wrestling / Columns

The Rise and Fall of Josh Matthews

April 16, 2017 | Posted by Dino Zee

Back in 2001, on a little show called Tough Enough, I was introduced to a young upstart by the name of Josh. Josh Matthews, to be exact. He was undersized – easily the smallest on the show – and appeared to be the longest of the long shots. However, he had one thing going for him, and that was his complete and undying love of professional wrestling.

While others on the show could rely on their size, or their look, or their mic skills, Josh would have to rely solely on heart and ability if he hoped to outshine any of his fellow hopefuls. He would have his moments – most famously when he asked Al Snow to teach him a moonsault, only to quickly get it down perfectly – but in the end, would make it to the final three guys where he (along with Chris Nowinski) would lose out to Maven.

Still, once Tough Enough was over, I would check my usual sites every once in a while, looking for some kind of update on him. WWE had signed Nowinski to a deal, and my hopes were that Josh would get one, too. And after a few months working elsewhere (including a stop in the XWF), Matthews would be hired by WWE to work as a backstage announcer.

I always hoped WWE would let him loose in the ring, especially when they’d mess around with having a Crusierweight division, but it just never really happened. Josh rarely ever wrestled, bouncing around from backstage announcer/interviewer to main commentator through the years. He seemed to enjoy his position, though I would constantly be thinking of ways to get him from the booth to the ring on a full time basis. I mean, the dude had a sick moonsault!

With each passing year, however, it became obvious that Matthews was not seen as an in-ring asset by WWE. Which, when I consider some of the members of the roster from that time period, that kinda bums me out. But I guess you just don’t know what you have with The Dicks unless you try.

Eventually, I decided to just accept things for what they were, and try to just be a fan of Josh Matthews: WWE Announcer. And that was actually pretty easy, if I’m being honest. Working with the likes of Todd Grisham, Matt Striker and Michael Cole, I felt that Matthews steadily improved on the mic, going from some runt nerd to a B-Level “Voice You Can Trust” type of personality. Of course, the previous statements should be read while keeping in mind the idea that you can’t really trust any wrestling announcer. But Josh was, at the very least, working hard to legitimize himself as an announcer.

Unfortunately, he was never going to replace Michael Cole, which kept his options limited. On top of that, he had some weird luck with odd things taking place while he was calling the action, which only relegated him back into being some kind of joke who gets nosebleeds while calling the action.

Then, in the summer of 2014, after 12 years with the company, Matthews was released by WWE.

It seemed like such a waste when it was all said and done. A dozen years, and at best we could call out the time he had a bloody nose. Maybe someone remembered his match with Orlando Jordan, and then the rest of us probably had memories that were only remembered for silly personal reasons, and not for anything great. It begged the questions: Had WWE wasted Josh Matthews? Or had Josh Matthews simply hit his ceiling during that run, and we just didn’t realize that we were getting the very best from the man himself?

Four teams of scientists were commissioned to find the answer, and after months, their results were inconclusive. It appeared that any argument in favor of Josh having hit his ceiling could easily be argued by pointing out that WWE never put him in the top spot for a long enough timeframe to a) get comfortable and b) earn the respect of the viewing audience. Every time he appeared to be getting that opportunity, he’d be moved, or they’d change his partner, or something else would be messed with to keep him from hitting that level of comfort.

They also found that anyone on the side of the “WWE wasted Matthews” argument could be countered by pointing out that a top announcer should be able to do his job with the same level of quality and consistency under nearly any conditions. It shouldn’t matter who the partner is, or whether this is only your second week on the show – if you’re good enough to be given the chance, you should be good enough to keep the job. All that money to pay for all those hours of research, only to end up with a guy shrugging his shoulders as the result? A definite letdown.

That autumn, the chill bit just a little colder. Without Josh around to call the action, it just wasn’t the same. The WWE product suffered. The fans suffered. Wrestling, I dare say, suffered. Luckily, it wouldn’t last forever. Fans would find Matthews in the news as 2014 came to an end, with word coming from TNA that he’d work as a head commentator on Impact – replacing longtime announcer Mike Tenay – when the show debuted on Destination America at the start of 2015.

In TNA, it appeared that Matthews was finally going to get the opportunity he just never did in WWE. He wasn’t just joining the booth, he was replacing someone in Mike Tenay that had been there from the start. This wasn’t going to be like the eternal chase for Michael Cole’s spot – Matthews landed the #1 Announcer role almost immediately, and was going to run with it to the fullest of his ability. As is the usual cry when someone leaves WWE and heads to TNA, he was gonna SHOW THEM THAT THEY MADE A MISTAKE!!!

Matthews made it clear he was happy to be a part of the company, and worked hard to make everything seem important. He also became a huge fan of Ethan Carter, III (MY BOY, EC3), backing him up in everything he did. It was quite the character quirk, as Matthews was an overt fan favorite on the mic, constantly sticking up for truth and justice, and being absolutely flummoxed anytime something crooked went down… unless it was EC3 doing it. It was his fandom of EC3 (something we shared, obviously) that actually had me questioning Matthews’ actual ability for the first time.

It wasn’t that he liked Carter – it was that he could abandon things he believed in literally five minutes prior, just because Carter was now against them. A three on one attack one minute would be the worst thing ever, but if Carter was now involved in a Numbers Game beatdown, he could now rationalize it. Not that complexity of character is some horrible thing, but to have someone be such a stickler about justice, only to casually ignore it because his boy is on, seems like the move of a rulebreaker, not a fan favorite. And again, a team of scientists was put together to figure out whether this disconnection was the fault of Matthews, or that of TNA management. And, like before, results were inconclusive.

Eventually, though, the tides would turn against Josh. Fans began to cry foul on his style of commentary. I began to cry foul, too. The dude I’d always supported was now starting to bother me. He just yelled about everything. Nothing seemed more important than anything else. He continued to be this super vigilant fan favorite for 95% of the show, only to turn into a slimy jerk whenever Carter was doing something. This was amplified when Matthews would lose his shit during Impact last year after Carter lost the TNA Championship to Matt Hardy, thanks to a “double cross” from Rock Star Spud.

Josh could not understand why Spud – who at the time was still a fan favorite – would assist rulebreaker Hardy instead of fellow favorite EC3! Which is just ridiculous when you remember that time that Carter beat Spud in a Hair vs. Hair match nearly a year beforehand. That after the match, EC3 would shake Spud’s hand, and give him praise, before completely blindsiding him with a vicious attack. Spud’s actions made sense to literally everyone but Matthews, and that made him look really silly to the viewing audience.

Josh’s monotone scream was constantly pushed to the forefront of TNA Impact’s video packages. Whereas WWE’s packages are set to some kind of music, with soundbytes sporadically added for effect, TNA would instead have nearly every second of every video loaded with Matthews’ yelling. It grated. It made it feel like nothing mattered, because everything got the same yelling treatment. It was… it was almost like he learned under Michael Cole, another one note scream king commentator, or something.

As 2016 continued on, Matthews’ popularity would continue to sink. Matthews himself – the guy who always seemed to love wrestling – didn’t appear to anymore, be it on the show, or away from it. He was unbearable on Twitter, where he’d snipe at anyone who didn’t proclaim TNA as the greatest thing ever. The backlash to his words would continue, to the point that fans were openly calling for him to lose his job. This clearly caused his performance to suffer, and we’d see the fatal cracks forming as 2016 turned into 2017.

Only a few months into this new year, it’s easy to see now that 2017 was not going to be the Year of Josh. He returned to the booth to start the year off with a huge chip on his shoulder, and with a level of irritation apparent as his partner The Pope would start talking about the changes coming from the new management. Josh was appalled that Pope apparently knew something he didn’t, and made no bones in calling anyone out who was a part of this slight.

There was also that time he called himself the best announcer in wrestling. It’s an answer that he absolutely should have given, but one that wasn’t received well. I’ve no interest in hearing someone who doesn’t think he is skilled, quite frankly. I like that he believes in himself. At the same time, it sounded to me (and many others) like all the issues we had with his commentary were not going to be addressed. If he’s the best, why change anything, right?

Josh grew more unbearable when TNA was relaunched as Impact Wrestling, and Jeremy Borash (who had engaged him in some further Twitter fighting following the “best announcer” thing) was placed at the booth alongside Josh and Pope.

What may have seemed like a cute idea quickly backfired, as Borash and Matthews couldn’t be bothered to do anything but bicker with each other at the announce booth. Matthews appeared to just mail it in, calling clean wins “flukes,” and undermining everything JB said, even if it was “Your name is Josh Matthews.” It was non-stop, week after week, with the two refusing to do anything but yell at each other. Hell, even when Bruce Prichard brought them both into the ring last week to scold them for it and bring it to an end, IT STILL FREAKING WENT ON!

And that’s what brought us to this past Thursday night, when Team JB took on Team Josh (GOAT), with the stipulations stating that if Team Josh lost, Matthews would leave Impact. When it was announced, I had this weird feeling run through me. I’ve not been a fan of Matthews for more than a minute now, but the idea of Impact not having him at the booth just didn’t sit right, either.

I mean, was I going to pretend that a booth of Borash and Pope was going to be amazing? At least with Matthews, there was some excitement, even if it could be overdone and annoying. JB and Pope? I just hear two guys going “Well that was another fine match, and here comes another!” Was I really experiencing a case of not knowing what I had until it was almost gone? I was pretty confused.

Heading into the match, I was actually quite sure that Team JB was going to lose, because if I’ve learned anything in Impact, it’s that the good guys almost never get one over on the bad guys. I figured we’d get a visual pin or something, but that through some chicanery, skullduggery, and shenanigans, Team Josh would save Matthews’ job.

Only, when it was all said and done, they fell short. Former TNA Champ – and current Global Force Champion – Magnus would get the pin on Bram following a flying elbow drop, sending the Impact Zone into a frenzy. This amazingly awesome moment was hammered home by JB dancing awkwardly, and then Magnus (and the rest of the roster) antagonizing the now-ousted announcer.

Frankly, I was a bit disappointed that EC3 didn’t do anything. All that support from Matthews. The obvious disgust with Bruce Prichard and the new Impact. The warning that he’d go find the “old EC3.” It all added up to EC3 and Josh teaming up to keep things as they were. Instead, Carter wasn’t seen, and Josh is gone.

The young kid with dreams in his eyes, in the span of just 15 years, became an annoying lout that was no longer accepted by the fans. Some of it was because of circumstance, but much of it was his own doing. The big fan of wrestling, at some point, forgot that the fans giving him grief, the fans that he’d trash directly, were all coming from the same place he once existed. Instead of acting as reminders of his roots, they only served to agitate the man who no longer identified with them. Because he was no longer a fan. He was no longer a mark. He was a real wrestling personality.

Was, of course, being the key word. Now he’s just an ousted guy. Until he and Madison Rayne take Davey and Angelina’s lead and starting brutalizing everyone, I guess.

It’s All Wrestling. It’s All Silly. We All Love It.