A Matter of Character - Michael Cole
In 1997, Michael Cole first appeared on WWE Television as a backstage interviewer. At the time, very few people would have predicted that in fifteen years, Michael Cole would be the lead announcer of both Monday Night Raw and Friday Night Smackdown, and on weeks with a PPV we would be privy to listening to 8 full hours of Michael Cole commentary, but that’s exactly what we have today.
Michael Cole was involved in a few angles during his career as a WWE play-by-play announcer, the most infamous of which as probably when he was cornered and “Heidenraped” by Heidenreich. That being said, in February of 2010, Michael Cole became more relevant than he has ever been as it pertains to the narrative landscape of WWE, when he began announcing the WWE’s new Mock Superstar Search program, NXT. It is there where Michael Cole crossed the line from play-by-play announcer and the voice that navigated the viewer through the actions of the WWE’s many characters on any given Monday Night Raw or Friday Night Smackdown, and into a full-fledged character in his own right. The character he had become was a smarmy, egotistic, loudmouth heel that got on everyone’s nerves, including the audience. The character was divisive to say the least, some saying that the fact that he was so irritating means that he was performing well in the role, while others complained that it made the shows unwatchable.
If you haven’t already guessed, this week’s edition of a Matter of Character is going to focus on the “The Voice of the WWE” Michael Cole. I will analyze his character and point out his strengths and flaws, as I perceive them, while making suggestions for improvement where I can. So enough wasting time, Let’s Do This!
When Michael Cole became a heel, many of the traits he had as a babyface announcer for several years were replaced by more villainous personality traits. He became self-serving, incredibly biased, a chauvinist, an instigator, and incredibly irritating. Simply put, Michael Cole became a gigantic douchebag. His personality put him on the receiving end of many an ass whooping, from Jerry Lawler, Bret Hart, The Rock, Stone Cold, Daniel Bryan, etc.
Now in a lot of ways I’m a results based guy, and a lot of what we have been seeing from Daniel Bryan today is a result of his interactions with Michael Cole upon his debut on NXT. Responding to insults hurled at him by Cole helped Daniel Bryan get over early in his career and its tough to say whether or not he’d be where he is today without that early confrontation with Cole, so in that sense, the character’s personality bred success. That being said, my issue with the character looking back on it is that it was so very fake, which is what made Cole so irritating. I watch ESPN First Take and see Skip Bayless spout off one insane viewpoint after another. It’s entertaining because he brings a level of sincerity to his viewpoints. They are not just for show, he’s simply a contrarian by nature and truly believes that he’s right and everyone else is wrong. I always wanted that level of sincerity to permeate through Michael Cole, and it never did. Michael Cole was supposed to be WWE’s Skip Bayless, but I never got the sense that he truly believed in his heel arguments, which in turn made the character annoying because he was insincere.
Words and Actions
Michael Cole on many occasions as a heel used his position as lead announcer on both of the WWE’s major television programs, to run down, demean and embarrass a multitude of WWE Superstars and Divas (particularly the Divas). He insisted that Daniel Bryan was no good on NXT and weekly dismissed the entire Divas division, rendering their matches and segments meaningless and irrelevant. When confronted by people he would often run, hide, or backtrack from his comments making him the ultimate chicken s*** heel announcer. He was a petulant child that enjoyed provoking people, and crying when the people he provoked fought back.
Again, his character was designed to come across as slimy and unbearable and this worked in helping to get Daniel Bryan over, so it was partially successful, however I am never on board for demeaning your product. The way Michael Cole’s onscreen character regarded the Divas division was in a word, unbearable. It would have been one thing if it were a storyline where eventually the woman called him on it and taught him a lesson, but it was simply Cole being a chauvinistic jerk and dismissing the females and their place in the business. The conversation on the merit of the Divas division can be had, but to tell your audience that a segment they are watching on the show that you are presenting is a waste of time and for all intents and purposes complete and utter garbage is a major foul in my book.
Now for all my issues with the heel Michael Cole character, this was the part of the character that was the best. For years Michael Cole had been an announcer in the WWE, but gained little to no regard from anybody. Fans wanted Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler. They didn’t hate Cole (well some did), but it was widely accepted that he was inferior to his predecessor and his broadcast partners. For years he did his job to the best of his ability and ignored the whispers and the opinions of the WWE Universe, until finally he snapped and spoke his mind. He turned of fan favorites because he felt the fans had wronged him; he turned on broadcast partners because he was tired of hearing they were better than him, he became fond of The Miz, because Miz shared his plight of constantly being told you aren’t good enough. Finally he began brownnosing to improve his standing in the company, all of which was completely understandable, based on the way he perceived he was treated.
The impetus for his change in demeanor was very good and the heat he was drawing was warranted. Again my only issue is that Michael Cole as a performer is so phony that I couldn’t buy him truly believing the things he said, which he really needed to, to sell the motivation behind it. He had every reason to become a contrarian whose viewpoint would always directly conflict with the masses, but as a performer, he simply wasn’t able to sell me on his conviction in what he was saying.
As we saw for the better part of the last two years, Cole’s over bearing heel persona and his mouth got him into trouble with a multitude of people, including his broadcast colleagues and superstars. He found himself on the receiving end of many finishing maneuvers and insults, all the while indignantly throwing them back when they weren’t around or couldn’t do anything to him.
I had an issue with this for one reason and one reason only. Sure the character was annoying and would bloviate non-stop, but that was not what my issue was with the persona, it was his involvement in so many storylines. Announcers are there to do a job, guide us through a sometimes complicated and vast narrative. They shouldn’t be full blown characters themselves. I don’t mind from time to time coming into conflict with superstars based on something you said, but when you are a focal point of multiple storylines for weeks on end, I draw a line. As an announcer that is simply not your function.
It seems that the WWE has decided to do away with the over the top heel Michael Cole following Jerry Lawler’s heart attack, which I think is a great decision. Michael Cole is only 43, and has years of announcing left in him. We’re going to see and hear him for many more editions of Raw and Smackdown, and I’m completely fine with that if he is simply allowed to do his job.
Making myself clear, I am not opposed to announcers being involved in occasional angles, but a play-by-play announcer should not be a full-blown character on WWE programming. His job is to navigate and guide the WWE Universe through a vast narrative on a weekly basis, and not spend most of his time bickering with colleagues or insulting the product.
For two years the ultra-annoying heel Michael Cole was a self-serving and constant presence on WWE programming. With it there was good, like helping Daniel Bryan get over and his praise of The Miz, and there was definitely some bad, like his feud with never ending Jerry Lawler, and hours annoying bickering and douchebaggery. It was what it was, but I for one am happy with Cole going back to being an unassuming announcer, rather than a prominent character in the creative landscape of the WWE. He may not be as good as good old Jim Ross, but Cole does a good job, when he isn’t spending most of his time performing rather than announcing (yes there’s a difference).
There you have it, but what do you think? Are you glad to see Cole go back to simply announcing? Did you enjoy the heel Cole or did you despise him? When you look back on it, was his heel run more beneficial than detrimental, or vice versa?
Until next time folks I’m Matty J. Douglas saying Happy Birthday to my Mom! Have a great week everybody!