LOS ANGELES — Maura Ranallo was surprised when WWE uploaded a clip of him calling an event last month.
In the video, which was dubbed the play-by-play man’s “priceless reactions” to the NXT Takeover New Orleans show, Ranallo can be seen jumping out of his seat, leaning forcefully back in his chair, shouting at the top of his lungs and then furiously getting out of the way when a wrestler was thrown onto the commentary table.
Ranallo knows his job is to elevate the talent involved in matches, whether that be pro wrestling, MMA or boxing. The longtime broadcaster currently works for Bellator MMA, Showtime Boxing and WWE. He still has some mixed feelings about the clip, which went viral and has more than 300,000 views on the WWE’s YouTube page.
“For me, I think what that did was show people, this guy is genuine,” Ranallo told MMA Fighting. “Like, yes, he’s over the top, he’s crazy. But he’s invested like you are as a fan. So, it’s something I never expected, but I do realize now … [it also shows] I am bipolar and I am a full manifestation of it in terms of my speech, in terms of my energy. And so, that showed some mania. It’s a good thing, but it’s also like, that’s not normal.”
Ranallo has been open about his mental illness for years. But he will really open himself up to the world Friday night when his documentary “Bipolar Rock ’N Roller” premieres on Showtime. The trailer is visceral — and shows Ranallo in some very personal moments. That was the idea, he said.
In order to shake the stigma that still remains around mental illness, Ranallo is committed to showing just how horrifying it can be with himself as the conduit.
“We’ve reached a certain level of understanding,” Ranallo said during a sit-down in Silver Lake last week. “We seem to get what it is to a degree. Well, I want show you exactly what it is. … I do want to make this very uncomfortable, very raw, very compelling. But also, I want people to come out of there going, ‘Wow, Jesus.’ Like, holy crap.”
Ranallo, 48, had his first episode when he was 19 years old, following the death of his best friend. At the time, in 1989, mental illness was not something people talked about and not even something he wanted to acknowledge. It wasn’t until 2003 when he “hit rock bottom” that he said he fully grasped that something was wrong.
On the cusp of getting the play-by-play role with Pride Fighting Championships, Ranallo checked himself into a hospital, knowing it was an opportunity he could not throw away. Two weeks after leaving the facility, he was in Japan in the broadcast position for Pride.
Since then, he has called countless huge moments in MMA, boxing and his first love of pro wrestling — from Kimbo Slice’s network debut on CBS to Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao to WrestleMania. Ranallo has called events involving Ronda Rousey, John Cena, Anthony Joshua and beyond.
With the heights he has reached as one of the most recognizable voices in combat sports, Ranallo felt like it was time to tell his story with the hope of helping people who are struggling with mental illness. His good friend and filmmaker Haris Usanovic has been chronicling Ranallo’s life — the roller-coaster highs and lows — for years.
“It’s a chance to do something that I think is unprecedented in terms of this kind of story, in terms of someone willing to showcase everything about my life and my struggle as it were,” Ranallo said. “But because I’ve now achieved a certain platform with Showtime, WWE and Paramount Network, the time was right.
“It’s becoming more obvious that people are beginning to understand that, wow, we have to start doing something because people are dying really for no reason. That’s the case. Talking about it can save a life. If people actually understood that, we’d be in a better place than we are.”
Despite calling some of the most memorable matches in combat sports, Ranallo feels like he still hasn’t done enough. Perhaps that’s part of his illness — perhaps it’s his perfectionist nature. Ranallo said he’d like to do more voiceover work and possibly narrate books for the blind. More than that, he wants to extend his role as a mental health advocate even further, beyond the release of the documentary.
“What’s left for me, I’m definitely going to become more active in this field now that this documentary launched,” Ranallo said. “Maybe even do a mental health podcast where I talk to athletes, but also actors and just every day people. And that to me is really what I want to focus on. Not that anyone can be male version of Oprah [Winfrey], but I want to do feel-good stuff. I want to do more positive work.”
Ranallo’s schedule is already full with Bellator, Showtime and WWE, but he says the work “keeps me alive.” He has boundless energy and innate creativity that drew him to performing — in pro wrestling — as a teenager. Ranallo understands now that it’s part of his illness.
“It was mania,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons and that’s why it’s a blessing as much as it’s a curse. Because I wouldn’t be where I am without being bipolar. And yet, I’m almost not alive because of bipolar.”
It’s all of that — the ups and downs and everything in between — that Ranallo wants to show in the documentary. As visceral and up close and personal as it is for him in real life.
“I don’t care about me being vulnerable or embarrassing situations,” Ranallo said. “Or really being naked — literally naked. It’s no skin off my back if it can help someone.”