Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Best and Worst MMA Announcers

By Brad Oremland

Five Quick Hits

* Kudos to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission for overturning the result of Charles Oliveira vs. Nik Lentz, due to an illegal knee missed by referee Chip Snider. It's a pleasant surprise when an athletic commission actually does the right thing in this sort of situation.

* Boos for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission for allowing tools like Snider and Mark Matheny to referee mixed martial arts. Charlie Brenneman was probably going to beat Rick Story at UFC Live 4 anyway, but Matheny stood up the fight while Story was working on a Kimura. I've written before about the need for more stand-ups in MMA, but not in the middle of a submission attempt.

* When we first heard Nate Marquardt's side of his release from the UFC — both the UFC and PSAC knew that he was undergoing testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) — I felt like he'd gotten kind of a raw deal. The more I learn about the background, the more I understand the UFC's position.

* It will be interesting to see whether Nate the Great ends up in Bellator (where he'd still have to deal with the athletic commissions) or Japan. I don't think the UFC is going to take him back.

* Sweet heaven, Tito Ortiz has a gigantic head. Dude, Bigfoot Silva thinks your dome is enormous.

***

UFC 132 was a great card, top to bottom, with a few surprises and (as always) some really questionable judging. Most fans, myself included, felt that Dominick Cruz deserved his victory in the headline fight, but Sal D'Amato scored it 50-45. That's probably not quite as bad as Douglas Crosby's infamous 50-45 in Edgar/Penn I, but it's pretty bad. Come on Sal, even Cecil Peoples thinks that's a crappy job of judging. It was an awfully close fight.

Earlier in the evening, Dennis Siver won a very controversial decision over Matt Wiman, and some jackass scored the first round of Andre Winner vs. Anthony Njokuani as only a 10-9 for Njokuani. Does this person realize they're allowed to score rounds 10-8? I thought Winner's corner was going to throw in the towel, the way their guy was eating knees and power punches. The Siver/Wiman contest highlighted, for about the millionth time, that the 10-point must system doesn't fit MMA. Siver may have edged the first and third rounds, but Wiman dominated the second. Overall, Wiman had the better, more dominant performance. Round-by-round scoring gave the fight to Siver. That's not bad judging so much as a bad system.

Fortunately, this card was filled with exciting finishes that spared us from the stupefying incompetence of the state of Nevada judges. Rafael dos Anjos, Melvin Guillard, and Carlos Condit won consecutive fights by knockout. Condit's, technically a TKO, featured a sensational flying knee, maybe the cleanest connection I've seen since Jose Aldo ruined Cub Swanson at WEC 41. Chris Leben also won by knockout, breaking the hearts of Wanderlei Silva fans in just :27, and Tito Ortiz won by submission for the first time since his 2000 victory over Yuki Kondo at UFC 33. That's right, a gap of 100 UFC events between subs for the Huntington Beach Bad Boy.

Cruz's next title defense probably should come against Brian Bowles, who improved to 10-1 with a unanimous decision over Takeya Mizugaki. For Faber, let's see that fight against Miguel Torres we've all waited so long for. Condit, who won Knockout of the Night for that wicked flying knee, has earned his title shot, and should face the winner of Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz.

There are several options for Leben, including Mark Muñoz, Vitor Belfort, and recently-unsuspended Chael Sonnen. As for his opponent ... the reliably entertaining Ben Fowlkes has convinced me: Wanderlei Silva should stop fighting. We all love the guy, and there's nothing quite like seeing an arena go dark and hearing "Sandstorm" play as he walks in. As with Chuck Liddell, the issue is a pattern of knockout losses. Wandy can still throw, but at best, his chin has become a liability, and at worst, he's putting his health in serious jeopardy.

Grading MMA Announcers

We love them, we hate them. How do they rank? Looking at the regular announcing teams for the UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator, and HDNet (which airs English commentary for most major Japanese events), here's how I grade them, starting with the play-by-play guys:

Michael Schiavello: A-

I know some people won't like this. A lot of people can't stand The Voice. I think he's funny, often intentionally and occasionally otherwise. His bombastic delivery, overwrought puns, and weird chemistry with Frank Trigg all work for me. Plus, he knows the sport and the fighters he's commenting on. Schiavello is often ridiculous, but almost never stupid and rarely outright wrong.

Sean Wheelock: B+

Like Schiavello, he understands the sport and enhances the commentary offered by his partner in the booth. Wheelock isn't going to blow anyone away, but he's professional and gets the job done. He doesn't have Schiavello's enthusiasm and showmanship, but I'm glad he isn't trying to be something he's not.

Mike Goldberg: B-

The strongest point in his favor is his chemistry with announcing partner Joe Rogan. Goldie occasionally says things that don't make any sense, and he sometimes tells stories when he should really be describing the action in the cage. His identification of techniques is limited to the really obvious stuff like Kimuras and superman punches, but he at least appreciates the sport, and he's not annoying the way some announcers can be.

Mauro Ranallo: D+

I don't get Showtime, so I watch Strikeforce events with a friend who does. He can't stand Mauro. I tolerate him, but I understand why my buddy doesn't. The man is visibly trying too hard. If he would tone down the bombast, go easy on his attempts to make everything epic, and be a little less bold with his pronouncements, he might be okay. Right now, he's not much fun to listen to.

Gus Johnson: F

In football, Johnson is merely a bad announcer, maybe a C-, maybe even a little higher given that I'm biased against him for being such a turd in MMA. He is an abomination as a mixed martial arts announcer, and it is unforgivable that Viacom/Showtime still have him working MMA events. He has absolutely no idea what he's talking about, and his commentaries on Seth Petruzelli vs. Kimbo Slice and the Strikeforce Nashville Brawl will live in infamy. Plus, he has got to stop wearing so much make-up. He looks like a grotesque combination of a mannequin, a clown, Rashad Evans, Michael Jackson in the late '90s, and Christy Turlington.

On to the analysts and color men...

Joe Rogan: A-

I suppose I've made my feelings on Rogan pretty clear at this point. I think his personal attacks and slurs against colleagues are unacceptable, and I think he's the best announcer in MMA. Rogan's strongest assets are his encyclopedic knowledge of grappling and genuine enthusiasm for the sport, both of which make him great to listen to. His willingness to speak his mind on referee errors (most recently, Matheny's stand-up of Story and Brenneman) and atrocious judging (most memorably, his rant against Keith Kizer and the Nevada State Athletic Commission following the atrocious judging in Leonard Garcia vs. Nam Phan) also rightly endear him to fans.

Rogan always seems to be wrong when he declares that a submission is "locked up" or "looks tight," but that's not really a big deal. He brings more to the table than anyone other announcer in the sport.

Frank Trigg: B

For reasons I can't entirely explain, Trigg has grown on me. Maybe it's just because he's such a fighter. He can't break down grappling the way Rogan can, he's not the most articulate guy in the world, and his insights into gameplans tend to be pretty limited, but he's fun to listen to. Schiavello and Trigg are probably my favorite announcing team right now.

Jimmy Smith: B

The Bellator announcing team is just kind of ... there. They're never terrible, never terrific. The announcing is solid. They know the fighters, and Smith is a decent analyst. I wish he would go easy on hyping the fighters, though. When he talks about Bellator's comeptitors being the best in the world, he has to know it's not true. I'm not asking the man to bash his own product, but it's easy enough to keep your mouth shut, or describe them as "great" instead of the "the best."

My other beef with Smith is his "unofficial scorecard" at the end of each round. Smith, who legitimately knows about MMA, tailors his scores far too much to how he expects clueless judges to score the fight, and too little to how it ought to be scored. He also grows increasingly sure of his scores as the fight goes on. At the end of the first round, he'll admit that the scoring could go either way, and by the end of the fight he's shocked if anyone scored it differently than he did.

Frank Shamrock: C

In comparison to his broadcast partners, Johnson and Ranallo, Shamrock is the pro. He makes fewer ridiculous comments about fighters (and especially past opponents) now that he's retired, and sometimes he has genuinely interesting comments on the action or the fighters. It's tough to tell what he'd be like on a professional broadcast.

I know I didn't grade Bas Rutten or Pat Miletich. Deal with it. Neither one regularly announces major events. And yes, they're both pretty good. We all love Bas.

July 2011 UFC Rankings

The rankings below are exclusively for the UFC, so you won't see names like Eddie Alvarez or Dan Henderson on these lists.

Heavyweight (206-265 lbs)

1. Cain Velasquez
2. Junior Dos Santos
3. Brock Lesnar
4. Shane Carwin
5. Frank Mir
6. Brendan Schaub
7. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
8. Roy Nelson
9. Matt Mitrione
10. Mike Russow

Make It Happen: Lesnar vs. winner of Schaub/Nogueira

Lesnar's health permitting, of course. Otherwise, I guess Carwin or Mir could fill the gap. I also think Mitrione vs. Cheick Kongo is a no-brainer at this point, unless the UFC thinks Mitrione is ready for someone like Carwin or Mir. He might be.

Thank You, UFC, For: Velasquez vs. Dos Santos

The heavyweight title fight that needs to happen. No date has been set, and their first matchup fell through, but this should happen as soon as Cain is healthy.

Light Heavyweight (186-205)

1. Jon Jones
2. Maurício "Shogun" Rua
3. Lyoto Machida
4. Rashad Evans
5. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
6. Forrest Griffin
7. Phil Davis
8. Vladimir Matyushenko
9. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
10. Matt Hamill

Make It Happen: Tito Ortiz vs. winner of Nogueira/Rich Franklin

A matchup of legends making one last run at a title. I still think Tito is done, but he's earned another shot against a relevant name in the division. He has not earned a rubber match with Forrest.

Thank You, UFC, For: Griffin vs. Rua

This is a rematch that makes sense. The winner will probably face Evans, Davis, or Machida with a title shot on the line.

Middleweight (171-185)

1. Anderson Silva
2. Yushin Okami
3. Brian Stann
4. Michael Bisping
5. Mark Muñoz
6. Demian Maia
7. Vitor Belfort
8. Jason "Mayhem" Miller
9. Chris Leben
10. Jorge Santiago

Chael Sonnen and Alan Belcher will return to this list when they get fights on their calendars. Sonnen recently became a felon, but the California State Athletic Commission has finally reinstated him following a suspension unrelated to his criminal activities. Belcher hasn't fought in a year, though he's expected to face Jason MacDonald in September.

Make It Happen: Maia vs. winner of Belfort/Sexyama

Maia, coming off a very close loss to Muñoz, is still a contender at 185. The winner of the bout between Belfort and Yoshihiro Akiyama remains relevant in the middleweight division, while the other either retires or starts fighting the C.B. Dollaways of the world.

Thank You, UFC, For: Silva vs. Okami

Okami has been waiting a long time for his chance at the title. The last man to defeat the Spider finally gets his shot at UFC 134 in Brazil.

Welterweight (156-170)

1. Georges St-Pierre
2. Nick Diaz
3. Jon Fitch
4. Jake Shields
5. B.J. Penn
6. Carlos Condit
7. Josh Koscheck
8. Martin Kampmann
9. Diego Sanchez
10. Rick Story

Make It Happen: Fitch vs. Penn II

I'm normally not crazy about rematches, but these guys are both contenders, and neither one can really move on with that draw hanging over them. Besides, the first fight was a barnburner.

Thank You, UFC, For: St-Pierre vs. Diaz

This was the only fight left for GSP at 170. Condit may be ready, and Jon Fitch is pretty close to earning a second shot at the champ, but as soon as Zuffa acquired Strikeforce, this simply had to happen.

Lightweight (146-155)

1. Frankie Edgar
2. Gray Maynard
3. Jim Miller
4. Sean Sherk
5. Ben Henderson
6. Melvin Guillard
7. Clay Guida
8. Anthony Pettis
9. Donald Cerrone
10. Dennis Siver

Make It Happen: Guillard vs. Guida

I know, they both train with Greg Jackson, and his guys are a bunch of a-holes about fighting each other. Do you kids want a title shot or not? As long as Sherk continues to have better things to do than compete, this is the only fight available to move these guys up the ladder. Otherwise, I guess you give Siver a rematch with Guillard, and have Guida fight Sam Stout or Joe Lauzon or somebody.

Thank You, UFC, For: Miller vs. Henderson

Please, please give Miller a title shot if he wins. Unless you give it to Gilbert Melendez. That's okay, too. By the way, Melendez fighting Jorge Masvidal for the Strikeforce belt? Laughable. Masvidal is best known for getting choked out by Toby Imada, and his most impressive win was over K.J. Noons, who isn't exactly Miller or Henderson. Outside of the heavyweight division, Strikeforce is getting really hard to take seriously. I'd rather see Melendez rematch Shinya Aoki, or take a fight at 170 or something. Masvidal looked great against Noons, but one good fight shouldn't earn him a shot at the champ.

Featherweight (136-145)

1. Jose Aldo
2. Mark Hominick
3. Kenny Florian
4. Chad Mendes
5. Dustin Poirier
6. Diego Nunes
7. Erik Koch
8. Tyson Griffin
9. Manny Gamburyan
10. Rani Yahya

Make It Happen: Poirier vs. Griffin

Poirier is a rising star; Griffin is an established veteran in the UFC. This is win-win for the UFC. Either Poirier makes a name off someone everybody knows, or Griffin rises up the ranks at 145 by beating the fast-rising youngster.

Thank You, UFC, For: Aldo vs. Florian

I don't understand why some people would rather see Aldo fight Mendes than KenFlo. Florian has proven he's a competitive fighter at any weight class. Mendes has proven he's a pretty good wrestler.

Bantamweight (126-135)

1. Dominick Cruz
2. Urijah Faber
3. Joseph Benavidez
4. Brian Bowles
5. Miguel Torres
6. Demetrious Johnson
7. Eddie Wineland
8. Scott Jorgensen
9. Brad Pickett
10. Takeya Mizugaki

Make It Happen: Cruz vs. Bowles

Their first fight ended prematurely when Bowles broke his hand and couldn't continue. That remains the only defeat for Bowles, who has victories over Damacio Page, Takeya Mizugaki, and Miguel Torres.

Thank You, UFC, For: Kid Yamamoto vs. Damacio Page

A pair of former top-10 bantamweights trying to rebound from losses. This bout is not official yet, but it's expected to take place at UFC 135 in Denver. The matchup should create fireworks, and the winner is back in the mix at 135.

UFC 133 and Strikeforce: Fëdor vs. Henderson

In almost exactly a month, Rashad Evans, who has fought only once in the last 18 months, faces Phil Davis at UFC 133. Evans, twice scheduled for title shots, had to wait while the champs rehabbed injuries, and now he has a tough fight just to stay in the title picture. Both fighters come from a wrestling background, but Davis probably will be the stronger wrestler inside the cage, so Evans may want to keep the fight standing and try to show off the power that led to knockouts of Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin. He could also try to use striking to set up the takedown and see what Davis can do off his back. I think Rashad's experience will take the day, but Davis is no pushover, and it could easily go the other way.

The other big fights, one of which appears on the televised portion of the undercard, are Franklin vs. Nogueira, Belfort vs. Akiyama, and Mendes vs. Yahya. The first four are legends coming off losses. Realistically, I doubt any of them will contend for a UFC title again, but they're popular, talented fighters who won't fail to put on a show. Mendes has been hailed as the next big thing at 145 pounds, and Yahya is actually a really interesting test for him. On paper, Mendes is the far superior competitor, but Mendes' strength — wrestling — plays into Yahya's: submissions. Will Mendes use his wrestling to keep the fight standing and show off improved striking (no), or will he go for takedowns anyway and hug Yahya into positions where he can't be attacked, for an agonizing 15 minutes (yes)?

None of these matches are easy to pick. I'm pretty confident that Mendes will win, but the oddsmakers are, too, so there's no profit in that one. The odds I've seen list Mendes somewhere between -550 and -625. That's not even worth the risk of adding it to your parlay. Remember how you thought Ryan Bader was an easy way to make that UFC 132 parlay a little richer? Stay away from this one.

In a strictly non-monetary way, I like Evans, Little Nog, Belfort, and Mendes. If you're really interested in betting action on a card with no obvious bargains at this point, consider that Akiyama is about +230 against a guy with only one win in the last 2½ years. Oddsmakers are saying there's not even a 1-in-3 chance that the judoka can pull this off. That's a pretty nice payday if Belfort isn't 100% or can't keep the fight off the mat.

Equally interesting from a gambling perspective is the July 30th Strikeforce card in Chicago. Fëdor Emelianenko (-240) is heavily favored to beat Dan Henderson (+200). Maybe I'm dismissing Fëdor too quickly after a fluke submission loss to Fabricio Werdum and a doctor's stoppage against a man who outweighted him by 50 pounds, but he's lost two in a row, and at +200 or so (depending on the site), Hendo looks pretty interesting to me.

That card also features women's 135-pound champion Marloes Coenen defending her title against Miesha Tate, plus a big middleweight bout between Tim Kennedy and Robbie Lawler, and a welterweight contest between Paul Daley and undefeated prospect Tyron Woodley, which hopefully should help clarify the title picture for the vacant Strikeforce welterweight belt. I'll go with Coenen, Kennedy, and Woodley.

Bellator Summer Series

Is the UFC's featherweight division stronger than Bellator's? Yes, of course it is. But not by much.

All four favorites advanced in the first round of the 145-pound tournament. Marlon Sandro, a former King of Pancrase and Sengoku champion, would be an immediate contender in the UFC. International prospects Ronnie Mann and Nazareno Malegarie lived up to the hype with a pair of impressive stoppage victories, and former lightweight contender Pat Curran beat Peruvian Luis Palomino with, of all moves, a Peruvian necktie. Any of those guys could fight in the UFC, as could current champ Joe Warren and top contender Patricio Freire.

The next round of the tournament airs on MTV2 on July 23. Sandro will take on Malegarie, Curran faces Mann, and Warren will defend his title against Freire. If you're a mixed martial arts fan, that's two hours of must-see TV right there, and it won't cost $50.

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