The RCWR Show recently interviewed former WWE announcer Rich Bocchini, a.k.a. Rich Brennan, who talked about his ice hockey announcing career, working for Booker T's ROW promotion, the problems NXT talent face after moving to the main roster and much more. You can download and listen to the full interview by clicking here (interview starts at the 24 minute mark), they sent us these highlights:
"In a lot of ways that was my entry into the company or my connection with the company. When I started doing Booker's show, I never said this before, I never had any intention whatsoever of going after pro wrestling as a career. I always thought that I would be calling hockey games. I remember going to the Bell Center in Montreal, Madison Square Garden... some of these buildings that were just kind of like these iconic buildings, Boston Garden, and going there to call stuff for WWE and it was just kind of interesting because again I always thought that if I got there to call on something I'd be calling hockey games."
Were you always a fan of wrestling prior to joining Booker T and the WWE or was the passion always there for wrestling?
"Yeah absolutely. I grew up in Providence so at the time that was WWE, or WWF at the time. They were still doing monthly shows at that point in the 80s. So I would go there. I'd go to the Civic Center in Providence... I'd beg my dad or my grandfather to take me pretty much every month. So I grew up in the whole Hulkamania era. Definitely got into it then but I also really got into the NWA and really loved the mid-Atlantic stuff, the Jim Crockett promotion stuff... Road Warriors, Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, all that stuff. I really gravitated to the NWA and Crockett promotions a bit more, so I was definitely a fan. Even getting into high school and college, as I got into college I was so focused on hockey. I was never home on Monday nights. I still kept up with wrestling but certainly wasn't in tuned to it but yeah I was definitely always a fan. [I] kind of had it always in the back of my head, how cool would it be to do wresting, to do wrestling play-by-play. But that's one of those things you say to yourself, it would be really cool but that will never happen.
"It's kind of one of those things like seeing the tooth fairy. You don't ever believe that you'll have an opportunity to do it and quite honestly when I was doing Booker's show, again my intention was never to get to WWE. It was something that I enjoyed doing. Quite honestly if I'd never made it to WWE, I'd probably still be doing his show because it was fun. I had fun doing it. I enjoyed it. I had a day job and the company was frankly a disaster. So I was looking to get out of there and I had talked to a couple of people in the sports industry. I had sent my play-by-play stuff around and somebody that I really respected, Mark Vandermeer, he's the play-by-play voice of the Houston Texans. He heard my stuff and he was kind of like, "You should really be calling games somewhere". I said, "Yeah but I'm not really sure where to go. I've done the minor league hockey thing. I'm not sure what to do". And I came home after talking to him and mentioned it to my wife and she was the one that kind of nudged me and said, "Well, talk to Booker". I mean, "What are you talking about talk to Booker?" She's like, "Well talk to him and see if there might be an opportunity at WWE". So I kind of reluctantly brought it up to him one day and he looked at me and said, "I think you're ready right now. Put something together". So off to the races, off we went. I put some stuff together and next thing I knew I was moving to Florida."
I remember when I started watching NXT and I came in right when Michael Cole was starting to just like pop up here and there before the play-by-play position went to you on a fulltime basis, so I might've missed just a little bit in between. But I definitely remember, and correct me if I'm wrong at some point leading up to you being the full time play-by-play for NXT, I saw you doing a lot of backstage interviews, is that correct?
"Yeah when I first got to NXT, well to be honest, I moved to Florida and literally within four days of getting here we had a TV taping. What we would do is we would do two shows, so four at a time. I would do two and then the other guy would do two. Cole actually never called NXT stuff. He called the old NXT, like the original kind of game show deal that they did... So it was him and Josh Matthews and they would just sit there and it was actually funny because they would make fun of it the whole time. But when they rebooted NXT here in Florida because originally before NXT it was Florida Championship Wrestling, which was a development territory. So when they phased that out, they built a performance center and they rebooted developmental, they gave it to NXT. So there were a couple of play-by-play guys here before me. Tony Dawson was here, I know Jim Ross actually did some NXT at the beginning and then Tom Phillips, who is doing it now. So when I got here, I got the job December 2014 or January 2014. I moved here in March and like I said literally just got my apartment and wasn't even unpacked and it was, "here you go!" You're doing this show. So that was pretty quick but I definitely did do some behind the scenes backstage stuff, Internet... You know WWE.com exclusive stuff as well. They kind of had me doing a little bit of everything before I took over the fulltime spot there for a while."
Now who was in your ears, in your headphones with regards to commentating the matches and helping you out along the way, producing you and all that?
"That was Cole. That was Michael Cole."
I know when I was watching you, and you can feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but like when I first began watching you, you seemed a little bit I won't say nervous--but you didn't see quite comfortable yet and as I continued to watch you on NXT it was like--Okay! Rich is now getting even more comfortable in this position and it just got to a point where it was refreshing to see your commentating each week. That eventually when you got promoted to be the color commentator for Smackdown I was definitely happy for you. Did you see the Smackdown move happening or was that another situation where it just like came as a surprise.
"It was a surprise in a lot of ways. I had been, at that point, that was the end of August of last year, I had to do Superstars and Main Event for... I don't know six months, seven months, or whatever it was. So I would just be on the road, I was just being up with the main roster to a certain extent but to get the lead chair for a while there on Smackdown definitely it was challenging but a surprise for sure. I think I did it justice, but I think you hit the nail on the head when you're saying first I was a little nervous and trying to feel my way around for sure. That's a difficult thing to kind of walk into, kind of not really knowing or not really understanding at that point how the rundowns work. Just the little mechanics. I mean it's one thing to put a match in front of somebody and say, "Here call a match". But to get all the other things and to figure that stuff out is a lot more challenging than probably most people realize. Probably most people don't even think of it. Especially when you go out and you're taping four episodes of a show at a time and you're in the third and fourth show."
Now who was helping you as far as production goes for Smackdown? Was that still Cole as well?
"Cole, yep and from time to time I'd hear Vince. A handful of times I'd hear Triple H as well but the majority of the time he (Cole) was producing the announcers for NXT and for Smackdown usually."
Now the few times that Vince was in your ear, how was that experience because I knowMick Foley has gone on record, as a few other people, that Vince would be yelling in your ear and all that, but I've heard he's mellowed out a lot over the years. How was your experience with that?
"It wasn't as bad for me. I read Mick's book and laughed when I read the whole thing about the Mr. McMahon and the magical headset and all that stuff. I think because in some ways Cole was there as the producer, I know a lot of things got filtered through him, so I'm sure he was getting an earful and it was probably watered down and given to us. I do remember doing a Madison Square Garden show for the WWE Network and Cole wasn't there that night. That's the reason that I was told to be available.
"But Vince was in my headset that night and every now and then you would hear him if you were talking at a point he didn't want you to talk as he'd tell you. If you said something he didn't like, he'd let you know but it wasn't abusive to me it and it wasn't over the top. I've heard the stories as well about Vince getting upset and giving it to the announcers and I think a lot of that is a product of the fact that he was an announcer for so long and at the end of the day everything begins and ends with Vince and he knows what he wants. It's his product and he knows exactly what he wants and he has very high expectations because he wants the product to be as good as it can be. So in a lot of ways I think that you understand that and just knowing that live TV is a--it can be a very stressful and intense environment to begin with. I've heard stories of producers and directors flipping out on camera guys and talent outside of wrestling, in baseball or hockey, you name it. Even in live TV news I've heard that so it's not uncommon. That said, at times it can be a little much to be produced so much. Sometimes I think if you hold the reigns on too tight it really stifles the announce team because you're worried about what you're saying or you're worried about saying the wrong thing. You know at times it would've been nice just to just, "Hey just go call the match" and that did happen from time to time. So you know it wasn't as bad as I think a lot of people make it out to be. At the end of the day if you understand going into it the reason and you don't take it personal, because it's not personal usually, you know sometimes it might be, but if you understand going into it I don't think you have as hard of a time with it. It's still not easy to have somebody in your ear while you're trying to focus on five different things to begin with. But you know it is what it is, that's part of the job and if you don't like it you don't have to be there."
What was it like working with Jerry Lawler? That had to have been an awesome experience right there.
"Yeah, Jerry is obviously a legend. He's obviously a legend in the business. He's seen so much and understands so much about the business and he has the ability to just kind of see what's presented in front of him without having done a ton of prep work or whatever. He can literally walk out there to the announce table, put on the headset, and call the show, and have it make sense. Yeah he is one of a kind; he's amazing."
Without naming any names just from a TV viewing standpoint, we've seen so many NXT stars come up on the main roster over the years and a lot of it has been hit and miss. There's been a lot of misses, as these stars that were really popular in NXT didn't really transfer so well when they came up on the main roster. I just want to kind of put you on the spot, get your two cents, what do you think would be the key for the up and coming talent from NXT to the main roster in order to maintain the success, continue building upon the momentum, keep that momentum that they got from NXT on to the main roster?
"Oh, it's not necessarily on the talent. A lot of it's on the stories that they're given and situations that they're put it. So that's a lot that has to do it. I know just going into the Fastlane PPV a couple of weeks ago they had the Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens match and they finally about a week before, two weeks before their match finally referenced their past.
"That's something that you can understand. When Owens debuted he came up as the NXT champion. He took the title with him so that's makes sense. But when you debut some of these other guys for a lot of the fans... a lot of people don't know who these guys are. Again to the hardcore wrestling fans, the people that follow it, you know who Sami Zayn is. If you're an NXT fan you know who the Vaudevillains are but if you just - when they just pop up, who are they? And again, there's no right formula, there's no right way. There have been opportunities for them to do vignettes with some up and coming talent from NXT that still didn't get over for one reason or another. We can sit here and debate the reasons why and whatever, but I think in some ways they have to be put in position to succeed. If you look at the Ascension for instance... Where they truly put into the position to succeed? My response to that would be no but if you look back at their story, if you want to say when they debuted... They were basically buried right off the bat. I don't know who that's supposed to serve, you know what I mean?
"It's a shame because they were the dominating tag team in NXT and then they got bought up to RAW and Smackdown and they treated them like a joke, which is again unfortunate. But again there's no right way, there's no wrong way to do it but I think knowing who guys are and putting them in compelling situations that makes sense is helpful. When you're up there you can--I know the guys can pitch things and they can have ideas and stuff but at the end of the day you're dealing with somebody--you're playing with somebody else's cards. So you just have to try to make the best of it, you try to make it work and that's what you do.
I got to get the inside scoop from you man. I see poor Byron Saxton is abused every single week verbally. Please shed some light on this. Tell me that this is a 'rib', because I see this man, he looks so frustrated sometimes. I think it was the last Pay-Per-View that they had did or maybe it was an episode of RAW. Byron just, he act like he snapped at one point because he actually snapped at JBL. He's like: "Why are you always picking on me" and I was like "Oh, Byron got a little bit of sass there", and I tweeted him. I said, man if you are genuinely like tired of it stand your ground my friend. Stand your ground and just have at it. I'm like if you need to do like Joey Styles did to JBL some years back, you handle your business.
"Well, I don't know how much of it is work or how much of it is serious. I think there's probably a little bit of both. He's probably like honestly, truly like the nicest person that I have ever met. He's a solid all around guy. You know, just a great guy. Always enthusiastic, always with a positive outlook. And just really, really a good guy. In the situation that he's in on RAW, you have Michael Cole, he's the play-by-play guy who's supposed to be down the middle. You have JBL who is the sarcastic big bully heel, that's his role. So of course Byron's role is the baby face for lack of a better term. He's almost like the white meat babyface who's going to get abused, who's going to get picked on, and that's part of the role. You need somebody to be the comedic foil to the bad guy and that's the role that Byron's in. I think he does it extremely well."
I got to say with regards to Corey Graves, I think as far as like commentating team go and chemistry, I think you had the best chemistry with Corey Graves. It seems like you both kind of brought out the best in each other. What was it like working with him?
"Fantastic, he was great. I agree with you on that assessment. Graves and I almost instantly hit it off. At the time when I first got to the Performance Center he was in and out with injuries and I was told to get ahold of some talent. Get him in the voice over room and just go call matches and so I got ahold of him and again, it was almost instantaneous. We had something that clicked. Part of that I think, we're both - we both like a lot of the same music and that type of stuff. You'd probably never know it cause he has all the tattoos and stuff and I look like Milhouse, which is fine but we like a lot of the same type of stuff... metal, punk, hardcore and stuff like that, so we bonded on that. He's a big Pittsburgh Penguins fan, I'm a Bruins fan so we like to rip each other about that. Those two teams have quite a rivalry between them so we would always joke around about that. So again, it was almost instantaneous. It was within a couple of weeks of calling matches with him and I had sent an email saying, "this guy's got something, we can put him on TV literally tomorrow. It took a while for things to work out but eventually that happened and Graves is doing great for himself and it's exciting to see. I'm in no way taking credit for any of that but we had some chemistry and good things have happened for him so that's satisfying to see."
What was your thoughts on Mauro Ranallo coming in there because I know that - did that kind of come left field when they took you off the Smackdown play-by-play?
"Yeah I wasn't really expecting it, but in other ways maybe I was. When they did the move to USA, I guess I kind of figured that they were going to put Cole back on in that spot. At least for the first little bit but they had the opportunity to go and get a guy who's very well respected, a well-regarded combat sports announcer and I was disappointed for sure but I also understood why they wanted to do and it made sense. WWE in general wants anything that gives the company - what's the word I'm looking for... anything that legitimizes the company from the outside the world, as well as legitimate sports, or entertainment, or anything like that. To bring in Mauro, who again ... Showtime boxing, MMA, all that stuff. He was very well respected. New Japan Pro Wrestling, very well respected so I understood it and my attitude was there's plenty of work here for everybody and there was. He did Smackdown and I did Main Event and Superstars. Got to do some backstage stuff as well on RAW and Smackdown. So Mauro's a good guy, excellent play-by-play announcer, and that's kind of where we at. "
With regards to your release and all that, I thought what you had to say was just first off from the heart, very classy, professional to the T. Did they leave it open in a way where maybe you and WWE could maybe do something down the road?
"When I was told that I was getting released there really wasn't any talk of anything like that. It was literally just post-WrestleMania budget cuts, we're releasing you from your contract. That was that. In this business you never say never about anything. I don't know. I'm still not really sure what the reason was. I'm trying not to look too far back. I'm trying to look ahead. I have my thoughts on potentially why I was released, but it is what it is. I'm trying to take the high road with things and move forward. If there's an opportunity down the line, who knows? But I'm not holding my breath for that."
So what do you have planned next? What would you like to you venture off to next?
"I would like to remain in wrestling if there is a way but that's very difficult in this day and age. There's really only one company to work for on a full-time basis. That said who knows if there are going to be opportunities. There's obviously a few other places potentially to go and do stuff but if an opportunity like that arises, I would definitely love to remain involved. I'm also looking at some other opportunities. I'd love to call hockey again. As I said before my dream has always been to make it to the NHL. I'm sure I'm still quite a ways away from that ever even being a possibility but I also made it to WWE so who knows?"