To many people, probably including Vince McMahon, Michael Cole is considered the Voice of the WWE. He earned the moniker by being the lead play-by-play announcer for WWE Monday Night Raw since 2008, not to mention being the voice of SmackDown for nearly a decade prior to that, and making endless appearances in WWE as an announcer and interviewer in a smaller capacity on countless shows. Some people feel he embraces this role and does a great job at conveying exactly what Vince McMahon has micromanaged him to say, but others feel he is a microcosm of everything wrong with WWE.
Whether you love the man’s work or hate it, it’s hard to deny he plays a major role in World Wrestling Entertainment. The lead announcer of a wrestling company’s most important television show is essentially an avatar for the audience, or in Cole’s case, an avatar for what McMahon wants his audience to think. Fans probably have some pretty heavy opinions on the man whose real name is Michael Sean Coulthard, and learning about his life probably won’t do much to change those views. If you find yourself interested in how he became the man he is today anyway, then read on and learn 10 things you probably didn’t know about Michael Cole.
10. He Got His Start In Broadcasting Working For CBS Radio
Prior to working for WWE, Jim Ross called matches for dozens of other wrestling companies, on top of being a huge fan his entire life. Mauro Ranallo called wrestling shows for several foreign wrestling companies before joining the SmackDown team last year, and has also been a fan his entire life. Byron Saxton is younger and less experienced than any of them, but he also was a fan his entire life before working for FCW and then WWE. Michael Cole was a news broadcaster for CBS Radio until the late 1990s, never once calling wrestling, although he too was a huge wrestling fan at the time.
While working for CBS radio, Cole learned the basics of broadcasting, which is why he comes off as so poised and professional on television every week. It’s nice to know Cole always says he had a passion for the industry, but perhaps he’s the example that proves a traditional news broadcaster doesn’t exactly know how to create the emotional connection with the audience required for wrestling, regardless of how much they enjoy it.
9. He Covered Several Major News Stories
Michael Cole has yet to make a wrestling call as legendary as Jim Ross telling us Mick Foley was broken in half, but he did cover all sorts of stories Jim Ross would never quite be fit to discuss. Cole’s biography on WWE.com offers a brief sample of the stories Cole covered for CBS, and in it one can find some of the most historic and dangerous scenarios a reporter could find themselves in during the 90s. Cole’s first major story was covering the entire 51-day siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas.
Shortly after covering one of America’s craziest domestic incidents, Cole was sent to Sarajevo, Bosnia for what was supposed to be a minor assignment, but turned into a nearly year long, life-changing experience, and lead him to create a documentary titled “Voices of Bosnia.” After that harrowing experience, Cole was sent to Oklahoma to cover the 1995 bombing in that state’s capital. He also covered significantly less dangerous but still important events, including the 1988, 1992, and 1996 U.S. Presidential elections. Once the 1996 election was over, an old friend of his recommended him for a new job…
8. Another Oft-Maligned Announcer Got Him His Job
WWE fans who started watching during or since the Attitude Era have probably focused a good deal of their hatred for bad commentary towards Michael Cole, but he hardly invented the concept. Cole didn’t even start as a bad commentator, he started as a bad interviewer, and no one epitomized the role of a terrible wrestling interviewer quite like Todd Pettengill. To be fair to Pettengill, his biggest problem was that he was a product of his era, and he worked for WWE during a very cartoony era, seemingly meant almost exclusively for children.
Pettengill was goofy and detached, and treated the wrestlers he was interviewing like they were children playing a game, not adults fighting for respect or fortune or whatever their character dictated they were fighting for. Cole is a different kind of terrible, but somehow it must be related, since when Pettengill asked for his release in 1997, he was the man who suggested Michael Cole should become his replacement. The two previously worked together in radio, and with Cole being such a huge fan of pro wrestling, Pettengill pictured him as a perfect fit.
7. He Initially Replaced Jim Ross For Health Reasons
Michael Cole started off as a backstage interviewer, directly taking over Pettengill’s role in the company. His role gradually increased, and he was an occasional member of the three-man announce teams Raw was experimenting with in the late 90s. In late 1998, the lead announcer for WWE, Jim Ross, suffered a serious attack of Bell’s Palsy on the same day he learned his mother had died. Good Ole JR obviously needed some time off to deal with his personal tragedies, and ultimately Michael Cole was chosen as his temporary replacement.
J.R. returned to WWE a few short months later and eventually resumed his position in the broadcast booth. Cole gradually built up his profile calling other WWE programming, and eventually became the voice of Raw once again in 2008. Ross continued making occasional appearances on Raw before officially retiring/getting fired in 2013. The decision making process behind the repositioning and then firing of a legend, and having him replaced by the unpopular Michael Cole is just one of many things that make people question WWE’s treatment of wrestling history.
6. He Made His Name As the Voice of SmackDown
Once Jim Ross was healthy enough to return to Raw full time in 1999, he held on to that position for nine years. During this time, Michael Cole increased his profile and learned the ropes as an announcer by being the lead play-by-play broadcaster for SmackDown. Cole’s initial color commentator was Jerry Lawler, but the King was replaced by Tazz one year into SmackDown’s run, and Cole and Tazz became the primary SmackDown team for the first ten years of that show’s existence.
During his time on SmackDown, Cole was criticized for his noticeably faked enthusiasm, while his repartee with Tazz was disliked by fans of Raw who felt that Jim Ross at least kept things serious when Jerry Lawler was being a goofball, contrary to Cole who often just joined in with the jokes. When he did try to be serious, his lines reeked of insincerity, which is a big part of what made SmackDown feel like the secondary show to Raw’s flagship.
5. He Was “Raped” By Heidenreich
Jon Heidenreich briefly worked for WWE circa 2004, and for a brief while it seemed like he could actually be a moderately big deal in the company. That is, an extremely brief while, because within one year of his debut WWE ran a ridiculous angle where it was heavily implied Heidenreich raped Michael Cole in the bathroom during a SmackDown taping. Without much build up to speak of, Heidenreich was seen pressing Cole against a wooden wall and, for lack of a better term, humping him. Heidenreich told Cole he knew he wanted it and liked it as much as he did, which would be terrifying and horrific if not for the fact it was presented in such an insane way people were too confused to be offended.
Cole whimpered and cried through the attack, after which Heidenreich read him a bizarre poem. The angle is rarely mentioned today, and even at the time it was brushed off shortly after it happened and Heidenreich was pushed into a feud with the Undertaker. He would be fired from WWE within two years. According to Heidenreich, the rape idea came from none other than Vince McMahon himself.
4. He Made His In-Ring Debut in 2008
Michael Cole didn’t get his start in the wrestling business, but he still had a significant amount of experience in the industry before he ever stepped foot in a wrestling ring. Working for WWE, it’s almost an inevitability even the most minor on-screen character could one day end up fighting for their life inside the squared circle, and longtime announcer Cole finally was forced to take up the challenge on an episode of Raw in 2008. He first teamed with his broadcast partner Jerry Lawler to challenge for the World Tag Team Champions against the team of Ted DiBiase, Jr. and Cody Rhodes.
Not that anyone should have expected it to be, but Cole’s debut match wasn’t exactly a classic. That didn’t stop WWE from seeing this as an early sign he was ready to be a part of one of the biggest matches to take place during WrestleMania XXVII. For two years after his in-ring debut, Cole became more and more of a heel on commentary, proclaiming himself the Voice of the WWE and constantly arguing with his former friend, Lawler. The arguments culminated in a match on the grandest stage of them all, for what is considered possibly the worst match, segment, and WrestleMania in history. Lawler probably doesn’t feel like Cole dragged him down too far, though…
3. He Saved Jerry Lawler’s Life
Jerry Lawler isn’t a perfect person, but he is a WWE Hall of Famer and wrestling legend, who has been calling Monday Night Raw for the better part of 20 years. In 2010, Lawler famously had a heart attack live on air, and it was, in part, the quick action by Michael Cole that managed to save his life. Cole was seated next to Lawler when he collapsed, and has told his story of immediately jumping up and pressing the commentary booth’s mute button to alert people backstage Lawler needed immediate medical attention.
Obviously Cole didn’t act alone, and he did exactly what a broadcaster is trained to do in that situation, but for every negative thing said about him it’s still highly commendable what he did for his friend. Cole handed the situation with extreme professionalism and expert decision making skills, not letting the crowd know both that this wasn’t part of the show, but also not worrying them into a state of panic that would prevent the show from going on. Fans of Lawler should be forever grateful of how Cole acted, but for most people, it wasn’t long before the perception of Michael Cole switched back to normal.
2. People Think He’s The Worst
Michael Cole has been the lead play-by-play announcer of WWE’s flagship program for the past eight years. Nine years prior, he was the lead broadcaster for their second biggest show, giving him a cumulative 17 years as one of the most successful wrestling broadcasters on the planet. In spite of this, fans and critics alike just can’t stand the guy. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter, generally considered the most respected source in wrestling journalism, has named Cole the Worst Announcer of the Year five times. By contrast, Jim Ross won their award for Best Announcer a record 14 times, showing this isn’t just some kind of anti-WWE sentiment.
In recent years, the critics have been saying JBL is even worse than Cole, picking him as the Worst Announcer for the past two years running. Either way, this is a clear sign wrestling fans can’t stand the current announce team. Perhaps this is a sign of shifting perceptions of power, since JBL is often seen as an avatar for Triple H, while Cole was more an avatar for McMahon. As the power shifts from McMahon to HHH, so does the hatred for Cole shift towards JBL. Wait, what are we talking about? Well…
1. He’s Intensely Micromanaged
Michael Cole spends three hours or more talking to wrestling fans every week, but that doesn’t exactly mean he spends three hours sharing his own personal thoughts and opinions with his peers. Cole was hired to do a specific job, and that job is to tell fans why Vince McMahon is letting various wrestlers use his airtime to tell their story. Cole fills in the subtle storytelling gaps that don’t necessarily present themselves in words between bodyslams, or at least that’s what he’s supposed to do. Unfortunately, WWE has gotten to a point today where instead of just filling in the gaps, Cole is basically reading from a script, and Vince McMahon is literally in his ear yelling at him the instant he so much as hesitates for two seconds over one line.
Plenty of fans have seen the leaked notes producers give the announcers before every broadcast, and everyone admits there are dozens of seemingly irrelevant, nonsensical rules, which could get difficult for even the most seasoned pro to juggle in their heads. Much worse is the leaked video of Cole talking to McMahon and receiving live notes during a SmackDown taping. Cole reminds McMahon he’s been extremely repetitive on some points, and feels like it doesn’t need to be broadcast again. We don’t know exactly how Vince responded, but people who saw the video know Cole took back his comment and apologized four times before sheepishly saying he’d do whatever the boss wants. Fans might hate Cole for boring us with bad commentary every week, but he’s doing great at the job Vince wants him to do.