If you’re a wrestling fan, you can often remember the first match that you ever saw and the wrestlers involved in that match that hooked you instantly to make you a lifelong fan of the ‘squared circle.’ However, what often gets lost in those stories that wrestlers tell later on about their introduction as a fan are the voices that were calling the action and creating some of the excitement that they experienced.
Great ring announcers and commentators not only introduce the stars and help us to understand the moves and holds being employed in the ring. No, they instead are helping to illustrate the significance of the showdowns before our eyes and the credentials of the wrestlers in a way that we can connect with them. How much we admire our favorites and despise their antagonists is largely influenced by how they are represented on camera by the seemingly unbiased broadcasters on hand who know them best. A great announcer isn’t in front of the action, interjecting themselves into the scene, but rather as narrative observers on the sidelines, often forgotten even though their voices provide the soundtrack to some of the biggest moments that we’ll ever witness. There have been many greats in wrestling, but here are 20 of the best.
20. Michael Cole
Michael Cole may well be one of the most disrespected broadcasters of our generation. Perhaps this can be attributed to the efforts of the WWE to develop him as a heel character on the microphone in the spirit of the villainous color commentators such as Jesse Ventura and Bobby Heenan of previous generations. Or, it might be that as Cole serves as the strongest advocate for the social media activity of the WWE that we are annoyed by him reminding us about what’s trending that we forget to appreciate his talent. A former news reporter with CBS radio by trade, Michael Cole has quietly carved out an impressive track record in the WWE, being continuously employed by Vince McMahon since 1997. In fact, his WWE tenure as an announcer and commentator is coming close to rivalling the streak of the Undertaker between the ropes. Love him or hate him, Cole’s not going anywhere soon.
19. Wayne Stanton
Winnipeg’s Wayne Stanton may be the greatest ring announcer that you’ve never heard of. A former stand-up comedian, his formal introduction to the sport came about through a fellow comedian, Dave Pinsky, who had done some refereeing and commentary for promoter Tony Condello’s program in Winnipeg. The comedians soon became partners in their own wrestling promotion, River City Wrestling, with Stanton serving as the ring announcer and event host. Stanton’s engaging personality not only helped to elevate the status of a rag tag collection of independent talent, but was also instrumental in securing a television deal for the company, which aired over a two year time frame on the Shaw Cable affiliate in Winnipeg. Bringing the boisterous demeanor of a game show host to the wrestling world, Wayne Stanton has been called upon to announce for several promotions in the Winnipeg area and help to elevate the entertainment in sports entertainment.
18. Jerry Lawler
It’s a bit strange to realize that Jerry “The King” Lawler, one of the most visible wrestlers of the 1980s has now spent more time behind the microphone during his career than in the ring as an active competitor. What’s even more interesting to learn is that Lawler, whose gift for the gab reminds us a little of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, was only intended to be in that spot for a few weeks. In 1994, Vince McMahon was looking for someone to fill in with him after the sudden defection of Randy Savage to the rival WCW. He reached out to Lawler, suggesting that the assignment would just be temporary until a suitable replacement could be found. That few weeks has evolved into a 22-year run (and counting) and has probably extended Lawler’s career and visibility beyond what he may have imagined. Partnered with Jim Ross as the host of the WWE’s flagship program, Monday Night Raw, Lawler provided color commentary and the rapport that Ross and Lawler built on screen rates as one of the best broadcast duos that anyone can remember.
17. George Cannon
Ontario’s George McArthur was best known in wrestling circles as “Crybaby” George Cannon – a heavyset brawler whose greatest successes were as a manager. Cannon served as a corner man for teams such as the McGuire twins and the Fabulous Kangaroos. However, Cannon also served time in the broadcast position, particular for his own promotion in the 1970s called Superstars of Wrestling as a play-by-play announcer and time keeper. Cannon was unflappable. During the riotous conclusion of one bout, the feared Eric the Red clambered over the announce position in the middle of a ringside brawl, smashing a large cow bone that he carried as a prop onto the announce table where Cannon kept his watch to keep an eye on the time limits, then taking it back into the mix to release carnage. Despite all the action taking place on screen, fans heard over the airwaves a very calm George Cannon: “Hey! He just broke my watch.”
16. Bill Watts
Sometimes when you need a job done right, you’re best to do it yourself. As fans saw from Vince McMahon in the WWE, Bill Watts often took the reins of his own television show in the Mid-South wrestling territory when it mattered most. Despite having a reputable team of broadcasters including Jim Ross and Boyd Pierce under his employ, Watts took a hands on approach when he felt that a specific storyline needed to be sold effectively. Such was the case when close friends Ted DiBiase and Junk Yard Dog were about to reach a critical crossroads. Watching the episodes now, you’ll hear that Boyd Pierce could barely get a word in edgewise as Watts described in detail how close DiBiase and the Dog were in and out of the ring. DiBiase has even been the JYD’s best man at his wedding. So, when DiBiase turned his back on friendship to become a villain and elevate his own career, it was even more devastating for the fans watching at home.
15. Ed Whalen
If you listen to some of Stampede Wrestling’s greatest villains, they hated Ed Whalen, particularly Bad News Allen. Whalen, a well-known television announcer in Calgary, including work for the Calgary Flames hockey club, was very concerned about his own credibility and would never back down from anyone, including a few times when he would go after the wrestlers that antagonized him during live interviews in the ring. Whalen abhorred the over the top antics of wrestling and when one melee went overboard in 1984 involving the fictional hospitalization of Archie Gouldie’s son, Whalen actually walked off the job on air, leaving his microphone hanging on the ring rope and leaving the building. Still, Ed Whalen’s voice describing a “ring a ding dong dandy” of a main event made his face even more familiar to Stampede Wrestling fans than founder Stu Hart, himself. Even decades after the show went off the air, fans still remember his signature sign off “In the meantime and in-between time, that’s it for another edition of Stampede Wrestling.”
14. Scotty Sweatervest
One of professional wrestling’s greatest oversights is that Lynden, Washington’s Scott Kuipers has not been signed by a major organization yet to serve on their broadcast team. A radio broadcaster by trade, Kuipers got his first introduction to wrestling when Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling swung through his home town, presenting an opportunity to do some ring announcing. His talent was so exceptional that he was soon in high demand for promotions north of the border. He is one of the few talents in the British Columbia wrestling scene that has been able to avoid exclusivity to a single promotion so you can be assured if there is a big match to call on the west coast, it will be Kuipers at the helm. He has become such a key figure in the wrestling scene that the fans actually named him … chanting “Sweatervest” at him in his early career in response to his signature look. Triple H … sign this guy NOW!
13. Lance Russell
There was something very comforting in the steady voice of Lance Russell that let us fans know that every word we heard from him was the straight goods. While Memphis, Tennessee is the site where his work is best known as the face behind the broadcast desk for three generations, fans too young to have seen his work in the territories may have enjoyed his cameo appearance in the Andy Kauffman biopic Man on the Moon starring Jim Carrey. Russell was the voice calling the action when Jerry Lawler went to battle with the Hollywood star and was also ringside for the empty arena street fight between Lawler and Terry Funk at the Mid-South Coliseum. Lance, who is now in his 90s, was honored earlier this year by the Cauliflower Alley Club for his lifetime contributions to the sport of wrestling. Russell was actually instrumental in Jerry Lawler’s first introduction to the sport which would inspire the start of “The King’s” legendary career.
12. Lee Marshall
In the American Wrestling Association, no announcer commanded the attention of the fans quite like Lee Marshall. A long time radio announcer with stays in California, Arizona and Ontario, Marshall’s booming voice contributed to the excitement of the matches, while delivering an exciting yet honest assessment of the action taking place between the ropes. His honesty was refreshing. Once while calling a match with a novice Mimi Lesseos, Marshall said: “I said she was trained BY the great Billy Robinson. I didn’t say that she was AS GOOD AS Billy Robinson.” While in the AWA, one of Marshall’s colleagues was Eric Bischoff, who would go on to have an influential role in World Championship Wrestling. Marshall would later find himself in the mix as part of the WCW broadcast team but was lost in the shuffle in the larger organization. Sadly, Marshall died of esophageal at age 64 in 2014.
11. Jesse Ventura
Gorilla Monsoon once challenged Jesse Ventura, calling him the “leading disputer of undisputed facts” during a 1988 wrestling broadcast. That assessment may have been somewhat prophetic considering Ventura’s television project years later, Conspiracy Theories. Ventura was a top antagonist in the ring, a trait that carried over with him to the announce position. Perpetually rooting for the bad guys while casting aspersions on the virtue of the fan favorites, Jesse Ventura became the color commentator that fans loved to hate. Although it was hard to disagree with his logic most times, it made it difficult for fans to dispute Jesse’s claim that he simply “called it like it is.” Ventura is a rare breed that was able to parlay his success and visibility as a broadcaster into a Hollywood career, appearing in The Running Man, Predator and two of the Batman franchise films. Of course, let’s not forget that his gift of gab also contributed greatly to his securing the Governor’s chair in Minnesota for eight years.
10. Bobby Heenan
Long-time fans that remember Bobby “The Brain” Heenan will no doubt dispute his rating on this list, calling for him to be recognized in the top five. However, while Bobby Heenan’s rapport with co-host Gorilla Monsoon are among some of the most entertaining bits on record, where Bobby should be best remembered are for his years at ringside as a manager in the AWA for World champion Nick Bockwinkel and later in the WWF where he led a whole stable of great talent into action. Yes, Heenan was known for his sharp wit and snappy one liners, but it was also his self-deprecating humor and willingness to interject himself into the action that landed him in the Hall of Fame. Even today, more than twenty years after he last walked the aisle, Heenan has been ranked by fans as the best wrestling manager of all time. He was memorable on the microphone though, no doubt.
9. Vince McMahon
Veteran ringside color commentator Jerry Lawler has said of Vince McMahon that when he had a point that he wanted to convey to the viewers, there was nobody better than Vince to ensure that the message was delivered. Sure, as the Chairman of the WWE and the architect of professional wrestling’s rise from the clichéd ‘smoke-filled arenas’ to the modern international spectacle that it is today, has much more invested than his colleagues on this list. However, while the history books will remember McMahon for his efforts as a wrestling promoter and visionary, his efforts for more than 20 years behind the broadcast table as a commentator is often over-looked. In fact, before the dawn of the WWE’s Attitude Era, Vince was never on camera as the boss, just as the trusted sports broadcaster calling the action and selling us on the stars that we were seeing each week in battle.
8. Gordon Solie
Prior to Jim Ross, Gordon Solie was long considered the “Dean” of professional wrestling announcers. Best known for his work in Florida for promoter Eddie Graham and later for Georgia Championship Wrestling, Gordon Solie’s nasal delivery of the action reminds many sports buffs of baseball’s Howard Cosell. What sets Solie apart from his peers on this list is that Gordon came from an era where a single broadcaster would call the action from ringside. Without the benefit of banter with a colleague, Solie kept fans on the edge of their seats with a play by play so descriptive that one could close their eyes and envision the match playing out before them. Gordon Solie was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame posthumously in 2008, though never calling a single match under Vince McMahon’s banner. That speaks volumes of his reputation and legacy in the world of professional wrestling and all those whom he influenced.
7. Gorilla Monsoon
For some fans, it may have been the unique lingo that Gorilla Monsoon used to describe the action in the ring that set him apart from the crowd. Who can forget Gorilla referencing the “external occipital protuberance” when describing a wrestler receiving a blow to the back of the skull? However, it was the combination of Monsoon’s credibility as a retired legend of the sport and the genuine emotion and exasperation that he conveyed whenever underhanded tactics were taking place before his very eyes that truly set him apart. Gorilla verbalized the very frustrations that the viewers at home were experiencing when the referee’s back was turned or when the heinous manager got involved. Many fans will remember the unforgettable combination of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon behind the broadcast position who would carry on like Waldorf and Statler from The Muppet Show. The exchanges between Heenan and Monsoon were as entertaining as the action itself.
6. Joey Styles
The image of Joey Styles in a suit, emotionally engaged but keeping his composure amid the cast of characters in the original Extreme Championship Wrestling stands out as one of the most lasting from the run of that wrestling promotion. Styles’ straight-laced credibility, combined with the pure emotion that he communicated at the death-defying stunts performed by Paul Heyman’s motley crew set the stage for the viewers at home. Even if you weren’t a regular ECW fan, Styles was there to spell out the significance of the showdowns on screen, provide the history and drop a subtle hint that this next showdown must be seen, as death was a high probability when these heated rivals entered the ring against one another. We only got to see glimpses of Styles’ pure brilliance during his WWE tenure – but go back and watch that footage from the 1990s and you’ll agree that Styles is one of the best of his generation.
5. Mauro Ranallo
Fans who are just now getting acquainted with Mauro Ranallo on the WWE’s SmackDown brand are being treated to one of the best broadcasters to ever sit behind the microphone. Ranallo got his start in wrestling as a teenager in the 1980s for Vancouver All Star Wrestling where he was a manager and even found himself embroiled in the action from time to time. His work has included television commentary for a Stampede Wrestling re-boot in 1999-2000 and for NWA Top Ranked Wrestling in 2006. Outside of wrestling, Ranallo has been very active with MMA, hosting his own combat sports podcast and also as the narrator/co-host of the TV series Punk Payback alongside UFC alumnus Bas Rutten. His addition to the WWE broadcast team is a breath of fresh air, willingly acknowledging wrestlers’ indy pasts as well as the correct names and origins of the full slate of moves that get implemented in the ring.
4. Gary Michael Cappetta
In the 1990s, the expressive Gary Michael Cappetta was so visible as WCW’s primary ring announcer on television that it is hard to remember that he actually got his start in the WWE. Cappetta got his start as a youngster, first debuting at cards in the northeastern United States. However, unlike his peers, Gary didn’t fully immerse himself in the business, preferring to keep his financial security at arm’s length from his announcing career. It is a move that Cappetta identified in his autobiography that put him at odds with WWE chief Vince McMahon. From 1985 to 1995, the signature voice of Gary Michael Cappetta was the one that rang out from center ring in WCW until he was released due to budget cuts. Following his career, he penned a memoir Bodyslams: Memoirs of a Wrestling Pitchman and has been dubbed by long-time wrestling manager and friend, Jim Cornette as “Wrestling’s Most Dangerous Announcer.”
3. Gene Okerlund
“Mean” Gene Okerlund was as integral a part of the WWE’s meteoric rise in the mid-1980s as some of the wrestlers themselves. Leaving a career in radio to work for Verne Gagne’s AWA in 1974, Okerlund worked for Gagne for a decade before becoming one of the most identified faces in the WWE starting in 1984. Best remembered for his backstage interviews with the stars, Okerlund helped to mold the public perception of some of wrestling’s most outrageous characters with his exceptional wit and his comedic timing. His significance in the cast of characters active during his generation is evidenced by the fact that Okerlund was immortalized as an action figure right alongside Hulk Hogan, King Kong Bundy and Roddy Piper during that renaissance period of pro wrestling. Gene was also the only announcer to have a featured track and accompanying music video on The Wrestling Album, and its sequel Piledriver.
2. Jim Ross
Just ask wrestlers like Mick Foley and Steve Austin … as they envisioned the biggest matches of their careers and some of the most dramatic moments that would play out in front of a live audience, their mind’s eye pictured Jim Ross at ringside calling the action. For many, Jim Ross will be regarded as having forever set the standard for professional wrestling commentators. Not only was he up to speed on the amateur athletic backgrounds and careers of the wrestlers prior to finding their success in professional wrestling, his genuine emotion for the action playing out in the ring served to draw us in and hold us spellbound to each minute of the action. Over the past generation, the duo of Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler are considered to be one of the greatest pairings to man the broadcast table and it is one of the sport’s great injustices that we aren’t treated to Jim Ross calling the action each week on TV today.
1. Howard Finkel
“Your winner … and NEW World Wrestling Federation champion …” Whether among fans imitating their favorite wrestlers in back yard scuffles or even in locker rooms among active wrestlers themselves, no wrestling announcer in history has ever been more imitated than the great Howard Finkel. Appearing for the WWE on screen almost exclusively as a ring announcer, it is Finkel’s voice punctuating the significance of the important championship matches and wins that rings through in our memory. Howard has been with the WWE since 1977 and has been an instrumental figure within the company for decades. His presence alone at centre ring with microphone in hand lent itself to the significance of the match that he was about to introduce and the magnitude of the performers that were taking place. The Fink has been so revered by the wrestling community that he was actually called upon to host a wedding reception of some diehard wrestling fans, using musically-accompanied entrances for the wedding party to the reception in his trademark fashion.