Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Feedback of Honor: The Voices

Are these two the right fit for the ROH announce table?
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
It's hard to think of a new angle to describe wrestling one has seen before. I was there live for both the Addiction/CHAOS tag match and the Adam Page/Takaaki Watanabe singles match that preceded the heavily clipped AJ Styles/Adam Cole main event. In order to write about something without treading the same territory, I had to seek the differences, and the biggest difference was the soundtrack. The commentary was not an improvement.

Watching War of the Worlds Night Two live was a satisfying experience, if only because the stars of the second biggest company in the world who operate normally a half-a-day away being there in person was awe-inspiring. Taking in the action with just the sounds of the crowd and the thuds on the mat contained a certain charm, and for commentary to enhance that, it would have needed to add something I didn't know I needed while watching live.

Kevin Kelly is not the announcer one should think of to add value to a broadcast, but his negative net worth cannot be wholly stated without a basis for comparison. Both the tag match and the Page/Watanabe match were wholly enjoyable affairs, maybe my third and second favorite matches on the show respectively. But watching them again with Kelly on the call took so much away from the experience. The Page/Watanabe match, which was hilariously "joined in progress," felt so lively and crisp in person, mainly because the ambient noises were just that, ambient.

But when Kelly is on the call, much like any other play-by-play analyst, his voice becomes the training spot for the ears to latch onto. But unlike announcers like pre-nWo era Tony Schiavone, Joey Styles, Mike Quackenbush, or even Hugo Savinovich on the Spanish-language call of Lucha Underground, his voice has a droning, nasal quality that when combined with the uneven sound levels in production is more a sleep aid than a match guide. Combine that voice with his tendencies to leave major gaps in the middle of the action, and it's not a recipe for enhancement.

The even bigger problem is his seeming lack of charisma with Steve Corino, who with another partner might have been more palatable. The two biggest problems with the pairing are that Corino and Kelly have very similar tonal qualities in their voices, and they have the same problem that Matt Striker had with his various ECW broadcast booth partners. They don't know how to fill in the matches properly, and thus they leave long gaps of silence at inopportune times. Pauses in the call aren't necessarily the worst thing in the world; RAW proves it week in and week out by opposite with its constant cacophony of voices jockeying for chirp time. But when you have gaps in upwards of a minute, it starts to take away from the telecast.

It's clear after several weeks of watching ROH that the biggest weaknesses, outside of the blatant misogyny, lay in its presentation. For a wrestling company to succeed on television, it has to have more than just great wrestling. The production issues have been beaten to death, but the commentary doesn't seem like a great fit for the vibe the company wants to put out. It might seem comical to suggest, but maybe the company ought to look into a livelier PBP guy, whether already in wrestling or someone brought in from sport, to get across the higher energy and athleticism in the ring and pair him with someone like Mike Tenay in the color seat. Tenay's run in TNA has been dreadful, but once upon a time, when he was brought in as the "expert analyst" for the WCW cruiserweight division, he fit in a niche that suited him to a tee. Thus, he showed why he had value as a commentator.

Obviously, Tenay's work was rendered irrelevant internally because of the overpush of the nWo, but that incarnation of him was the perfect fit for a company like ROH, even today. The basis of the promotion is that it is supposed to be most fitting of a "pure sports" build, but the commentary feels like two guys on NPR talking about tort reform. It all starts with Kelly, who was never all that effective in the announcer's role even in Attitude Era WWE. Matches that were electric live should pop off the screen on tape. If not, then it's fair to ask why. For ROH, the answer might be right behind the microphones.