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Roundtable: Following Laura Sanko’s PPV debut, what is the best UFC commentary team?

UFC 293: Adesanya v Strickland Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

After Lauka Sanko made her pay-per-view debut to critical acclaim this past Saturday at UFC 293, has the balance of power shifted in the UFC commentary booth? MMA Fighting’s Shaheen Al-Shatti, Steven Marrocco, Jed Meshew, and Damon Martin reconvene around the roundtable to hammer out their new ideal UFC commentary teams in a post-293 world.

Al-Shatti: Stick around MMA long enough and certain patterns tend to pop up over and over again. One of those revolves around Joe Rogan, perhaps the most famous person attached to the whole damn sport; namely, the fact that any criticism of The Podfather’s work — both fair or unfair — tends to be received with, let’s just say ... aggressive pushback from his many devotees worldwide. Hell, you may have even fallen prey to this phenomena yourself if you’ve ever fired off a tweet in the middle of a UFC broadcast daring to question whether Rogan did his homework before hopping onto the mic. It’s been this way for a long time and it makes sense; Rogan is a legitimate O.G. of the space, an early defender of MMA who helped shepherd an outlaw sport into the global behemoth it is now.

But a funny thing happened this past weekend. In applauding Laura Sanko’s stellar debut on the pay-per-view desk, I conceded that if the UFC fed us a steady diet of more Sanko and less Rogan on these big shows, I’d be a happy man — then I waited with reluctant acceptance for my online orbit to burst into flames. Only ... it never happened. Not only were the Roganites missing in action this week, to my surprise, the majority of folks agreed with my assessment. It’s impossible to get anyone in MMA to coalesce around anything, but the success of UFC 293’s broadcast booth was seemingly enjoyed by all.

That’s a hell of a feat!

Sanko’s obvious preparation and sharpness on the mic was the breath of fresh air the broadcast needed, so I’m officially in on this trio. Jon Anik is the class of the play-by-play ranks, and while Daniel Cormier may rub some viewers the wrong way, his enthusiasm and giddiness in big moments is the perfect kind of endearing in my eyes. DC’s love of the sport is infectious; he just needs someone like Sanko help reign him in from the meandering, night-at-the-bar vibe that tends to overtake the broadcast whenever Rogan is by his side. Give the lineup from this past Saturday more time to gel and develop rapport and I have faith it’ll be the trio that sets a new standard for UFC commentary moving forward.

UFC 293: Adesanya v Strickland Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Martin: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

That’s my philosophy when it comes to the best commentary team in the UFC, especially where pay-per-views are concerned. They’re the biggest and most important fights in the sport because we always remember those moments. The shouting, the rubber-faced reactions to huge knockouts, not to mention the perfectly timed screams following a monumental comeback. It’s for all those reasons why Jon Anik on play-by-play alongside Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier on color commentary still makes the most sense right now.

Make no mistake, Laura Sanko did an incredible job calling the fights at UFC 293. Give her all the flowers because she not only killed it with her own commentary, but Sanko also managed to make everyone around her better, which is not an easy feat to accomplish in broadcasting.

But for all the bro-logic and pseudo-science that Rogan spouts on his uber-popular podcast, his voice has also come to define the most iconic fights in UFC history. Hearing Rogan bust a flex on his vocal chords while yelling “Oooooooohhhhhh!!!” pretty much personifies the feelings of almost every UFC fan watching the broadcast. Plus, if you actually tried to permanently remove Rogan from the broadcast booth, it might be the one time all the fighters get on the same page to revolt against the UFC.

As far as Cormier goes, his unbridled enthusiasm and smarts are unmatched, not to mention working a Telestrator like he’s channeling the spirit of John Madden in every replay. It’s a tough combination to beat. Could Cormier dial it down occasionally, particularly when he’s trying to match Rogan decibel for decibel? Absolutely. But I told Cormier years ago, long before he was a two-division UFC champion, that his future was in commentary. That belief has never wavered.

Sure, it’s the status quo, but Anik, Rogan, and Cormier are sitting at the top for a reason and nobody is ready to dethrone them just yet.

UFC 290: Volkanovski v Rodriguez Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Marrocco: First of all, congrats to Sanko on a very impressive pay-per-view debut. To the surprise of no one, she did a great job, so let’s keep this train rolling and make her a regular on the pay-per-view broadcasts. I like her beside Jon Anik and Paul Felder. I think that’s the most professional, yet accessible, team possible on the current roster. Less bro-y than Daniel Cormier, less caustic then Dominick Cruz and less overbearing than Michael Bisping.

As for Rogan, he’s forever a part of the UFC’s history and a critical figure in the sport’s growth. He’s also getting old, like all of us in the MMA old guard, and for this job, you need the speed and neuroplasticity of youth. Rogan doesn’t do a bad job, to be clear, but it’s clear that age is catching up to him, and producers need to be honest about that and give others an opportunity.

On a side note, I’d also like to see Anthony Smith get a shot at color commentary, and I’d like to bring back Dan Hardy, who had the courage to speak truth to power. Alas, that’s a quality in short supply these days.

UFC Fight Night: Pauga v Bukauskas Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Meshew: Look, I’m sure you’re all going to make very salient points using buzz words like “competency” and “insight” and blah, blah, blah. Sanko was extremely good, and so you’re all going to rush to put her on your teams, but you’re not seeing the big picture here. You know what the single biggest weakness of any commentator is in this sport? Time. Father Time is a bastard inside the cage, but he’s a bastard-coated bastard with bastard filling just outside of it.

Not so long ago, everybody loved Daniel Cormier’s enthusiasm and perspective on the mic. I myself argued in favor of Michael Bisping just last year (oof). And of course we all remember a time when Joe Rogan was a fun and knowledgeable addition to the booth. And then they stuck around, and now look at us. Like car batteries, toothbrushes, and mailing addresses, MMA commentators need to be changed every three years. There are simply too many events, too much fighting, and too little differentiation for commentators to last. The relentlessness of the grind inevitably wears them all down to some caricature of themselves. That’s why everyone loves Brian Stann, he went out before he got chewed up.

I don’t want that for Sanko. You don’t want it for her. Let’s not corrupt her with the evil of 42 events a year. Instead, turn to the man who cannot be corrupted, because what is dead may never die. I’m talking, of course, about Mike Goldberg.

Is Goldberg objectively bad at commentary? Yes. But is it so bad that it is often funny and gives us stuff to write about? Also yes. We’re now living in a world where Sean Strickland is the UFC middleweight champion. We don’t deserve Sanko in the booth. We deserve Rogan and Goldie ripping and running like old times, talking about being “corn to the core” and the energy requirements of being a rockstar. Take me back to the good old days and let Ponyboy stay gold for a little while longer.

FOX UFC Saturday Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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