Calling WWE‘s Michael Cole divisive might just be generous.

Since taking over for Jim Ross back in 2008 as the lead voice of RAW and eventually becoming the lead commentator of WWE regardless of brand, fans have come to despise more than a few of Cole’s mannerisms, his lack of charisma, and for generally serving as a mouthpiece for Vince McMahon, like when he issued a statement when Sasha Banks and Naomi walked out of RAW that was near-universally despised by fans and detractors alike.

Yeah, even Cole didn’t deliver that one with much passion, now did he?

And yet, since Pat McAfee arrived as his regular SmackDown commentating partner and especially since Vince McMahon left the promotion, Cole has been revigorated and has actually become a highlight of the WWE’s televised product.

Why? Because Cole isn’t just reading off pre-written lines and trying to tie-toe around big verbal landmarks, but is instead able to actually able to riff, pontificate, and tell an organic story with the right turns of phrase for the moment.

Michael Cole feels at home in the WWE Universe.

To call Vince McMahon a tough boss would be an understatement. He was incredibly critical, incredibly idiosyncratic, and, for one reason or another, could fly off the hinges over a relatively minor mistake and bury someone into the ground for a very long time if he took offense to one thing or another.

This mentality led to the Curtain Call, the Montreal Screwjob, the Pipebomb, and more than a few other incidents that fans know by a fun nickname, but do you know about the time Mr. McMahon almost marched down to the ring and tried to beat up and then fire Michael Cole for accidentally calling Jimmy Snuka’s son Jimmy Snuka’s son? Oh goodness, read what JBL had to say on the subject at a Q&A session at Steel City Con via a transcription from Wrestletalk.

We were sitting in the back one time with Vince (McMahon) and Jimmy Snuka’s son (Deuce/James Snuka) and Vince said, ‘Be sure when you say he comes in, that’s Jimmy Snuka’s son.’ Now later we tried to say that but then Vince goes on to say, ‘Last thing you wanna say is he’s Jimmy Snuka’s son because he can’t live up to the fact that Jimmy Snuka was his dad.’ Now later they tried that because he wasn’t really — didn’t really work out and they tried. But Michael Cole took copious notes. So he’s writing down, ‘Jimmy Snuka’s son.’ I don’t even notice it.

“Soon as the kid tags in, Michael Cole says, ‘In comes Jimmy Snuka’s son.’ Vince had just told him don’t say ‘Jimmy Snuka’s son.’ Well when he says that, they’ve got the little God camera that can look at us. I start laughing because I realize Cole doesn’t know not to say that, Vince sees me laughing and thinks Cole is making fun of him in front of the whole entire company.

“Vince’s response was, ‘Michael, I’m gonna come down there and I’m gonna fire you. No, I’m gonna come down there and I’m gonna kick your ass. Not I’m not, no I’m not’ and he’s debating with himself at this point. This is during a live show and he goes, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I’m gonna kick your ass, then I’m gonna fire you! That’s what I’m gonna do! I’m coming down right now’ and Michael’s just looking at the camera like — and I’m dying laughing and there’s no commentary and then by the time the commercial comes around, there was no commentary in the match. Vince realizes what happened, that Michael did it by mistake. He goes, ‘Haha, I lost it a little bit there didn’t I? Ha, yeah.’”

Now how, pray tell, does one work under those conditions? How does Cole get to express his personality, which is a big part of being a good play-by-play commentator, when he’s given very specific lists of banned words that change frequently and without reason, and forces him to repeat phrases over and over again even when they clearly aren’t getting over? It’s no wonder JR almost left the WWE on more than a few occasions but proved too popular to replace with a yes man.

And yet, since McAfee arrived in The Fed and especially since McMahon stepped down, Cole has been slowly but surely coming into his own as a man freed from his former boss’s clutches. He’s expressing more opinions like a vintage JR, going to bat for his buddy Pat when he was being attacked by Happy Corbin, and even having Corey Graves deliver the following dig that is actually a massive compliment if you really think about it.

You’ve gotta give it to spicy Cole, he wouldn’t have delivered that line a month ago unless he was itching to get fired.

While the sample is small, and Cole could again find himself serving more as more of a mouthpiece for Paul Levesque than the second coming of Dick Vitale, his call of the main event of SummerSlam was among the best of his recent career, with the commentator pleading with the ref to “count faster!” in order to prevent Roman Reigns from literally burring Brock Lesnar under a mountain of auxiliary equipment, broken boards, and even his commentary table. All things considered, Cole elevated the moment, and frankly, I can’t think of the last time that statement was universally relevant.