Here’s the truth: I wrote my recent piece on ECW’s One Night Stand in 2006 at one in the morning, after having finally seen Interstellar. I waited years to see Interstellar. I started following it when I read that Steven Spielberg was supposed to direct an earlier draft of the script by Jonathan Nolan. His brother, Christopher Nolan, would of course go on to direct the film. It was a three hour space epic, paying homage to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, while also paving it’s own way. In short, it was pretty cool. So when I sat down to write the ECW piece, clearly my mind wasn’t fully on the task at hand. It was off being mind-f—-ed in space by the guy who made Bateman into Batman. In the process, I somehow failed to acknowledge Joey Styles – and I didn’t feel right leaving it like that.
This is my solution.
Joey Styles was born with the name Joseph Carmine Bonsignore in the year 1971. He was born deep in The Bronx. He debuted with Paul Heyman’s legendary promotion in 1993 at the tender age of 21. He helped to bring a human side to the barbarianism of the ECW. He was well dressed, well groomed, and well spoken: a far cry from the majority of the ECW locker room. At first glance, you’d assume he’d never have a shot at fitting in with that side of wrestling, but truth be told, it wasn’t a side of wrestling. It was just wrestling. The 1990s was one of the most violent decades that our country has ever seen. All Paul Heyman did was answer the call.
Joey Styles helped to make people bad for calling out in the first place. He injected enough humanity to make you remember that these men being beaten to a bloody pulp were just that: men. He could also, unlike most of the men who call themselves commentators today in WWE, call a match out move by move. He was highly educated on the art of professional wrestling and it always showed. There’s a solid argument to be had about who the best wrestling play-by-play announcer ever was. Think about the names you’ll throw around during it: Jim Ross, Joey Styles, Jerry The King Lawler, Tony Schiavone, Larry Zbyzko, Vince McMahon, Gorilla Monsoon, Jesse The Body Ventura, etc, etc.
I’d boil that down to Vince, Gorilla, The Body, JR, and Joey Styles first. Real quick, this has become an argument with myself now. These are the names I know. I’m not declaring these men the best. That’s not my place. I’m just going to debate for myself, who I believe is the best.
Jim Ross and Jerry The King Lawler was the announce team that called the majority of my childhood. Almost every nostalgic memory I have of wrestling from that time was called by The King and JR. Next up in that regard was Vince McMahon. I always liked him as a commentator, and growing older has made me aware of the fact that it could very well be because he was truly happy while doing it. He wanted to wrestle back when his dad owned the WWWF, but Vince McMahon Sr. would have none of that and put him on the announce team. He did it from then, until he uttered the words “Bret screwed Bret.” Once he became evil Mr. McMahon, he had no place on the commentary table.
After Jim Ross and The King would be Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse The Body Ventura. When I get into something, I go all in almost immediately. Even as a kid I did it. I was the only kid trying to talk about WrestleMania 4 in the sixth grade. I loved those two together. They had an always fantastic chemistry. RIP Gorilla.
Now, I want to pay Tony Schiavone and Larry Zybyzko some respect before I do anything else. They worked hard, they dealt with all kinds of shit from Eric Bichoff, and they always did their best to make the show watchable. Zybyzko had an interesting, attention-grabbing voice, and as a former wrestler, obviously he could call the match. Tony Schiavone, as well, was always a hard working, well-spoken commentator who did everything he could to make a match good. However, they were part of the announce team that gave away the results of their competitor’s program on an almost regular basis. I can respect underhanded tactics, but I don’t have to like them. Personally, I would have drawn the line at the Foley announcement.
For those who don’t know, while live on WCW Monday Night Nitro, Eric Bischoff called for Tony Schiavone to give away the fact that as Mankind; Mick Foley had finally accomplished his dream of becoming WWE Champion. Not only did he tell Schiavone to spoil it for the WCW fans watching, but he told him to make it sound like the worst thing that had ever happened. It’s easy for me to judge Schiavone from my desk in my bedroom in New Jersey, but it’s also just kind of easy for me to judge him in general for that act. I know Bischoff probably would’ve fired him on the spot if he didn’t spoil Foley’s title win, but WCW was white hot during most of the 1990s. He could have found another job. Why couldn’t Foley just live his dream for a little bit?
Why did he have to wake up the day after to find out that the entire idea had been dismissed with disgust in front of millions of fans? It’s just messed up and it was underhanded, dirty dealing, political bulls—t like that, that helped put WCW out of business.
Finally, we come back to the focus of this article: Joey Styles. He is the only one of those names mentioned, whose work I didn’t see or truly hear until I was an adult. I was at an age where I could really appreciate the preparation put into his performance. I not only have an appreciation for it, but a tremendous respect as well. With the launch of ECW Barely Legal, he became the only man to ever call a wrestling pay-per-view by himself. That’s a humongous accomplishment for Joey Styles. He’s so well spoken, which may be the only thing he has over JR for me in this argument.
I mean, come on, it’s really down to those two in this argument. It’s Jim Ross vs. Joey Styles. They both had the love and respect of the business. They both had fully developed personalities that they knew exactly how to manipulate for the show. They knew when to inject emotion, or humanity. They’re both great performers. It helped that neither ever had a problem stepping into the ring to take a few bumps and help sell an angle. Look, I’m a humungous fan of JR, and I don’t like the idea of him stumbling upon this article and thinking I was picking on him for having cerebral palsy. I would never. It’s an awful affliction, but the awful, hard-hitting truth is that it did bring his game down a bit. Of course it did though, half of his face was paralyzed.
Joey Styles never suffered through a debilitating affliction. He was constantly on his game, helping ECW constantly blow their fans minds with his legendary, “OH MY GOD!!” call. JR, however, also had his, ”slobber-knocker,” “by God, he is BROKEN IN HALF,” and legion of other calls. God, this is an intense debate I’m having with myself. There’s no way I could really make this decision. I view them on separate plains. JR has the luxury of being seen through the rose colored glasses of childhood. It’s almost as if he can do no wrong, as far as I’m concerned. Then there’s Joey Styles, who I just respect. He is still fighting tooth and nail to get rid of the sports entertainment and get back to the wrestling. That’s why he was the absolute perfect choice to become Vice President of Digital Media Content for WWE.COM.
With JR’s history in the wrestling business, and some of the matches he’s called, I cannot say that Joey Styles is better than him. What I can say is that the voice of the ECW may finally be the man who knocked JR off the top of the mountain as my favorite wrestling announcer.