Tom Phillips On The Most Challenging Aspect Of WWE Commentary

In an interview with Richard Deitsch on his Sports Media podcast, former WWE announcer Tom Phillips discussed his tenure with the promotion. He recalled getting hired by WWE right out of college in his early twenties, and detailed the toughest thing about the job was getting up to speed.

"So I got hired at twenty three years old, which is a blessing and a curse in a lot of ways," Phillips said. "I had everything to learn about professional wrestling. I was a casual fan as a kid, played the video games, watched the Attitude era. But I had to learn everything from the ground up, and on top of that, no broadcaster at twenty three is really that finely polished. Everybody at WWE, it takes a village, did an amazing job of helping me get up to speed, just as a broadcaster. Things as simple as working in a studio, working with a teleprompter. Basics. I needed to learn how to walk. They gave me so many opportunities to learn those things.

"The toughest thing about WWE is that if you're coming in, and there's plenty of people who come in who don't know professional wrestling inside out and backwards, you've got to get up to speed quickly. And you find the right people that have your back and will support you and teach. I had so many people like that. It took years for me to get comfortable with it. And that's how intricate the product is."

Later Deitsch asked Phillips if he got up to speed watching a ton of tapes or just talking to the performers. Phillips revealed a bit of both, as well as help from colleagues and researching certain WWE moves from the old video games. Ultimately it was all about trial and error and keeping at it.

"It's both," Phillips said when asked if watching tapes or asking talent about things helped prepare him. "And it took years of doing that. I think one of the more helpful things when I first started was I was working with people like Renee Paquette and a lot of different broadcasters up in Connecticut that were just kind of helping me learn the ins and outs. One of the simplest things is I'm a big video game guy. So I would play the video game. You go in there and you know, you create a wrestler, its got a laundry list of moves that is just a baffling document. It's got Argentine Backbreaker, German Suplex, Snapmare Takedown, all these things, yada yada yada. Well you watch that enough and you do that enough and you start to figure it out. And then of course you're a fan over the years. You know guys signature moves, ect. So those are the things that kind of stick with you the easiest.

"But it's just kind of trial and error. It's doing it over and over again. I was fortunate that the early incarnation of NXT was taped. So I had chances to 'oh okay, I messed up. You didn't identify that correctly, we can edit that.' There was forgiveness in that respect. But the best thing I had was being around so many talented performers that were current or retired or whatever it was. And they would basically hold you to a really high standard that if you didn't know moves, they could help you and be like 'oh yeah the technical term is this. This guy calls it that.' I had so many guys and girls that I would speak to that were diehard wrestling fans. Knew where, when, why, how, with just about every storyline and occurrence in wrestling history that if you didn't bother to spend the time to figure out what that was, you were dead in the water. And I got really fortunate that in 2014, two years in, we created the WWE Network. So everything was at your fingertips. So I spent every waking hour that I could delving into history and trying to learn on the fly."

Phillips also detailed how he got hired by WWE, answering an ad in college, sending in tapes and auditioning. He jokingly said it was all dumb luck and described how fortunate he was to get the opportunity when others in his field would kill for the chance. This naturally led to a discussion on how competitive WWE's commentary is, to which Phillips described as varying from situation to situation, though he felt it was healthy overall.

"I think it depends on what you're relationships are like," Phillips said. "There were definitely times I felt competition with other play by play announcers we had over the years. There was definitely a time I felt competition with people who weren't even at my position because I could see how good they were. And I was like 'yeah I've got to up my game cause if they're doing X and I'm doing Y, it's not elevating the product. So I want to make sure I'm at that level.'

"I can honestly say, when I was there, the camaraderie among the announce team was fantastic. It always felt like you were in that proverbial fox hole with someone that had your back. And that wasn't just the announce team, that was the entire crew, production team. Like I have literally hundreds of people that I could thank for propping me up over the years. But the competition was, I always found it to be healthy. I always wanted to be as good as the person sitting next to me, and that was, sometimes it's on task. So I always really enjoyed it, because it doesn't do you any good if it's like 'well good show, go home, see you next time.' I was just trying to get better every week."

One of the common criticisms of WWE announcing is how overproduced it can be. Phillips confirmed that the announce team has someone in their ear regularly, though everyone's experiences is different. For Phillips, he didn't mind it at all and ultimately thought it helped make him a better announcer.

"It happens regularly, but it also depends on who you are. So my experience is different from everyone else," Phillips said. "I think the misconception about WWE is that 'oh  well you can just call it like a sport.' And it's entertainment. It's geared to be like your TV show that you watch at the end of the day or something. Whatever it is you're into. So we're trying to tell stories. And my micro view can sometimes be very different than the macro view. And that was the way I always saw it. there are plenty of things I can be told 'try this, say this, do this whatever.' And it's all because they're seeing macro and I'm seeing micro. I've got the horse blinders on in the moment, looking at literally this tiny monitor right at my desk. That's my whole world.

"So to have that over my shoulder, regardless of the show I was on, I always found it made me better. And then you learn the next time out it's 'okay, this is maybe how they want to execute this story or something.' And if the story gets told better, one of the easiest things in wrestling that that you hear preached all the time, great stories are what you remember. So if I can be a part of telling those stories, that's my job. So I was always fine with it."

If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Sports Media with Richard Deitsch and provide a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription