In the past twelve months nobody in World Wrestling Entertainment has received more character development than Michael Cole. For viewers this has been a mixed blessing. On the one hand it demonstrates that the company is still capable of building a main event level performer (and like it or not, that’s what Cole has become) and sticking with a push for an extended period. On the other hand it has been saddening to see such a push given to someone who doesn’t really need it and isn’t going to make the promotion money in the long term. The time and effort should have been spent on a newcomer or underutilised mid-carder instead.
It all began on NXT. During the first few weeks of the show Cole was instructed, by Chairman Vince McMahon, to tear Bryan “Daniel Bryan” Danielson apart on commentary. The reason for this treatment is simple, McMahon despises anyone who’s become a worldwide success in the wrestling business without the help of his company. It was nothing new, McMahon’s feelings on the subject have been well documented for years.
What did come as a surprise was the gusto with which Cole carried out his task. It quickly became clear that regular announcing on NXT was not going to be a priority. The emphasis was to be firmly on inside jokes and opinions on the rookies.
As time passed Cole’s heelish traits began to seep into his work on RAW and SmackDown. It was particularly noticeable on RAW, where he acted as the official spokesperson for the anonymous general manager (and that’s a gimmick that needs to be retired soon). He also became The Miz’s number one fan. This had started during the first two seasons of NXT, which had seen ‘The Awesome One’ positioned as the pro to one Daniel Bryan. It was during Miz’s first title defence against RAW commentator Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler in November that Cole finally became an official heel, interfering on behalf of The Miz and costing ‘King’ the championship... on Lawler’s birthday no less!
Up until then Cole had been supporting heels, with the exception of top babyfaces Randy Orton and John Cena. Once he’d crossed the line and involved himself in a match even those two men lost Cole’s backing. Now the only face characters on WWE TV that are not the subject of Cole’s biased play-by-play work are Triple H and the Undertaker, because they are being kept separate from the rest of the goings-on in the promotion in an effort to increase the seriousness of their WrestleMania encounter.
In the last several months Cole has been a highlight of both RAW and SmackDown, revelling in the chance to be openly obnoxious and antagonistic. He’s good at it and fans hate him, to the point where he can now be considered the company’s most successful heel. While that’s a spot that should really be occupied by a wrestler, there’s no denying Cole’s persona is perfect for it.
As entertaining as he’s been I hope he gets toned down after WrestleMania. Lawler will have given him the beating everyone wants to see him get, providing the perfect end to the heel run and allowing Cole to go out on a high. WWE (and Cole) will have had its payday from the push so, after a suitable amount of time off TV, Cole can return to calling matches. Keeping him heel’s not a problem, but it’s important he doesn’t become a focal point again. The real talent is in the ring, not behind the announce desk.