Announcing a fight has long been an elusive art to master. There’s no real blueprint to calling a great fight, but we know it when we hear it. All kinds of guys have been good at it, and all kinds of guys have sucked at it. Legendary broadcaster Howard Cosell was so faux-disgusted during Larry Holmes’ infamous pummeling of Randall “Tex” Cobb that he piously proclaimed, on the air, that he would quit announcing boxing if the fight wasn’t stopped. I watched an old WFA show on DVD and legitimately wondered whether the color guy had some sort of mental illness (I later found out that it was Maurice Smith). Bill “Superfoot” Wallace began the first ever UFC broadcast by belching into the microphone, renaming it the “Ultimate Fighting Challenge”, and saying things like “It’s ironic that Royce Gracie is going to wear his judo top”. After the show, Wallace had a column slamming the UFC published in Black Belt Magazine. The lesson is to always hate things that you don’t understand and aren’t good at.
At that same show, the aforementioned UFC 1, Wallace’s broadcasting partner was none other than NFL legend and perennial tough guy Jim Brown. While it’s true that Jim Brown knew as much about fighting as James Brown, he was impressed by the training that was put in by these mystical men. He never pontificated on what was happening; he just made honest observations.
I liked him.
He called the action like he saw it. I remember after the Paul Varelans-Cal Worsham gong show, he quietly quipped, “I didn’t see much technique there, I just saw swingin’.” He seemed like he wanted to be there. He was the only guy in the booth that seemed to immediately understand the magnitude of Royce Gracie’s triangle choke victory over Dan Severn.
Was he a great color commentator? Not really. But he was entertaining, and for his time, he did his job to the best of his ability. Here is an impromptu, incomplete list of known and currently employed (you’re off the hook, Frank Trigg) announcers who try their hardest (but might suck), and guys who seem to coast on merit alone (but might be passable).
Sean Wheelock & Jimmy Smith
I have to mention them in the same breath because they are truly a cohesive unit. You can’t have one without the other. That, in a nutshell, is why these are two of my favorites. They click with each other on a personal level, and while the analysis of the action isn’t always spot on, it’s solid enough to avoid any severe eye rolls.
My big problem with this team isn’t their fault, but it’s a problem nonetheless. I can’t stand it when, at the beginning of the 2nd & 3rd rounds, Smith has to personally score the fight because of the stupid Bellator app. Talk about a unnecessary distraction. It’s bad enough when announcers pontificate on how a fight might be scored, but to do it to promote a product? Yuck.
This is a relatively minor complaint. I’m a fan of these two. They give Bellator broadcasts a distinct feel. I like the way they say Russian names. Mago-MED-ra-sul Khas-BU-LA-ev. There’s no way Mike Goldberg is pronouncing that.
The difference between Florian as a color guy when he was still fighting and Florian now is massive. When he was doing guestos for Rogan in between failed title shots, he was basically just a glorified play by play guy. He’d explain techniques here and there, but his analysis was bleak, if not non-existent. He was bland as hell. It was like someone converted his fighting style into audio form.
Since his retirement, he’s stepped up the analysis and has really grown when it comes to telling the audience what a fighter needs to do to get back in the fight, the mistakes a fighter is making, etc. He still seems a bit stiff at times, but you’d be a fool to not notice the improvement over the past year. Mike Goldberg wonders what improvement feels like.
Verdict: 50-45 Aldo
By all accounts, Anik is a good dude who loves the sport and is passionate about getting better at his job. He’s just not my cup of Earl Grey. He’s so … ESPN-ey. He leaves me feeling blank. No great calls, no bad calls. Just Jon Anik calls. He also has a weird knack for not clicking with his color guy. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like there’s tension in the booth (like Quadros and Eddie Bravo … if you haven’t seen PRIDE 10, it’s a classic). It just never seems like Anik has the ability to go back and forth with him, whether it’s Florian or Rogan. For all we know, they’re calling the fight from different states.
There’s room for improvement, and maybe that improvement will happen. Right now, Jon Anik is the MMA announcing version of a vanilla wafer. Mike Goldberg drinks vanilla wafer flavored Monster’s.
Verdict: I’m not even interested in him enough to come up with a verdict
The difference between Todd Harris and Mike Goldberg is sort of like the difference between a Chuck Norris movie and a Steven Seagal movie. During a Norris flick, you’re sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for the next asinine, wooden flotsam that spews from Chuck’s mouth. It’s awful, but it’s entertaining. A Seagal movie is different. During a Seagal movie, he’s so terrible and moronic and inane that you’re pretty much just hoping he gets sucker punched, or shot, or a rare form of herpes. It’s agonizing.
Todd Harris is agonizing. You could never put together a “Todd Harris Bloopers” video because it wouldn’t be entertaining. It would be sad and unfortunate. Nobody is worse. Nobody is even as bad. Not even Mike Goldberg.
Verdict: A worse announcer than Hitler
Michael “The Voice” Schiavello
Michael Schiavello is one of those rare guys that is incredibly educated, has a distinct voice, and still can only call a good fight maybe 30% of the time. He’s basically the Dennis Miller of MMA announcing; arcane references, super weird timing, and a prominent intellect that doesn’t necessarily help what he’s trying to do with his craft. I don’t have a problem with Schiavello as long as I don’t have to listen to him announce an entire card. In small doses, he can be fun. But any more than 3 or 4 fights without an interruption is enough to cause internal bleeding.
“It’s good night Irene! It’s the big kibosh! The big kibosh! THE BIG KIIIIIBOSH!!!” *sound of headset hitting the table*
Verdict: Not Mike Goldberg
I’m all broken up about how exactly to describe my feelings for Rogan’s announcing. I like the guy alot. What can I say? I’ve obviously never spent time around him, but he comes off as an enthusiastic, good natured guy with a thirst for knowledge. His podcast is one of my favorites. It’s might seem like stoned guys sitting around bullshitting on the internet, and that’s definitely part of it. But the larger theme is one of shared knowledge, curiosity, and genuine camaraderie. And yet, when MMA comes up on the podcast, Joe’s logic and straight thinking goes right out the window. I always think “Shut up, Bryan Callen, don’t get him talking about MMA, all you’re going to do is sit there and agree with him and chime in with flotsam like ‘I was hanging out with Brendan Schaub, and that guy is a monolith of a man’”.
Joe Rogan is freaking hyperbolic. He says ridiculous things as though they are absolute truth. Nary a fight goes by without him saying something like “This is the best Matt Grice we’ve ever seen!” or “He has to go for broke and try to finish in this third round here, because he lost the first two rounds in my opinion” (when there’s NO conceivable way that the guy he’s talking about lost the first two rounds). He just comes off like a guy who doesn’t have anyone in his life that calls him on his bullshit when it comes to MMA. It can be tiring. One of my greatest wishes is to go on his podcast and talk about MMA with him for 3 hours, just to be the guy that steps in and disagrees with his jockish, hyperbolic statements. That’s a pathetic sentiment to express in public, but it’s true.
I can’t imagine a replacement for him, though. He’s a staple. Don’t take this the wrong way, Rogan fanatics. I’m a fan. That’s a wrap.
Verdict: That thing he does with his mouth when other people are talking is off putting.
Mike Goldberg has all but cemented his place in the annals of MMA history as the most obvious punchline in announcing. He’s spawned so many running gags and memorable memes that it would seem gratuitous to make a list of them all. Instead, here’s a sample:
Geez. That bedtime story bit gets me every time. That little snippet sums Goldie up in a nutshell. Sometimes he’ll find himself talking, and he’ll realize halfway through that he has no idea where to take it (especially if it was dumb and embarrassing to begin with), only he doesn’t stop talking to take a second and think about what he’s saying, so you get outright gold like that.
Honestly, though? Much of the time, I don’t mind him. The criticisms against him are valid, and I would never slam anyone who thinks that he’s a relatively major embarrassment. But he can be entertaining, and every once in awhile he’ll surprise you by saying something that isn’t idiotic. This usually happens when he learns a new word (like “turk”), but then he’ll inevitably get turk happy and start misusing it to the point that you wonder if he just got lucky by getting it right the first time.
Mike Goldberg. Weird guy.
Verdict: Not a good announcer, but a necessary evil