A good announcer can turn mere sport into a moment worthy of a time capsule. They clarify, contextualize and help the viewer understand exactly what's happening on the field of play.
Sometimes that comes in the form of detailed analysis. Other times, they do nothing more than yell at the monitor in joy and wonder. Sometimes that's all you can do.
Think Johnny Most during the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals, almost screaming "Havlicek stole the ball! Havlicek stole the ball!"
Think Al Michaels at the 1980 Olympics making sense of the impossible: "Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles?...Yes!"
But, while the great ones add something special to the contest they are calling, the bad ones can do more harm than good. They can confuse, obfuscate and misinform. The worst of the worst leave you reaching for the remote control and the power of the mute button.
Mixed martial arts, like all sports, has had its share of both good and bad announcers. I've sorted through my tape archives to pull out the five best—and the five worst—in the sport's history. Disagree? Let me know in the comments.
The former UFC champion doesn't have the most powerful pipes. At times it was even hard to hear him in the midst of a raucous show. But Couture understood exactly what was happening in the cage—and could express it clearly. That alone makes him one of the best ex-fighters to step into the booth.
The "Fight Professor" has been around the game for a long time. Best in his team with Mauro Ranallo and Pat Miletich in the Strikeforce Challengers series, he's capable of calling a variety of combat sports with precision and intelligence, always living up to his nickname.
Schiavello's main weakness is also his greatest strength—his exuberant commentary sometimes blurs the line between play-by-play and color. But there's no doubt he makes the fights fun. And, really, isn't that what it's all about?
The former UFC welterweight champion has done it all in the sport. He's not only fought his way to the top of the heap, but he's trained multiple world champions as well. That gives Miletich the kind of credibility many color commentators lack.
What makes Miletich special is his willingness to grow with the sport. MMA is very different than when Pat competed in the Octagon. But he realizes that and never stops learning and growing.
Call me a sucker for old-school MMA, but nothing beat hearing Osborne's gritty voice underneath an underground fight. He sounded like he gargled razor blades and chain smoked 100 packs of cigarettes a day—and it was perfect for calling fights in the basement of a gym or an abandoned warehouse.
Osborne was one of us, a huge part of the grass-roots movement that kept the sport alive when politicians and cable companies were trying to shut us down. Seeing him graduate and get a chance to call bouts in the UFC was pretty special. Better still? He was good.
Full disclosure—I was proud to count Blatnick, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist, as a friend and colleague. But I don't think that influenced his placement one bit. Blatnick earned his position on this list by growing into an excellent MMA broadcaster for the UFC, for both SEG and Zuffa.
When he first started, Blatnick was every bit as clueless as Jim Brown or Bill "Superfoot" Wallace. As clueless as we all were in the UFC's early days. But he was willing to learn, rolling on the mat with the likes of Frank Shamrock to understand what exactly was going on once the fight hit the mat.
It was that attention to detail, and a love for the sport that led him to take a lead role in its regulation and eventually legalization around the country, that made Jeff special. Blatnick passed away in October, 2012.
MMA fans definitely have a love/hate relationship with Ranallo. Some enjoy the way he drops in references to pro wrestling and pop culture, making the broadcasts feel current and vibrant. For fans of word play, it often comes in the form of a witty pun.
Others find him over-the-top and, frankly, corny.
As you can tell by his placement on my list, I love his style. His bombast matches the sport perfectly. MMA is over-the-top, making Ranallo the perfect fit for a sport a little on the wild side.
Joe Rogan gets criticized by fans of MMA. Criticized a lot.
Some of that is warranted.
He does tend to get tunnel vision and focus in on what he thinks should be happening rather than the action that is actually taking place in front of him.
He does have pet rants—about everything from athletic cups to the 10-point must system.
He does tend to play favorites, sometimes skewing what is happening in a fight, consciously or not, to favor his fighter.
So what is he doing at the top of this list?
Simply put, his enthusiasm and knowledge of this sport are second-to-none. He has a gift for explaining what is happening in a fight. And when he gets excited about something, it's contagious. The viewer at home feels it too.
That's the sign of a special announcer.
Like Rogan, Goldberg takes a lot of heat from UFC fans. Unlike Rogan, he deserves it.
Because of Goldberg, Rogan is often forced into the awkward position of calling the action and providing the expert commentary. While I recognize that Goldberg is responsible for a variety of plugs, time cues and various miscellany, so is every other play-by-play man in every other sport. They somehow manage to keep the broadcast running smoothly and add something of value. Goldberg doesn't and can't.
There was a time Bas Rutten was considered the best announcer in MMA. Why that is, exactly, I can't quite remember.
He's over-the-top, cheesy and hasn't kept up with the sport the way he needed to in order to stay relevant. Still amusing in small doses, listening to Rutten call the action for hours at a time is likely a violation of the Geneva Convention.
Harris has no redeeming qualities. He was an albatross around the neck of every World Extreme Cagefighting broadcast and can currently be heard mucking things up for World Series of Fighting.
He's like a version of Mike Goldberg who hasn't been watching MMA fights for 15 years. And that's scary.
"These things happen in MMA."
Five words, spoken in the aftermath of an unfortunate in-cage melee between Team Cesar Gracie and Jason "Mayhem" Miller, were all it took for Johnson to lose his audience. Likely forever.
For more than a decade, MMA promoters, fighters and fans had been trying to convince the world that, no, these things did not happen in MMA. With a single sentence, Johnson sent us all back to the dark ages.
"Here we are with Seraldo Babalu, you did an awesome job, saw why you’re a black belt in jiu-jitsu, getting an awesome submission there, I want to tell me what you see, let’s go ahead and see by the fight, what you saw, in the ring."
That mangled, rambling diatribe (transcribed by Cage Potato) managed to butcher not just Renato Sobral's name, but the entire English language. And that was one of Ortiz's most coherent moments during his stint as a commentator for Affliction. The absolute worst.