The Sad, Not Brave New World Of UFC Commentary
Since the UFC came under new majority ownership about a year ago, change has overtaken the world's leading MMA promotion.
While fans have lamented a wave of fighter defections, matchmaking letdowns, and paper-thin interim titles, one of the most visible manifestations of the UFC's priorities and values seemingly changing under its new ownership has come in the form of broadcast talent. To put it simply, the quality of UFC broadcasts has become suddenly diminished by no small amount.
The reason for this is almost entirely because of recent commentary firings and hires by the UFC's new owners, WME-IMG. The brief argument that follows isn't a critique of the rhetoric, delivery, or any other such technical components of UFC commentary team members.
It isn't even directed at the majority of those broadcast professionals. The criticism draws upon the recent commentary of just two of them -- rapper Snoop Dogg and former professional wrestling announcer Todd Grisham.
Really, though, it isn't about either of them -- it's about the poor judgment of a promotion and company that allowed these two men to call and analyze UFC fights in the first place. Again, it isn't either commentator's voice pitch or linguistic skills that thoughtful fight fans should, and have, taken issue with so far.
In a broad sense, the three most essential things any sporting broadcaster can bring to their work are 1) Knowledge 2) Respect of the sport, its participants, and what they are doing, and 3) Overall professionalism.
Without those first three pillars, however, vocal stylings are the sports broadcast equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig.
Knowledge has sadly been a tough category to truly check off, at least among play-by-play announcers historically in MMA. Few former or current coaches and fighters have gone into any form of broadcasting, and when they do, they have rarely filled that specific role.
Instead, booming-voiced pan-sport broadcasters usually fill the play-by-play role. Most of the time, such people have had little to no experience with the sport of MMA, even as casual observers, when they begin to call the fights.
Smart ones do what they can (over time taking martial arts classes, interviewing coaches and fighters regularly, reading up, and watching fight film) to eventually build a knowledge base. But still, because so few play-by-play MMA announcers actually have expertise in the sport, the next two pillars become ever more important.
Neither Snoop Dogg nor Grisham came into his new role as a UFC broadcast commentator with any apparent knowledge of MMA. As discussed above, however, that isn't particularly notable.
What is truly unfortunate is how, in just a short time, both men have demonstrated a penchant for both subtly and overtly disrespecting MMA athletes. In doing so, they've also revealed a sad disrespect for the sport on the whole and a basic disregard for anything resembling professionalism.
Among other eye-roll inducing transgressions, Grisham notably prompted analysts during a recent segment by asking, essentially, "Just how bad a fighter is BJ Penn?"
Last month, Grisham also made his unfamiliarity with MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba known to the world by giving the Japanese warrior a different surname altogether while announcing his induction into the UFC Hall of Fame.
Of course, BJ Penn isn't a "bad" fighter. In fact the former two-weight world champion is one of the best, pound-for-pound, that the sport has ever seen.
As fighters often do, Penn just decided to fight on for years past when his reflexes started to fade. Any half-observant sports fan understands the effect of aging and injuries over the course of a long career on any athlete, yet Grisham's commentary work covering Penn didn't give indication that he possesses that base-level comprehension.
We all begin learning somewhere. However, it doesn't take expert knowledge of MMA to do one's homework and correctly announce the name of a world-famous fighter (a couple Google searches and watching a fight or two on UFC Fight Pass should do the trick).
It takes basic professionalism.
In both instances, Grisham's work demonstrated both ignorance and disrespect. Mistakes happen when speaking for minutes and hours on end, but discussing a fighter's career in a flippant manner is never a mistake -- it's profound disrespect.
So was Snoop Dogg's slur of former UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier during a recent appearance on UFC Fight Pass with co-broadcaster Urijah Faber. The rapper called Cormier "a bitch."
Of course, Snoop Dogg was wrong, literally and metaphorically. Beyond that, it takes a particularly malicious and unprofessional mindset to insult and dismiss an athlete so summarily.
Grisham's offenses of ignorance, lack of even basic preparation for broadcast nights, and passive-aggressive insults show he certainly isn't qualified to hold his current position. Snoop Dogg's comments were a more direct affront -- though I bet he wouldn't have repeated the insult to Cormier's face.
It's clear neither Grisham nor Snoop Dogg are competent or qualified MMA broadcast commentators. Firing either or both of them -- as UFC fighters such as Matt Brown and Al Iaquinta have already called for in the case of Snoop Dogg -- then makes sense. However, it still wouldn't cut to the core of the real problem -- that the UFC is now owned and run by people who think putting them in front of microphones and cameras was a good idea from the start.