For The Record 4.19.09: The Brilliance of… Gorilla Monsoon
Posted by Kristopher Rodriguez on 04.19.2009
One of wrestling’s all-time best talkers.
Gorilla Monsoon may have left us 10 years ago, but he will never be forgotten. The 1994 Hall of Fame inductee is remembered for wearing many hats in WWE; but his time in commentary made him one of the most beloved figures in all of wrestling history.
Monsoon's commentary style was simple: Protect the business and have fun.
Gorilla Monsoon might seem a bit naïve to the untrained ear. He took for granted that viewers thought wrestling was real, and responded accordingly. He treated every match as a legitimate athletic contest. He would discuss with his colleagues the strategies of various wrestlers, remind the audience of the winner's purse, and employ the use of medical jargon to put over the effects of wrestling maneuvers. There was no hint at all that we were watching something staged. In his mindset, the primary concern of every grappler was to win; not to advance storylines.
If you watch WWE Classics on Demand this month, you'll see a segment from 1976 involving Monsoon and Muhammad Ali. Ali, regarded by many journalists as the greatest boxer of all-time, decided to step into the ring and spar with a professional wrestler… the imposing Gorilla Monsoon. In an obviously staged encounter, Monsoon deflected a few jabs and then proceeded to hoist Ali on his shoulders and dizzy the boxer with a helicopter spin.
Monsoon then spoke to Vince McMahon immediately following their short "match" and made a series of tongue-in-cheek comments. If I may paraphrase, he basically said that boxers are good at what they do, but they cannot step into a ring and take out wrestlers. It was vintage Monsoon with his hilarious absurdities. Monsoon obviously had a lot of pride in being a wrestler. And though his comments were probably somewhat prepared by Vince McMahon, Monsoon appeared to speak with absolute conviction.
Monsoon also seemed convinced that if one was at the top of the wrestling business, he was the best athlete in the world. He certainly spoke of Hulk Hogan in such glowing terms. He on not a few occasions referred to Hulk Hogan as the best professional athlete in the world. Sure, for some uptight fans of this age, Monsoon's comments were downright stupid. But anybody who knows Monsoon's commentary style will probably smile and say "I miss those days."
Besides the fact that he protected the business, Monsoon made wrestling fun. He never took anything too seriously. In fact, he usually seemed more rattled by what his broadcast colleagues said than by anything that happened in the ring. His disputes with Jesse Ventura and his arguments with Bobby Heenan are the stuff of legends.
What was fun about Monsoon's interactions with Bobby Heenan was that Monsoon seemed genuinely surprised every time "The Brain" made an over the top comment. The regular refrains of "Will you stop?" and "Give me a break!" were repeated during WWE broadcasts for years. And you know something? It never got old.
Monsoon and his broadcast partners helped to keep the viewers entertained even during times when an event's card would drag.
Wrestlemania III was an enjoyable show with a few big moments, but watching the broadcast for three hours would be a true labor without the voices of Monsoon and Ventura. Wrestlemania IV is a rough show to sit through, but with the dynamic duo of Monsoon and Ventura covering that event, it is somewhat possible to stomach.
Who can forget Wrestlemania VIII? Monsoon and Heenan didn't exactly need to save it, but they added to the entertainment level. That event showcased an excellent Intercontinental Championship match between Bret Hart and Rowdy Roddy Piper. There was also a superb bout between Macho Man Randy Savage and Ric Flair that resulted in a title change. Finally, the Ultimate Warrior made a shocking return at the close of the show and ended the event on a high note. And yet, that Wrestlemania is still remembered as much for the commentary work of Monsoon and Heenan as for the in-ring action. That's right, while the wrestlers did quality work, I would argue that the commentators stole the show.
What made Monsoon such an amazing broadcaster and talker was the fact that all his comments seemed unscripted. For Monsoon to perform so crisply and flawlessly off the cuff is still something to behold to this day. In today's modern climate, most mainstream wrestling commentators are not allowed to be creative. They have to sell the storyline, hit all the bullet points, and supposedly listen to Vince McMahon feeding them lines.
Sure, I don't know for certain that Monsoon wasn't fed lines. I'm simply guessing he wasn't because Monsoon always came off as playfully undisciplined. However, here's what I do know…
Monsoon went out there and had conversations with his broadcast partners during the matches. He didn't try to inject emotion superficially. He sat at the booth, commented on the mechanics of the match, and engaged in playful banter. And nobody did it better.
Appreciating Gorilla Monsoon's work generally requires two things. The fan has to appreciate the context of the wrestling world when listening to his commentary. And second, the fan has to loosen up and have fun.
Gorilla Monsoon made professional wrestling dignified. He was a class act all the way. Few wrestling broadcasters in the annals of time can even hold a candle to Monsoon.