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Good commentary is key to producing a good wrestling broadcast. Commentary that sells the action, puts over the performers and explains important aspects to the story are necessary for a product to reach its highest potential. Bad commentary can turn a good match into a joke, contribute to talent or an angle failing to get over and ultimately can turn viewers away.
For years, WWE has set a remarkably low standard for the value of solid commentary wrestling. Whether it is Vince McMahon's constant demands being broadcasted, putting talent that is inexperienced or has no business being on the air or by promoting unlikeable personalities, WWE's commentary has been a sore spot for fans for years.
As a new promotion, All Elite Wrestling would not have to be very good to be better than WWE. So far, I think the commentary for Dynamite is much better than typical WWE commentary, but there are still some kinks the promotion needs to work out before the commentary can reach its potential.
The problems for Dynamite largely consist of Jim Ross. Look, everyone loves JR, and he still does a better job at certain things than anyone else in the business, such as selling major moments and bringing a rationale approach to commentary. However, Ross may not be the perfect commentator for Dynamite. He often sounds frustrated with the modern wrestling style that he has to react to and that can lead to him putting down the talent. Things such as complaining about Adam Page doing any high-flying moves because he should just be doing power moves is annoying and unproductive to the product.
There isn't anything wrong with a commentator being honest; nobody wants to hear someone spin everything for two hours every week, but there is a balance between speaking your mind and putting the product over, and I feel like that can be done in a better way than how JR commentates.
JR is still a big name to wrestling fans, especially wrestling fans who watched the product during the Attitude Era but have since stopped watching, a key demographic that AEW is clearly targeting to grow its fanbase. His name value to casual fans who surpassed only by a handful of wrestlers, and certainly no other commentators. If someone flipping channels stumbles across Dynamite and they hear JR's voice, they are more likely to stop than if they hear any other commentator.
At the same time, JR doesn't always seem to be down with the new movement. JR, like a lot of older names that spent their careers calling a certain type of wrestling, isn't as accepting of the new, fast-paced, spot-based, wrestling that takes place in AEW as his younger contemporaries. Whether or not you believe JR has valid criticisms of the product is irrelevant, his job as a commentator is to sell the action, not to criticize it and while he does deserve credit for trying to adapt to all of the changes in the industry, it is evident in his commentary that he really wishes some things could go back to the way they used to be.
JR's commentary is part of a broader conundrum that AEW faces. On one hand, the company only exists because talent like The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega pushed a new style and approach to wrestling that connected with younger viewers in a way that the typical, accepted style of wrestling could not. On the other hand, AEW and Turner have also marketed the show as a re-birth of wrestling on cable and have not hid the fact that they are trying to remind people what it was like when WCW was supplying competition to the WWF. That is evident through the hiring of Tony Schiavone and using WCW names such as Bash at the Beach, to promote the product. In some ways, AEW has one foot in the future of wrestling and one in the past.
That isn't to say that you can't produce a new product and also acknowledge the past, but it does ask the question of who AEW is targeting. Do they want to create new viewers who don't have any expectations of what wrestling is traditionally supposed to look like by presenting an exciting, modern product, or are they trying to get viewers who used to watch by presenting wrestling the way you remembered it?
The other two members of the commentary team tell a different story. Excalibur is obviously the MVP of the broadcasting team; his knowledge of all the talent, their past histories and all of their moves is invaluable and the commentary would be dead without his presence. That being said, going from doing solo work for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla to working weekly in a three man booth for a show on TNT is a huge change for him.
Since he typically did shows by himself (or with a rotating cast of talent) Excalibur is used to talking a lot during his broadcasts, something that Jim Ross also likes to do. He also is prone to some of the same comedic bits that worked in PWG but maybe aren't appropriate for a national broadcast. In PWG he always joked whenever someone kicked out of a falcon arrow that he was shocked because "nobody kicks out of the falcon arrow" with the joke being that everyone always kicks out of falcon arrows. That bit worked on PWG shows, but with such a large new audience, and fellow commentators who aren't in on the joke, it could be confusing and is best left off the broadcast.
When it comes to Tony Schiavone, I actually think he provides a blueprint for how Ross should approach the product. When he was first announced as part of the team, I wasn't very enthusiastic about it; to me it felt like too much WCW nostalgia and a guy who wasn't very good in his prime but fans don't remember that. That being said, I have been pleasantly surprised by what Schiavone has managed to bring to the table.
Schiavone doesn't have the knowledge of the product like Excalibur does, but he does bring a lot of enthusiasm to the broadcast and always puts things over. He is a name from the past but he doesn't talk about it all that much, instead he talks about how entertaining today is and he seems like he is genuinely having fun watching this type of wrestling. You take that and pair with his professional delivery and broadcasting voice and he has been a real asset to the company.
In their primes, JR would have run circles around Schiavone, but I think Schiavone has adapted to the modern product in a way that JR has not. JR still does a lot of positive things during a broadcast, but I think if he could evolve to selling the product the way Schiavone does, the commentary team on Dynamite will be much better off than they are currently.
NXT TakeOver Wargames Ratings
Women's Wargames: ****
Pete Dunne vs Damien Priest vs Killian Dain: ***3/4
Finn Balor vs Matt Riddle: ***3/4
Men's Wargames: ****
Must Watch Matches
Bandido, Rey Horus and Flamita vs Laredo Kid, Black Taurus and Puma King: ****3/4 - PWG Sixteen
This match was awesome; just a crazy collection of spots and innovated moves you've never seen before. Highly recommended.