Words, Words, Words
“A well-thought-out story doesn’t need to resemble real life. Life itself tries with all its might to resemble a well-crafted story.”
― Isaac Babel
The promoting of an event is done. The fighting words spoken, the posters printed, the adverts run on TV, including all the sound bites they could obtain. It’s show time.
The lead up to a Pro Wrestling show and an MMA event run parallel. They try to tell us, the audience, who is fighting, what they are fighting for, and why we should care. The sports industry has the occasional charismatic trash talker, often accused of trying to be an entertainer instead of an athlete, who can balloon the sales, but is mostly made up men and women putting on good graces and being respectful to one another – which the entertainment industry, in contrast, usually lacks in numbers. We’re given the competitors’ backstory, everything that’s brought them to this point, and told what a win or a loss for them at this juncture could mean, both professionally and personally, to them. Tickets are bought, PPVs ordered, on-demand services have renewed subscriptions – or not. They’ve done what they can to bring eyes to their product.
This is the set-up. This is all build up to the action. These are the moments before the bank heist in a movie. Now is where the action begins. Where our characters, that we’ve come to know during the weeks or months or years of interest leading up to this point, clash and tell their story.
It is a story that both are looking for, the approach is just different. Wrestling is the very deliberate attempt to tell a compelling story to an audience, throughout every section of an event, by all those involved. Professional sport is the very deliberate attempt to tell a compelling story to an audience, throughout every section of an event, by nearly everyone. The only time in which marketing and media obligations are cast aside is when it is game time, and the athletes simply compete.
This doesn’t mean a story doesn’t naturally form out of the competition, the fight between these people, though. If narratives didn’t occur in competition, the concept of Pro Wrestling doesn’t exist, either.
This is where the difference that a commentary team plays becomes evident. The commentary team at both our theoretical events are the narration to our story. They analyse the interactions, and decode the movements of the bodies, interpreting the language of the action for us. In lulls, they remind us, or tell those who might’ve missed some of the promotion, who these people are, and what has brought them here. They impose upon the audience the significance of these events.
Because the Wrestlers are deliberately trying to tell a specific story, the commentators are given a leg up on where a match is going. This leads to a more cohesive narrative. MMA commentating is not given such a luxury. They’re in the same position as much of the audience, only much more informed in the technical aspect of the game (hence why they’re there). A shocking turn in the match is just as shocking to them as to those watching at home.
Sports commentary existed before Wrestling commentary. The reason it originally exists in Wrestling is down to its inclusion in sporting events. The import thing, for our purposes today, is it further reveals the entertainment aspect often dismissed by purists of Sports.
In theory a commentary team should have to do nothing more than explain what is happening in the fight and why, and by this I mean speaking of what techniques and why they are being implemented, but they don’t. Instead, as we know, they talk personalities, clash of characters, and personal histories. The play-by-play is there, but colour is just as important.
Those emotional, unexpected reactions, as well, play an important factor. Over time the commentators have become an almost audience surrogate because of it. Perhaps just as memorable as Mick Foley flying off the ceiling of the Hell in a Cell is JR shouting over the top of the images that he was broken in half (as god is his witness), or Tazz swearing as Brock Lesnar and The Big Show break the ring. The most overplayed sound bite in UFC history is likely the commentator, Joe Rogan, screaming OH! as the action occurs before his eyes.
These emotional responses, when they seem genuine, communicate more than most words ever could, but when we have nothing but words, they still communicate our stories and experiences in ways that make even the minor and personal mean something to the other, the unknowing audience. Ultimately, the two teams of commentators essentially have the same job at either type of show, only they’re much better prepared at one over the other.