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Mauro Ranallo, the busiest man in combat sports, makes return to MMA on AXS TV

AXS TV/Ian Mosley

Mauro Ranallo was walking backstage at WWE Smackdown a few weeks ago when he came across The Undertaker. The two men had not met previously. Ranallo just started working with WWE in December.

Not only is The Undertaker closer to 7-feet tall than 6 feet with a monstrous build, he's also an absolute legend in pro wrestling circles, a main event draw in WWE for more than 20 years. Ranallo wasn't quite sure how to approach him -- if at all.

"I walked by the Undertaker," Ranallo told MMA Fighting. "And you know he's an intimidating presence. I'm still the new guy on the block, I don't know what to say, 'Like, hello, Mr. Undertaker.' Or do I just not say anything.

"He stops and says, 'Hey, we've gotta talk about fights.' I was like, 'The Undertaker knows me!'"

So do millions of other fight fans. In addition to the new gig with WWE on Smackdown, Ranallo is the lead play-by-play man for Showtime Boxing and GLORY Kickboxing. Chances are, if you're watching two people throw punches and kicks at each other in a ring or cage on television, Ranallo will be providing the narration.

With Ranallo dipping into the worlds of pro wrestling, boxing and kickboxing, there was one thing missing: MMA. Ranallo had gained acclaim and a legion of fans broadcasting PRIDE, Strikeforce and Invicta FC. Now, he's back in the mixed-martial-arts fold.

Ranallo will not be calling live MMA fights right now, but he has landed a co-hosting gig on AXS TV's Inside MMA, alongside his longtime friend and broadcast partner Bas Rutten. Ranallo's debut on the magazine show is Friday night.

As busy as he is -- and days off are few and far between -- not having a role in MMA played a big part in Ranallo wanting this gig.

"It was everything," he said. "I do miss MMA. I watch every single event still. Maybe not the undercards like I used to, but I'm watching all the major UFC fights, Bellator, Invicta. ... I miss the people, all of the people in MMA."

Working with Rutten was also a major factor. The two have been friends and co-workers for more than a decade and now host a podcast together. Ranallo plans on the new Inside MMA to be "entertaining and quirky" and a different program than before. Ranallo will replace Kenny Rice, who remains on board as a special correspondent.

"Love us or loathe us, the chemistry is there and you can't help but get passionate and have fun, because our energy just demands it," Ranallo said of he and Rutten. "I'm really curious and really excited to see what Inside MMA becomes when I come aboard."

Fitting Inside MMA into his schedule will not be easy. Ranallo is on the road with WWE from Sunday through Tuesday. On Wednesday, he hosts the podcast with Rutten. Then, on Thursday, he's usually traveling for a Showtime boxing or GLORY card.

Inside MMA is a live show airing from Downtown Los Angeles every Friday night, so when Ranallo has other obligations he'll be spelled by Ron Kruck, who also broadcasts GLORY on both UFC Fight Pass and the ESPN family of networks.

"When I'm not working, I'm not a happy person," said Ranallo, who is openly bipolar and a staunch advocate for mental health. "I've found in my life that being a workaholic is what keeps me relatively sane, as they say."

Ranallo, 46, does not take anything for granted. Working for WWE was a lifelong dream. He got to call Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao last year. It would not be hyperbole to say Ranallo is the voice of combat sports.

"I never would have thought at 46 years old that all of this would happen now," Ranallo said. "I thought in many ways my success had peaked with Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao, with PRIDE Fighting Championships, with Strikeforce. I was content."

Content, but still desiring challenges. They have come in heaps and Ranallo has succeeded in all. The latest is hosting Inside MMA, a magazine show. That's something he has not truly done before. He's looking forward to yet another new venture.

"I love to go behind the headlines," Ranallo said. "I love to tell the stories behind the stories and I like to have fun. That's something we want to bring to the show."

For instance, one of the things Ranallo is exciting about tackling is free agency. Recently, well-known fighters Benson Henderson and Matt Mitrione have left the UFC for Bellator and many other high-profile fighters are completing their UFC contracts and testing the open market.

"I think that we're going to see more of that unfold," Ranallo said. "I think it can only be a good thing. I liken it to, going back to sports entertainment, the Monday Night Wars, where WCW fired the first shot across the bow by getting Scott Hall and Kevin Nash for big money. The salaries went up and I think that's what's been missing in terms of MMA. The UFC is not a monopoly by any measure, but is the juggernaut."

There's another tie to pro wrestling. And there are ties to all the other stuff, too. Ranallo doesn't mind being one of the threads. But he's happy to be back in MMA -- that's for sure.

"I maintain a very passionate curiosity of what's going on in combat sports," Ranallo said. "Really, my whole life revolves around my career. I'm single, no kids. And really as good and as bad as it may sound to some people, my work is my life. I wouldn't have it any other way."

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