If I had sat in the audience for the SmackDown taping this past Tuesday, January 5th, I would have been missing something.
The thing about seeing a live WWE event is that you don’t get the commentary. There is a chance that you might miss something, some storyline continuation, without being able to hear what the commentary team says. But the other side of the coin is that there are special, small things that happen in a live arena that never make it to TV. In this case, it would have been a great misfortune to sit in the audience the night Mauro Ranallo debuted on the announce team for SmackDown and not have been able to hear him.
I knew very little about Ranallo before I turned on my TV this evening. I knew he was debuting, I knew he had seemed excited about this opportunity, and I knew people were buzzing about it. But I had honestly never heard his voice before and knew nothing about what he might bring to SmackDown. I don’t know if being more educated about him as an announcer would have prepared me for what he was going to do for me as a fan of professional wrestling – but I doubt it entirely.
My favorite moments in wrestling are the ones in which I forget about everything else and just enjoy the show. That’s how I chose my favorite three moments of 2015. They were times when I forgot about how wrestling programs are put together, when I forgot about the Internet Wrestling whatever, when I forgot about myself and just rode the wave. It’s hard these days, being a “grown up” and all, because we’ve stopped suspending our disbelief. We’ve gotten so sucked in to the idea that the audience is “smart” to something – with the dirt sheets claiming certain things are going on behind the scenes, or intentionally ruining a program for yourself by reading spoilers (note: stop reading the spoilers, J.)
Tonight, the main event of SmackDown was a match we’ve seen before, several times. We’ve already seen Kevin Owens facing Dean Ambrose. In fact, I’ve been complaining about this feud for two months, which is quite a bit of time on this blog, because it features the complete breakdown of the original Dean Ambrose singles competitor character. They’ve turned him into Any Other Wrestler, while simultaneously giving Owens the opportunity to hone his dead pan monster of a heel persona. As a tremendous Ambrose fan, it’s hard not to hate to watch all of this, and I actually would have turned the TV off before it even started. But there was Mauro Ranallo.
He was so excited for this match. He had already elevated the entire program by actually calling the matches. He even referred to the title in the women’s match as “the prestigious WWE Diva’s championship” and you know what? I believed him. When there wasn’t any actual wrestling happening (leading to video packages, or coming back from commercial breaks) Ranallo’s voice never felt put-on or forced. He came across as focused and elated, both of which were infectious. I was suddenly so engrossed in the match and was even aggressively cheering for Ambrose again! Even when the end of his sentences would get lost in the roar of the crowd as a big move was hit, you never got the feeling that he was off-script or confused. He was calling it as though he really didn’t know what would happen next (and, this industry being what it is, it must be very difficult to pull that off.)
It is a gift to be able to give someone back their faith in something. It is a gift to be able to instill a spark in someone whose light has faded out. While WWE did a splendid job of getting Roman Reigns over at the end of the year, it did appear as though the rest of the roster suffered for it. I imagine it to be difficult to bail out a sinking ship when you can’t see from where all the water is coming in. But in just the same way that it was a thing of beauty to see Reigns win back the Philly crowd the night he won the WWE World Heavyweight championship, it is truly beautiful to see Mauro Ranallo silence a bunch of internet dorks into actually watching SmackDown, and loving every second of it.
Thanks, Mauro. Welcome home.