Pat McAfee knew what his natural tendency was going to be and that he could not give into it during his debut as the newest member of the “Friday Night SmackDown” announce team for WWE.
What we didn’t see or hear last week was the uber-heel character the former Colts punter portrayed during his recent stint in NXT and in some ways taps into during “The Pat McAfee Show” on SiriusXM. Instead, McAfee said he brought more of a “heel lean” because his current role is less about him and more about adding to the storyline and action going on in the ring. WWE hasn’t had a classic heel commentator in some time, and McAfee wants to find a balance on SmackDown (8 p.m., Fox).
“I’m trying to be something that provides a little more assist for stories that are happening as opposed to interjecting myself in stories,” McAfee said in a phone interview. “But it was difficult not to be a heel full-time in there, I will say. I think that will naturally turn up a little bit, but I don’t think you’ll ever expect me going on to commentary … maybe it will happen, but I don’t think so, though … of me saying, ‘it must suck to suck’ or whatever to whoever is listening. I don’t know if that’s going to happen.
“Maybe it will. Maybe that’s how it will kind of feel and lead to. But for me, I’m naturally more of a heel, but I also want to make sure I’m not distracting from all the incredible things going on SmackDown.”
How well the heel McAfee was received by fans as an in-ring performer in NXT — which included a bout with Adam Cole in August and a concluded with a WarGames match in December — is what left him and WWE looking for a way to continue to work together in a more serious manner. He felt the company grew more comfortable with him and what he could bring.
“That’s when we realized, ‘OK, let’s go ahead and try to do this thing,’ let’s try to make a lifelong dream come true and hopefully I can help out the business I’ve respected and appreciated my entire life a little bit,” McAfee said.
It evolved into WWE eventually broaching him the idea of doing commentary. McAfee, who has previous experience doing kickoff panels for WWE, didn’t know if that meant he was going to be on lesser-viewed shows such a 205 [Live], Main Event or NXT. SmackDown, which averages around 2 million viewers per week, was then pitched along with the chance to work alongside the veteran play-by-play man Michael Cole, who brought McAfee into WWE for his first stint in 2018. The 33-year-old jumped at the chance while making sure it didn’t affect his other business ventures or jobs.
“I want to be great at this,” McAfee said.
He mentioned Jerry “The King” Lawyer when asked what commentators from the past he would like to bring into his presentation, noting the legend’s quickness and hilarious genuine reactions. McAfee also went back and watched the pairing of Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan to prepare himself.
“I think there’s a lot of greats, obviously I think a lot of people helped shape my personality,” McAfee said. “But I’m really trying to make it my own in there. There’s going to hopefully be some traits of people I watched over the years that you might hear a little bit of influence from. But I hope to really make it my own.”
As the show went along last Friday, McAfee was critiquing himself and credited Cole with making his life easier. He knows he can “get miles and miles better” and appreciated getting advice from Cole, Paul Heyman and Corey Graves — who moved to ‘Monday Night Raw” with McAfee taking his place on Fridays.
One thing McAfee didn’t experience last week was getting produced by WWE chairman Vince McMahon, who wasn’t at the show, but will be this week. McMahon has been known to be a very present and demanding voice in his commentators’ headset during a broadcast. McAfee is looking forward to it. Having the opportunity to learn from McMahon both in wrestling and business was one of the main reasons he felt he had to take this opportunity.
“I was kind of bummed that he wasn’t there last week, believe it not,” McAfee said. “Even though I’ve heard the horror stories from everybody else, I can’t wait to get a chance to experience one of the great American businessmen of all time. That’s the way I view it.”
Despite his new role behind the desk, McAfee isn’t ruling out a return to the ring if WWE decides it would be good for SmackDown. Commentating is a “such a beautiful way to start an angle” in McAfee’s mind. It’s something he would entertain, but don’t expect to see a lot of him between the ropes.
“My body was so sore after those things [NXT matches],” McAfee said. “I don’t know the extent of how much I can do it because I’m not tough enough, but I’m going to have to get a W at some point. At some point I’m going to have to get a win, and I do have that in the back of my mind.”