This past week it became known that Mauro Ranallo, who had been the lead announcer on NXT since 2017, has parted ways with WWE. Over the past several months he had been commentating from home so as to not have to come in during the pandemic. But for the past couple of weeks he’d been staying with his mother in the hospital. There it was decided that he would not be coming back.
I must admit, I’m a little melancholy writing this. I want to be happy for him, because I know that he’ll be able to find work whenever and wherever he wants, in wrestling or any other sport, and he’ll likely end up in a much healthier environment than what he often had to deal with in WWE. For him, it’s probably the right move. Speaking selfishly though… I know I’ll miss him. In fact, I already miss him.
I will always remember Mauro Ranallo as the Voice of NXT.
I’ve been watching NXT basically every single week since the summer of 2013, and at one point I even binged everything from the year prior, so I’ve seen every episode of NXT in it’s current form. That means I’ve heard every commentary combination they’ve had, and I’ve enjoyed quite a few. It’s sometimes forgotten that Jim Ross was there in the beginning and though it wasn’t his best work it’s never a bad thing to hear from him. Jason Albert, Renee Young, Corey Graves when he was new to it, all very good. I still sometimes wish William Regal would come back to the booth. Nigel McGuinness was very much their best color guy when he was still there.
But I can say with some authority, that NXT never quite had what Mauro brought before him. And I feel pretty confident in saying they’ll never have another one like him. Many will take up that headset, and I’m sure they’ll do great. But you can’t really match him. There’s only one voice of a generation, and speaking as a 20-something in love with modern wrestling, Mauro Ranallo was mine.
He was everything that I felt was missing from WWE’s commentary teams.
I don’t blame anyone that takes up the headset for WWE, I know full well it’s the system’s fault. I’ve been around long enough to see plenty of bright-eyed announcers start out really good only to be shouted down until they’re a shell of themselves. It’s inevitable, atleast on Raw and SmackDown. NXT always seemed a little different in that regard. But whether it was their fault or not, I always did find WWE’s commentary lacking.
A lot will cite the obnoxious arguments, the lack of actual play-by-play, the lack of wrestling knowledge that some seem to project, and certainly that’s all there. But for me the biggest sin was always a lack of passion and enthusiasm, which happens to be the main thing WWE’s way of doing things saps from people.
Years ago, a long list of alleged WWE commentary rules leaked, and there’s a ton to unpack with the whole thing, perhaps someday I’ll do a deep dive. But one thing I always remember is the phrase, “DON’T SCREAM”. I understand the spirit of it is that they shouldn’t be yelling through the whole broadcast but instead pick their spots. But it rubs the wrong way because I feel like they take this as a definite to never scream.
Maybe you don’t need to scream to convey excitement, but the pressure to temper your volume sure can hide excitement. And it rubbed me the wrong way because when you think of iconic commentary lines, what usually comes to mind is when JR is bellowing at the top of his lungs… it seemed like the wrong message to send. That enthusiasm was sorely missed.
Mauro Ranallo was for damned sure not afraid to yell.
This dude was every hardcore fan losing their mind over five star matches. As great as the action is when NXT is at it’s peak, I don’t think any TakeOver would’ve ever been quite so exciting without him. The passion is so real and infectious. Maybe he’s not for everyone but honestly, I don’t understand how it’s possible to keep from getting swept up in the hype. There was never a scream shortage with him but it also never felt inappropriate to me. He did pick his spots but he also recognized that he was watching a hot product. And he knew damn well when he was calling a great match. When the whole match is a high spot, why shouldn’t the commentary match it?
Pro Wrestling is exciting and dangerous and emotional and insane. That’s how it looks, that’s how it feels and that’s how it should sound. To me, anything short of what Mauro does is underselling what wrestling is. Not giving respect enough to the risks being taken. Not giving credit enough to the mind-blowing performances we see every night. And not giving gravity enough to the moments that we see unfold.
We see so many great feats of athleticism, skill, stamina and resilience and death-defying moments on a regular basis. So much so that I think it can all be taken for granted sometimes. It’s easy for it to become normal, it’s easy to forget that what you’re watching is stuff that normal humans would never be capable of.
But Mauro never forgot and he never lets you forget either. I think in modern wrestling more than ever, that’s invaluable.
He is the JR of his age.
That is not something I say lightly. To me, that is the highest compliment a wrestling commentator can receive. But it’s true. He has so much of the same appeal – the enthusiasm and ability to make you care, the sheer love and passion for the game, the deep knowledge of the industry we adore – whilst still being very much his own man. Mauro defined the golden age of NXT in the same way JR defined the Attitude Era.
He also sometimes reminds me of Gorilla Monsoon with his expansive vocabulary, teaching many fans the meaning of the word ‘capitulate’. Still, no matter who you compare him to, there’s only one of him in the world. Just like the icons of the booth before him.
Sure, detractors will always exist. It doesn’t change the fact that he was the most beloved commentator WWE ever had since Jim Ross left. The NXT audience loved him enough to use his catchphrase “Mamma-Mia” as a sort of NXT-specific, PG version of “Holy Shit”. If you think that’s done for any other reason than sheer affection, you’re kidding yourself. I remember going to an NXT taping and he was so animated, even when I couldn’t hear him I could still SEE the reactions and it was lovely.
Any commentator will tell you they’re a fan like anyone else. But you don’t hear it or see it with them in the way that you do with Mauro. He is not ashamed of it and I think that’s beautiful.
There aren’t yet words to express what we’re losing.
I don’t mean to make it sound like he’ll never be involved in wrestling again. I actually think that’s pretty unlikely. He’s got plenty of other stuff he can do and it might be a while before we see him again but I can’t really imagine he’s leaving the business entirely.
And, it’s funny. I’m usually one of those people that’s very gung-ho about seeing people jump ship to AEW where they can really show their stuff and get a fair shake. And I would be very excited to see him there or in New Japan or anywhere else he might end up, don’t get me wrong.
But it’d be a little weird in this case. Because, damn, was he perfect for NXT. I associate him with the black-and-gold brand – a phrase that I know for a fact I only use in recaps because Mauro Ranallo got me to liking it, incidentally – so closely. And that’s why it can’t be understated what a big deal it is that he’s not gonna be there anymore.
When it finally came time for JR to leave Raw, it was the end of an era. An era that many still miss dearly to this day. People loved hearing him but more than that, they had loved hearing him on that show every single week for so long that he became a part of their lives. And so when he left, it was like your life was changing just that little bit, like something was missing.
And I think it’s the same thing happening now. NXT is not going to be the same without Mauro.
I’m sure it’ll still be good and I’m sure they’ll land on a very good team. I don’t wanna bog you down with doom and gloom here. But no match will feel as big, no angle as significant as when Mauro was there for it. They didn’t get that level before he was there and they won’t after he’s gone. That’s just how it is.
Because there’s just no replacing Mauro Ranallo.