In “Pops and Promos: speech and silence in Professional Wrestling,” Claire Warden1 examines the ways in which narrative context is established or disrupted, and power is negotiated through the inclusion or exclusion of speech.
In episode thirty-three of season one of Lucha Underground, we see another moment for the record books. Following an interruption of action weeks earlier, where Vampiro left his post at the commentary desk and entered the ring to keep Pentagon, Jr from breaking Sexy Star’s arm, Pentagon returns in this episode to call Vampiro out and challenge him to enter the ring again, to face him.
Vampiro stands up and while the crowd is going wild, chanting “Vampiro” and “Lucha! Lucha!” the usual steady presence for the audience at home from the commentary desk is silent. Obviously, Vampiro is not in a position to provide commentary, but Matt Striker is completely silent.
The experience is completely disorienting for the viewer once-removed from the action. As Warden says of the moment when Nexus embroiled themselves in a match between John Cena and CM Punk in a 2010 Viewer’s Choice match of Raw, “The absence of commentary is obvious and disconcerting. In fact, the silence compels the television spectator to heed sounds often masked by the narration – bodies slamming on the mat, incredulous boos from the crowd, wrestlers talking.”2 Between the two commentators, Striker is the one to provide a balanced perspective. He is the voice of (relative) calm and reason, and most committed to providing a play-by-play of the action, and grounding the visual in a coherent narrative sequence. Without Striker’s descriptive structure, the television viewer is left at the mercy of the tension between Vampiro and Pentagon, Jr and the crowd of “believers” in the Temple.
The question of kayfabe is largely at rest, even interruptions are recognized as scripted; the commentators, even when surprised, are quick to adapt to them.
With Vampiro standing head-to-head (literally) with Pentagon, Jr, and Matt Striker completely silent, there is real uncertainty about what is going to happen next. The crowd suddenly seems to have real power: their chants of “Vampiro” move the commentator forward, bringing him closer to Pentagon, and to the ring.
The power structures of the league are suddenly thrown into question as the mediating force of commentary is made visible through its absence. Usually, Vampiro, through his excitement of the moment, parallels the fans, and Matt Striker’s narrative commentary creates expectations within the audience and guides their attention to various parts of the action.
Without those that guidance, suddenly it is the will of the crowd versus the management provided by referee. The silence makes it impossible to guess which of the two will win out.
In Warden’s description of the aftermath of the Nexus invasion of the Cena-CM Punk match, which saw the commentators become victims of the violence, she says, “The silence not only brings a distinct feeling of realism to the segment, but it also leaves the audience unanchored in a sea of violent, destructive images.”3 The destruction is absent in the (apparently) narrowly avoided clash between Vampiro and Pentagon, Jr. But when Vampiro sits backdown, and Matt Striker’s voice finally returns, he sounds shaken, calling for a cut to commercial – cutting the television audience out, forcing the gaze away from the action – and his final words before he pulls his headset off (the last image before the cut to commercial) is him asking Vampiro if he’s alright.
The sequence effectively creates that same “distinct feeling of realism” that Warden described. It underscores the real emotional engagement that can be generated for an audience removed from the spectacle, and the importance of the narrative commentary in shaping the action in (and out) of the squared circle.