As WWE's drama unfolds, Michael Cole is right there at the announcer's table delivering his solid but unimpressive commentary.
Cole, like it or not, is the voice of WWE right now. He provides the play-by-play for Raw, Main Event and for pay-per-views.
While Cole has improved dramatically since straying away from his grating heel persona, he's just not an elite announcer.
When WWE fans look back years from now, they'll think of Gordon Solie, Jim Ross and Bobby Heenan as the ultimate in announcing. Cole's legacy won’t be nearly as lasting.
His crisp and professional delivery comes as no surprise seeing how Cole started out with CBS Radio as a journalist. He does do a good job of letting the product be the star, but there is a lack of spectacle, a lack of poetry in his work.
He'll be forever compared to Jim Ross, who he has replaced as the lead WWE voice.
Ross takes over a big moment with confidence and thrusts a match's narrative to an elevated state. Ross' passion pulsates through his microphone and through the TV screen.
As Richard Hattersley of Collar and Elbow Wrestling wrote, Cole "had always been competent but never exhibited the passion of his predecessor."
Hattersley argues that Cole has since earned credibility. Perhaps that's true, but in many ways Cole is just the default option. He's been around the company so long now, he's earned a high position in spite of his flaws.
Beyond Cole's overuse of the word "vintage," his announcing suffers from a blandness that leaves matches less powerful than they could be with someone else at the helm.
A match's opening moments, the stare-down, the anticipation is an excellent chance for an announcer to boost the match's buildup. Think back to WrestleMania III when Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant faced each other in the ring.
Gorilla Monsoon famously said, "The irresistible force meets the immovable object."
It was a line that will forever be associated with that match and one that made the match more iconic.
Compare that to how Michal Cole's handled a similar moment between Big Show and Great Khali at Backlash 2008.
Of course, the two matches weren't of the same magnitude, but part of the announcer's job is to make fans feel that the match is bigger than it actually is.
Cole is silent for too long here. There is something to be said about letting the moment speak for itself, but a lead commentator has to be more assertive. He must make the match feel more important through his words.
After Big Show and Khali began to fight, Cole tossed in a decent line, "Neither man being intimidated early in this war of almost biblical proportions."
That would have been far better served as an earlier setup.
Take CM Punk vs. John Cena at Money in the Bank 2011 as another example.
After rattling off a list of former WWE champions in an effort to highlight the title's importance, Cole then says, "And here we go, Cena vs. Punk, one of the biggest matches in the history of the WWE."
There's nothing wrong with those lines, but there is nothing special about them either. A little verbal flair could go a long way in making Cole's matches more powerful.
Inserting the various backstories and motivation of each Superstar during the match itself is Cole's best skill.
He manages to work in the information in a natural way, not distracting from the action. Instead, Cole's commentary provides a depth, an added layer.
During the Raw Money in the Bank match at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view, Cole showed off that skill.
When R-Truth and Miz faced off, Cole set up their rivalry quickly and efficiently. Alex Riley entered the fray and Cole used the opportunity to make Riley seem like more of a legitimate contender than he actually was.
He said, "Alex Riley, who has come on like a ball of fire as of late."
After this burst of hype, Cole reminded fans of Riley's feud with The Miz. Cole said, "jealousy coming out of every pore of Alex Riley."
Perhaps Cole's best work to date is his call for Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena at Extreme Rules 2012.
Cole did an excellent job of helping to tell the narrative of Cena's desperation and resiliency vs. Lesnar's brutality. As a bloodied Cena attempted a leg drop from the top rope, Cole injected emotion right where it belonged.
He said, "Cena's got a hole in his head. He's got no use of his left arm. He's been beaten and punished and battered and now he's on the top rope."
It's a shame that there's not more of that from Cole. He seems to fall flat especially during the climactic moments of a match.
The end of a match with the victor celebrating, the loser dejected, is where the announcers can let their passions fly freely. They don't have to sync up with action. They just have to emote.
When Kofi Kingston defeated the The Miz for the Intercontinental title on Main Event in 2012, Cole disappointed.
Cole sounded scripted. His performance felt generic.
He said, "Kofi, Trouble in Paradise connects! Miz is out. Here's Kingston. New champion, new champion! We've got a new Intercontinental champion!"
Of course not every match can end with a "boyhood dream has come true" moment, but the level of passion an announcer brings to a match helps amplify that feeling in the fans. This call of the Kofi and Miz match was a bowl of vanilla ice cream without single topping.
Cole has not mastered that part of the job as of yet.
In a non-title, non-pay-per-view match, Jim Ross showed us on the 20th anniversary of Raw just how to end a match.
After John Cena defeated Dolph Ziggler, Ross said this:
"John Cena steps inside the steel, overcomes the odds of the monstrous Big E Langston and the onslaught of the uber-talented Dolph Ziggler to win a main event, the main event of the 20th anniversary of Monday Night Raw."
Ross lets the last bit of action breathe and then comments in a poignant and powerful way. It's this artistry that Michael Cole is missing.
Cole calls a match from start to finish with a steady hand, but seems not to smear his heart into the microphone like the very greatest have done over the years.
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