The Great Divide is a recurring feature here at MMA Fighting in which two of our staff debate a topic in the world of MMA — news, a fight, a crazy thing somebody did, a crazy thing somebody didn’t do, or some moral dilemma threatening the very foundation of the sport — and try to figure out a resolution. We’d love for you to join in the discussion in the comments below.
The sound of crackling punches and snapping kicks are an essential part of the fight night experience, but one could argue that the voices calling the bouts cageside are just as vital.
It’s indisputable that the two-man commentary duo of Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg played a massive role in boosting the popularity of the UFC during the promotion’s boom period in the 2000s, their words and catchphrases still tied to numerous highlights that are replayed constantly to this day. However, these days, Rogan only works pay-per-views (which he will do this weekend at UFC 270 alongside Jon Anik and Daniel Cormier), Goldberg is a free agent again after a run with Bellator, and the UFC has made three-man commentary teams the new normal.
It now typically falls upon either Anik or Brendan Fitzgerald to steer the ship while accompanied by MMA greats like Cormier, Michael Bisping, Dominick Cruz, and Paul Felder. But what combination has worked the best over the past few years and which ones have us making strategic use of the mute button?
In this edition of The Great Divide, Alexander K. Lee and Jed Meshew give their take on the best current commentating trio, the worst, and who they’d seat at the desk if anything was possible.
Meshew: Let’s acknowledge right off the bat that being an MMA commentator is an extremely difficult job. Speaking for six hours straight is tough regardless of the topic, and doing so in a way that is expected to enhance the customer experience while also not stepping on any toes is like tap-dancing on a slackline. That’s why there are only a handful of people in the world who are any good at it. Fortunately, some of them currently work for the UFC.
Jon Anik is legitimately great at his job. He’s not perfect and his proximity to Joe Rogan over the years has caused him to adopt some bad tendencies — namely his infuriating habit of incorrectly using the word “consensus” when what he really means to say is “in my personal opinion” — but in the nuts and bolts of play-by-play, he nails it. He makes his reads without stepping on the action, he gives the color team room to breathe, and he accents the biggest parts of the night well. Any best commentary trio should include him.
The color role is much more difficult, as I think all of the UFC color guys have problems, but give me Michael Bisping. I think he’s the best post-fight interviewer the UFC currently has, plus he’s a good hang who doesn’t get too bogged down into details and mostly just helps to accent the bigger trends of the fight.
For the final spot, I’ll start by saying that I don’t think three-man booths are necessary and often they result in a too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen scenario, with people tripping over each other. But if we’re going to have a third, let’s round it out with Paul Felder. He’s engaging and convivial, but he doesn’t overdo it and is pretty good about not inserting himself into the action too much, which makes him optimal for a three-man booth.
Lee: You definitely can’t go wrong with Anik, Bisping, and Felder, but allow me a slight twist on that winning formula if you will. Sub out Bisping and throw in the champ-champ Daniel Cormier.
True, I have been highly critical of Cormier’s commentary (let’s just say I echo some of the sentiments of Dominick Cruz, who was not afraid to call out his coworker’s shortcomings as bluntly as possible), but I’ve always appreciated his genuine love of the game and unbridled enthusiasm. The latter can sometimes get in the way of him doing his job properly, but that’s what Anik and Felder are there for. When you have true pros like that on hand, they can keep Cormier in check while emphasizing his strengths.
I give Cormier the nod over Bisping in this particular grouping only because I feel that Cormier has the potential to raise the ceiling of a broadcast higher, while Anik and Felder can keep him from hitting the floor for the most part. Say what you want about Cormier, but he’s learned a lot from his pal Rogan, and that has endeared him to the fans. So this is a pick for the people.
Lee: Everyone knows I’m the Prince of Positivity around these parts, so it pains me to call folks out, and as Jed mentioned at the top of the previous section, you have to give props to pretty much anyone who takes on the unreasonable task of having to call live television for what’s the equivalent of a third of the time that most people spend awake on a daily basis. Cover something live that long you’re bound to drop plenty of stinkers on air.
That said, there are some combinations that just weren’t meant to be no matter how talented the individual parts are, and yes, I’m referring to this past weekend’s UFC Vegas 46 combination of Brendan Fitzgerald, Dominick Cruz, and Michael Bisping.
All three bring plenty of good to the commentary desk on any given night, whether it be Fitzgerald’s chummy exuberance, Cruz’s on-point analysis, and Bisping’s more carefree color commentating style. However, the truth is that Cruz and Bisping have what could kindly be described as negative chemistry when they’re working together.
Cruz and Bisping are like oil and water, with Cruz consistently determined to drive his comments home regardless of how quickly the action shifts in the cage, while Bisping is more inclined to let what’s in front of him dictate his next thought. When those two philosophies collide, it’s just not pleasant to listen to, resulting in a broadcast with little flow or even memorable soundbites. And Fitzgerald, as strong a voice as he is, struggles to make heads or tails of their exchanges just like the rest of us watching at home.
There’s no questioning the knowledge and expertise that Cruz and Bisping have, but until they can learn to compliment one another as opposed to repeatedly stepping on each other’s toes, I’m hoping that we don’t see this trio back cageside again unless absolutely necessary.
Meshew: I’m with you in that the Cruz-Bisping tandem simply doesn’t work, but I’ll do you one better: I hope we don’t see Cruz back at all as a commentator.
Cruz’s commentary is a mirror of his trash talk, which at the peak of his powers was among the best in the game: It’s well-researched, knowledgeable, and biting. But that is also why he is such a chore to have to listen to for seven hours. He’s like watching the fights with a guy who has $1,000 down on the outcome, only for Cruz that outcome is “everyone should fight exactly like me because I’m a genius and if they don’t then they are idiots.” And even when he is complimentary, there isn’t any real enthusiasm behind it, because that’s not who Cruz is. A good commentator needs to pass the Have-A-Beer-With-Him test, and Cruz fails miserably. Keep Dom on the desk as an analyst, where he is among the best in the world at the gig.
But the HABWH test isn’t the only thing a commentator needs to pass to be good, as my second choice for this team shows. Daniel Cormier is an enthusiastic and engaging dude, and he seems like a cool guy to grab a drink with, but seven drinks over the course of a full night? That’s a bridge too far. I can forgive Cormier’s lack of research, though it really is a bad look, but worse than that for me is his overenthusiasm. Cormier has fallen into the Mike Goldberg habit of treating every moment as the most thrilling thing to ever happen. This is better than Cruz’s hard-lined stoicism, but there have been plenty of times that Cormier’s inability to let a moment speak for itself has tempered my enjoyment, most notably with his famous “THUG ROSE” call. I know I’m on an island here, but I absolutely hated that and I’m not sure I ever forgave him for hamfistedly trodding all over a remarkable moment.
Rounding out my worst team is Rogan. Rogan is a seminal figure in the development of MMA, but he has been checked out for years now, and with actual fighters coming into the booth to provide real analysis, his role is even more negligible. Mostly Rogan is there to interview fighters and be excited, and there are other people much better than he is at both. Add in that in recent years Rogan has really gone all in on declaring every fighter who puts together a couple of title defenses as the greatest of all-time, and he’s really ruining my viewing experience more often than not.
Meshew: This is the part I’ve been waiting for because I have an unassailable team: John Gooden, Brian Stann, and Snoop Dogg.
First up, Brian Stann. I honestly don’t think there’s an argument for not including him in any fantasy line-up. Stann is the best commentator MMA has ever seen and I’m still bummed that when he decided to retire, the UFC didn’t make it worth his while to stick around, at least in some capacity.
Next up, the wildcard, Snoop D-O-Double G. I’ve angered many people with this one, but I’m cool with it because those people are nerds. When the Snoopcast debuted in 2017, it was one of the exceedingly rare times in history where the UFC actually did a fun, creative, and interesting thing. Of course, fans and fighters quickly crapped all over it because Snoop knew practically nothing about fighting, but I found the absurdity and the rugged frankness of it all rather refreshing. Snoop enjoyed fights in the same way as random guys at the table beside you at B-Dubs (Buffalo Wild Wings for the uninitiated), and that voice is noticeably absent from the UFC commentary team. Put him in the booth with two other commentators who are actually good at what they do and I think he will keep things lively without getting too out of pocket.
Finally, John Gooden. As mentioned above, I think Jon Anik is superb at the play-by-play role, but that doesn’t mean I think other UFC PBP guys are bad. In fact, I think Anik, Gooden, and Brendan Fitzgerald are all equally great in the role. And given that, for this specific booth, I want the Englishman calling the plays. I think he provides the most interesting fit of personalities with my other two commentators, and from a sheer auditory perspective, the contrast of Gooden’s British accent, Stann’s subtle Pennsylvania twang, and Snoop’s … well, generally Snoopery, would be spectacular.
Lee: Once again, Jed has taken this to a level that I cannot hope to reach, as it’s guaranteed that a regular commentary team featuring The Doggfather would be fascinating even if it turned out to be a complete trainwreck. I support it.
The other element that I can’t deny is that somehow drawing Brian Stann back into the fold would be such a boon for the MMA community. Yes, he gave his time inside and outside the cage and we should all be happy he’s moved on to greener pastures, but if there were some way that the UFC could bring him back into the fold, we’d love to see it.
So with your lead analyst in place, you need an effective play-by-play voice, and for the purposes of this exercise I’m stealing Sean O’Connell from the PFL. The former league champion and UFC veteran has taken to broadcasting like a natural while working alongside “The Natural” Randy Couture. He has a great sense of humor, knows how to get out of the way while still providing his own fighting insights, and just has that comforting air of professionalism that fit right in during the PFL’s time on ESPN.
Rounding out my squad would be someone that should be calling a UFC event sometime soon, Laura Sanko. The former fighter has become one of the most respected figures in the business with her work for Invicta FC and the UFC. She worked the commentary desk for a Contender Series show this past August and seems poised to tackle a live UFC event soon. Most importantly, she’s a fresh voice who is deeply invested in the current product, unlike some of the more jaded members of the current commentary rotation (see: Rogan, Joe), and knows everything about the Contender Series signees who comprise a significant portion of the roster now.
While our dream teams are unlikely to come to fruition exactly as designed here, one realistic prediction we can both agree on is that Sanko will be a major part of the UFC’s broadcasts going forward.
Who is your favorite UFC commentary trio?
Anik, Rogan, Cormier
Fitzgerald, Bisping, Felder
Anik, Cruz, Cormier
Anik, Rogan, Felder
Fitzgerald, Cruz, Cormier
Other (leave comment below)
0 votes total