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WWE Commentator’s Subtle Firing Sparks Outrage From Fans

Rory Gallagher, Staff Writer

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Professional wrestling has always had a terrible history of veteran performers harassing the new employees. Until earlier in the month, World Wrestling Entertainment has never really been publicly shamed for looking the other way when harassment occurs.


To begin, Mauro Ranallo was a commentator hired to work on the relaunch of the corporation’s Tuesday night program, now called “Smackdown Live!”. Before this, Ranallo had been an announcer primarily for MMA organizations, and getting hired by WWE was a job he was very excited about. He gained a surprising amount of popularity for his goofy sense of humor and pure vocal enthusiasm.


J.C. Layfield, known onscreen as John Bradshaw Layfield or JBL, was the most vocal commentary partner that Ranallo had. The list of harassment incidents connected to this man are long, depressing, and all show that with a high enough position in the company, an employee can do just about anything without the threat of being fired. In WWE’s writing, Layfield is usually portrayed as a blustery, lovable person.


During the March 13th episode of the streaming WWE Network’s exclusive Sportscenter-style show “Bring It To The Table,” Layfield fired off some biting insults towards the absent Ranallo for winning the fan-decided Wrestling Observer Announcer Of The Year Award. In particular, he referenced Ranallo’s constant presence on Twitter and his Italian catchphrases.


His coworker responded in an easygoing tone on Twitter that night, but did not appear on the commentary desk for “Smackdown Live!” the following evening. Ranallo then disappeared from social media for nine days, which was unlike the man. He had been frank about his bipolar disorder, and fans suspected the worst.


After thanking fans for all the support on March 24th in a message he later deleted, Mauro resumed posting on April 1st, and did not appear to call any matches on the following day’s Wrestlemania. By April 6th, Ranallo had removed all mentions or ties to WWE on his account, and Layfield had responded to a fan’s Tweet that he was not involved in Mauro’s absence. Layfield then started blocking those who retweeted any support towards Mauro, with noted anti-WWE wrestlers The Young Bucks and well-regarded wrestling journalist Bryan Alvarez reporting on the “bizarre” response.


Thanks to the efforts of Dave Meltzer, the publisher/editor of the Wrestling Observer, the story was broken and reported on by various news websites such as Deadspin & Vice. ESPN, which had a working relationship with WWE regarding promotional interviews, quietly dissolved talking head Jonathan Coachman’s role in those interviews after  his debate with Meltzer. In the discussion, Coachman made bold claims such as saying “…we don’t report on rumors for any sport or company.”


On the April 11th taping of “Smackdown Live!”, the crowd in Boston decided to heavily boo Layfield during both his entrance and throughout the show, with chants of “Fire JBL!” ringing out, and multiple signs either stating support to Mauro or derision to JBL. As told by an associate, Layfield spoke with forced cheerfulness throughout the broadcast, which is in opposition to his usual bragging ex-athlete persona.


On April 16th, Ranallo delivered commentary for the Japanese MMA company Rizin Fighting, and told a couple of jokes about lack of on-air restrictions with his usual warmth and good humor. Despite how his WWE career ended, Ranallo had a lot of fallback plans in either his wheelhouse of MMA commentating or possible appearances for independent wrestling federations.


The main takeaway from this sad tale is that although WWE wants to increase positive media coverage, the company is often hindered by the old guard of removing outsiders, after an average employment of about a year. Ranallo’s soft expulsion was not the first of these decisions, but it was by far the most public example.
Even if Layfield was just following the orders of his employer, Vince McMahon, the evidence shows that a single man and those who respected him came off as far more believable, than the spin doctors of a major entertainment corporation. What used to be easy for WWE to keep quiet will now become a major source of bad press, until the company finally decides to shape up.

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WWE Commentator’s Subtle Firing Sparks Outrage From Fans