Corey Graves is WWE’s premiere color commentator. Following in the footsteps of Jesse Ventura, Bobby Heenan, and Jerry Lawler, the sagacious Graves stands on the shoulders of giants in wrestling’s prestigious history of antagonistic villains on headset.
But it is a role he never dreamed about or even wanted.
“I embraced it out of necessity,” said Graves. “Giving up wrestling was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
Graves wrestled for 11 years before signing with WWE in 2011. The Pittsburgh native’s blood, toil and tears were on display throughout the United Kingdom and the primal days of Ring of Honor. He also played a key role in the success of the indie scene, working alongside many—CM Punk and AJ Styles, to name two—who have since resided atop wrestling’s hierarchy.
During his time in NXT, Graves feuded with The Shield and the Wyatt Family, and he eventually became a tag team champion with Neville, who is now starring in All Elite Wrestling as PAC. A significant portion of the current WWE roster starred alongside Graves in NXT, and he was working toward a spot on the main roster when multiple concussions forced him into early retirement as a wrestler.
“Jumping into the broadcast booth helped me with the grieving process,” said Graves. “It gave me a new challenge, a whole new way to prove myself.
“But I still think like a wrestler, and that lends itself to my commentary. I know the story they’re trying to tell in the ring, or if something goes wrong, I can try to right the ship. In my mind, I’m watching as a broadcaster, trying to tell everyone else’s story, but I was in the ring for 15 years, too.”
Giving up his dream has allowed Graves to embark on an entirely new career, away from the bumps but still close enough to the action.
“I loved wrestling and I think I was decent at it, but I’m starting to realize this is my role,” said Graves. “It’s the place where I was supposed to be all along.”
The 35-year-old Grave (Matthew Polinsky) now embraces a new challenge. In addition to his commentary on SmackDown, which suddenly became WWE’s premier show with its placement on Fox, Graves is also hosting the first-ever podcast for the newly created WWE Podcast Network.
Graves’s “After The Bell” podcast, which will be recorded on Tuesday afternoons and released on Wednesday mornings, will also have video elements in future episodes.
“Nobody else has this access,” said Graves. “If it’s relevant, I can say, ‘Hey Triple H, what did you think of the competition on Wednesday night?’ I’m not going to make it my point to talk about everything beyond WWE, but if it’s relevant to what’s going on and it’s hot in the business, then we’ll discuss it.”
This Wednesday’s debut episode offers a guest list of Triple H, Bayley, Ric Flair and Seth Rollins.
“I can give a perspective that won’t be available anywhere else,” said Graves. “I’m most excited to give current superstars a bigger platform to show who they are as people beyond characters.
“Most of the podcasts I’ve heard are from people who left WWE, but this is different. I’m working from the inside and I have access to the talent. Look at Seth—he’s had some social media speed bumps recently and got in a few spats that painted him in less than a great position, but you’re dealing with Twitter and 140 characters. Now we’ll have time for an actual conversation without an agenda, and I’m really excited to see where it goes.”
As a voice for the talent, Graves is willing to stand up for the women and men in WWE. His view-from-within will lend a different lens to his podcast, and he shared the roster’s perspective on the upcoming controversial trip to Saudi Arabia.
“It’s a long, grueling trip over there, but most of the talent like it because it’s a pretty good pay day,” said Graves. “To me, it’s super exciting to have these totally unusual attractions like Cain Velasquez-Brock Strowman and Tyson Fury-Braun Strowman. If you take any sort of political feeling out of the equation, aren’t you, as a fan of WWE, aren’t you curious and excited to watch these attractions?
“It is what it is. This is not about politics for the talent, it’s about doing what we do best on the planet all over the planet. Everyone that works for any company has things they love and things they don’t love, but what we’re all focused on is having to fly back to SmackDown in Buffalo the next day.”
Above all, Graves promises, an honest, thorough look at the people that make up the WWE.
“That is my personal mission statement,” said Graves. “I’m going to give an honest view of WWE and outside WWE. I’m looking to give a different perspective and give the point of view from within the machine.”