If you've watched fighters square off in a ring or a cage in the last decade, chances are you've heard the booming voice of play-by-play announcer Mauro Ranallo. As the lead voice for both Showtime Championship Boxing and Pride Fighting Championships, Ranallo has brought his infectious enthusiasm and endless energy to some of the biggest fights in combat sports history, including the epic Manny Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather fight this summer.
Now, after three decades in the industry, Ranallo has a chance to live a dream. He'll continue his work in combat sports with a significant addition. On January 7, 2016, the longtime pro wrestling fan will take over as WWE SmackDown's lead announcer when the program moves to the USA Network.
Bleacher Report caught up with Ranallo on Monday, his first day on the job, to get an idea of what the future holds for WWE's other flagship show.
Bleacher Report: To steal a phrase from your book, "Mamma mia!"
Mauro Ranallo: This is the one time everyone might say that. I am still over the moon, my man. Needless to say. I think you know from our conversations how much this opportunity means. I'm excited about starting this journey and seeing where it takes us.
B/R: The last time we talked it was about Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. The biggest fight of our lifetime and you were on the call. A culmination of a career in many ways. But while we ran down all your successes, I think we both knew there was something missing. This was that something wasn't it?
Ranallo: Absolutely Jonathan. One hundred percent right...(pause).
B/R: This is big.
Ranallo: I'm getting emotional, believe it or not. When I was five years old, as you know, my parents immigrated from Italy, not knowing the language. One of the things we all shared, as a family, was sports entertainment. It's something that's been woven through our family fabric for years.
I was blessed to start my career as part of this industry. And now, after 30 years of living different dreams and loving every second, at 45...the grand daddy of them all...the one that got away for so long, lands in my lap.
B/R: How did that come about? I've seen your name attached to many rumors over the years, but never WWE. This came out of nowhere it seems?
Ranallo: The way this came about was really humbling. To receive an email from Michael Cole about a month ago, who is now not only a peer, but someone I will be leaning on over and over again to learn the lay of the land. To be welcomed by Vince McMahon and Triple H and Stephanie and everyone.
I've only been here a few short hours, my first day on the job, and everyone has made me feel like a family member instantly. To see someone like Renee Young, whom I worked with in Toronto and to see the smile on her face as I went to give her a hug—it's truly a fairy tale. It's unbelievable; it truly is.
B/R: This is everything you wanted isn't it?
Ranallo: You visualize it and work to set yourself up for these kinds of opportunities. And when they come to fruition—I'm like a kid at Christmas. I'm just walking around here with my mouth agape that I'm part of this incredible entertainment entity. ...
It's surreal. Being involved in my first meeting, obviously I can't go into details, but I have a real good feeling about all of this. I feel really, really good and really emboldened by what I've seen and their attitude and their vision for the future. I think we're not only entering a new era on USA, but in WWE. I think people will be pleasantly surprised.
B/R: Sounds like you've hit the ground sprinting. Are you already on the road?
Ranallo: For the next few weeks, I'm actually going to be at every Raw and every SmackDown taping. I'm in Philadelphia right now watching the broadcast and taking notes and taking advice. And then for SmackDown I'll actually be sitting next to Michael Cole as he runs the broadcast with Jerry Lawler and Booker T.
For the next few weeks, I'm going to be a shadow and doing my best to get up to speed on everything. Then beginning on January 7, I'll be on Thursday nights on USA as the voice of SmackDown.
B/R: You have a very distinct voice. Whether you are calling boxing on Showtime or Pride Fighting Championships or New Japan Pro Wrestling, there's no doubting the production is going to have your trademark style and energy.
I've seen some concern online that you might lose some of that with WWE. Do you think you'll be a square peg in the proverbial round hole? Will you be the Mauro Ranallo we love? Or will you meet on middle ground?
Ranallo: I truly believe they hired me. And from everything I've heard, they want me to be me with some tweaks. That's to be expected.
No matter what job I've undertaken, whether it was Glory Kickboxing or Strikeforce or Pride Fighting Championships or Showtime Championship Boxing, you have to play by the rules of the company you work for.
In terms of my style, I believe they want me to be a hybrid of Michael Cole and Jim Ross, which suits me fine. I know SmackDown, moving forward in the next year, is going to be about the talented Superstars and Divas and what they can do in the ring.
B/R: That sounds right up your alley.
Ranallo: I think WWE knows what they get in me as far as my passion and my storytelling ability. They want me to call sports entertainment the way I've called it over the past three decades. There's a lexicon and certain things I'll have to get used to, but that's been true of any job I've been involved in. WWE wants the Mauro Ranallo everyone either loves...or doesn't.
B/R: (Laughs) With you coming on board and with SmackDown moving to the USA Network, I get the sense that big things are coming? Will SmackDown have it's own vibe and energy in 2016? Is that the goal?
Ranallo: I'm getting that feeling. It's a brand-new platform, and it's great to have both programs under one umbrella at the USA Network.
I get the sense they want to make it kind of a hybrid between Raw, the flagship show with all the storylines and great performances from our Superstars in the ring, and what's happening in NXT. That's really been a phenomenon, and I'm a huge proponent of that style of storytelling.
I think if SmackDown can become a hybrid of the two, we'll have a winning formula regardless of who's on the microphone. But since it's going to be me, I love that it's playing to my strengths. I think they want to set us all up to succeed.
It's going to be a new look and a new sound with the move to USA on Thursday, January 7.
B/R: When you think about the classic wrestling matches, you don't just think about the performers in the ring. Whether it was Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan, Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura or Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, the announce team can have a huge impact on how we perceive a match.
I'm not being flippant at all when I say that's a huge responsibility. Do you feel that pressure?
Ranallo: I do. But I've been able to call the highest levels of combat sports, whether it was mixed martial arts in Japan, which has many similarities to the pomp and pageantry of WWE or whether it was calling Floyd "Money" Mayweather pay-per-views with everything he's borrowed from WWE and sports entertainment.
I think it's going to benefit me that it's happening now and not sooner. Because of my past experience, and dare I say, the credibility I might bring to the broadcast from being a legitimate combat sports announcer.
It's sports entertainment, and I love both aspects. I'm a huge sports fan, and I'm a huge entertainment fan. As you know, I'm a bit of a ham. I am a bit of a dynamic personality and have the ability to use my vocabulary in some creative ways. I think this is a perfect fit.
Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.