While analyzing pro wrestling matches may seem like an easy gig, joining the World Wrestling Entertainment commentary team is tougher than getting ahold of Student Financial Services. With all of the unwritten rules and few seats available, how can aspiring broadcasters possibly earn camera time on Monday and Friday nights?
That question has finally been answered by Matt Striker.
A former high school social studies teacher in his hometown of Queens, N.Y., Striker resigned from his position following an investigation concerning his use of sick days – he was actually wrestling on a tour in Japan. The school board discovered Striker’s part-time profession after he made his national television debut on WWE Smackdown in Philadelphia against Kurt Angle.
“I wrestled as Matt Martel, which I believe was a play on Rick ‘The Model’ Martel,” Striker said. “I’ve had a close association with Philly from my days of going down to Forman Mills as an [Extreme Championship Wrestling] fan to my days of wrestling in that same arena. Philly is the den to my living room that is New York. It was like a second home because the fans knew who I was.”
After a few years of wrestling as a condescending educator, Striker shifted from the squared circle to the broadcast table.
“I had always been quick-witted,” Striker said. “[Former ECW commentator] Joey Styles mentioned in a production meeting that I would be a good fit for the vacant spot on ECW’s broadcast team. When I was a kid, I used to have my GI Joe figures act in a wrestling federation. I would do all kinds of commentary and talk to myself a lot. I always knew I belonged in that chair, but it was a surprise to some other people.”
And with that, Striker’s WWE commentary class is in session.
Storytelling: “I loved Gordon Solie, Jim Crockett and Bob Caudle,” Striker said. “They had the nice monotone voices, and gave me the history, and told me why that submission hurts. But there’s no room for that anymore. The WWE wants storytellers. It doesn’t matter that Jack Brisco won the [National Wrestling Alliance] title in 1970-whatever. Tell me why that matters for John Cena.”
Connecting: “Josh Matthews and I were really friendly, so we would talk about the direction we wanted to take the characters,” Striker said. “We would look around the world at pop culture and see what we could apply to the WWE. For instance, “Twilight” was the hot movie, and girls scream for Taylor Lautner. So on Friday night, Randy Orton would have been made akin to Lautner.”
Preparation: “Say Randy Orton and Sheamus are scheduled to face each other at WrestleMania,” Striker said. “So how can I tell that story step by step? Maybe I had a St. Louis connection for Randy Orton, or maybe the last time Sheamus was in Philly, he put John Cena through a table.”
Broadcast school: “In this day and age, everyone has a podcast,” Striker said. “Going to broadcast school I’m sure has benefits, but I hate to see people go through the motions and do what they think they’re supposed to do. All the sudden, someone comes along and works outside the box. When Howard Stern came along, people called him crazy. Now people call him a genius.”
Translating Vince McMahon: “If [McMahon] wanted me to get a point across, he would say it to me in his own words,” Striker said. “For instance, ‘Talk about how Sheamus is so strong that Mark Henry is afraid of him.’ So then I would turn around and put it in my own words: ‘You know, Mark Henry is the world’s strongest man, but just the other day I saw Sheamus bench pressing 550 pounds, and Henry was watching him through the mirror in the gym. There’s something interesting brewing here, let’s keep our eyes on it.’ Then [McMahon] would say, ‘Ah, that was good.’”
Partners: “As far as working with people that I know don’t know as much as I do, I’ve surrendered my ego a long time ago and it has really allowed me to learn,” Striker said. “Just because I know who Buzz Sawyer was doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean anything to selling a John Cena match. All of my wrestling knowledge in the world didn’t really matter unless I could apply it to the current product.”
Banned words: “No words are banned,” Striker said. “There are some phrases [that are] not part of the dialogue, but there are good reasons why. For example, a championship is not a belt. A belt holds up your pants. Someone that doesn’t watch wrestling might ask, ‘Why are they fighting over wardrobe accessories?’ When you say how you’re coming after me for the championship, then it adds importance.”
Appearance: “[McMahon] wants you to look good,” Striker said. “You have to look the part. Perception is reality. Put on a nice blazer, comb your hair, carry a little compact with some makeup to put under the eyes. Those are a few tricks to be more camera-friendly.”
Physicality: “I think [McMahon] enjoyed watching me get beaten up,” Striker said with a laugh. “I think the joke amongst the producers was that Striker takes a pretty good ass kicking. You hit [Matthews] a few times, he might break. You can’t really slam Renee [Young]. But if you want to convey that the Big Show is pissed off, Striker can take a good punch.”
Stand out: “I would just take chances, because it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission,” Striker said. “I would show up to [Classics on Demand] tapings in a sleeveless Hulkamania shirt and no one would question it since it fit the product. If you want to fall in line and be a good little soldier, that’s cool. But if you want to be something, try things and assume everyone is on board until someone speaks up.”
Released from his WWE contract in late June, Striker now works for Championship Wrestling from Hollywood.
“The first call I made was to get re-certified for teaching,” Striker said. “So if anyone wants to have a pro wrestling class on Temple’s campus, tell the people to make it happen.”
If his lessons on WWE broadcasting are any indication, this wrestling historian would be a sleeper pick on any Owl’s roster.
John Corrigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.