Corey Graves breathed new life into the WWE product when he began his work at the announce table. He brought a new insight, a fresh take and a different perspective to the company's overall soundtrack.
There is no denying that Graves was the best choice to fill the color commentary spot, and he remains the best choice now as well.
But Graves' work behind the mic is becoming something of a distraction for WWE fans.
This is not a case of a guy stepping in and calling his own shots, however. Fans understand that Graves is doing his part at ringside, but they also understand that everything he does is surely under the direction of people above him.
It's not to say that every word is necessarily controlled, but it's clear that he is following the lead of whoever is talking in his headset. The voice in his ear could be Vince McMahon, Triple H or perhaps someone else. But is that voice telling him to get himself over at the expense of the match he's calling?
Graves argues with Booker T on Monday Night Raw. Fans surely expected this, because of the two, Graves is the obvious heel. Booker may not be the best babyface WWE could have placed at the table, but he does his best to focus on the match at hand. However, when he and Graves begin sparring, the arguments tend to take over.
The same is true when Graves verbally battles Byron Saxton on SmackDown Live.
What began as seemingly friendly banter between the pair has now gone a little too far. The conflict grows more heated as the match goes on, until the fans watching at home are likely ready to tune it out. It's one thing to hype the match, of course; that's what Graves is expected to do.
But it's becoming more of an issue between him and whoever he's seated next to at the time. That animosity is dominating nearly every match on the card, and it's happened so often now that fans may wonder why it's happening in the first place.
Is this strictly about allowing Graves the opportunity to deliver argumentative comebacks laced with pop culture references and nothing more? Is it just meant in good humor and that's all? Or is something brewing behind the scenes?
Graves is immersed in WWE programming right now. Not only is he doing work on both Raw and SmackDown, he's also doing quite a bit of work on the WWE Network. He's not merely in this for the commentary job; he's in this for the long haul. So why not capitalize on that?
Could it be that his recent arguments on the mic are leading to something more? What if Graves is on his way to a heel manager role in the company? He would certainly excel in that position, and his work as a color commentator is indeed laying the foundation for such a move to happen.
His ring career may have been cut short before he could realize his own dreams of main-event glory, but that does not mean he couldn't lead another Superstar to the Promised Land.
Of course, there is always the possibility that Graves would eventually be utilized in a general manager role on either Raw or SmackDown Live. Kurt Angle and Daniel Bryan are both babyfaces, which means neither man would be on the same side as Triple H or perhaps even Vince McMahon.
However, Graves would fit in perfectly.
But if Graves is meant to remain in the commentary spot and continue hosting on the network, then that means all of this has been about getting him over as a character. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but when that effort comes at the expense of the match itself, then it's a problem.
If Graves is being coached to constantly draw the focus to himself and whoever he's arguing with, then he's getting bad direction.
If he's being allowed to do this on his own, then maybe it's time to pull back a bit.
Jesse Ventura was arguably the best color commentator in WWE history because he did not spend the entire match putting himself over. He was colorful, he was entertaining and he was fun, but he did not distract from the action in the squared circle. He always heeled out, but he did it in such a way that accentuated the match and gave the fans a different perspective.
Jerry Lawler, on the other hand, was such a character that it was nearly impossible to ever take him seriously. He spent a lot of time drooling over the Divas during the Attitude Era, and the fans enjoyed his shtick. But in terms of adding to the story being told in the ring, that really was not what Lawler did best.
Graves is not a clown and will hopefully never get to that point. But he's not quite to Ventura's level, either.
The match is in the ring, between the men and women that are competing, and that distinction must be made. The commentator's task is to provide the sounds while the talents between the ropes provide the sights. It's not the announce team's job to redirect the attention on to themselves, especially when it takes away from what's happening in the ring.
Graves has come a long way since he hung up the boots, and WWE has invested a lot in him since that time. He's leading the charge for the New Era on the mic, and fans love what he brings to the table. But the product is not about him, no more than it's about Michael Cole or Tom Phillips.
Graves' work on commentary must be kept in check; he shouldn't be creatively stifled, and he definitely shouldn't be silenced, but he must learn when to pull back.
Tom Clark can regularly be seen on Bleacher Report. His podcast, Tom Clark's Main Event, is available on iTunes, Google Play, iHeart Radio, Amazon Android, Windows Phone and online at boinkstudios.com
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