcers portion of the list. I’ll post the color commentators portion tomorrow. I look forward to your comments and your own best and worst lists:

BEST

1. Jim Ross: With a vast knowledge of wrestling history as well as a passion for the business that comes across in his performances, Ross has set the standard for wrestling announcers for more than 20 years, whether he was working for WWE, WCW or Mid-South. Ross will always be remembered for being the voice of WWE during the biggest boom period in the history of the industry (the late 1990s to the early part of this decade), as his calls of matches involving Steve Austin, The Rock, Mick Foley, Triple H and others are as legendary as the matches themselves. Good wrestling matches tell a story, and no announcer conveys that story to viewers better than Ross.

2. Gordon Solie: Known as “The Dean of Wrestling Announcers” and the “Walter Cronkite of Wrestling,” the late Solie added legitimacy to an often-farcical form of entertainment with his serious and intelligent style. Solie was as much a part of the glory days of Georgia and Florida wrestling in the 1970s and ’80s as Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Tommy Rich or any other wrestler.

3. Vince McMahon: I admit that this is a sentimental pick, as I grew up in the ’70s watching WWE (then known as WWWF and later WWF) on Saturday afternoons on ch. 45 with McMahon as the announcer. He didn’t always know the names of holds (“Oh, what a maneuver!”), but he brought an enthusiasm that added to the excitement of the matches. Every time a challenger got a near fall in a title match, McMahon would yell: “One, two, new champ … no, he didn’t get him!” Although McMahon will go down as one of the greatest heels of all time, he always favored the babyfaces as an announcer. The look of disgust on his face when interviewing a heel was priceless.

WORST

1. David Crockett: Because his family owned the promotion (Jim Crockett Promotions, which was later bought by Ted Turner and became WCW), Crockett got to play wrestling announcer. He was awful at it. Crockett didn’t have a great voice and he wasn’t smooth at all. Whenever something exciting happened in the ring, he would just start yelling, which was incredibly annoying. And while most wrestling play-by-play men favor the babyfaces, Crockett took it to another level. I remember one time when heel manager Jim Cornette was getting whipped with a belt, and Crockett, in his screechy voice, was yelling, “Whip him! Whip him like a dog!”

2. Jack Reynolds: He looked and sounded like a regional wrestling announcer from the early ’70s, which was fine when he was the voice of Cleveland wrestling. But Reynolds and his dull persona were woefully out of place when he joined WWE during the days of The Rock and Wrestling Connection. His color man in WWE was former wrestler Angelo Mosca, and they formed perhaps the worst announcing tandem in wrestling history.

3. Lee Marshall: Here’s my 1970s sitcom reference for the day: Marshall was the Ted Baxter of wrestling announcers. He had one of those deep “broadcaster voices,” but, unfortunately, his announcing was all style and no substance. His “Road Report” segments on WCW Monday Nitro were brutal.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 2:20 AM | | Comments (39)
        

Comments

Lance Russell was very good but Gorilla Monson was painful at times with his grammatical errors and made up words to describe the match and holds that were new to him. He did have excitement in his presentation though. If I recall correctly, it was Heenan who saved him often and made it palatable.

Good get on the Vince as play-by-play. He was really good at that for a very long time - that tends to be forgotten. Additionally, I'd like to throw in...

Lord Alfred Hayes - The may was so slick with matches, be it on the color team or part of a three man booth on the play-by-play, granted he trended more color commentator. His stuff with Gorilla Monsoon was great though.

On the other side of the coin, I cannot stand Michael Cole - at all. He's gotten better with a better color man in JBL (who is definitely becoming one of the best color men of all time - color guys are a whole different lot, though!), but Michael Cole is just plain junk.

I like your list for the worst announcers (although Michael Cole could certainly be added based upon his later work without Tazz by his side). But as far as the best, your list is incomplete without adding Bob Caudle. While David Crockett was terrible on the old NWA World Wide Wrestling and TBS' World Championship Wrestling, Caulde made Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling (and later, NWA Pro Wrestling) a much better show, although it was considered the "B" syndicated show compared to World Wide. Bob Caudle definitely needs to be on your list instead of Vince McMahon.

I forgot to make mention of a couple of my other favorite announcers...

Sean Mooney and Gorilla Monsoon...Also, I kinda liked Lee Marshall - go figure.

Kevin, I'm sorry to see that Gorilla Monsoon didn't make your list for best PBP. He might be my sentimental pick, but I thought he did a good job of conveying excitement and spectacle without shouting. He often had great color partners (with Bobby Heenan he formed my favorite announcing team of all time), but he seemed to have chemistry with almost everyone who called a match with him.

I want to give some love to Mike Tenay as well, as his knowledge is unparalleled, but I think he's gotten carried away with the "hard sell" in TNA and is in danger of drifting in Schiavone territory.

i have to agree with your list, kevin it seems pretty accurate. not many people know that Gordon Solie was the only announcer to pronounce the word suplex, suplay. i found that interesting.

Darn, I really thought Don West would make your best list.

I agree on the best...But I really think an honorable mention should go to Bob Caudle, the voice of Mid-Atlantic. He was among the last of the unbiased play-by-play guys.

You mentioned David Crockett...as much as I enjoyed seeing the Mulkies beating the Gladiators, watching him struggle through the post match interview with Randy and Bill was painful. The screechy voice...Yeah...terrible.

One of my all time favorites from when I was a kid watching NWA on TBS through the Nitro days was Tony Schiavone. I've always thought that he was a close second to Jim Ross on the announcers' list.

As for worst announcers, I've never been a fan of Michael Cole, from when he was backing up Ross on RAW to when he took over on Smackdown! I just can't get into his style of calling a match. I have to caveat that with the fact that I haven't watched wrestling regularly in a long time, so his style may have changed since I remember it.

As an aside, I really enjoy your blog. It's been nice to follow wrestling on a casual basis since I don't get the chance to watch it anymore. Keep up the great work.

I like your list of best play by play announcers. Even though he is not a play by play man and has not been announcing that long, JBL is pretty good and the best color commentary analyst currently in WWE. When Michael Cole asks JBL questions such as how does a bearhug hurt your opponent. JBL would give in-depth color commentary such as how it can hurt your ribs and makes it hard to breathe. He helps explain that there is strategy involved in a wrestling match. JBL actually hypes up mid-card wrestlers fairly well. Because of JBL I think Chuck Palumbo actually has some talent. In 2006 JBL made Mr. Kennedy, who has not won that many titles appear be a legit and an accomplished wrestler when he was on smackdown when he said Kennedy defeated 6 or 7 world champions in a calendar year. For people who may not be a fan of Michel Cole the interaction between Michael Cole and JBL is entertaining. JBL keeps Michael Cole in his place. Michael Cole said some crazy comment a few weeks ago that Rey Mysterio is his best when he is off balance and JBL responded saying Rey Mysterio is his best when he falling on his back, Michael Cole did not have a good comeback for JBL. JBL once confronted Cole saying every move that Cole does not know he calls it unorthodox. Compared to Tazz and Jerry Lawler and I just think JBL provides more as a color-commentary analyst.

Thanks for giving Gordon Solie (my personal #1) and Vinnie Mac props for their wrestling announcing skills. I agree that while Solie called a match like a scientist, McMahan called the match like a fan routing for the good guys. I'll never forget the promo that Vince did with "The Magnificient" Don Muraco for a match between Muraco and Bob Backlund for the WWF title at the Capital Centre in Landover MD. Maybe 1982 or so? Muraco was eating fried chicken while doing the promo...food flying everywhere from his mouth....McMahon said "This is disgusting!" Classic!

Lance Russell was gold if for nothing else then his announcing of the empty arena match between Jerry Lawler and Terry Funk. Gorilla Monsoon was great as well and Bobby Heenan is the be all end all color commentator... everyone else takes a back seat to the Brain.

The worst was clearly Ed Whalen in Calgary. Jeez-what a bore, who would cut off heels in mid sentence, and censor violence.
One of the best was Dick Lane in LA, who took no crap from heels. Only 1 complete later Lane announced match exists (Rikidozan beating Blassie which jump started Japanese wrestling.) Lane's interview w Blassie afterwards is just classic.

Another argument:the best and worst analysts/partners
1. Jim Cornette- Best mic skills in the history of the business(including the Rock). Always made me laugh my butt off.
2. Bobby Heenan: King of the Humanoids!!
3. Jesse Ventura: By default. Who else is there??

Worst
1. Steve Mongo McMichael
2. Jonathan Coachman
3. Paul Heyman

Gordon Solie was a self-important gasbag.

I have to admit Tony Schiavone was one of the worst I've ever listened to...I remember a few years ago I was on a website that had spoof comedy about wrestling and one guy came up with a skit that featured a day in the life of Tony Schiavone, starting with him at the breakfast table shouting "This was the greatest breakfast in the history of all breakfasts!" after eating a bowl of bran cereal lol. He was quite the exaggerator. Made me laugh every once in awhile though.

I love JR but I'd also have to say Gorilla and Heenan were my favorites, with Gorilla spitting out "Will you stop!?!?" at Bobby seemingly every 5 seconds.

Growing up in Virginia, I'd have to go with Bob Caudle. He wasn't flashy, just professional. In fact I think his day job was doing weather broadcasts for the station in Raleigh, NC that broadcast Mid Atlantic Championship wrestling.

I have to agree with you about David Crockett, though I enjoyed seeing him get pummeled ringside by Ray "The Crippler" Stevens (or one of Boris Malinko's other thugs?) during a post match interview.

How could you forget the following play by play announcers:

AWA:
Rod Trongard
Larry Nelson
Ken Resnick

World Class:
Bill Mercer
Marc Lowrance

GWF:
Craig Johnson

What about "Mean Gene" Okerlund as one of the best and "Coach" Jonathon Coachman as one of the worst?

I can't believe no one has mentioned Joey Styles yet. He was THE voice of ECW. He didn't need a color commentator.

Joey ranks right up there with JR, Gorilla, Bobby Heenan, Jesse Ventura and JBL.

The worst? Oh boy, where do I begin. Schiavone, Cole, Don West, Mongo, Larry Zbyzsko,... oh don't even get me started on Mark Madden. Bob Uecker was better than all of these guys, and he only announced a couple of matches at Wrestlemanias.

What about Maple Leaf Wrestlings CHCH 80s WWF commentator Billy Red Lyons, he was one of the very worst. (but he showed spirit)

Sorry, Vince on the best list and Lee Marshall on the worst? come on guy, Im not gonna disagree, but if you are going to put up only 3 names of each category, there are others more deserving of these titles.

1. As far as straight up play by play goes, Jim Ross takes it. I didnt see much of Gordon Solie in action so i cant put him on the list. Gorilla Monsoon is up there at NO.2 (this is wreslting, grammatical errors and made up words are the foundation of good commentating) I`ll say Joey Styles at NO.3

2. As far as the worst goes, it STARTS and ENDS with Mark Madden. Easily the worst announcer of all time. Irritating, not entertaining, terrible voice, very hard to look at, and he had simply no business being there. Bruno Sammartino (he had NO idea what he was doing and during some matches did not say one word!!!) and Shane McMahon (great heel character, bad announcer) finish off the top 3.

3. One man teams. When an announcer can carry a broadcast all by himslef, you know he`s good.
1. Jim Ross
2. Joey Styles
3. Marc Lowrance

4. Commentating teams. One thing the WWF knew how to do is have great chemestry with announcers.
1. Bobby Heenan and Monsoon
2. Monsoon and Jesse Ventura
3. Ventura and Vince McMahon (just for the fact that Ventura always insulted Vince)

TOP 5
Best
1. Jim Ross
2. Lance Russell
3. Gordon Solie
4. Tony Schavonie (Durring Road Warrior Era)
5.Vince McMahon

Worse
1. Michael Cole
2. Larry Zybysko
3. Lord Alfred Hayes (Boring)
4. Michael PS Hayes- Great w/ Fab Freebirds
5.Stevie Ray (1/2 Harlem Heat)

Favorite Ringside Team
Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler
Bischoff, Hall, Nash and Schavonie
Lance Russell & Jerry Lawler
Jim Cornette and Schavonie

Jim Ross will go down in history as THE greatest broadcaster in wrestling, possibly in all of sports - or entertainment (yes, I enjoy him more than Howard Cosell). Can you imagine the Attitude era had JR not called most of the shows? I can't, because it wouldn't even be the same. Some of my greatest memories are watching wrestling in the mid-to-late 90's and JR plays a significant role in that.

Here's my list.

BEST

1. JR (duh!)
-
-
-
2. Bobby Heenan
3. Vince McMahon (very under-rated)

Honorable mention to Lord Alfred Hayes.

WORST (I'm sure there've been worse guys that no one knows about, these are just out of the "successful" commentators)

1. Don West. I repeat: DON WEST.
2. Steve "Mongo" McMichael
3. Larry Zybysko (so over-rated, seriously what did he ever contribute to a match?)

Jim Ross is my sentimental/obvious pick for best. His calling of the Wrestlemania XV main-event between Austin and The Rock (along with the match itself) are my greatest memory of wrestling. Not just WWE, but wrestling altogether. I remember watching it while not knowing much about the business.

But the Amazing Match (My favorite singles match of all time) and its equally amazing commentary are why I love the WWE today and forever more than any other promotion. Jim Ross is the man, he rules, he's the greatest, etc. etc. etc....

1. Gorilla Monsoon/Bobby Heenan
2. Gorilla Monsoon/Jesse Ventura
3. Vince McMahon/Jesse Ventura

Worst 3:

1. Cole/Tazz
2. Cole/Lawler
3. Schiavone/Bobby Heenan

Right off the bat, let me say this.... Don West is TERRIBLE. Since when in ANY kind of wrestling is it alright to get extremely hyped, over-excited about a HEADLOCK? I have been watching professional wrestling for 25 years, and HE is the ONLY one that I know of that over-dramatizes the most simple moves. The day I see The Great Khali do a moonsault, hell, even a DROPKICK, THEN scream, yell, get excited. But not when a worker the caliber of A.J. Styles does. I LOVE wrestling, but it took me a few weeks to warm up to TNA because of him. Save Mike Tenay and get him that compliments him, hell, bring back Schiavone, just GET RID of Don West! Another bad one was Mongo. Who was the brainchild that decided to give that man a microphone? Bad, just plain AWFUL.

Joey Styles. I know that this is a bold statement, but I rank him as #2 of all-time. The guy is incredible. He brought all the tools needed to help sell a match: Accuracy, selling the story, excitement. ALL by himself. Joey Styles is a legend in wrestling commentary.

Ring Announcer RICK GATTONE COMMENTS:

You know it's always interesting for me to comment on the art of Pro Wrestling Announcers. Having been in the ring announcing since I was 16 and now a still very youthfull looking 52 I know perhaps a couple of useful pointers in the art-which it is. I've always been my own toughest critic-I always rehears and I'm always as prepared as I can be. The Fans absolutely deserve that! We'll be doing a book and perhaps a school of announcing as well.
I'd like everyone who remembers me to drop me a line and say Hi. Akron, Cleveland, Buffalo, the old IWA Running throughout the South, and some Indy activity with World Pro Wrestling- It a blast. I hope everyone enjoyed and enjoys my work in the ring. Love ya all. And.. Drive Home Carefull-Good Night Everyone.

Take care, Rick Gattone
ricky_rickg@yahoo.com

steve mcmicheals worst of all time

who was it that commentated mid south wrestling, the man with the loud colorful suits?

My favorites are Jim Ross, Joey Styles, and Gorilla Monsoon. Ross is indeed the best and a great guy too...I've talked to him on numerous occasions when he's been in the Boston area and he's very friendly and kind. Styles is extremely underrated and his passion is so obvious that it's contagious.

As far as I'm concerned, Don West and Mark Madden are the worst ever. I don't understand people putting Michael Cole in the worst section, he's really not that bad.

Greatest Commentary Teams:
Mosoon/Heenan
JR/King
McMahon/Ventura

Greatest Commentators:
JR
Monsoon
Heenan

Hey guys, I remember a man in Nashville, Tn. named Gil Greene that announced back in the 50's when Lynn Rossi, The Fargo Bros., The Greens, Gene Dungee, were the greats. Back when wrestling was based on skill and strength. Back in the good old days.

Lance Russel to me should be number 3 and Jim Ross should be number 2 to Gorden Solie at Number 1. 4. is a tie between Mike Tenay and Chris Cruise. Number 5 would be Boyd Pierce. With me.


Vince McMahon was good but not great. Monson was better then McMahon but not at the top like them.


Bob Coddel was good at play by play but nothing else.

World Class had one of the the worst in Bill Mercer he sold nothing must of the time. Marc Lowrance was better at selling things that happened in the ring but lacked in color real bad.

The AWA had Rod Trongard was good but was okay at color but was the best the AWA ever had. The AWA for Lee Marshell was his best effort at announcing but still sucked.

NWA/WCW had a very good Tony Schavonie. And to me the best announcing team was him and Jim Ross in 1988 and the small part of 89. After his time in WWE he just went down. Jack Gregory known for the Crockett owned UWF time and Florida's last days replacing Solie was okay at best.


Steve McMichael is the worst of all time with David Crockett rite behind him Lee Marshall is number 3 and a distant 3. Jack Reynolds is 4 and Bill Mercer is number 5.

If you were old like me, you would have voted for Ray Morgan of the pre-WWWF days. He was the true dean of wrestling announcers and well deserved the # 1 ranking.

I'm sorry but Gordon Solie is the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be,end of story. Gordon was smooth as silk, knew every hold known to man, and made everything believable. Unlike Ross, Gordon never had to make up a name for a move he didn't know.

Had a chance to see and hear Rick Gattone during a wrestling show in Michigan about a year ago. What they say is right. He's the best.
Voice, presence, personable too. Makes the crowd pop.

People took more pictures and autographs of him than the wrestlers.

Younger guy 40's maybe. Class act!
By far the best voice! Gattone the announcer was worth the price of addmission.

Kev, I don't know if you've ever heard of Don Cherry, he does analysis for CBC about hockey (I think he's a former player), but the man was born to call wrestling matches. Just felt like I should share.

Without question, Ray Morgan was the dean of wrestling announcers. In an era where it was a sign of a pro to go to work in a shirt and tie, he brought officialdom to a sport whose so-called believeability factor had long begun to fade. I wish I had known him.

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About Kevin Eck
The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Eck blogs about professional wrestling.
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