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Jim Ross, Chael Sonnen deliver at Battlegrounds MMA event

Joseph Garza

When the Tulsa-based Battleground group decided to try pay-per-view based on the concept of going back in time with an eight-man one-night tournament, it was an interesting concept, but former UFC owner Bob Meyrowitz had done the same thing years ago with the one-and-done YAMMA promotion, using fighters with more name value.

So the hook for selling the show, for the first time in the history of MMA, was the announcers. It was the meeting of the minds between Jim Ross, the voice of the heyday of pro wrestling for World Wrestling Entertainment, and Chael Sonnen, in his first televised appearance since drug test failures led to FOX releasing him from his contract.

The broadcast was a different approach. Whether it was correct is hard to ascertain because nobody knows who or what type of audience was watching on pay-per-view. The broadcast team was aimed more at a general audience with beginning knowledge of MMA. Sonnen did a lot of basic breakdown of moves at a level you wouldn't see on a UFC broadcast, even though there is far more of a chance that a casual audience would watch a televised UFC event, or attend a gathering to watch a major pay-per-view.

This likely stems from Ross' own experience watching major UFC shows in the past with his buddies who are part of the local college football community, sports fans who are older, liked MMA but didn't really understand it or its strategies.

Ross seemed a little unsteady at first, but fell into his groove as the show went on. He was different than other MMA announcers, and completely different from his pro wrestling persona. For people who wanted to here Ross yell his various wrestling catch phrases on an MMA show, or for those watching who feared the same thing, they got something they didn't expect.

Ross talked about non-fighting backgrounds of the participants extensively. It was a way to give a personality to the unknown fighters. We learned, for example, that Trey Houston works a regular job as a geophysicist for an oil company, and has to train before and after work. We also learned that former UFC featherweight Cody McKenzie, fighting two weight classes up in the welterweight tournament, and even then, missing weight on his first try, had actually drawn blood to get under 171 pounds, as crazy as that sounded.

McKenzie had been working the last two-and-a-half months on a salmon fishing boat in Alaska. He hadn't trained, and, well, looked the part. And fought the part as well, being eliminated in his first match with Brock Larson.

The similarity of Larson's name to that of Brock Lesnar, not to mention he came from Minnesota, was brought up several times. Ross nearly called Larson "Lesnar" at one point. At another time, Ross even tried once to mimic the slow, unique and almost guttural enunciation of Lesnar that pro wrestling manager Paul Heyman does on wrestling broadcasts.

Ross emphasized the storyline that these were fighters looking for a break, battling for $50,000. He even plugged the UFC December pay-per-view a couple of times when mentioning that Johny Hendricks was in the audience, although Hendricks wasn't shown.

Sonnen was a natural, but that's hardly a surprise because talking has always been his thing.

He was filled with one-liners, including what came across as a self-deprecating reference to his own troubles. When Ross brought up the heavily tattooed Luigi Fiorvanti, and noted Sonnen has no tattoos himself, Sonnen responded, "I was always afraid of needles, at least those with ink in them."

At another point, when referencing fighter Niko Koliastasis, who was connected to Missouri Valley College, the small NAIA school that Bobby Lashley was a national champion for in the 90s, Ross mentioned Lashley's name.

Sonnen responded, "Bobby Lashley, the cure for insomnia. I'm not sure we should thank him for that or hold that against him."

At another time, before the Houston vs. Roan Carneiro semifinal, when an innocuous, "Let's look at the tale of the tape," line before the fight resulted in no tale of the tape being shown, Sonnen joked about how it's dangerous to call one's own shots.

Sonnen also had a reference for judges ("Poindexters at ringside with a clipboard"), one of the ring card girls ("It's an easy job if you're a centerfold or a supermodel. It takes a little more confidence when you're a six") and even former boxing champion Leon Spinks ("The Cadillac, Leon Spinks referred to it as the Mercedes of automobiles.")

He broke things down to a far more basic level than one would get watching a UFC, Bellator or AXS Fight broadcast.

For all the good and the bad that can be said about Sonnen, it's a role he should be doing regularly. He clearly had done his homework on the fighters and knows the sport, even if at times he was in the middle of talking on a different subject as fighters were locking on fight ending submissions. On the flip side, when Roan Carneiro's continuing in the tournament after winning his first fight was in question because of dehydration, Sonnen immediately speculated it could be a ruse to throw Houston, his next opponent, off.

Ross was more into the personalities than the technical aspects of the fight. He didn't use any of his trademark pro wrestling phrases, although there were plenty of wrestling references sprinkled in. When talking about how Houston went to Bixby High School, not far from Tulsa, he noted it was the same school as Cowboy Bill Watts, the area's pro wrestling hero of the 60s and 70s who was Ross' mentor when he started in the business. Joe Ray being from Sarasota, Fla., brought references to pro wrestling personalities Randy Savage and "Mean" Gene Okerlund.

Once, when talking about the fighters backstage, said, "Fighters use a locker room, entertainers use a dressing room," in reference to his wrestling past.

Perhaps the funniest moment to those who follow wrestling closely came when the championship belt that was being presented to the tournament winner was shown. Ross, in describing it, had a slight hesitation before calling it a belt. It may have been an instinctive reaction because in his old job, the world "belt" to describe a title belt was banned by WWE owner Vince McMahon. McMahon produces the wrestling announcers and is legendary for yelling and screaming at them when they say something not to his liking. It was almost as if instinct took over for a split second, before reality struck in that he wasn't getting yelled at.

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