By Giancarlo Aulino
Mike Goldberg, American play-by-play announcer who worked with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) from 1997 till 2017, signed up for Bellator MMA, debuting at Bellator 180.
In this episode of Beyond the Game, Correspondent Giancarlo Aulino speaks with Mike about his decision to sign with Bellator MMA. He also discusses what it felt like to be announcing MMA fights again, working with Joe Rogan for nineteen years in the UFC, and if he’d be interested in announcing National Hockey League (NHL) games in future.
Giancarlo: Mike, you signed with Bellator before their pay-per-view event in June 2017. How long did it take to come to terms on a deal? And what were some of the factors that led to you signing with the promotion?
Mike: Well you know, going to Bellator and going to Spike is like going home for me John. And so that part was established pretty early. Kind of like: Okay, you’re not returning to the UFC - hey Spike, hey Bellator, is there any interest? And their initial answer was of course, it’s a no brainer. And it’s funny, two decades in this business and I’ve never met Scott Coker. Twenty years in MMA and I have never actually met Scott Coker. And in mid-December it was actually Urijah Faber’s final fight, it was in Sacramento. And after that, my fiancé and I went into the Bay Area, she still lived there at the time. I’m a huge San Jose Sharks fan as you probably know and most of your listeners know. Big jumbo guy, love jumbo, love Burnsie, and we went to a game at the Shark Tank. Well it happened to be the same night that Scott Coker had a suite for his Bellator crew and it was their Christmas party. My fiancé had already met some of the people from the group and so I’m watching the game, I’m like I’m a hockey guy. And I get this text, come up to the suite Scott wants to meet you. I’m like Scott, like Scott Coker? She’s like yeah. Well, I went sprinting up of course and you know the interesting thing is it wasn’t public that I was not going to return to the UFC yet. Did Scott Coker know? You know maybe, because he pretty much knows everything. But we shook hands and he just said we need to talk, we should stay in touch, we need to talk. And I was like yeah, 100 per cent absolutely we need to talk. And so, we went back and forth for many months, it was always the destination that I wanted to land. And it just took a while. It just took a while because corporate stuff comes into it and they’re owned by Viacom, and you know I think we could have all had our way, I would have been on that first card. I would’ve been doing Tito and Chael at the Forum in January. But to start when I started, with the big show at Madison Square Garden, the pay-per-view and all the attention that was actually the perfect time. It wasn’t great for me six months waiting, but it was the perfect time as far as the big picture to make my Bellator debut.
Giancarlo: How did it feel to be announcing MMA fights again? And what were some of the things that impressed you the most about your first experience with Bellator?
Mike: Well I was just reinvigorated. Excited. I missed it, you know you don’t realize what you have until you don’t have it anymore. And I’m not speaking about the UFC in particular, I’m just talking about the sport of MMA, being around my friends, the excitement that comes with Mixed-Martial-Arts. I missed the buzz and immediately the buzz was there because it was at Madison Square Garden. It was a pay-per-view and a title fight that I called at Bellator 180.
And the thing that I noticed the most and what like warms my heart and will for the rest of my life, was just the honest and sincere fan after fan after fan who said welcome back-- The sport has missed you.
You are the voice of MMA--Goldie it’s so great you’re back--Oh what a great signing by Bellator. Every fan melted my heart that entire week and it’s been like that on social media, and I’m extremely thankful and humbled by it. And then it was also meeting everybody at Spike. Many people again, but some of the other people that I was going to be working with at Spike going: Man, I can’t believe you’re with us now, this is so awesome you’re with us now. So I really felt welcome. I felt like I was returning home with Spike and Bellator. John Norton, the producer - and I go all the way back to ESPN Hockey in the 90s and we did a ton of UFC’s together, of course as you know the UFC was on Spike for many years. But it was the fans and the warmth that just melted me and I’ll never forget that--I will never forget it, I was as pumped as I’ve ever been pumped for anything in my life.
Giancarlo: Can you talk to us a little bit about how you were able to transition from working with Rogan in the UFC to working with Jimmy Smith in Bellator? And how were you and Jimmy able to build that on-air chemistry and make it sound natural for fans tuning into the event?
Mike: Well first and foremost Jimmy and Joe are very tight so it’s kind of funny. When it became official that I was coming to Bellator, Jimmy and I again much like Coker, we hadn’t met because you know he’s doing one organization and I’m doing another and he actually called Joe. And he was like: ‘Alright what’s the deal on Goldie? is he cool?’ And of course Joe and I are very close, always will be. There will be another dynamic that matches what Joe and I were able to achieve - it’s just so natural and we did it for so long, but Rogan saying to Jimmy Smith no dude, he’s awesome, he’s a team guy, you’re going to love working with him. And so my first conversation with Jimmy Smith literally went like: ‘Hey dude! I feel like I’ve known you my entire life--You know what Jimmy, I feel the exact same way.’ And it was like boom instantly we could tell we were the same human being and Jimmy Smith is a lot like Joe. He knows his stuff, he does his homework, but he gets excited and he loves the sport, and he has that passion and so Jimmy and I hit it off right away, which made it very natural for us to have a great debut and I have a lot of respect for Jimmy, but we’re the same type of MMA announcer. We have passion, we have energy, enthusiasm, and I know that at the end of the day - Jimmy’s you know, he’s the Hall of Fame wide-receiver. I’m just the quarterback getting him the ball so I understand my role as well. But it really comes down to the time that Jimmy and I spent before we actually went on air, we became friends instantly, we went through the fighter interviews together, and we had a bond before we even put on the headset which is huge.
Giancarlo: In your opinion, what big fights or super fights do you think the company could make between fighters in either the same weight class or in different weight classes? And what is it about that particular matchup that would interest you in calling it?
Mike: I’m looking up and down, you know, the roster. If I were to put together a fight right now it would likely involve Douglas Lima. Pitbull would be around the top of it. I was really impressed with everybody. I’d put Michael Chandler against anybody again. I mean like let’s go Michael Chandler--Eddie Alvarez like I’m okay with that. They’re just the way they present themselves, the way they fight, the aggressiveness that they show. I really enjoyed meeting those guys and even though I was on the desk during their fights, I was obviously very involved with the fights. There’s talk about you know Frank Mir and Fedor. We always wanted Randy Couture and Fedor we never quite got it, but you know a UFC champion--heavyweight champion in Frank Mir against Fedor Emelianenko. I like that as a super fight. And then there’s so many other options, I mean now you’ve got a Rory MacDonald who is a true factor. Paul Daley may have lost to Rory MacDonald but he’s vicious and on down the road. So I really could see something setting up for Douglas Lima, a Michael Chandler against a previous opponent. Lima obviously has gone against Koreshkov and they split back-and-forth that could be a good trilogy to finish. So there’s a lot of different options in Bellator. As I much like, you know, I did way way back in my UFC career is, I really familiarized with the Bellator roster of fighters and it’s been fun to do the homework for it.
Giancarlo: Mike, those that have followed your career know that before you called MMA fights you were an announcer for many National Hockey League games. Now with the NHL expanding to Las Vegas and you yourself being a recognizable figure in the area, would you ever consider being both a Bellator announcer and Vegas Golden Knights announcer if the opportunity presented itself?
Mike: Absolutely 100 per cent--without a doubt. And you know I’ve been in contact with the team. They have so many great candidates, I mean they’re getting to pick from the best of the bunch. You know it’s not like even going back to player-wise in the expansion draft. I mean I was the first announcer in Minnesota Wild history but there were four teams that came in in two years: Atlanta, Nashville, Columbus, and Minnesota. Vegas has their own stage and they’re taking advantage of it. I’m a hockey player-- I started playing when I was six-- I played through college--I’ve coached my son since he was six, he’s now seventeen--I’m a level five USA hockey coach. I love the game of hockey so to have the opportunity to do it again would be wonderful and I appreciate the kind words about Vegas, but it’s true I really do, I have a presence in Vegas that is different than other MMA cities. There’s a lot of great ones; Toronto, everybody is awesome to me. But you know what I mean with so many fights in Vegas there’s certainly that presence as well and if they think that you know I fit the mold to what they’re looking for I’ll be off and running.
Giancarlo: Yeah we got to make this happen, Vegas Golden Knights GM sign Mike Goldberg.
Mike: (Laughs) Much like yourself, Giancarlo. it’s funny you ask me that cause my buddy Boomer over on NHL Radio was grading the GMs and part of his presentation was why have you not signed Mike Goldberg as your voice? So between you and Boomer, and maybe a few others. Let’s keep it going maybe we’ll talk to Vegas (laughs).
Giancarlo: Mike before we wrap up, you’ve been fortunate to call some of the biggest MMA fights of all-time. You know like Tito vs Shamrock, Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier 1, Anderson Silva vs Chael Sonnen. What advice would you give to some of those broadcasters out there who wish to follow your footsteps and one day become a play-by-play announcer for MMA?
Mike: I would tell anybody and I have said this a lot: If you’re young, like, let’s say you’re a senior in high school like my son—who, Oh, here’s a news flash, would like to be a ‘hockey broadcaster’ - shocking right? I would just say get your reps-- get your reps over and over and over. If you’re in university up in Canada, college in the States, go work at the student radio station. Do an internship with a TV station. Do an internship with TSN-- Do an internship with Sportsnet. Be around it, get your reps. No show is too small-- I’ve done a tons of high school swimming and I embraced it the same way that I embraced UFC 200 and my Bellator debut. So I would say be there and do it as much as possible because you only get better by doing it and then I would say two other things. One would be what my hero--what my mentor in the business, Bill Clement told me when I started doing hockey on ESPN. Billy Clement was my guy, Thorne and Clemente--my team forever--my favourite broadcast team plus I’m an old school Flyers fan and I’ve worn 16 my whole life for Bobby Clarke.
Mike: Billy C told me you got all the goods Goldie, you got the skills but when you study, study until you think you’ve studied enough and then study another thirty minutes, and then put it away because after that you’ll confuse yourself. So I would say to people study the way that Bill Clement told me to do it and then just be yourself--have fun, have energy, have enthusiasm. People watch TV in MMA really closely but in the big picture, hockey is on in the other room while you’re getting yourself another cocktail in the kitchen you know, but when all of a sudden Joe Thornton comes across the red line--over to Pavelski--Couture is open! You give that crescendo that makes the listener or the viewer from the kitchen go whoa! Something’s happening right now. If you’re having fun, if you have energy and enthusiasm, don’t worry about, you know this and that; the fact’s--we’re all human beings. People are going to be passionate because they can hear your love for the sport. That would be--actually that’s a long one. That would be what I would do if I were a college professor or a guy you know over at TSN getting young guys to be able to live out their dreams. That would be the way I would tell them to approach it.
Giancarlo: Well Mike, we’d like to thank you for taking the time to chat with us here at Beyond The Game and we wish you all the best in Bellator.
Mike: Hopefully we’ll have a Bellator event up in Canada very soon, I love coming up there and hopefully we’ll get to see you if we’re in T.O.
With Bellator MMA expanding their reach internationally and Canadian Rory MacDoanld becoming the new Bellator Welterweight champion, it’s only a matter of time before Bellator brings an event to Canada.