mma / Columns

Sound Off: The Changing Broadcast Booths of UFC and Bellator

January 16, 2018 | Posted by Evan Zivin
Joe Rogan

So the UFC Fight Night St. Louis show was on Saturday night, and it was all right. Michael Johnson learned it wasn’t going to be any easier to get a title shot by going down to featherweight when Darren Elkins choked him out, Paige “Remember When Dana White Wouldn’t Shut Up About Her?” Vanzant learned the exact same thing by going up to flyweight (except for the getting choked out part), and Doo Ho Choi showed that he’s not yet ready to evolve from a Korean Superboy to a Korean Superman after getting stopped by…um…what’s his name…

Wait, who the fook was that guy?

I know, I know. Any time I get a chance to use a bad Conor joke, you better believe I’m going to take it.

Sorry, Jeremy Stephens. Congrats on the win, which may put you in line for a title shot since, after Max Holloway beats Frankie Edgar, who else has he got to fight?


That’s another joke, of course. A win over Doo Ho Choi, a contender does not make.

Now, those are the majority of my observations from the show, but there was one more thing I observed:

Who the fook was that guy calling the fights?

Sorry. It’s a quality line.

Anyway, I know who Paul Felder is. He’s an active fighter. Plus, he’s called a few shows now and he’s honestly doing a pretty good job, even if it feels like he has to constantly tell himself to not use the word “Bro” every time he talks.

Actually, the guy who was doing the play by play with him has been calling fights as long as Paul has in the UFC. His name is Brendan Fitzgerald and he called the action on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, a show I did not watch, mainly because it was on UFC Fight Pass, which I don’t have.

Hey, it’s not like I get paid to do this. I ain’t got the coin to throw at every Tom, Dick, and Harry OTT subscription service. My Netflix is expensive enough. And my Hulu. And my Amazon Prime. And my Youtube TV. And my HBO Go. And what’s the name of the CBS one with the new Star Trek show on it? That one. I need help.

UFC has actually made quite a few changes to their broadcast team over the past year, which makes it seem like forever ago now that you could turn on a UFC event and expect to hear Mike Goldberg say one of the same 10 phrases he would spam like crazy on every show, while Joe Rogan would just yell and call every fighter a beast.

Now you have to go watch Bellator to get your Goldie fix. And Joe’s still around but he doesn’t appear on that many shows anymore. Or maybe he does and it just seems like he doesn’t because of how bloated the UFC’s event schedule is.

With a few exceptions, anyone who became a fan of the UFC during the TUF era knows Goldberg and Rogan as our guys. Whether you got annoyed that, again, Goldberg yelled “IT’S ALL OVER” when it wasn’t, or whether you’ve heard Rogan go on about compression shorts so many times you own 15 pairs, those were our guys. It wasn’t an easy marriage but we were committed, dammit!

Then, as the UFC increased its schedule, they added more commentators. First it was Jon Anik, who sounds like a 40 year old man who never went through puberty, and Kenny Florian, who sounds like a 40 year old Jon Anik if he had gone through puberty.

After that, they started adding more fighters as commentators, as well as doing more three man booths, giving opportunities to former and current champions like Daniel Cormier and Dominick Cruz.

They also made use of Brian Stann, who was the best color guy they had, or at least he was until he left to go get a real job.

Oh and they hired Todd Grisham too. I wonder if calling real fights are as exciting as calling fake ones.

And their roster continues to grow, as one of the biggest stories of the past week, since there’s been absolutely nothing else going on, has been UFC’s signing of Jimmy Smith, the long time Bellator broadcaster.

This may be the most significant of UFC’s broadcaster signings, as Jimmy is knowledgeable, experienced, and he isn’t Jon Anik, which is always a plus.

I actually thought the team of Smith and Sean Wheelock was a good one. They had good chemistry together and were effective at making Bellator fighters, most of whom were nowhere near as good as their UFC counterparts, seem like big deals, which is the most important job a broadcaster has, even more important than plugging Kevin James’ latest movie.

It was a shame that Bellator let Jimmy walk but I’m excited to hear him call his first UFC fight, which I would imagine will happen sooner than later. He’s working the analyst desk this Saturday for UFC 220 but he better be cageside soon. UFC hired a color guy with experience and street cred. They better get him calling fights.

Maybe they’ll have him call a fight with Rogan. I bet the planet might melt if that were to happen. Then again, the planet is melting anyway, so let’s enjoy the ride. Thanks, global warming!

In losing Smith, Bellator has made some interesting moves to fill the void. They did a good job filling the play by play role vacated by Wheelock, who did not leave by choice, and then Sean Grande, who probably left by choice, with Mauro “King of Hyperbole” Ranallo and Goldberg.

They already announced they were going to put Chael Sonnen and Frank Mir to work in the booth, since both have previous experience calling fights and both are going to get bounced out of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix at some point this year, but they also announced they are adding veteran referee “Big” John McCarthy to their ranks as well.

Personally, I love the addition of McCarthy as a commentator. He’s never had an MMA fight but he’s been reffing fights since UFC 2 and he knows and understands the rules of the sport because he’s literally the man who wrote them. He’ll be like Tony Romo and Mike Pereira rolled into one, except he hopefully won’t be as awful to listen to as either of those two.

The downside to “Big” John taking a booth gig means that he won’t be reffing any major fights for the foreseeable future, but that’s okay. It just means more questionable decisions for the rest of the referees.

Looks like the door just blew open for Frank Trigg to get more assignments…

I will say that, while change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does feel uncomfortable and a little depressing that all of these changes are happening. Goldberg and Rogan, for better or worse, were the voices of the UFC. For years you always knew that, no matter what happened inside the cage, you could expect to hear them calling the action outside it. They were as iconic and as representative of the UFC as Liddell and Hughes and Couture were, even as much as Dana White was. They were part of the brand.

You may not have liked hearing Goldberg scream “HERE WE GO” a billion times a night but, when you did, you knew what you were watching. Same with Wheelock and Smith in Bellator. The fact that the promotions have indirectly swapped commentators and brought in a slew of new ones just stresses the point that the sport that existed a few years ago, the one where every event was must watch and every fight felt exciting and relevant (before UFC let half their roster leave because Conor McGregor needed their pay more than they did), is gone. It’s gone and all we’re left with is Jon Anik.

Well, at least I plan to go to a bar to watch UFC 220. So, instead of hearing Anik’s nasally tenor, I’ll get to hear the muffled sounds of the Blackhawks blowing another lead in the third period. That’s always comforting. Reminds me of home.

Evan Zivin has been writing for 411 MMA since May of 2013. Evan loves the sport, and likes to takes a lighthearted look at the world of MMA in his writing…usually.

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Evan Zivin