Corey Graves never aspired to be the voice of Monday Night Raw. Instead of calling matches a few feet from the ring, he planned to set the wrestling world aflame while inside of it.
Combining a hardcore approach with old-schools fundamentals learned from Dory Funk Jr., Graves made his debut in March 2000. His grit and passion turned him into a success, and he signed with WWE in ’11. Yet his career ended abruptly in NXT, forced to retire in ’14 due to concussion issues.
After spending the past eight years establishing himself as an integral part of the WWE broadcast team, there is now a legitimate possibility that Graves will be able to resume—or at least satisfyingly conclude—his wrestling career.
“I can confirm that I have been cleared medically,” says Graves, who is 38-year-old Matt Polinsky. “That said, it’s not something that is in the cards imminently or in the very near future. It’s more something I needed to do for my own sanity just because I’ve been asking myself, ‘What if?’”
While Graves cautions that there will be no need to break out his 13th Step finisher anytime soon, the prospect of him standing up from the Raw broadcast table to step into the ring would bring a jolt of excitement to WWE’s flagship show.
“I love my place and my seat. I’m not going to leave the announce table,” he says. “Best-case scenario, somewhere down the line, maybe there’s a spot for it. Jerry Lawler used to do it from time-to-time.
“Once in a blue moon, if it can help get somebody else over, I’d be down for it. But it’s not some imminent return. It’s not like I’m buying new boots or having gear made.”
Graves is also teaming with fiancé Leah Van Dale, who is best known as WWE superstar Carmella, for a new YouTube reality show. Corey & Carmella will premiere on Monday, capturing the couple’s relationship and everyday life at home in Pittsburgh.
“This is a chance to show who we really are,” says Carmella, who is half of the reigning WWE women’s tag team champions. “We have creative freedom on the show. On TV, you only have a few minutes, and you’re playing a character.
“People will see me and Corey as a couple, which I’m really excited about. This is also a chance to show who I am as a WWE superstar, a fiancé, a wine connoisseur and a stepmom. I’m really excited to put it all out there.”
The show is not intended to be a behind-the-scenes, backstage WWE show. Rather, it stands as an opportunity for a global fan base to understand two of their favorite stars in a much more intimate manner.
“This is us when the lights are off, which is ironic because cameras were following me around,” Graves says. “I think it’s important for people to see all different facets of our lives. If you watch the trailer, you might think it’s this sexy romp show. There are elements of that, but it’s also about me being a dad and my kids on this new journey with Carmella. I think people are really going to be able to relate, and that’s what excites us.”
As a commentator, Graves receives the benefit of an entire show to express the narrative and direct the action. But there have been plenty of occasions when Carmella has only been given shorter segments. During the build to WrestleMania, where she and Zelina Vega are poised to defend their tag titles against Sasha Banks and Naomi, there should be a genuine opportunity for some legitimate screen time. That optimism is further buoyed by the reality show, a platform for “The Most Beautiful Woman in WWE” to reveal a wide depth of her personality and range.
“Now you get to see us in a whole new light,” Carmella says. “My character is a stark contrast from who I am in real life. I’m all about female empowerment. We also have our own podcast, Bare With Us, and that’s how this reality show came about. It’s all about our relationship and relationship issues, and we keep it real and we don’t hold back. We wanted to bring that authenticity from the podcast to our reality show and normalize issues. That’s an important part of what we’re bringing to our reality show.”
The discussion, debate, and excitement of the podcast will be embedded into Corey & Carmella, a program that is a part of WWE’s long-term goals on YouTube.
“Despite being called Corey & Carmella, it’s much more Matt and Leah,” Graves says. “People at WWE have given us a great deal of freedom, which has made the podcast so appealing. YouTube is another platform for WWE to dominate, so we’re sort of an experiment.
“I think people are really going to enjoy it. And if you’ve ever wanted somebody to make fun of Corey Graves relentlessly like I get to do to everyone else on Monday Night Raw, then this is the show for you. She busts balls harder than just about anybody I’ve ever met.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.