BANK STATEMENT #4 - Top 3 ROH Commentary Teams
Welcome to the fourth edition of the Bank Statement on HardwayHQ.com. After last week’s long, LONG article with loads of ECW history about Cyberslam 2000, I wanted to take it back a little bit and have a fun look back at indy wrestling in the mid-2000s.
It’s an article, in many senses, of HONOR.
Ring of Honor, during their 19 years of existence, has been a tremendous source of innovation and inspiration for me as a wrestling fan.
From the inaugural event on February 23, 2002 to today, ROH has had, in my opinion, the best pro wrestling on the planet. Whether it be high flying, brawling, technical, lucha libre, Strong Style, or even, at times, comedy, ROH has been ahead of the curve with its state-of-the-art, no frills product. It has produced dozens of wrestling talents that have gone on to stellar professional careers, from Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe, Bryan Danielson, and Tyler Black to Jay Lethal, the Briscoes, Cesaro, and countless others.
A lot of wrestling moments have transpired in ROH that have withstood the test of the modern wrestling time. CM Punk’s first “Summer of Punk” in 2005 set the industry on fire. ROH and CZW redefined the proper way on how to do an invasion story in 2006. Kevin Steen became indy wrestling’s biggest rebel in 2011 after Best In The World in the Hammerstein Ballroom. Even Jay Lethal, Marty Scrull, and Matt Taven were able to be ROH’s main event in the G1 Supercard in a ladder match for the ROH World title in Madison Square Garden on April 6, 2019, the biggest ROH moment to date.
There is so much that Ring of Honor has done to help establish their identity in pro wrestling. And yet, there is one aspect that, in my mind, gets completely overlooked by fans and critics alike a lot of the time:
Their outstanding wrestling commentary.
Up until 2005, Ring of Honor might have had, in my opinion, some of the toughest commentary to listen to. No disrespect to Chris Lovey (or his given name, Jimmy Bauer), Ray Murrow (the late Doug Gentry), or Mark Nulty, but for the style of product at the time, their voices just didn’t fit the aesthetic that ROH was putting on in the ring. It was tough to listen to at points.
Granted, there were times where the commentary stood out on DVD. Mr. Nulty’s zinger during the Joe vs Punk event in 2004, referencing “Lex Luger’s steroided ass” made me laugh out loud for days, just for the sheer shock of it all. CM Punk frequently joined Bauer in the booth made for enjoyable analysis in 2004 and 2005, laying down a foundation for commentary appearances in 2010 for WWE, which he excelled at. Even Bauer’s “DANGEROUSSSS!” lives on from time to time with my friends when something ridiculous happened in wrestling or in life. But for the majority of the time, I’m sad to say, being completely honest, I had the matches on mute.
But on March 5, 2005, the commentary turned a page for the better, as Dave Prazak joined the ROH staff. From that date forward, ROH’s usage of commentary for their programs have been top notch.
There have been a plethora of teams that have come together over the last 19 years, but as someone who truly admires the art of pro wrestling commentary, I have decided to narrow down my list to my Top 3 ROH commentary teams that I’ve enjoyed the most. It might be controversial, but I hope it actually evokes conversation and discussion on who yours are.
#3 - IAN RICCABONI AND CAPRICE COLEMAN
Now, although I did appreciate Mr. Riccaboni and Colt Cabana together as a commentary team from 2017-2019, Caprice Coleman gets the slight edge for me here as a better partner for Ian.
Ian is such a passionate play-by-play man and absolutely does his most to make everybody look fantastic. The best way I can describe Riccaboni is a less snarky, most positive version of Joey Styles. He knows the name of the holds (Steve Austin, 1995 ECW reference), and is a fantastic storyteller.
Caprice is such a wild card, compared to “Boom Boom”. His usage of situations inside of the wrestling ring are quick witted. He really seems like he’s more off-the-cuff while getting inside of a match, and his one-liners are so out of left field sometimes that it just makes me laugh.
I truly believe watching the Pure Wrestling Tournament on Sinclair Broadcasting really won me over, as a fan, for this duo. They had no crowd to feed off of when it came to energy, and they had to focus solely on the in-ring action. Riccaboni and Coleman really made it work well, especially when the action got more intense. Any commentary duo that can make it work, at full energy, while calling a performance with no fans is immensely talented.
#2 - KEVIN KELLY AND STEVE CORINO
I have to preface this by saying I was not a fan of Kevin Kelly, the commentator before 2013. I personally felt he was a tremendous interviewer during the WWF Attitude Era, and the greatest ECWA Heavyweight champion that ever existed. (The Pro Wrestling Illustrated coverage of his run back in the day was amazing.) But as a commentator, there was something missing for me.
When Nigel McGuinness left the commentary position to focus on being ROH’s Matchmaker, “the King of Old School” joined the booth in 2013. Steve Corino was just finished being the evil head of SCUM, and found himself in a tough task of being a color analyst while staying out of trouble. And the chemistry began right there.
The closest thing to being an independent wrestling version of Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “the Brain” Heenan was Kelly and Corino. These two just clicked instantly. Corino would say off-the-wall things and Kelly would rein him in. It was a sad day for me when Corino left ROH to become a coach of NXT in 2017, as this duo would split up.
Not only did it help me gain a whole new level of respect for the hard work of Kevin Kelly, but it made me miss and remember what I liked about Steve Corino most of all: his mouth. There is a small part of me that wishes this team remained together for longer, but thus is life.
#1 - DAVE PRAZAK AND LENNY LEONARD
The ones that started it all.
Although Prazak, a Chicago based manager and commentator, best known for his work in IWA Mid South prior to his debut in ROH as a commentator, was settled into commentary at the Trios Tournament 2005, Lenny Leonard was based out of Florida, working as the ring announcer and host of Full Impact Pro events, starting in 2004.
Leonard and Prazak officially formed their duo in September 2005, and they held the fort down for three-plus years, until Gabe Sapolsky was let go from ROH in 2008, and HDNet television tapings began in 2009, where sports broadcaster Mike Hogewood (an underrated gem during the initial ROH TV days) became Prazak’s partner.
Both men were very skilled at interchanging between play-by-play and color commentary. They called the action expertly, and in my opinion, were the overall best embodiment of ROH’s style of wrestling. They had an edge, they felt organic, and they had excitement always in their voices.
Personally, I could not believe that this duo never teamed up anywhere else as broadcasters together. Although both men went on to have successful careers in wrestling (Prazak as one of the brainchilds behind SHIMMER Women’s Athletes, Leonard as the voice of the World Wrestling Network, including calling the EVOLVE 10 Year Anniversary show on the WWE Network in July 2019), they were due more of an opportunity together as a commentary team. They enhanced the product and each other higher than ever before. They were magic.
Who are your favorite ROH commentary teams? Let me know in the comments below or in an email or Twitter.
There have been tons of them, but these three stand out in particular. Nothing is more old school than good, solid wrestling and enhanced good, solid pro wrestling commentary. When done right, there is nothing better. And in a land of HONOR, these three stand above and beyond.
BANK ON IT.