TNA or Impact Wrestling, whatever one wants to call it, has improved drastically over the last six months to the point where right now, it is one of the highlights of my weekend (I watch it via DVR). There are many reasons for this turnaround in quality from the folks in Orlando and Nashville. They’ve unmuddled the stories, let the wrestlers wrestle and centered the show around talented competitors like Austin Aries, Robert Roode and even Jeff Hardy. Even the production values seem cleaner and more professional. However, there’s one part of the package that is still woefully deficient, and that’s the announcing.
Case in point, the March 1 edition of Impact opened up with Kurt Angle showing shades of his old, comedically-tinged self, ranting against Jeff Hardy’s popularity. It was a fun opening to the show and really hammered home the reasons why Angle would want to attack and hate Hardy. Right after said promo, Mike Tenay basically said everything Angle had said, only without any sense of fun or editorial input of his own. It was like he was playing court stenographer and reading Angle’s testimony back. Not even Michael Cole had the temerity to play recorder box for Miz at the height of his fandom.
This isn’t the first time Tenay has shown his lack of aptitude for a play-by-play position and it won’t be the last. A great announcer doesn’t just tell the audience what goes on, but he or she describes the action and puts a spin on it. Jim Ross didn’t just robotically announce what went down. He had a great sense of moment. That’s something Tenay doesn’t have, and it’s abundantly clear each time he’s on the mic.
Taz wasn’t much better, but he’s easily one of the worst if not THE worst announcer in all pro wrestling. He often sounds like he doesn’t care about the proceedings in the ring unless Velvet Sky is rubbing her ass on the ropes. If anyone can make Jerry Lawler seem unapathetic towards his job, it’s Taz. The worst is when Tenay asks him about what he thinks about a match or a major storyline happening, and it sounds like he awoke Taz out of a deep sleep, inconveniencing him by wanting him to do his job.
Despite this, the show is still pretty good from week to week. As my colleague K. Sawyer Paul proved from his ongoing experiment of watching wrestling television on mute, it’s not necessary to have commentary to enjoy wrestling. However, if a company is going to have something as part of the show, they might as well make it good, right? Right now, TNA’s commentary is not good, and that needs to change in order for them to continue their push into respectability.
The fix isn’t as hard as it might seem. While Tenay’s troubles as a PBP guy are well-documented, but he’s not a bad announcer as much as he’s miscast. Back in WCW, he was one of the highlights of the show because he’d come on as a color commentator, adding statistics and insights about international and cruiserweight performers. It was refreshing and insightful. That’s the role he’s born to play, especially in TNA, where ther X-Division basically is full of international and cruiserweight performers who are dying, just dying to have their stories told and characters developed in ways that the sprinkling of statistics and insights throughout their matches can do.
That means they’d have to find a replacement play-by-play guy, which is easier said than done. Is the answer found internally with Jeremy Borash? He does a fine job on ring announcements for their main events, and he has experience in the booth, but is it as a PBP guy? It remains to be seen, but it’s worth a try. If they have to go outside though, then so be it, but their best bet would probably be trying to lure someone in sports PBP to their company who is a wrestling fan. Knowledge and passion are musts for any announcer. Taz theoretically has the knowledge, but he has no gusto, so that’s why he’s terrible. Any replacement for him (although they’d be replacing Tenay, who’d be the technical replacement for Taz) would have to bring both to the table.
But it’s critical that they know how to have a sense for the moment. Hate on him all you want (and believe me, I do because he’s so goddamn smug), but Joe Buck is an excellent announcer because he knows how to describe things he’s calling as if we can see them from our living rooms.
Either way, something has to change. It’s a shame that TNA is turning the corner in so many ways, but the only voices we hear in every segment end up being so damn bad. Presentation is key, and announcing is a huge part of that presentation. So, why not do it right, TNA?
Tom Holzerman is a lifelong wrestling fan and connoisseur of all things Chikara Pro, among other feds. When he’s not writing for the Camel Clutch Blog, you can find him on his own blog, The Wrestling Blog.