I recently interviewed former WWE announcer Rich Brennan, who was the lead SmackDown ring announcer until this past January after SmackDown moved to the USA Network. Below is part one of the interview.
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Were you a wrestling fan growing up?
"I really got into Ric Flair, the Road Warriors, the Four Horsemen, all of that stuff. I don't know what I found so intriguing about it. It might have been that it was presented a bit more realistic. I really enjoyed that gritty style that was presented. I love the WWF stuff, too. I loved Hulk Hogan. I loved all of those guys growing up, there was something about that gritty Crockett style. I used to try to watch as much of it as I could. There used to be this Worcester Spanish station, for whatever reason at 1 in the morning they would play World Wide Wrestling. There I was at 9 years old up watching. I watched a lot of wrestling growing up, I was able to get world-class, I was able to watch the AWA, there was even a local Indy promotion that had a television for a little bit. I watched as much of it as I could growing up."
Were you a fan of any other sports growing up?
"Was a big baseball fan growing up, still am. Was a big hockey fan growing up in New England. Played a bit in high school, still play in a street hockey league in Orlando."
How did you transition into announcing, and when did you realize that was something you wanted to do?
"I remember being a kid playing around with two record players. I would set them up, and had a little cheap Radio Shack microphone doing segues in between songs and tapes trying to figure out how that worked. I was always interested in announcing. When I was little I had the little LJN ring, with the big wrestling figures. I used to make my own cards and would announce them coming to the ring. My mom always said I should do something with my voice. I never really thought about it seriously until High School. I used to listen to a lot of college radio in high school. I was a big metal head growing up. There were a lot of college stations around at the time, and there was no radio at the time, so if you wanted to hear metal, that was the way to do it. I thought 'oh, when I go to college, I'll do a radio show.' That's what I did. I got a music show, played all sorts of stuff. Somewhere along the way the light bulb goes off that you can't make a living doing this. I enjoyed doing radio, and loved announcing, and it clicked that I loved hockey and loved listening to a handful of announcers like Tom Neese and Gary Thorne. It clicked that I was going to try to do this."
Was your first announcing job out of school for hockey?
"It was. I interned for a team in Worcester in the AHL and did some stuff in the PR department and announcing on the side. I actually got my first real paid gig in the United Hockey League in the Knoxville in 2000. I packed up the car, it was a matter of two weeks after they said they wanted me to come there."
How did you transition from Knoxville to Houston?
"From Knoxville, I ended up working for a team in Connecticut, from there, I ended up moving to South Texas right on the Mexican border which for a time was really popular, but the recession really hurt some of those teams. I was there for five years and got an opportunity for a PR gig for the Houston Arrows. I did some hosting on the website, was the back up PBP guy. I did radio for the top rated station, doing scoreboard updates and things like that. That's really how I got into wrestling in Houston."
You worked for Booker T's Reality of Wrestling, too. Were you doing that full-time?
"With Booker T, that was a labor of love. I had a regular day job at the time. I was working out for an NWA promotion once a month. They would go in a warehouse and there'd be a ring set up, and I'd run the ropes, and I wanted to referee. I learned a little about that, but they really needed a ring announcer, so I started doing that. One of my friends who was Alex Reyes in WWE who just got released was working there and had went on tour with the Globetrotters. He was about to go on tour and Booker needed an announcer, so Alex recommended me, that's what really started things. It was a once a month thing, but I got involved in the website, becoming the defacto PR things, and a lot of things behind the scenes, but I still had my day job."
How was it working with Booker? He seems really hands on with ROW.
"He is. That's his baby. He really likes working with the young kids and teaching them the right ways to do things, and having his show and vision come to life. He's very hands on. He has a great support cast as well. Kevin Bernhardt books a lot of the show, and is his right hand man, but it's like WWE – at the end of the day, everything goes through Booker. He's at the school a couple of times a week when he's in town. I know he's traveling a little more now."
Did he suggest you for WWE? How were you discovered?
"It was through Booker. I wasn't happy with the day job I was at, and a few people in the business had pushed me towards announcing again. I had taken a sabbatical from being a PBP guy to figure out what I'd do next. People told me I should be calling games. The Booker T Reality Of Wrestling thing was a labor of love. I never expected to make a living in wrestling. I ended up talking to Booker, and the next thing I knew, I was headed to Florida to get a tryout. It happened quicker than I could have ever imagined."
Was that all in 2014?
"Summer 2013 was when some people kind of nudged me. I put some stuff together, got it to Booker and he showed people. End of 2013, early 2014."
How hands on was Triple H at NXT?
"From what I saw, very hands on at the TV tapings. He was at the Performance Center as much as he could be. You talk about a guy that works non-stop, that's Triple H. I don't know how he does it. Vince is the same way, a lot of people at WWE are the same way. It really becomes it's own bubble and universe and it's just go, go, go. It's from the top. Stephanie, Vince, Triple H, they work non-stop. Triple H at the Performance Center is very approachable and hands-on. It's his creation."
Did Michael Cole just work with the announce teams or were there others?
"Mostly Cole. He runs the announce teams. Certainly if Triple H doesn't like something, that'd be filtered through Cole and passed down from us."
Did you ever see Vince McMahon in NXT?
"Never in NXT. On the main roster he was always there on the road. Talked to him a handful of times, never had any long conversations with him, a couple of seconds or a minute here or there. At the big shows, he'd pop up. The San Jose show before WrestleMania, Brooklyn, Dallas he was there. As far as coming down to the Performance Center in Florida, I never saw him down there. It's kind of Triple H's building."
Vince seems like he can be an intimidating person. Do you remember what it was like meeting Vince for the first time?
"The first time I met him was at that San Jose show. I went up to him and said hello, he said 'how are you,' and that was it. There's always a line to talk to him, he always has something going on. I'm just an announcer, not someone important. I'm not going to knock on his door and demand something important. He knew who I was, that was kind of unique – it's Vince McMahon."
Who gave you the nickname Milhouse?
"I don't know if it was Graves or Kevin Owens. As far as TV, it was Kevin Owens. He decided to yell at me and call me Milhouse. I don't see the resemblance (laughs). I will say that some of my favorite Simpson's moments are his, especially the sprinkler. If that's my claim to fame, so be it."
What were some of your favorite moments in NXT?
"Getting to know Dusty Rhodes, by far. I remember the first day at the Performance Center there's a meeting going on in there. Bill DeMott was explaining some things, and the whole time Dusty was saying 'kayfabe'. Bill would go on and Dusty would say 'Bill, kayfabe.' Bill asked him what he was talking about. For some reason, Dusty called me Ben Justice. He said 'you're giving away the whole business, meanwhile you've got Ben Justice standing back here.' I had a bunch of nicknames from him. I got to work with Dusty, got to know him, it was amazing. I was a Crockett fan growing up, so getting to go into the Performance Center, go into the next office, sit and talk to Dream. A lot of it wasn't even wrestling related stuff, just talking to him. I really enjoyed that and wasn't anything I thought I'd ever have the opportunity to do."
What about on camera?
"Really enjoyed Takeover: R Evolution. Really enjoyed that Sami/Neville match. The emotion in the building, everything clicked. That match in particular was amazing, they told a great story, it made sense. The story they told in the ring was great. The emotion in that match, in that building and from the commentary team was all very real. Sometimes in wrestling, it's tough to get that. All three of us – my voice was cracking because I was so into it. It may not sound the best as an announcer, but you can't deny the emotion. You're selling emotion, you want to connect with people. That night we did that as an announce team, and the reason we were able to do that was what they did in the ring that night, especially in that match. I don't want to take away from the rest of the show, but that match in particular makes it easy to call and everything aligned that night to make for a special night that I think over time you'll look back at that night as an important night in the history of NXT."
How long were you in NXT before making a move to the main roster?
"It was about a year that I was in NXT before getting the call to do Superstars. Pretty quickly after that they put me on Main Event as well."
How far ahead do they let you know of something like that?
"I got the call on a Thursday, and that Sunday I flew out to Denver for my first show."
When you got the call to be the lead announcer of Smackdown, what was that like?
"It was crazy to think I was going to be calling Smackdown, a show I'd watched. Superstars and Main Event are cool. Superstars, you call two matches, Main Event is a little more involved, but you know they're the C and D shows. Knowing Smackdown is the second biggest show in the company, you know there's a lot more pressure on you and the expectations are that much higher. It's definitely challenging, but I waited my life to get a shot at the major league level, and it was an exciting moment for sure. The first Smackdown I did was in Providence at an arena that I grew up going to. My parents were there, it was a very cool thing."
Was it difficult to make that adjustment to Smackdown?
"When you're there you don't necessarily think of it as 'this many people are watching.' You have a show to do. It's a lot more involved than Main Event. There are a lot more segments, a lot more moving parts, a longer show obviously. At the end of the day, you're calling a show. If you can call an NXT show, that's getting you ready to call shows on the main roster. It really wasn't that much different."
I know you didn't call Raw, but what were some of the differences between the announcers who called Raw or Smackdown? Were you produced differently?
"Vince produced the announcers on Raw, and Cole produced us on Smackdown. Similar styles in some ways on how we're produced. Smackdown has always been a little more of a wrestling show than what Raw is. Going from NXT to the main roster, the styles can be very different. NXT is a very action-oriented show, with the focus on what's going on in the ring. Things tend to be a little simpler. Although the stories are important (in NXT), and when I was with Riley I got to focus more on the action. When you get to Superstars, almost none of the attention is in the ring. It's basically a Raw recap show. Smackdown is a hybrid of talking about stories and action. As far as the main-roster shows, Main Event is probably the most pure wrestling show, because there's not a lot of story involved, and you're allowed to focus on the action in the ring. There are subtle differences in each one. The bigger the show, it becomes more difficult to get what you need to in."
Tell us about your website.
"All my stuff is online, my website is rbvotv.com. I have a bunch of my reels up there, and I also do voiceover work part-time as a freelancer. If you want me to do voiceover, check out the site. I'm on Twitter under my real name, Rich Bocchini."
Make sure to check back next week for the second and final part of the interview, where Brennan discussed how NXT talent are presented on the main rosters, Mauro Ranallo signing with WWE, rumors of problems with another WWE announcer, favorite main roster moments and more.