On Friday evening, JBL announced that he would be “stepping back” from his position as a commentator for the SmackDown Live brand in order to focus his efforts more on Beyond Rugby Bermuda and similar philanthropic endeavors.
For the IWC, this meant a brief moment of “aww, nice” followed by instant speculation of “what does this mean!?”
The biggest thing to get around, of course, is finding a replacement for him, as WWE’s current model is to have a three-man booth for all shows.
Raw has Michael Cole, Corey Graves and Booker T. NXT has Mauro Ranallo, Nigel McGuinness and Percy Watson. SmackDown now just has Tom Phillips and Byron Saxton. 205 Live is the only show with a two-man operation (Corey Graves and Vic Joseph) and there are definitely some alterations that will need to be made going forward.
There’s a multitude of possible options available to WWE and no news has come out as to how things will change, which means its up to us to fill our brains with speculation and wishful thinking of how this will go down.
Keep in mind that my list of choices is purely my own likes and dislikes mixed with some calculated guessing, as opposed to any kind of news report on any of these options being true.
With that being said, what do I think WWE needs to do in order to replace JBL?
Absolutely not, under any circumstances, is it the right move to just shove David Otunga into this role and wipe your hands of it like it’s an easy call.
Otunga was part of the commentary team in WWE for years in various capacity and was never any good, whether he was playing the part of the heel, the babyface, color commentary, play-by-play or anything else.
Even as a pre-show panel analyst, he still struggles to have any kind of enthusiasm in his voice worth listening to, which is the entire purpose of the commentary booth.
Yes, he’s still employed by the company, and they may be looking for a different role in how to utilize him going forward, but this is not the spot he’s best suited for.
His boring demeanor wouldn’t work alongside Tom Phillips and Byron Saxton, who are also on the tamer side, and the blue brand would have no passion behind it.
A Heel Color Commentator is Necessary
For that matter, WWE needs to make sure whoever they slide into this role knows how to not just have passion, but can provide a different point of view from Phillips and Saxton, who are ear-to-ear smile babyfaces.
Like him or hate him, you have to admit that JBL served a purpose as being a red hot branding iron at times, injecting a conversation with some ferocity by being belligerent and disagreeing with the other people on the panel.
This is the type of person WWE needs to replace JBL with—someone who can tap into that same anger and make an argumentative case for why the heels are as great as they say they are, instead of merely copying and pasting the same chastising tone Phillips and Saxton will have already voiced, but for a third time.
As much as I liked Jerry Lawler back in the day, he isn’t his former self anymore. The King has been a babyface for so many years that I don’t think he could do the job justice like he used to, nor do I think he would even be interested in working that kind of schedule.
The same goes for Jim Ross, but even more so, since he’s essentially never been anything but a champion for the good guys and was a play-by-play man anyway, rather than a color commentator. Obviously, you can say the same thing about Mauro Ranallo, who likely wouldn’t be up for this anyway since his current deal has much less dates and allows more flexibility.
I like Phillips and I’ve grown to tolerate Saxton, but what I can’t deny is that they lack personality, which is what someone needs in this kind of role, more so than pure technical expertise.
Triple Duty for Corey Graves?
One option I can see happening is WWE taking Corey Graves and just adding one more responsibility to his work order, as he is already traveling to SmackDown events as part of the 205 Live commentary team.
If it’s necessary to cut one of those three and there isn’t a viable enough candidate for the replacement, SmackDown takes priority over 205 Live, so Vic Joseph would need to find a new partner at the table, and as that’s such a lower level of importance, nobody would probably care who that would be.
The danger with this, though, is it illustrates WWE’s lack of resources for this type of position and it leads to Graves oversaturation by spreading him too thin.
A Women’s Opinion
It would be such a refreshing change of pace if WWE could find a woman to fit into JBL’s spot, just for something different.
Of course, this is given the assumption that said woman would be qualified for the position as opposed to getting the job just because she happens to be a woman, as the idea of being progressive should never outweigh the conditions of the job’s performance to begin with.
Ideally, though, if a woman could be brought on board to play the heel color commentator role and pull it off in a pleasing way, that could be an amazing way to differentiate Raw and SmackDown.
Most people might have a gut reaction of saying they want Lana in this position, but I would disagree. Her voice is not suited for that type of speaking role as opposed to being a manager/valet/wrestler.
Renee Young comes to mind, but while she dabbled in commentary in NXT, her heart seems to be deeply and firmly rooted in the interview style of broadcast work, which is also what she’s best at.
I’m under the impression that the rest of the women currently on WWE’s payroll would also be in a similar situation, like Charly Caruso, Kayla Braxton and Cathy Kelley. All those women and the rest don’t strike me as heel color commentators able to pick up the slack Phillips and Saxton will leave as far as the personality department of analysis goes.
Maybe this is where Summer Rae could find a new place for herself in WWE, since they don’t seem to want to put her back between the ropes? I have no idea if that would be a horrible idea or not, but without knowing, I’ll at least entertain the notion.