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 the second and final part of the interview.
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Do you think there's a disconnect between the main roster and NXT with talent and how they push them?
"I think there can be. I also think you have a very different audience for NXT in some ways. Something that works at Full Sail in front of 500 people might not work in front of larger crowds. That's not to say that it can't. It's like anything else – if you present it like it's inferior, people are going to think it's inferior. Wrestling is all about stories and how are things are presented. You can look at a handful of people that were brought up and how they were presented. A lot of people say that's on the talent to get themselves over. If you're presented as being a joke, people will think you're joke."
How do you think the new main roster debuts from NXT have been presented?
"I can only speak for a little while after WrestleMania, I've been on a wrestling sabbatical. Enzo and Cass naturally draw a reaction, they're easy to love or easy to hate. Enzo being the main guy in that. The second he talks, he draws a reaction. The Vaudevillains – I love those guys. It was hard to tell what there story was and who are they. In NXT, we saw their story and what they're about, but there's a whole group of people wondering why they look like strongmen. Are they from a different time? Are they hipsters? What's their deal. They're both great guys, excellent in the ring, excellent characters, but a lot of it goes back to how they're presented."
When Mauro Ranallo came in, how far ahead did you know he was coming?
"I knew about a month before he was coming in. They were nice enough to tell me what was going on, and I appreciate that."
What did they tell you about your role?
"They told me to just keep doing what I was doing, that I was part of the future. They told me I'd done what I'd asked, and to not look at it as a demotion, that Mauro was a known commodity in the sports business. They wanted to make a splash going to the USA Network. I understood bringing in Mauro, it made sense. I didn't want to be taken off Smackdown, but I understood it. I was told to keep doing what I was doing, and there was plenty of work for everyone."
Did you talk to Mauro much when he came in?
"Yeah, I talked to him pretty much every week."
When the releases came, did you sense they were coming and that you'd be released?
"Yes, I saw them coming. In hindsight, it's easy to say I should have seen it coming. Over the course of a few months, there were some things that seemed off to me. The different things I was told that were completely different from what I was told a month earlier. I probably should have seen it coming a bit more, but it was still a shock to get that call."
There were rumors of problems with Tom Phillips backstage. Is that something you can address?
"Tom's a good announcer. He was competitive from day 1. He was in NXT before I was. Whatever the rumors are, I don't have any issues with Tom. There are politics involved in every business, and it's not something I got involved in. I went to work, did what I was told, did the best I could and tried to elevate people around me. I never tried to tie anybody down. As far as with Tom, I don't know if Tom has the power to determine if I was there. Maybe he does, I don't know."
Kyle Edwards and Alex Reyes were also released. Were you surprised they cut all those announcers at once?
"It was surprising, yes, but they brought in a bunch of new people at once. It seems like they want what they want on any given day, and that can change day-to-day, hour-to-hour. At one point if I was part of the future and something happened to change their minds, that's not my decision to make. I can be thankful for my time there and upset that it ended before I wanted it to. I treated people with respect, I was on time, I did a good job, I tried to be as accurate as I could be. I can hold my head up high and look myself in the mirror and say I did the best that I could. Whatever caused that change – a change in direction, announcing style – Cole isn't going anywhere, older white guy with glasses. Ranallo isn't going anywhere, older white guy with glasses. What do we do with Brennan? We have three old white guys with glasses (laughs), I don't know. Maybe my style of calling things isn't what they want. I'm trying to look forward to what comes next, and be thankful I had the opportunity to live an offbeat dream. I choose to focus on the positives, not the negatives."
What were some of your favorite memories from the main roster, backstage and on-camera?
"Getting to know a lot of people behind-the-scenes was a lot of fun. On camera, I had a lot of fun getting made fun of by Kevin Owens. A lot of that stuff was fun, and you can say it was going to be embarrassing, but if that was Kevin's character and that helped him get over, and I'm the punchline of that, that's the role of the PBP guy anyway. If I did well enough to make him look like a jerk, have fun with it."
Are the backstage segments as scripted as those in the ring?
"The stuff on WWE.com is not as scripted. It's the old school bullet points. Everything as far as TV goes, it's a television show. It's times. There are segments you have so long for, you can't let someone go out and ramble, even though it seems like they do that to start every Raw. They have three hours to fill. The backstage stuff is a little looser, a little more fun. Anything that's on TV is timed. There's a specific purpose. There's a little bit of leeway on how you ask a question or the exact wording, but it's pretty tightly controlled all around."
Were you able to keep up with other wrestling outside of WWE?
"Not at all. When you're in that grind, just the TV grind, the announcers fly out on Sunday, get into town Monday, then you're driving yourself from town to town. If you're lucky an hour, if you're not lucky, six hours. There's not a lot of time to watch other stuff. I tried to keep up and on Twitter, but honestly it's hard to do that with the schedule, especially as an announcer. You're trying to make sense of 20 storylines as it is. You're having a tough enough time following your own product."
It seems as if ROH has risen, and it's competing with NXT for that niche audience. Did you ever feel any competition with ROH?
"I do enjoy ROH. Of all the promotions I was able to watch a little of, it was ROH. It'd be on local affiliates on Sunday nights, I'd put it on and watch things. I think the style of ROH is similar to what NXT is trying to accomplish. A little simpler, more old school. I'm a fan of ROH. As far of TNA goes, there's a lot of upside there, I think. They're obviously going through a transition right now and things are in a state of flux. It's no good for anyone for TNA to go away. I don't want to see anyone lose their jobs. I'd love to see TNA pull together."
Where do you see yourself going next?
"I'd love to do hockey again, that's kind of my goal now, to see what kind of gigs are available. NHL, AHL, ECHL, college hockey, PBP or reporting. I'm putting some feelers out there to see what happens. It's still early for a lot of those things to open up and shake out. Hockey is my primary sport where I cut my teeth. A lot of people wouldn't know that I spent 15 years in minor league hockey riding buses. I'd have to hang equipment, be at the arena at 3 am helping the equipment manager hang up stinky hockey jerseys. As far as wrestling, I'd love to remain in it in some capacity. There are probably fewer opportunities in wrestling than there are in hockey. It's not the easiest thing to find a home. I'm open to anything, I'd love to continue to call wrestling."
It seems as if Jonathan Coachman signing with ESPN broke the stigma a little bit. Wrestling announcing is a hard job.
"He's a wrestling guy, but with what Coach and Grisham have accomplished at ESPN has opened up eyes to the scope of what WWE does. The quality of the production, you can complain about creative all day, but the physical production, the way it's shot is honestly on par with any sports property. The way that show is produced in second-to-none. They do live shows every week. It's a three hour show and it's mind boggling how they're able to pull that off. Hopefully some of that stigma has been washed off. I think a lot of people now aren't afraid to admit they're wrestling fans. For a while it was like the black sheep of TV. I like wrestling, I'm a wrestling fan. It doesn't have that stigma as much."
What did you think when you heard about the brand split and Smackdown going live?
"It's going to be an awful lot of work to get it right. I don't know what the plans are, where they're going with it. It's difficult enough to do three hours of Raw live, then two hours of Smackdown taped. Then you'd have a couple of days to edit stuff and fix things. Now to be able to do that live, it puts more pressure on the writing team, the production team. It's probably kind of the same for the production team, because you're there anyway, but being live adds a little more pressure. I'm interested to see how the creative team goes off when you have a PPV Sunday, Raw Monday, Smackdown Tuesday. 8 hours of programming plus Main Event plus Superstars – that's a lot. It'll be interesting to see how it pans out."
Do you think the brand split is a good idea?
"It could be. It's like anything in wrestling – what happens creatively? I hope it's successful, I hope it's cool. Not knowing where it's going, it has the potential to be cool or not so. I'm trying not to be too political, but I don't know. Do you raid NXT? Maybe, but then you kill what NXT is."
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."
Click here for part one of the interview, where Brennan discussed working for Booker T, he was discovered by WWE, how hands on Triple H was at NXT, meeting Vince McMahon for the first time, favorite memories in NXT and more.