Mauro Ranallo & Jerry Lawler: Smarks vs. the Company, Personified


Mauro Ranallo and Jerry Lawler have already developed great chemistry on SmackDown. But is their back-and-forth a personification of a larger “feud” between competing philosophies in WWE?

It was back in December that WWE announced the hiring of former PRIDE and NJPW announcer Mauro Ranallo as the new voice of WWE Smackdown, as the company was planning a revamp of the blue brand to coincide with its move to the USA Network. At the time, the scuttlebutt was that Smackdown was set to become a “hybrid” of Monday Night Raw and NXT, combining the angle-heavy programming of the flagship with the stronger in-ring work of the “developmental” brand. Ranallo’s hire instantly got the attention of the IWC, as his reputation as a legit “big match” voice instantly brought new credibility to Smackdown’s broadcast table.

And sure enough, with his first night on USA, Ranallo’s presence made Smackdown exponentially more watchable. Suddenly each match had a story; it had stakes. Hell, Ranallo was calling moves! Since when did a major WWE announcer know the difference between a crossbody block and a plancha?

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Take this past Thursday’s Smackdown main event between AJ Styles and Chris Jericho. You wouldn’t know this was a non-title match between a pair of mid-carders the way Ranallo and Smackdown’s writers built it up. Thanks to a challenge from Y2J the week before and MR’s excited proclamation of “this show has hosted many classics, and we’re about to get another one here,” the match felt important. Like it, dare I say meant something. (Y2J’s victory is almost assuredly setting up a rubber match at Fastlane that I’m already anticipating more eagerly perhaps than the main event.)

Compare that to the recent back-and-forth between Kevin Owens and Dolph Ziggler on Raw–a series of even-steven 50/50 matchups with barely any buildup or story other than “eh, they don’t like each other very much, I guess?”

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Ranallo’s big-fight-feel broadcasting is delivered in even higher relief when contrasted with the freshly heel (and reinvigorated) Jerry Lawler’s color work. For every reference, Ranallo makes to a superstar’s extra-WWE credentials, Lawler’s right there to pooh-pooh the resume of anyone who hasn’t yet made their mark on wrestling’s biggest stage. The night of their debut as a team, Lawler was there to dismiss Becky Lynch as an “inexperienced” competitor while wrestling Charlotte for the Diva’s title, only to have Ranallo point out that he was calling Lynch’s matches in Canada 10 years ago.

And sure enough, during the big Y2J vs. AJ tilt on Thursday, Lawler was at his dismissive best, brushing aside Ranallo’s bullet points (he called attention to AJ’s two IWGP titles and three NWA World Titles–while deftly ignoring that those NWA wins happened in TNA, but we know how that goes) while pointing out that as far as WWE is concerned, AJ Styles is a 38-year-old rookie.

(As an aside, as someone who cut his wrestling fan teeth in the late 80s period of the WWF, when the status quo was to completely ignore any other wrestling companies and refuse to acknowledge that any of the WWF Superstars had a pre-WWF career, it still gives me goosebumps to hear NJPW titles being referenced on WWE television. What a time to be alive.)

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The use of Lawler as a company-line heel has been a brilliant move by Smackdown’s writers and is crucial for Smackdown’s apparent positioning as the mid-point between Raw and NXT. Hell, it’s WWE showing their hand to the Internet wrestling fans, if they’re paying attention. It’s the WWE saying to those fans who prefer their indy darlings like AJ and Owens over the company-chosen superheroes like Roman Reigns, “we hear you.”

Is Monday Night Raw ever going to become NXT? It’s unlikely, to say the least. But WWE isn’t dumb–they know their fanbase is divided between the kids and casual fans that love their company-approved Cenas and Romans, and the hardcore smarks that Triple H loves to troll on television but not-so-secretly loves to cater to with NXT. And we all know WWE loves to milk a good feud. It’s going to be fascinating in the next few months to see the ongoing feud between the IWC and WWE Corporate played out behind the Smackdown broadcast table–Mauro Ranallo, the voice of the smark, vs. Jerry “Company Man” Lawler.

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Now, if they could only do something interesting with Byron Saxton…