wrestling / Columns

JBL vs. Mauro Ranallo: Where Do We Go From Here?

April 20, 2017 | Posted by Steve Cook
Mauro Ranallo

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Just around a month ago, Mauro Ranallo disappeared from SmackDown Live’s airwaves. Tom Phillips said that he was sick, and he, JBL & David Otunga/Byron Saxton have called the action ever since. I wrote an article at the time about my concern over Mauro’s disappearance. Fortunately it wasn’t a worst-case scenario, but in a lot of ways the most likely scenario did take place.

Mauro took some time off to deal with issues stemming from his bipolar disorder, and all indications are that he won’t be back on WWE television. As the reporting goes on the story, Mauro’s departure stems from an issue between him & JBL. JBL was not happy with Mauro for tweeting about how he won the Wrestling Observer Year-End Award for Best Announcer, and went off on Mauro & the Observer on WWE Network’s Bring it to the Table show. I have the feeling that there has to be more to it than this for the story to make sense. People with bipolar are more easily irritated and can grow intolerant of others for perceived slights quicker than the average person can, so maybe that was all it took for Ranallo to have all he can stand of his broadcasting partner. But given the history of the people involved, one can’t rule out that this incident was part of a pattern of bad behavior.

I’ve always thought that the best thing about John “Bradshaw” Layfield as a performer is the fact that his characters don’t really feel like characters. Whether he was a cowboy carrying a bullrope, a member of the Acolyte Protection Agency sitting in the back & smoking cigars & drinking alongside his buddy Faarooq until getting paid to whoop somebody’s ass, or a good ol’ boy turned Wall Street snob, JBL always looked comfortable in his shoes. Whether he was in the ring or behind the microphone, or in the announce booth for that matter, JBL has never seemed like a guy playing a character. He is what he is.

As a sports entertainer, that’s a great quality to have. The problem is when you get backstage and you aren’t able to flip the off switch, or, as seems to be the case for a lot of people in the wrestling business, you don’t have an off switch. It’s great to be a bully on television. JBL has always been a bully on television and it’s been good for his performances. The bad part is that JBL, from countless accounts, has taken his bullying behind the scenes on many occasions. Too many people that would know have commented on it to cast it aside as Internet speculation.

When JBL was moved to SmackDown and teamed with Mauro & David Otunga, a lot of us wondered how that would go. Given JBL’s reported history of ribbing & bullying people, and his usage by Vince McMahon to troll other announcers, he seemed like an odd choice to put next to Mauro. Those personalities together seemed like a bad combination on paper, and we hoped that we would be wrong and it would work out fine.

Apparently it didn’t.

Bullying and wrestling is an issue that’s tough to address. WWE has really pumped up the Be a STAR anti-bullying campaign over the past several years. Be a STAR encourages young people to treat each other with respect & join together to end bullying. It’s a great cause. But bullying & wrestling have gone together like peanut butter & jelly since the business started. People on the inside, especially people that have been around for a long time, defend the practice as part of “paying your dues”. They were all bullied, and they were better people for it by gawd. If you can’t take it you shouldn’t be in the business, according to these people.

It’s a bunch of malarkey. Tradition is a good thing, except when tradition involves something silly like bullying or making people uncomfortable in the workplace. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for joking around. As long as everybody involved knows the score at the end of the day, there’s no reason that there can’t be some friendly ribbing. I’ve joked around with people everywhere that I’ve worked. It’s how I operate as a person. It’s not bulling, it’s joking around and having a laugh. It doesn’t take long for me to figure out which people are ok to do that with and which aren’t. A lot of wrestling locker rooms are closer-knit than a lot of other workplaces, so it should be even easier for somebody like JBL to figure out who he can joke around with and who he shouldn’t.

The Internet is in favor of firing JBL. Which isn’t surprising because he hasn’t been a favorite of the Internet…well…ever. I think some of us are still bitter that Eddie Guerrero’s one WWE Championship reign mostly featured a feud with JBL and led to a title reign for Layfield that didn’t exactly set the world on fire. I will say that the Eddie vs. JBL matches have aged extremely well. Also playing into the disapproval other than a dislike of JBL & a like of Mauro: he just isn’t very good at the announce table any more. He was really good during his stint on SmackDown with Michael Cole in 2006, but his return starting in 2012 hasn’t gone over as well.

That Observer Best Announcer award Mauro won has an opposite: the Worst Announcer award. Guess who won it the last three years? JBL in 2014 & 2015, and David Otunga in 2016. In fairness to both men, I thought Josh Mathews was a lot worse and deserved the “honor”. But the people spoke. Some people say that Mauro shouldn’t have tweeted about it because it made his colleagues look bad…honestly, if the Observer awards mean as little as people in the business tell you that they do, why would people care if the winners were bragging about them?

Before I decide whether I’m on Team JBL or Team Mauro, I’d like to hear more about what exactly happened. What did JBL do behind the scenes? Was he professional towards Maruo? Was he just kidding around and Mauro took it the wrong way? Or was he being a bully and trying to drive Mauro out of the company? I would love to know that before throwing out statements that people should lose their jobs. Based on what we’ve seen in public, on SD Live & on Bring it to the Table, I can’t really bash JBL for his treatment of Mauro. It didn’t seem too harsh or over the top. But I don’t know what happened behind the scenes. I don’t know how they interacted off-camera. Without the details, I’m not sure what to do other than state my guess of what will happen…

JBL will keep his job and the whole matter will be swept under the rug.

The main reason JBL won’t be fired is pretty simple: the mainstream media isn’t going to touch it. Remember when pro wrestling was put under a microscope by the media after the Chris Benoit murders? Whether everything the media reported was accurate or not, they were persistent about the issue and WWE & other companies were forced to address the main problem facing wrestling at the time, namely a large number of performers passing away before they were forty years old. The Wellness program & crackdown on steroids & other drugs has helped increase the average lifespan of a professional wrestler over the past ten years.

The media & WWE have a different relationship now than they did ten years ago. NBCUniversal carries WWE programming on USA & frequently has WWE stars appear on NBC shows. John Cena is practically a regular on the Today show. You won’t see NBC News, or MSNBC, for that matter, touching this story.

ESPN has covered WWE over the past year the same way they cover the NFL, NBA, MLB and other sports leagues, in large part due to the influence of Jonathan Coachman. (And WWE’s pocketbook. ESPN’s having some financial issues these days, but we try not to talk about that.) Peter Rosenberg has a wrestling podcast on ESPN’s website and was on the Bring it to the Table show with JBL. Shockingly his most recent podcast had him defending JBL.

Coachman announced last week that he would no longer cover WWE, which is a little bit surprising but not really. Nobody expects Coachman to cover anything negative about WWE, his coverage of WWE on ESPNNews editions of SportsCenter was nothing but positive. Which is fine. Nobody expects Coachman to burn his WWE bridge, especially when ESPN is rumored to be letting a bunch of on-air talent go this year and very few people are safe. I’m not saying Coach is bad at his job & deserves to get fired or anything like that. I am saying that ESPN is looking to get rid of people, and if you’re an on-air talent there you should probably have your resume updated. It behooves Coachman to avoid angering people that might employ him again someday. I don’t blame him.

Fox News has JBL appear on a weekly show entitled Bulls and Bears. Do you think they’re going to cover this? Child please. Besides, they’re having so many of their own workplace problems right now that they really have no time to worry about WWE’s.

Simply put, WWE has gotten into bed with everybody that might talk about this…except for the pesky dirt sheet writers! Fortunately they’ve trained most of their audience to think that the Dave Meltzers & Wade Kellers of the world that report on these things don’t know what they’re talking about and are just negative nellies. Nothing they bring to light will change the minds of the vast majority of people watching WWE programming. I won’t undersell the percentage of people that will see it…Internet fans make up a far larger percentage of the WWE Universe these days than ever before. People have Internet. People watch wrestling. People talke about it. But most of them will reject any negative news as fake news, or decide that it doesn’t really matter.

That’s why JBL’s job is safe. The brass supports him, the people that don’t support him don’t matter, and the fans will ultimately buy whatever WWE sells them. As long as it isn’t Roman Reigns, of course.

As for Mauro, he will continue doing everything else he does. Boxing, MMA, and probably pro wrestling in some capacity after his contract & whatever kind of a non-compete clause there might be expires. WWE might work out a settlement where he’ll get a certain amount of money not to speak about whatever happened that led to his departure from the company. I wouldn’t blame him for taking the money and putting the whole thing behind him. As an Internet wrestling columnist that likes gossip, I wouldn’t mind him going public with the whole thing. But that’s a decision Mauro has to make, and it has to be the right decision for him.

I think Mauro is a much better announcer than JBL. Having Mauro on SD Live would be nice, but I think we all know that we can’t have nice things.

URGENT NOTICE: For the time being, ONLY access the site using 411WRESTLING.COM. Bookmark that URL and only access the site via that address. 411mania.com has been compromised and for your own safety, don’t use that domain for now. You’ll notice that all the links already go to 411wrestling.com URLs. Please only use that domain until further notice. Thanks.

article topics :

JBL, Mauro Ranallo, WWE, Steve Cook