Warning: This article contains extended discussion of mental illness, which may be distressing for some readers.
After calling the biggest fight in combat sports history, a shirtless Mauro Ranallo is sitting in his hotel room reading tweets from fans applauding his work. Unwilling to accept the compliments for his colorful announcing of Floyd Mayweather's record-breaking showdown with Manny Pacquiao, he begins to have a breakdown.
"I'm a f--king prisoner to my own f--king mind," Ranallo says in the harrowing scene of the forthcoming Showtime documentary Bipolar Rock N' Roller, which airs May 25. "If I can't appreciate tonight, then I'm going to f--king kill myself. I'm done. I'm not doing well, man."
His seamless transition from laughter to sobbing in these fleeting moments is troubling. But it's who Ranallo is. And that is arguably the best combat sports commentator in the business, who also happens to suffer from bipolar disorder, and these episodes are simply a part of his life. (Trailer below is NSFW.)
Ranallo is prepared to show the world what it's like to deal with mental health issues while living out his dream as the first broadcaster to call boxing, MMA, kickboxing and professional wrestling. It's a message to those who suffer in silence that they don't have to any longer. Also of importance: They can still be successful with mental illness.
"There is a beauty and a special quality in being what I am," Ranallo tells Bleacher Report. "I know it and I've learned how to use it."
The cliche "a gift and a curse" is is often overused. But in Ranallo's case, it is a bit of both at their most extreme.
The 48-year-old, whose distinct style flows with an endless stream of animated pop-culture references coupled with a staggering knowledge of pro wrestling, boxing and mixed martial arts, has managed life with the condition since his diagnosis at the age of 19.
Most wouldn't know, considering bipolar disorder isn't something that can necessarily be heard when Ranallo passionately paints a picture of the action taking place in front of him. But there's a part of his disorder that actually allows him to absorb so much information and thread it into his commentary unlike any other broadcaster. Then there's the darker part, when he routinely slips into depression. The ebbs and flows are extreme.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are elements of a manic episode that include increased activity levels and trouble sleeping. Those moments are what Ranallo has used in his preparation—sleepless nights studying combatants and digging for information to use during a broadcast.
"I love the preparation before a fight," Ranallo says. "I love to research, and the process of finding little-known information to use when I'm calling a fight is incredible for me."
Fortunately, we're in a time in which mental health issues can be openly discussed. If nothing else, he hopes that this documentary will provide a beacon of light for those who are dealing with similar issues.
"I'm just trying to smash stigma," he says. "I want everyone who is dealing with a mental health issue to know that they can do anything that they want. But for me to truly depict this message, you have to see what mental illness looks like in its rawest form."
Bipolar disorder is comprised of two extremes that Ranallo has managed to balance in his line of work. When he's at his most energetic is when he's also at his most entertaining. Those are the moments we hear when he's performing. But when it all comes crashing down during depressive episodes where he feels like he can't enjoy anything, it leaves him feeling empty.
"I'm a perfectionist and my own worst critic," he says. The fact that he's so harsh on himself is the reason why he is never complacent, no matter how big of a stage he is on. He admits that it can be dangerous. but it's also a sublime motivator that creates an insatiable drive. "I'm not a fan of my own work. People ask why I do it. but it's because I actually love what I'm doing in the moment. I live for it. It's a release."
At times, it's downright frightening watching the beloved commentator suffer with these internal demons. At the very least, witnessing his struggle may help people understand this disease, unlike the era in which Ranallo grew up, when mental health was considered a myth.
"I was like everyone else [when I first realized something was wrong] and didn't want to acknowledge it," Ranallo says.
The tipping point was when his best friend, Michael Janzen, died of a heart attack in 1989. Ranallo was only 19, but the world was quickly collapsing around him. The traumatic moment exasperated his condition and led to hospitalization for "delirium." Ranallo knew something was wrong, but he didn't know exactly what it was. He was cutting his teeth as a pro wrestling commentator with dreams of calling the action for major sports. It was a dream he would eventually realize, but overwhelming success led to depression that affected everyone around him. He didn't know how to fix it.
"I remember a time when I self-medicated and was drunk 42 days in a row," Ranallo says. "My family and relationships paid the price, and I was headed toward a dangerous ending. It wasn't until 2003 when I finally acknowledged the fact that I needed help."
Although he has been in and out of hospitals from 1989 to the present day, Ranallo managed to find success in the world of sports broadcasting. By 2003, he was the voice of lauded Japanese MMA promotion Pride Fighting Championships.
In 2006, he met a video editor through work, Haris Usanovic, who wanted to document Ranallo's life. He was filmed at his best and worst for a decade, and the commentator decided that showing his struggle would be therapeutic to and help others suffering, as well as their family and friends. After all, not even those closest to Ranallo could comprehend what he was going through.
"As much as they have supported me, I don't think my parents fully understand," he says. "It's frightening to me. There is still no real mental health pill. Doctor's tell you to take pills not knowing why they work. Acknowledging my illness is finally when it started making sense for me and I was able to acknowledge it openly."
For a commentator who has worked for Pride FC, Elite Xtreme Combat, Strikeforce, New Japan Pro-Wresting on AXS, Showtime Championship Boxing and more, the crown jewel of his career came in 2015, when the WWE hired him to be a commentator on SmackDown Live. They even called Ranallo "the voice of SmackDown."
The dream had finally been realized, only for his mental illness to nearly derail what he worked so hard for. The workload and unforgiving travel schedule began to take a toll on Ranallo.
"I thought I could handle it," he says. "No matter how much we prepare ourselves, there's only so much one can take. For me, the 52 weeks on the road reared its ugly head one night in a weather delay before going to Pittsburgh for Smackdown Live. ... The schedule and stress of being on the road and then having to do boxing or MMA on the weekend [hit me]. I thought I was capable, but it wasn't good for my mental health. I was mentally tired."
But a theme throughout Ranallo's career is that there has been a support group willing to work with his disorder and unafraid to help him navigate these issues. And what worked best then was moving Ranallo to NXT, where he would only work one day out of the month for taped weekly shows and would still be onboard to call the popular NXT TakeOver specials.
"I thought it was over for me in the WWE, and I was fine with that," he says. "But I was so lucky to have people like Triple H and Michael Cole wanting to keep me under the umbrella and find a way to make it work. When I first got hired, I actually joked, 'Was this for NXT?' Because I loved it. It's been an incredible fit to be on NXT, and I don't see myself ever leaving, to be honest."
Ranallo says what gets him through each day is a true love for what he does. In the video below of Ranallo calling a recent NXT TakeOver event is a man who doesn't know what "going through the motions" is. He is a true fan getting the opportunity to live out his dream, and he soaks up every moment.
"I find my work to be therapeutic," he says. "As debilitating as this mental condition can be off camera, when I put the headphones on to call a fight, that's when I felt truly free and could express all of these thoughts and feelings. I was like Linus and those headphones were my blue security blanket."
Ultimately, through all of the ups and downs, Ranallo is able to put his accomplishments into the proper perspective.
"In the period of a year, I called the WWE match of the year, boxing match of the year and two five-star matches in NXT," he says. "My work speaks for itself. I'm glad that not everyone likes it because it means that I'm doing something right. I don't want to be vanilla. I push the boundaries. I use the pop-culture references. I'm not everyone's proverbial cup of tea, and I'm glad."
Follow Andreas Hale on Twitter @AndreasHale.