WWE mainstay Michael Cole has described the company's boss Vince McMahon as “like a father” to him as he looks back on his incredible career.
The long-serving commentator has racked up the better part of 25 years as a servant of the sports entertainment brand, and is now widely regarded as the "Voice of WWE".
He’s pretty much seen and done it all in the company since first appearing on screens in 1997 as a TV host.
The crazed and often lamented world of professional wrestling is a distant reality from the journalistic career that previously took Cole to all corners of the world, covering everything from politics to wars back in the early part of the decade.
Looking back to those early years in our exclusive two-part interview, Cole admits that while he was a long-time wrestling fan, he knew “nothing” about WWE when he arrived – such was the stark contrast in job roles.
Pivotal to it all, says the 51-year-old, is the support and drive of McMahon, who still spearheads the company despite being more than two decades Cole’s senior.
A polarising figure to say the least, the WWE owner has his fair share of detractors, but one of his longest-serving employees gave a staunch defence of the man he claims is still the one who “leads the way.”
"Vince is an incredible human being,” Cole explained. "He's a wonderful family guy and is hands-on in everything in his company and every part of his product.
"He believes that if he's going to ask us to work these crazy hours and travel all over the world and do what we do, he needs to be in the front line leading us there.
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"I think he's one of the reasons I've been able to keep going as long as I have, because I look at Vince as an example, in many ways he's been like a father figure to me.
"I've grown up with this company I grew up here. I came in as a naive kid; I'd seen a lot of the world in the news industry, but I then came into a place I knew nothing about, and I grew up here.
"It's funny, you go back and watch all the WWE Network stuff from the late 1990s and I'm like 'Oh my god, I'm a little boy there!'
"Now I'm fully grown man who has a grandchild. So, it's pretty amazing to see what I've been through in this company and I couldn't have done that without Vince.
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"He's the guy who leads the way, he's offered an incredible life to me and my family."
Such is the theatrical, over-the-top world of WWE, there’s little ground Cole hasn’t broken during his tenure so far.
Currently serving as the company’s Vice President of Announcing, Cole has done work backstage, online, and has even had spells as part of on-screen storylines, a memorable feud with fellow announcer Jerry "The King" Lawler leading to a WrestleMania match between the two.
That versatility is a key reason behind Cole’s longevity, he says – and is a key reason in why he feels he’s one of likely a few people in WWE to have earned the head honcho’s trust.
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He adds: "I don't care who you are, you're not getting into this company for as long as I've been here unless Vince trusts you.
"You also have to prove to Vince that you can handle the pressure and take on many jobs.
"No one in this company who is successful for this long does one job. We've all done all kinds of different things.
"Even from the time I started with the company, not only was I a backstage interviewer and an announcer, but I was also involved in producing our talent for interviews that they'd do to play in local markets to promote our shows.
“I ran WWE.com for a few years and I'm in charge of announcers now. So everyone in this company who is successful does more than one job.
“But to be able to do that consistently, you have to be able to be able to build up a trust with Vince where he knows 'Michael can take care of this, I don't have to deal with it.'
"That's sort of where our relationship has been."
Michael Cole provides commentary each week on WWE’s Friday Night Smackdown, airing in the UK on BT Sport. For more details, visit wwe.com.
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