Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Byron Saxton: Actually Good?

Could he be the reason RAW's commentary wasn't dreadful last night?
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Last week on RAW, Byron Saxton was tossed to the wolves after all three of the announcers were taken out by Brock Lesnar's rampage of death and destruction. Working as a solo announcer without the benefit of being able to sit down or use any kind of aid other than what Vince McMahon was screaming into his earpiece isn't exactly the ideal spot to debut someone as a new voice on RAW. Without context, Saxton fumbled terribly until Jerry Lawler came out to do color commentary, but within context, he was put into an impossible situation where it was impossible to judge whether he could fill in on a weekly basis on the flagship show.

Last night, Booker T and JBL came back to the booth. Michael Cole, however, spent another week on the shelf "convalescing" from his injuries, which makes sense. Booker and JBL are ex-wrestlers with considerable heft on them who only took announce tables to the face. That kind of punishment might sound bad, but in wrestling kayfabe, it's nothing. Conversely, Cole is a non-wrestler who took Lesnar's devastating finisher. It makes sense that he'd stay out an extra week at least, which meant that Saxton was called to the middle chair once more. Saxton once again took some lumps from the peanut gallery, and I did have trouble hearing him from time to time. Whether he hasn't trained his voice to speak loudly, especially against the bombast of his two color commentators, or whether his mic levels were off, he had some problems being heard at times. He certainly did not bring the same kind of fervor to the chair that Cole did.

However, a strange thing happened with Saxton in the middle seat. Neither JBL nor Booker seemed out-of-this-world terrible. The announcers didn't bicker and loudly make themselves the show over the stories in the ring. They concentrated on calling the matches and at least attempting to get stories over. RAW for once wasn't a show where I was hoping I could get the option to turn the commentary off, which really hasn't been the case in I don't know how long.

To put the entire onus of credit on Saxton might be disingenuous on the surface. It's not that Cole is a bad announcer, but he has toxic rapport with JBL especially, and it just drives the commentary away from where it needs to be. If Saxton and JBL start falling into those same ruts, the balance would go away in a hurry. Additionally, the lack of confidence in Saxton's voice compared to Cole was a negative. The booth was prone to stretches of uncomfortable silence, the kind that hurt ECW booths when Matt Striker was color commentator alongside the similarly meek Todd Grisham and Josh Mathews.

However, Saxton did show a lot of promise on the mic, promise that cannot be discounted. He legitimately seemed like he wanted to keep the collective eyes forward and the commentary moving along with the narrative. At one point in the broadcast, JBL started going off on a tangent, and Saxton bluntly told him "Well, I'm paying attention to the match," which surprisingly shut the loudmouth windbag up. It would have been easy to let JBL dominate the booth, but Saxton held point exceedingly well. As it followed, both JBL and Booker were tamed, and JBL especially used his massive bank of useless knowledge for good rather than evil for once.

Saxton may or may not be the longterm future in the booth for WWE. He still has some growing to do, but he at least showed he has promise in him when he's allowed to act like a normal announcer and not some crisis-driven fill-in under duress. He also showed that direction of the commentary is far more important than the actual things commentators say. Michael Cole may have more of an announcer's voice, but his absence from the booth spoke volumes about how he allowed the narrative to atrophy. Even if Saxton isn't the answer, Cole in his current form with JBL as one of his sidekicks totally isn't either. But hey, if Saxton is the longterm solution in the broadcast booth for WWE, he certainly isn't a terrible one.