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Shut Up and Call the Match!, or:
When it is OK to Ignore the Coach
January 9, 2004

by Erin Anderson
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


Tazz wins easily here. He's funny without ever being over-the-top, and he always makes a point to explain the psychology of a wrestling match and the various strategies used by the wrestlers involved. In doing so, he makes a decent match look good, and a good match look great.

- From my 2003 Year in Review, describing my choice for "Best Television Personality."


I might have to say that second least replaceable guy on the show is Tazz. Not in terms of the entire show and credibility of the WWE Title falling apart if he was gone, but in terms of there being NObody I can think of who could do his individual job and cover for him if he were gone. He can make good stuff great, make bad stuff watchable, and make the great matches historic. Yeah, there's Cole there helping out, but I think Tazz could break in a new play-by-play man before Cole found another color guy he clicked with as well as he does with Tazz.

- Excerpt from Rick Scaia's Year in Review, describing his choice for "Best Television Personality."

Tazz recounts wrestlers' motivation, analyzes character, trades banter with Cole, tells jokes, explains the names and the purposes of moves, adds to ring psychology, and he's fun to listen to. That it's taken him only two years to reach this level of excellence - a level so high that my will to bitch slap Michael Cole is subdued - throws into high relief the level of inconsequence to which J.R. and Lawler have sunk. Tazz is now the only irreplaceable member of the commentating staff. Granted, he may not sell the drama of a match the way J.R. does, but J.R. now exclusively sells drama at the expense of match stories, psychology or basic explanation. J.R.'s most famous call - "Stone Cold! Stone Cold! Stone Cold!" - is pretty much all he does now, figuratively speaking. Thank you, no, I'd rather hear someone telling me how an STF puts pressure on the back and knees... and how that's dangerous given that the wrestler in question was hit in the back earlier, with a chair. Plus, Tazz doesn't spend half the show blowing Lawler, Mick Foley or Steve Austin.
- Excerpt from Jeb Lund's Year in Review, describing his choice for "Best Television Personality."

You all get the idea here: Tazz is an irreplaceable asset to Smackdown!, and is almost universally praised for his work as a color commentator. His RAW counterpart, Jerry Lawler, hasn't put any effort into describing the psychology of a match since the Rock/Triple H Iron Man at Judgment Day 2000. Tazz's banter with Michael Cole is typically fun to listen to and never distracts from the action in the ring and sometimes even makes total crap entertaining; just look back on any of the skits involving Dawn Marie and Al Wilson.

With all that said: what the hell was going on during last night's Smackdown!, and what bug crawled up Tazz's ass before the show?

It's been a bad week for WWE commentating. Half of the time, I'm not surprised by it. When I watch RAW, I expect to be annoyed by the announcers. I expect Coach to show up and ruin two hours of television by bugging J.R. about the Sugar Bowl. I expect J.R. to call any good match the greatest, most physically intense, most emotional, most [insert hyperbole here] contest he's ever seen in his life, BAH GAWD. I expect Jerry Lawler to shriek about puppies or visible thongs during a Trish/Victoria street fight. I expect the back-and-forth bitching between J.R. and Lawler to be so distracting that I forget there is a match taking place.

I also expect to not have to deal with any of that crap when I watch Smackdown! Instead, last night everyone was treated to a two-hour bitch-fest between Tazz and Michael Cole because Tazz made a New Year's resolution to be meaner. In the process, it completely destroyed the chemistry that made the Smackdown! announce team such a pleasure to listen to for the last two years.

I have never been a fan of face/heel announce teams for the simple reason that the inevitable arguing that ensues will undermine the action in the ring. Even when an excellent heel like Paul Heyman called matches before the end of the Invasion angle, I routinely found myself wishing that he would shut up so I could enjoy the show.

And therein lies the brilliance of Tazz's commentating philosophy: analyze the match, the psychology, and wrestlers' motivation for their actions without ever taking sides. Tazz could make listeners appreciate a heel's abilities or devious tactics without diminishing their heat and remaining a neutral character himself. In reality, Tazz could make you hate a guy like Kurt Angle even more: not only was Angle a chickenshit heel, but Tazz fairly pointed out that he was a clever, talented chickenshit heel. Wrestling fans will always hate a jackass with credibility. Tazz's insightful and unbiased commentating provided that credibility.

Unfortunately for the fans, Tazz made a sudden, poorly explained, unnecessary, and counterproductive heel turn last night. His usual good-natured ribbing on Michael Cole became mean-spirited and annoying, and it put Cole on the defensive. It was an ill-advised move on Tazz's part, because as the face commentator, Cole needs to be able to get in the last word. But in a contest of throwing insults and explaining wrestling psychology, Tazz can and will eat Cole for breakfast. The result is not witty banter or fun back-and-forth play-by-play, but instead is one-sided and unsatisfying for the viewer.

A heel Tazz can't work well for Smackdown!, because it negates his talent for endorsing the heel side of the roster. In wrestling, the heel should never be right when he picks up a microphone. Everything he says should be disregarded because he is the bad guy. A freshly-turned Tazz talking about how Chavo Guerrero is the shit means nothing to the fans; a neutral, likable, and knowledgeable Tazz spouting forth the same information will be taken seriously. A heelish Tazz also makes Michael Cole look like an idiot; not a smart route to take when the fans are supposed to be on his side.

Why did this change take place? Why did Tazz suddenly turn on a dime after two years of intelligent neutrality? The only plausible explanation is that management forced the change upon him to preserve the traditional face/heel dynamic of past commentators. It is a shame, too, because WWE seemed to have finally stumbled upon an announce team that didn't annoy the viewers and still managed to make the heels look despicable and effective.

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

- Michael Cole to Tazz, Smackdown!, January 8.

I feel your pain, Cole. We all do. And if this heel turn is permanent, we can all kiss the Smackdown! commentating magic goodbye. As for Tazz, let's hope that he follows the advice that Jim Ross has given Jerry Lawler and Paul Heyman countless times through the years: shut up, do your job, and call the damn match.


Erin Anderson is an Atlanta native and a student at Georgia State University. Since writing about wrestling didn't go over too well with her English professors, she vents here at Online Onslaught.

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