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Not virtually identical: A countdown of the UFC’s best commentary teams

Not virtually identical: A countdown of the UFC’s best commentary teams

Jon Anik - UFC commentator

From baseball to tiddlywinks to chess to Olympic figure skating to mixed martial arts, there’s always some clown in a badly-fitting outfit sitting somewhere nearby, foaming at the mouth as they puke up a ceaseless diatribe of barely relevant half-truths and space-fillers for what they think is the benefit of the uncultured masses. Their sole job seems to be to infuriate those watching at home, to the point where any luckless punter sitting on his couch is compelled to hurl his shoe at the TV screaming, “You one-eyed f**k, are you f**ckin’ blind? You’re supposed to be an impartial observer, providing an objective analysis of events as they occur! You don’t even know the f**ckin’ rules, you’re just hyping on the team you like the most!” Or something to that effect.

Love them or hate them, commentators aren’t going anywhere. So unless you prefer to watch your sport of choice on mute, or you’re actually deaf, you’d best just learn to tune the white-noise out and consider it a pleasant bonus if they actually say something worth hearing. Not that all commentators are absolutely pointless, or sound like trash being tossed into a garbage truck at 5 am, or like Roadrunner on meth. Some of them are half decent, and the odd few are downright fair, or even fair-to-good on a scale of bleeding-from-the-ears to moderately-not-too-bad.

The same goes for the good ole Ultimate Face-punching Championship, so let’s do a poorly researched, completely biased, and subjective ranking of its commentary teams to find out where they sit on this imaginary scale of irritating lameness, shall we? Great, I know you’ll love it. What are the criteria? Is this to find the best, or the worst? How about both? No need to over complicate things, is there?

Here…we…go!

How about we begin at number four (I don’t have enough room for a fifth, all right?) just to build up some suspense for later on, with the UFC’s most enduring team, Joe “Bad Motherf**cker” Rogan, and Mike “It’s all over” Goldberg.

These two were mainstays of the UFC, covering every PPV event, and many of the lesser ones, too, with their unique brand of verbal quackery. But before we get into that, one important point needs to be covered first.

Interlude

If you weren’t already aware, there are two distinctions between commentators. One guy is the “color commentator”, a role exemplified by the ever-pontifical Rogan. It’s his job to give detailed breakdowns of exactly what’s going on during any given part of the fight. He’s the one with all the knowledge, telling you why this fighter’s leg-lock is terrible and how he’s about to be reversed, or how that fighter can’t punch her way out of a wet paper bag. The color guy knows more than you, and wants the entire world to know it by talking very loudly without pausing for breath.

And then there’s the “play-by-play commentator”, who mainly reads out the round times and interrupts all the best bits with verbal advertisements for the UFC Store (which I’m fairly confident nobody buys from), and what new movie is coming out that week. He’ll have a rudimentary understanding of the action, but he’s primarily there to tell you all the stuff you already know, like what colour shorts your favourite fighter’s wearing, or stuff you don’t need to know, like how he’s fighting to save up enough money to send his cat to rehab, or stuff that’s slightly interesting, like how many significant head-strikes have been landed per round as the on-screen displays pop up.

Back to Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd

Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg commentating together

Or Rogan and Goldie. These guys were iconic, so of course they have to make the list, if only for the cringe-factor. They were like listening to tires squealing and knowing there’s about to be a crash; it’s awful but you can’t turn away.

No other duo epitomized their roles more. Rogan loves to wax lyrical about fighting, and will go into a lather whenever play hits the mat, where his knowledge base really stands out. And careful of your volume level if there’s a knockout because his sudden and explosively loud “WHOOOOAAAAHHGG!” can and has caused lasting hearing damage. His obvious bias toward some fighters aside, (cough, MacGregor, cough, Rousey) old man Rogan does know a thing or two about the fight game, and couple that with a few of his amusing personality quirks he can be quite entertaining, and pairs up well with any of the other current commentators. The biggest knock on him, however, is his appalling subjectivity. If you’re losing a fight, best if you turn the sound off when you come to watch your performance back the next day, because trust me, you will have been mercilessly roasted. Having said that, if you manage to turn the fight around and win, Rogan’s your new best friend.

Meanwhile, Goldie loved nothing more than to cough up another of his patented catch-phrases in slow-motion, including but not limited to, “Virtually I-dentical”, and my personal favourite, ‘We got ourselves…a fight!” Well, yes Goldie, we do. This is the UFC. People fight. Oftentimes it was like he’d wandered into the wrong stadium, thinking he was there to commentate a dog pageant and was surprised there were two men in a cage beating the sauce out of each other right in front of him. The depths of his fighting knowledge was at best shallow, and at worst downright insulting to fighters and fans alike, but heaven help you if you got in the way of one of his advertisements. Even if the fight was on the verge of a brutal stoppage there he’d be, dutifully reciting his lines even when Rogan was jumping up on the table screaming his eyeballs out beside him.

To describe Goldberg’s delivery as wooden would be to do great insult to most things made out of wood. But it was nothing compared to his ability to jam his own foot in his mouth. One of the last great examples of this came during the Rousey/Holm contest. “Takes a lot of energy to be a rock star”. And blowing his gasket, Rogan quickly fired back with a heated, “She’s being punched in the face! It has nothing to do with being a rock star!” The list of Goldie’s gaffs is long. As for Rogan himself, when something is just too darn exciting to talk about, why not revert to the time-tested response of crying, “Wow” over and over until another thought shows up?

Sadly the dynamic duo was to disband, Goldie being frozen out by the new UFC brass while Rogan continued on doing what he does best, screaming inarticulately and assaulting us all with his ill-advised post-fight interviews with concussed fighters.

Three deep

Anik’s words, those, not mine. Why the UFC decided to have three commentators instead of two, we’ll never know. When you put Rogan beside guys like Daniel Cormier and expect little Jon Anik to keep up with the housekeeping twice every round, you’re only going to get an incoherent babble of voices, the occasional grunt or shout, and a lot of “Sorry, Joe, go ahead,” “No you go,” “No no, you go,” which distracts you from what’s actually happening in the cage. The first half dozen events were a disaster, with each guy clambering over the next for shouting space. There was no flow, Goldie’s wooden delivery made a comeback, and we all cringed together as DC or Dominick Cruz tripped over their tongues and got tangled up in their own headsets.

For the purposes of this segment, Daniel Cormier and Dominick Cruz are interchangeable, and thus should be put together. They are both active fighters with a good knowledge of the other men and women on the roster, as well as being highly skilled athletes themselves. While Cruz may indeed be a soldier in the trenches of his own underhook war, his insights into the subtle nuances of striking and movement plunge far deeper than Rogan’s own ever could.

Same goes for DC. When a fight goes to the fence, or takedowns and wrestling ensue, I find myself nodding along to in-depth step-by-step dissections of what’s happening like I’m right there beside him with my own headset. Especially when he uses words like “Action”, to describe a move. “Action” just sounds so much more professional. “He completed that action”. How classy is that? Much like Cruz, however, DC does fall into the trap of repetition. Have a listen to his next event and count how many times he says, “Actually”. You’ll be surprised. And if I had a dollar for every time Cruz uses the term, “Made a good read,” I’d have enough money to buy a really nice lampshade.

Sure they all are very good in their own right, but having three dudes gabbling away like gossiping chickens is overkill, and that’s why they come in at number three.

The Ringers

Dan Hardy commentating the UFC

Coming in at a controversial second place is the English pairing of Dan Hardy and John Gooden. Now, before you throw your shoe, here’s the reasoning.

These guys handle all the European cards, where every second fighter has an incomprehensible name. Saying them all fast and correctly without choking on your own tongue, on live TV, is no walk in the park. Blachowicz? Abdurakhimov? Omielanczuk? I can barely even type them correctly, let alone say them. The Euro events are generally less exciting, filled with new or obscure fighters, so they have the extra job of trying to make oftentimes yawn-inducing fights more interesting. Coming up with things to say after two dudes have been lying on top of each other for thirteen straight minutes takes a lot of skill and imagination, after all.

On one side you’ve got a solid color commentator and ex-fighter in Hardy who, like DC and Cruz, knows what he’s talking about in every possible scenario a fight might find itself. Unlike those guys, and most of the other commentators on the roster, he’s impartial. You’re not a man, or a kid (grizzled 40-year-old heavyweights should not be called “kid” in any circumstance), or a girl, or a lady; you’re a goddamn fighter. You have no gender. He splits his time evenly between each one, too, and is almost always objective, no matter how one-sided a fight may be. To top it off, Hardy has added the patented Joe Rogan wordless scream whenever something exciting happens mid-fight, which has only rounded out his already solid commentary game nicely.

And on the other side there’s Gooden. A bit of an anomaly here, as he seems to be even less suited to his role than Mike Goldberg was. He sounds like he should be calling a greyhound meet, or a local bingo tournament, or reading out raffle winners in small grocery stores, or giving out solemn tax advice from a small office. And it’s for precisely this reason that he makes such a great MMA commentator. He tries really, really hard, and it comes through in his voice and preparation. His enthusiasm for his job is instantly apparent, and while his jokes may sound more awkward than a gypsy negotiating a home loan, he is full of interesting information about the locality and the fighters themselves, because he knows he doesn’t really have a lot else to say about the fights themselves. And when he gets in over his head, which is every few minutes, he’ll make an expert pass to Hardy who catches it and runs without hesitation. These two guys work just as well together as the next two, and it was a hard one to pick a winner.

The Stann and Anik show

Jon Anik and Brian Stann - The best UFC commentary team

That’s right, there can be only one winner. Or in this case two. Taking the top spot for all-time best commentary team (and my personal favorite but that’s got nothing whatsoever to do with the scoring) is All-American Brian Stann and his little buddy Jon Anik.

Listening to these two work was like lying down on a sun-drenched beach with a fruity drink with sugar crusted around the rim and listening to unobtrusive slow jazz. Where Stann was the solid, dependable layer of peanut butter, Anik’s well-practiced delivery was the jelly on top. In other words, a perfectly balanced combo that was both palatable and nutritious. They worked so well together that you were often tricked into thinking you were listening to two friends talking over drinks; the banter would flow thick and fast, and the sense that they were besties was palpable. Just like Spongebob and that weird pink starfish thing. Bless.

Stann himself was a fight veteran and a student of the game, and an all-around nice guy, too. His coverage of the fight as it happened was concise and informative, he seldom ranted about what a fighter should or shouldn’t do in any given situation, and he knew when to make all the right noises, ala Joe Rogan, but never overdid it. His passion shone through in his voice, and his humor was often subtle and severely underrated, especially when he could bounce his gags off the lightning-quick Anik. Much like Hardy, Stann took great pains to maintain objectivity, and his appraisal of a fighter’s choices or positions were always told in a positive light, even if that fighter was having a terrible performance.

Anik is a consummate professional in all aspects, and beyond that he’s busier than a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad, calling more events than anyone else on the roster. He came from commentating more conventional sports, and his smooth-tongued expertise is apparent, even if at times he gets a little lost in amongst the bigger personalities sitting next to him. Never so with Stann. They traded jabs like old pros and never would you hear a mishmash of voices as they competed for dominance.

Alas, Stann decided that calling the fight game wasn’t for him any longer, and he followed Goldie out the back door, leaving Anik to pick up the pieces as best he could. This pairing, as well as Rogan and Goldberg, represented the UFC’s golden age when it comes to commentating, and they will be missed as the new blood struggles to find its footing. The question is, who will be the next fighter to don the cheap suit and headset? And when will we see a woman sitting alongside Anik and Rogan on a big PPV card, and who might that woman be?

Leave your thoughts in the honesty box and I’ll check them later.

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