Michael Cole: Finding Your Voice

Michael Cole

It takes something special to be a memorable commentator. You’re essentially the lyrics to the instrumental taking place in the ring. You guide the viewers at home through the in-ring action and are responsible for informing the audience why they should be buying into what they’re seeing. For play-by-play commentators, narrating the action whilst cohorts describe the emotional aspects fleshes out the story to something greater.

For some, this isn’t an end-all, be-all. The violence and sport of professional wrestling speak a language the world can understand – a vocabulary that survived the fall of Babel. It’s fun hearing these vocal storytellers lose their marbles when you don’t know what they’re saying.

But know this – there is an art and music to the act of calling a pro wrestling match.

Today, we look at Michael Cole. Would you kindly join me?

If you’ve grown up watching WWF/E, doubtless you’ve heard Cole’s voice. Whether he was interviewing backstage or sitting at the commentary booth, he stepped up to the plate.

Yet, how did he get here? What convinced the powers that be that his voice was needed?

Born Sean Michael Coulthard (must’ve been confusing around him when discussing Shawn Michaels), the New Yorker would first find his calling in broadcast journalism for CBS Radio.

During this time, Coulthard would cover important moments, such as the 1988 US presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis and, the 1992 campaign of Bill Clinton. Politics aside, he also covered the 51-day siege in Waco Texas’s Branch Davidian compound in 1993, as well as nine months of the Yugoslavian civil war in the same year. In 1995, he provided coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing’s aftermath before covering politics once more.

In 1997 though, his life and career would be forever altered when the 31-year-old became an interviewer in backstage segments for wrestlers to give their promo segments. In some instances, he’d even be the voiceover for promo packages, such as Undertaker vs. Kane at WrestleMania XIV. In 1998, he’d get his first exposure as a commentator and would serve a chunk of time standing in for Jim Ross on Monday Night Raw following the Oklahoman’s bout with Bell’s palsy.

This would see him the next year covering play-by-play commentary on the new, fresh, Smackdown! in 1999. In 2001, he’d be joined by Tazz, a duo that would last until the mid-2000s and is to this day a beloved commentary team. The two displayed such an infectious chemistry that I often still find fans nostalgic for this era. I can’t lie, I miss Cole’s slicked-down, messy hair of the time, and by George, who could forget the frosted-tips hairdo with a black goatee? Michael Cole was absolutely rocking this douchey look and I mean that in the best way possible. The only thing wrong with this portion of the 2000s is that it ended. Thank you for reminding me of this, Michael Cole. 

Look at it. Look at that topical hairdo from that time period. Man of his time. We should bring frosted tips back.
Credit: WWE

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. The infamous Heidenreich segment (you know the one), the vomit on Chris Jericho, the in-ring stuff either with or against Jerry Lawler, and for some reason turning heel from 2010-2012. I’m not sure many like this era. I’m sure he doesn’t either. The less I say about this, the better.

Many would consider Michael Cole stale at this point after it felt he was stating so much of the obvious and sounding just so dead inside. When I came back to wrestling in the late 2010s, I would see so much disdain for him, and it felt like he wasn’t caring as much. His heart didn’t seem as into it, but he faked it so well that it had to take a lot of effort to notice – that’s how much of a professional he is at this game.

One thing that must be noted, however, is that when he was on commentary for the Cruiserweight Classic and the Mae Young Classic, he came alive. There was so much energy to him, and his commentary was easy to listen to. He spoke in a way that didn’t insult the intelligence of the audience.

Thank goodness then for Pat McAfee when he joined Cole on the Smackdown commentary booth in 2021 after the abysmal 2020 Cole had on the microphone. The spirited charisma of the former NFL punter injected a spice into the New Yorker’s voice that commentary felt dynamic and lively.

On the week of SummerSlam (2022), however, the guard would change and the restraints on Cole were lifted. Playfully admitting that he doesn’t have anyone in his ear dictating what to say, how to say it, and when to say it, he let loose and has given some all-time calls. Just as amazing is his ability to know when not to use his voice and let moments breathe. Sometimes moments mean more when nothing is said at all.

Begging Lesnar to stay down at the Beast’s final clash with Roman Reigns at the aforementioned summer event, screaming his voice out when McAfee returned at the Royal Rumble (2023), and excitedly referencing the “Do you believe in miracles?!” from WrestleMania XXX during Sami Zayn vs Roman Reigns at Elimination Chamber (2023) – Michael Cole became positively electric at this point in his career in his mid-50s as though he had the vigor of his younger self yearning to be let out of his cage. 

Twitter: @WrestleFeatures

What Michael Cole, nearly halfway through the 2020s, brings to the WWE product is a soundtrack that keeps fans at home exhilarated and engaged through their screens and in doing so has seen him become the face of WWE as far as commentary is concerned. He’s in a Jim Ross role, where he’s outright requested to be on Monday Night Raw and Friday Night Smackdown, requested by USA Network, Fox, and future parent company Endeavor because of his experience and vitality.

I can’t disagree with that choice. When you have a commentator who can capture the passion and feeling at that moment, elevating matches and segments, you don’t want to lose that. When you have someone who feels enough like a character and person in his own right without outright standing in unnecessary prominence, you have something special. With his disdain for Bayley, Top Dolla, and Dominik Mysterio, Michael Cole feels like a person with his feelings developed. That type of dedication to just being a hater I have not seen since the likes of Bobby Heenan with Hulk Hogan.

See, in such a short time, a story behind the scenes and on camera, Michael Cole has found his voice again and has elevated the product some would have considered he brought down. What was once the laughingstock and punching bag is now a respected legend and a part of the show fans look forward to hearing.

Whether or not he ever reaches the heights of Gorilla Monsoon, Tony Schiavone, Mauro Ranallo, or Jim Ross has yet to be seen, but Michael Cole is reaching heights during one of WWE’s highest periods of popularity and business that could damn well use him. For my money, he sits alongside Kevin Kelly, Veda Scott, and Ian Riccaboni as to the best current commentators in the business.

When all is said and done and he hangs up the headset for good, I hope Michael Cole can reflect on this career renaissance and be proud of his work. Almost three decades of loyalty and he’s an important fixture in the company.

For those who feel their voices are unappreciated or have a hard time finding it, keep speaking and soon you’ll find a voice that others will want to hear.

Don’t believe me? Ask the man who found it the night the screaming stopped.