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On week of his final show, UFC 207 fighters reflect on the departure of longtime commentator Mike Goldberg

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS — UFC 207 is a card of ends in many ways.

The Dec. 30 show closes out a year unlike any other in the Zuffa offices, one that has been equal parts coronation and equal parts enigma after the sport was transformed overnight by the 10-figure price tag attached to it this summer.

Longtime UFC matchmaker Joe Silva will be gone after Friday night — another member of the old guard off to join the Fertitta Brothers and Burt Watson and seemingly half of the UFC staff into memory. Ronda Rousey could be gone as well, provided things go south against Amanda Nunes like they did against Holly Holm. Ditto for Johny Hendricks, whose career struggles and talk of retirement coalesced into a chilling scene a Thursday’s early morning weigh-ins.

But one other senior figure will be singing his swan song on Friday, and his is a name that seemingly popped up out of the blue. After serving two decades as the voice of the Octagon, play-by-play man Mike Goldberg will be commentating his last show in the UFC broadcast booth at UFC 207. Less than six months after WME-IMG acquired the UFC, Goldberg and the promotion are unceremoniously parting ways. And for many of the fighters in the ranks, from those who grew up listening to Goldberg and Joe Rogan to those whose crowning moments were called by them, the news is a somber way to head into the new year.

“It’s very sad,” says Ray Borg, the 23-year-old flyweight who said he was raised on the tag-team of Goldberg and Rogan. “That’s the voice. That’s the voice you’ve heard for many years, before the UFC was what it is now, so it’s sad to see him leave. I feel like there’s a lot of changes going on in the UFC. Change can be good, change can be bad. But change is always scary.”

Goldberg’s career in the UFC spans all the way back to a bygone era, back to 1997, when he replaced Bruce Beck on the play-by-play desk at the awkwardly named UFC 15.5: Ultimate Japan. Randy Couture won the UFC heavyweight championship with a 21-minute, one-round decision over Maurice Smith that night, and Japanese icon Kazushi Sakuraba graced the Octagon with his lone UFC appearance, winning a four-man heavyweight tournament over the course of two fights with Marcus Silveira.

No one then could have imagined the riches this clumsy sport would one day inherit.

Three years after Goldberg’s debut, with original owners SEG on the brink of bankruptcy, an investment group led by the Fertittas and Dana White purchased the struggling UFC for a mere $2 million dollars. The rest is history, and Goldberg remained through it all. Through Liddell and Ortiz, through Hughes and St-Pierre, through Silva and Sonnen, through McGregor and Aldo — ol’ Goldy called the action for many of the most legendary nights in the sport’s history.

“Even before I was in the UFC and watching it as a fan of the sport, it was Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan,” says former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw. “It’s going to be really weird. I think it’s not going to feel like the UFC, not without his voice and his funny comments, and just how excited he gets.

“It kind of feels like an end of an era. New owners. Every time I come to the UFC event now, you don’t see the same faces. It’s kind of crazy, and they’ve slowly been trickling it down. Every time I saw Goldberg at a fight, he’d always come up to me and say hi. We were pretty close actually, so man, it’s going to be crazy not to have him there.”

Goldberg always had his critics, especially as the years went on. There were times when the verbal salad in the broadcast booth didn’t quite match the action in the cage — one quick YouTube search is enough to find more than a few good examples. And over time his tropes became easily recited by even the most casual of fan. (One might say his phrasing from night to night was always virtually identical.) But his excitement for the game never wavered. And whether it was Nate Diaz shocking the world or Michael Bisping rewriting a legacy, Goldberg always sounded like he would genuinely rather be nowhere else than watching right here along with all of us.

“He’s an awesome guy,” says former Strikeforce welterweight champion Tarec Saffiedine. “I always liked the way he talked about the fights. He’s passionate. You can feel the passion when he talks about the fights, and that’s what I loved. So we’ll have to see who replaces him. It sucks.”

“It sucks, and it’s a little surprising,” agrees 25-year-old Louis Smolka, who appeared stunned to first learn of the news and said he grew up dreaming of having his fights called by the Goldberg-Rogan duo. “He was a nice balance to the commentary team. It’s going to suck if he leaves.”

“I don’t have a single negative memory of Goldberg,” adds welterweight contender Neil Magny. “Every time I see him, he’s always friendly, he’s always walking towards me. So if anything, I wish him the best. I hope that he’s able to find something else that makes him happy outside of the UFC.”

If 2016 was a year of chaos and change, then at least UFC 207 — with its many questions and intrigues and potential exits — is a fitting sendoff for the man always willing to remind us which snack food had the kernels big enough to step into the Octagon.

Over the years, little by little, the old ranks of the UFC have been chipped away. Joe Silva and Mike Goldberg are the latest to leave the flock, but eventually White and Rogan and all of the remaining few will follow suit. Maybe then we’ll look back on these wild past years with a level of nostalgia and fondness that we now reserve for the early days. But until that time, here’s to one final night of hearing the phrase that, for better or worse, defined the UFC for a generation… it’s allllll over!