Corey Graves recently had WWE Hall of Famer John “Bradshaw” Layfield on the WWE After The Bell podcast where the two discussed a variety of topics about today’s WWE. Before that discussion. JBL talked about returning to commentary for WrestleMania 36 that was held with no fans and was held in the Performance Center.
“I was just hoping I could still do a decent job, not that I ever did a decent job,” JBL said. “I hoped I at least could be up to what I was in the past, which some people say is good, some people said it was terrible, but I hadn’t called a match in so long in, I think, about a year or two or longer. You kind of get in that flow when you’re calling matches.
“It just rolls off your tongue, and the other thing I was worried, and it came to fruition, you’ve seen it every night, every week since, when you call a match, it’s like the Miracle on Ice, ‘do you believe in miracles?’ What happened next? They laid out for the next 30-45 seconds. Nobody said a word. You just had that incredible panorama of the crowd going crazy over the U.S. winning the gold medal.
“Well, you don’t have that when you don’t have a crowd, and so when you have these great spots being done, these incredible moves being done, normally you let the crowd chant, you let the crowd do stuff, but you’re talking over it because there is no crowd. And it seems completely unnatural. It is unnatural, and you feel like you’re talking too much. So it’s a different mindset as far as the commentary and that took a little while to get used to. I’m not sure I ever got used to it.”
Graves agreed that doing commentary without a crowd still is a strange experience for him. He revealed that the commentators at ThunderDome are able to hear crowd noise through their headsets, which Graves said provided a small bit of normlacy.
“Yeah, it’s very strange. It still takes some getting used to,” Graves admitted. “The ThunderDome, they pipe in the crowd noise in through our headset. So that helps a lot. It at least feels, for us, for Cole and I, can’t speak for the guys in the ring, that it’s a little bit of a return to normalcy.”
When asked what he has liked from WWE recently, JBL named the athleticism of the talent. He talked about how talent now are doing more extreme spots than ever before, but he admitted that he doesn’t want to be a veteran that says that things were better in his day.
“I think athleticism. The athleticism, to me, they’re putting together things that we only dreamed of not too many decades ago,” JBL stated. “The dropkick was a finish. You had a flying knee from [Bruiser] Brody was a finish, and now, you’re having to jump off a building now and not that that’s good or bad, but these guys have the ability to do that.
“I think we had a few guys that had the ability to do that, but they didn’t go to the extreme that these guys go. That’s just because the business has been pushed further along, and I’m not going to be one of these old guys who say, ‘we did it so much better back in our day.’ I don’t know if we did or not. We did well. These guys are doing well. It’s just a different way of doing things.”
JBL continued recalling a Tribute to the Troops show where the crowd was captivated by just a punch over a high-flying move. He said that there are still guys today like Randy Orton that can captivate a crowd with the little things.
“I got tp call a Tribute to the Troops match somewhere,” JBL recalled. “I can’t remember where it was. It was in the United States on an aircraft carrier, I believe, is where we were, and the crowd was pretty much into everything, especially that that crowd. We’re there to show our love for the troops, but when Randy Orton came out and he got a guy in the corner [and] just did that one old punch just like his dad Bob Orton used to throw, the whole crowd just kind of sat up.
“It wasn’t a flip. It wasn’t a huge hurricanrana off the top rope. It was a punch, and people looked at it like, ‘oh my god.’ And so no, I don’t think so. I think guys like Randy still had the ability to take these people in, maybe even more so.”
JBL said that there came a point where “the crowd was leading the boys not the boys leading the crowd”. He said talents today are looking for the “holy s–t” moment rather than “trying to put together a Shakespeare story that makes sense”.
“You know what happened in Japan say in the early 90s. The crowd would sit there, and they were just very respectful,” JBL stated. “They just watched the match. Then you started seeing a big move or something, and the guy would one, two and you see kick out, and they’d stomp their feet a little bit. Well after a while, you got every wrestler in Japan was wanting to get people to stomp their feet.
“That’s the crowd leading the boys not the boys leading the crowd. I’m just not sure it works that way, and that’s what you’re seeing now. People are all trying to get these ‘holy s–t’ moments going instead of just trying to put together a Shakespeare story that makes sense, and I’m not bashing these guys.
“Maybe that’s where this business is going, and that’s good. I don’t know that, but I do think that that style still works of the old, solid Randy Orton guy [or] AJ Styles. I mean when those guys get the ring, it’s a different reaction to the crowd. We’re not seeing that right now because of the pandemic but when you see a live crowd, it’s noticeable”
At the end of the podcast, Graves played a fill in the blank game with JBL. He asked what WWE needs less of.
“Less of all of the crazy stuff,” JBL said. “I was in a meeting the other day. They don’t need these ‘holy s–t’ moments. They need people to talk about the matches and the characters. Now, I know that’s easier said than done. Shawn Michaels was considered a high flyer. He wasn’t really. He did some incredible stuff, but it was all Shakespeare built up to this one big moment, and all of sudden, you see Shawn come flying off the top rope.
“You go, ‘oh my god, he’s a high flyer.’ He didn’t do high-flying like a lot of these guys do. What he did, it meant something. That first ladder match he had with Razor [Ramon]. I think it’s the greatest of all time. They didn’t do crazy, crazy stuff. They were just expert storytellers, and that’s what I would like to see the most is just good storytelling come back, not as far as the characters [and] who they are [like] does Otis like Mandy? But in the ring itself.”
Graves then contrasted and asked what WWE needs more of. JBL returned to the need for more storytelling in the ring. He did concede that it has become harder now without a crowd to play off of.
“Storytelling, I think, just in the ring,” JBL answered. “To me, I give these guys a 100% break right now, and I’m not saying they’re bad at it. They’re different at it than my generation were, and that’s OK. Every generation is different, and they’re very successful. And this WWE Network speaks for itself about how good they are, but I would like to see them go back to the storytelling in the ring.
“But to me, it’s almost impossible right now. How do you do that without a crowd? I mean, I understand you got the ThunderDome, and that helps tremendously, but you want to feel that presence. You want to feel that rumbling. You want to feel that heat. You want to feel that white heat.”
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit WWE After The Bell with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.