By now most wrestling fans know where SmackDown play-by-play commentator Mauro Ranallo is—and isn’t.
The beloved announcer has been gone since the March 14 episode of SmackDown Live, first due to a snowstorm that left him unable to go to the show. He remained absent for the following week’s episode, and Tom Phillips, who took over for him while he was away, had claimed that he was ill; it turned out that Ranallo had missed the shows due to depression that was a part of his bipolar disorder.
It eventually turned out to be worse than that. Initially thought to be a reaction to fellow commentators expressing their opinions that they would have made the show despite the blizzard, more of the rumors and speculation swirled around the fact that it had been due to the fact that fellow SmackDown commentator John Bradshaw Layfield mocked Ranallo for winning the Best Announcer Award in last year’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards. Tweets that have been made since then from Ranallo, and MMA legend/Ranallo's podcast co-host Bas Rutten heavily insinuate that this is actually the case.
Now a huge firestorm is brewing around Layfield, no longer so much about his alleged bullying of Ranallo, but of his behavior as a backstage bully over his entire WWE career. Other sources and stories of Layfield terrorizing co-workers (and some of them even firing back and humbling him) have emerged and been rediscovered in the wake of the Ranallo controversy. The whole movement to get Layfield fired from the WWE is gaining even more momentum by the week, with crowds at SmackDown Live even beginning to chant for it—and some members of the audience making signs about it getting kicked out of the event as well.
There’s definitely a lot to unpack regarding this issue. While many details remain rumors and speculation until the affected parties speak up—until Ranallo himself tells the whole story—there’s a lot we can infer from what we know.
First of all, ask a lot of the old bodies in the business and you’ll get one of 3 reactions: 1) they’ll accept it as part of entrenched culture, 2) they’ll disapprove of it but express hopelessness that things will change, or 3) they’ll call for an end to it. People like John Morrison (who bared details of his own experiences in an interview with Deadspin), ECW original The Blue Meanie, and Ranallo himself will be for #3, while there will be a good part of the industry who’ll be under #1 and #2.
Here’s the thing with the first two reactions: Layfield is but a symptom of the disease. He’s a huge symptom, but still a symptom nonetheless. There are accounts detailing how it’s actually WWE head honcho Vince McMahon himself who approves and encourages Layfield’s behavior, even going so far as to make Layfield his unofficial gatekeeper of the locker room. So even if WWE does actually get rid of Layfield, McMahon either needs to start making real changes and operate the company like a real professional organization, or he has to go as well.
As for the short-term, though, if I were the WWE I’d get rid of Layfield while the company’s public relations isn’t as bad as it could be yet. They took swift action against Hulk Hogan when his audio recording of him making derogatory comments about African-Americans went public, and I’m honestly surprised that no one’s been thinking of disciplining Layfield. Granted, the evidence for Layfield isn’t as public (yet) as it was for Hogan, but with a society coming to grips with mental health awareness the more it understands it, it should definitely be a bigger issue internally than it seems now.
What’s even more damning for the WWE is that the more they continue to tolerate Layfield, the more they look hypocritical for running their Be A Star anti-bullying program. Even if they aren’t focusing on it too much right now, the company’s history with that campaign is still too fresh in its audience’s minds, and it’s a factor that doubles all the hits they’re taking to their image.
If anything, it’s karma finally coming back to hit Layfield in the face; before all of this he was already standing on thin ice not only for his largely hidden backstage reputation, but also for his shoddy work as a heel color commentator. (I know I’ve complained a lot about this in the past somewhere.)
The fact that he chose to malign a wrestling personality that’s universally beloved among the WWE’s audience was a poor decision that’s about to heavily affect his career. If WWE does nothing about this, it’s also going to heavily affect them—it doesn’t seem to be a controversy they can wait out. There may be no more relying on the crowd’s good will and love of wrestling to tide this over.
And personally, it’s about time for the industry and society. It’s time for people all around the world to know that this just isn’t acceptable behavior, and being nice and sensitive toward other people goes a long way. There will be those who defend Layfield’s behavior as something necessary in order to harden individuals, but the truth is the belief that hazing and callousness is necessary to forge bonds and strong foundations is ridiculously outdated. We’re not barbarians here.
It seems that WWE’s the only game left in town that conducts itself in this way, save for the really small-time, bush-league indie operations—ironically, it’s also the biggest corporation in the business that’s acting this way. This may be the big issue that forces another huge change in the way the company—and the industry—operates; if the masses force a favorable decision with regard to Layfield (it seems like there’s nothing left to be done with Ranallo, which is also understandable) they might eventually move on to changing other things, such as the company’s brutal work schedule and the independent contractor system that allows the management to wash its hands off of taking care of the wrestlers. One can only hope.
It’s a shame, though, that it had to take the victimization of someone as talented and passionate as Ranallo. I’m personally hoping that something real does come from out of all this. It would be a huge waste for nothing to happen.
The Superstar Shakeup
Just a quick summary of this week’s Superstar Shakeup, in which RAW and SmackDown Live were allowed to make deals and trades to, uh, shake up the rosters for the new season. SmackDown got the better end of the deal here, picking up a lot of strong midcarders to put together a new core that would carry the show. The Blue Brand got United States Champion Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and Rusev, giving up former WWE Champion Bray Wyatt, Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose, and the Miz and Maryse to RAW.
RAW got important pieces mainly for their shallow women’s division in former champions Alexa Bliss and Mickie James and possible cruiserweight star Kalisto, and SmackDown scored a huge coup for the tag team division in getting The New Day. But I’m really most excited for the new SmackDown core, which mainstays AJ Styles, Baron Corbin, and Dolph Ziggler, as well as new call-ups Shinsuke Nakamura and Tye Dillinger will shore up. It’s gonna be a fun summer for both brands. – Rappler.com
Do you listen to podcasts? Would you want to listen to a local podcast about pro wrestling? If the answers to those questions – especially that last one – are yes, then you should check out the cleverly-named Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast, featuring Mellow 94.7 DJ and PWR General Manager Stan Sy, wrestling writer and Wrestling God Romeo Moran, and all-around multimedia person and former voice of PWR Raf Camus! This week, Ro, Camus, and Smark Henry writer Anthony Cuello review the first ever Manila Wrestling Federation live show! Listen to it here!