In honor of the 25th anniversary of Monday Night Raw, The Wrestling Estate is counting down the 25 greatest commentators in the history of WWE’s flagship show.
25. Byron Saxton
Listen, I’m sure Byron is a nice guy. Hell, that’s why the entire roster shits on him. But the man has never made me care about what’s going on in the ring. His goofy outfits and nerdy demeanor actually hurts the characters that he embraces. Now he’s better than David Otunga, but c’mon, that’s like saying he’s more punctual than Calvin Gibbon.
24. Todd Grisham
Less than a handful of times behind the Raw announce table, Todd Grisham was just another robot churning out McMahon directives. He fit the mold of young, good-looking white guy with professional broadcasting background. But in the world of wrestling, that’s just boring.
23. Josh Matthews
During Michael Cole’s irritating feud with Jerry Lawler, Josh Matthews stepped in to help out with play-by-play duties, adding somewhat of an impartial balance. He never seemed comfortable in the big chair, appearing more at ease on WWE’s secondary programs like Velocity and Saturday Morning Slam. Unfortunately, he adopted Cole’s heel persona in Impact Wrestling last year, somehow playing it even more over the top than Cole did.
22. Jonathan Coachman
Despite numerous attempts in the mid-2000s, Coach was simply not Raw commentary material. He played a backstage or sideline announcer role well, and was a fun cocky, aloof sidekick or wrestler. Perhaps he should have been a full-time manager handling the bevy of aimless midcarders during that era, because he felt disingenuous behind the announce table, trying to sell us on a product it didn’t feel like he believed in.
21. Michael Cole
Ugh, Michael fucking Cole. Apparently, he’s enjoyable on commentary when McMahon isn’t in his ear, as evidenced by the main event of WrestleMania XXX, the Beast in the East special and the United Kingdom Championship Tournament. Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but what about the rest of his two decades? Cole spews WWE lingo like a robot, lacking emotion where it counts, and his heel run was insufferable. I look forward to the day he finally steps away.
20. Joey Styles
Perhaps no other Raw commentator was neutered more than Joey Styles. Beloved for calling every move and bringing sensibility to the chaos of ECW, Styles was downgraded in WWE as McMahon preferred a sports entertainment storyteller rather than a traditional pro wrestling play-by-play announcer. He only lasted on Raw from November of 2005 until May of 2006, when he finally snapped on Jerry Lawler and put the WWE on blast.
19. Booker T
Shucky ducky quack quack. Nobody knows what Booker T is saying, but at least he breaks up the monotony.
18. Kevin Kelly
Before he was the punchline during The Rock’s promos, New Japan play-by-play announcer Kevin Kelly joined the Raw commentary team for a spell in 1996 and early 1998. Relegated to a three-man team for both stints, Kelly was never able to truly shine in either the play-by-play or color role. But he did a suitable job despite being so young in his career.
17. Al Snow
For about two episodes in September of 2003, Al Snow and Coach replaced King and JR as part of a storyline. Snow wasn’t too shabby, mostly mocking Lawler and supporting his fellow heels. He and Coach had solid chemistry as well from working Sunday Night Heat together.
With only two episodes to his credit, it’s kind of cheating to include Tazz on this list. But the Smackdown color guy took his talents to Raw twice, pairing with J.R. on both occasions. The Brooklyn/Oklahoma accents were a fun juxtaposition on the senses, and they gelled quite nicely.
15. Gorilla Monsoon
Gorilla Monsoon called the action for only a few episodes of Raw before being named the president of the World Wrestling Federation. While the grandfatherly figure felt anachronistic in the New Generation, Monsoon remained a welcome, reliable voice, directing traffic and carrying the broadcast.
14. Rob Bartlett
In a strange footnote, Raw’s original commentary team consisted of Vince McMahon, Randy Savage and…Rob Bartlett. Who?
Well, McMahon was looking for a mainstream voice from either the sports or entertainment world, and Bartlett was a rising standup comedian who gained fame on Imus in the Morning. What he lacked in wrestling knowledge he made up for in topical humor, joking about early 90s fodder like Mike Tyson and Amy Fisher. Bartlett didn’t last long in the role, but he served his purpose well and I still crack up at this gem: “Ladies and gentlemen, what you missed during the break is Shawn Michaels pulled a knife…”
You either love JBL or you hate him, as his natural antagonistic persona leaves no middle room. While he was overbearing for the entirety of his Raw run, exaggerating everything as the greatest (but not doing it with Tony Schiavone’s charm), JBL did give at least one funny line a week. Hey, if I can rely on you for a laugh, you’re okay in my book.
12. Honkytonk Man
For a few weeks in early 1997, The Honkytonk Man joined the broadcast team to scout a protégé. In the meantime, he busted McMahon’s balls, promoted the WWF as superior to WCW and put himself over as the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time. That’s not to say he didn’t put the talent over as well. If HTM was so inclined, he could have had a lengthy run as color commentator, perhaps on the secondary programs.
11. Austin Aries
Another instance of a wrestler joining the commentary team while recovering from injury, Austin Aries had a brief but enjoyable run calling the cruiserweight action on Raw in early 2016. With his in-ring credibility and biting quips on various talent like TJ Perkins (“What are you doing out here? Looking for a Pikachu?”), Aries was often the highlight of 205 Live segments.
10. Randy Savage
Macho Man’s gruff, gravelly roar filled most of Raw’s first couple of years, perfectly illustrating the “uncut, uncooked and uncensored” atmosphere. Savage always supported the fan favorites and criticized the villains, even interjecting in the action on occasion. The Halloween 1994 edition of Raw will be remembered as Macho Man’s final appearance on WWE TV.
9. Shawn Michaels
Paving the way for CM Punk and Austin Aries, the Heartbreak Kid assumed announcing duties while recovering from injuries and suspensions to maintain a presence on television. He offered some hilarious quips during the infamous Howard Finkel/Harvey Wippleman tuxedo match, and a few years later, strongly put Bart Gunn over during the Brawl For All.
8. Jim Cornette
Surprisingly, the shoot interview king only announced about a dozen episodes of Raw. Perhaps Corny just wasn’t interested in doing more, because he certainly had the chops for either emphasizing the heels’ superiority or lambasting their wrongdoings. His shining moment was when D-X pulled one over on Sgt. Slaughter during the Christmas 1997 show.
7. CM Punk
While recuperating from a hip injury, CM Punk spent a month in 2010 at the announcer’s table, making inside jokes and bashing everyone around him. His snarky quips were a breath of fresh air from Cole and Lawler’s stale repartee. The timing of his commentary tenure matched perfectly with John Cena being “fired,” yet appearing in multiple segments a week. Punk consistently bemoaned the hypocrisy before finally attacking Cena and returning to competition.
6. Corey Graves
When one door closes, another door opens, as Corey Graves can attest. After multiple concussions derailed his in-ring career, the Savior of Misbehavior devoted himself to learning how to broadcast, and quickly climbed up the company ladder to being part of the Raw announce team in the summer of 2016. Since then, Graves has become a modern-day Bobby Heenan and Jesse Ventura, not always siding with the villains, but more often than not championing their devious tactics. He currently pulls double duty as Smackdown commentator as well, giving fans the option of hearing him argue with Booker T or roast Saxton.
5. Vince McMahon
So what if he didn’t know half the moves? Vinnie Mac’s energy was infectious, hyping up every show like it was the hottest ticket in town. With his reputation for over-producing commentators, lobotomizing their individuality, it makes you wonder why he doesn’t just put the headsets back on. After all, it’s his product – nobody has more passion for WWE than the Chairman.
4. Bobby Heenan
He couldn’t get into the building for the inaugural Raw episode, but The Brain soon made himself at home throughout the rest of 1993. It was arguably his last great year behind the announce table before WCW sucked the life out of him. From his profanity-laced tirade after Ric Flair lost his job to croaking in amazement over 123 Kid’s upset on Razor Ramon, Heenan provided several classic moments before Monsoon finally kicked him out of the company in December of 93.
3. Paul Heyman
He was only behind the announce table for eight months, but the ECW mastermind made the most of his time, superbly filling the large shoes of Lawler. Heyman spent much of that time as The Alliance’s cheerleader, needling J.R. about the WWF’s impending doom at every opportunity. Heyman was so damn good that if Lawler never returned, Raw would have been just fine.
2. Jerry Lawler
From 1995 to 2015, aside from an occasional sabbatical, Jerry Lawler had been the jester of Monday nights. In the same vein as Jesse Ventura and Heenan, the King held court as heel commentator, cheering the villains and roasting fan favorites while ejaculating over the divas. His arguments with J.R. during the Attitude Era have become the stuff of legend, especially in the overly-scripted present-day WWE.
1. Jim Ross
Despite being fired and put on the backburner numerous times, good ol’ J.R. overcame all health and political obstacles to become the greatest commentator in the history of pro wrestling – his southern drawl synonymous with Monday Night Raw. He and Lawler laid the soundtrack for the Attitude Era, a magical partnership that has yet to be duplicated. Ross ushered in a level of legitimate sport to the entertainment spectacle, perfectly capturing the motives and emotions of complicated characters and translating them to the viewing audience.