Last month, I found this documentary on YouTube about one of my favorite combat sports commentators. I couldn’t help but expressed my thoughts on my Facebook profile after viewing it in whole. Having become a pro wrestling commentator myself, going through the struggles to get better in serving as a voice for Manila Wrestling Federation, I’ve become more attentive to the art of sports announcing. But this film was more than just about that.
My journey started way back in 2011, when esports started to get big. I found myself out of my depth when I attempted to do commentary for competitive video games as my game knowledge and ability to talk as things happen was beyond inadequate. I would then practice commentary in my room while watching fights and wrestling matches, which I knew more about as a martial arts nerd.
That was also the year when my major depressive episode started. It lasted for five years, wherein I was at my lowest in terms of self-worth. My therapy was watching fights, following basketball, and listening to podcasts. While I still get depressed every now and then to this day, it has never been as bad as that five-year stretch.
My commentary skills come from a place of loneliness. I did it to entertain myself and escape my daily struggles in the solitude of my room. There was no way I knew that I’d find myself doing it for real, but I somehow got there. Life can be funny like that sometimes.
But I’m nowhere near the level of Mauro Ranallo. He does it for a living and is renowned all over the world for it. He does it while continuing to struggle with a debilitating mental illness.
Bipolar Rock ‘N’ Roller by Showtime
The documentary looks into the early life of Mauro Ranallo and his struggles with bipolar disorder. It’s both a biography and educational piece on mental illness and it digs fairly deep into what bipolar disorder is, with Mauro as the living case study.
I should’ve watched this sooner. It would’ve informed my decisions regarding my own pro wrestling commentary for MWF throughout the second half of 2019.
My Admiration of Mauro Ranallo
I’ve been a fan of Mauro Ranallo since the heydays of Pride Fighting Championships. His greatest strengths are his versatility and ability to turn it on at will when the need calls for it. The former is due to him being able to quickly absorb whatever he decides to study, while the latter is a quality that’s shared by most of the best sports commentators.
Wordcraft is another one of his strengths. Wordcraft goes beyond writing. Commentary, broadcasting, stand-up comedy, theater, and so on are all outlets for wordcraft. Since my childhood, I had been a consummate fan of wordcraft, which is something I find very few people are able to appreciate at the same level as I do. Mauro is the same way, but he took it much further.
Mauro Ranallo’s commentary style is—for lack of a better word—distinct. No one can ever pull off “MAMMA MIA” as an exclamation in commentary other than him. Famous commentators have their own signature exclamations, like Jim Ross’s “GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY,” Michael Schiavello’s “IT’S GOOD NIGHT, IRENE,” Mike Goldberg’s “AND IT IS ALL OVER,” Kentucky Derby announcer Dave Johnson’s “AND DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME,” and so on.
But among all of them, “MAMMA MIA” is most kitschy. You’d expect Mario to say that as a quirk, but Mauro uses it with seriousness for incredible moments in sports. While he may be of Italian descent, he’s Canadian through and through. It’s a catchphrase that makes you raise your eyebrows at first, but then get accustomed to because it’s Mauro who shouts it out.
If you can turn something that sounds really corny into your moneymaker, you have to be good.
He’s also known for dropping in metaphors and hip-hop references that would’ve been considered tacky if said by anyone else. But it’s Mauro, so it somehow works. He was more straight-laced in Pride, but he really started flexing his chops when he got to Showtime and WWE. We all get to listen to prime Mauro right now in this era.
Of course, he has detractors. Every commentator has detractors. As I once heard from a British sports announcer in a YouTube video I must have watched back in 2017, “One man’s commentary is another man’s irritation.” (I think he announces dog contests, which is its own can of beeswax.)
My Commentary Journey
I myself am being critiqued by people in Philippine pro wrestling as a commentator. It’s a steep learning curve, and I admit that I’ve been struggling. Perhaps some may like how I sound and what I say. However, I’m aware that plenty out there may find my commentary to be either peculiar at best or nails-on-chalkboard annoying. I’m comfortable with that fact at this point since it’s just part of the practice.
This is a field that doesn’t get talked about a lot, and is taught even less. There are few to no programs out there that specifically train you to be a commentator. The best you can do to get “formal” training is maybe to take up mass communication, get hired as a late night radio DJ, and ply your craft day in and day out.
Nowadays, there are other avenues made available like becoming an online content creator. That’s how I got my start, but the problem with that is being able to build a CV that will be taken seriously in the field.
Perhaps esports is the most convenient avenue for that, but my brain and skill set are ill-equipped for that hypersonic pace. That’s why I can’t respect esports shoutcasters enough for what they do. Meanwhile, my journey as a commentator is still touch-and-go, but watching Mauro do it pushes me to go harder.
Being Inspired as a Combat Sports Commentator
There are plenty of things I picked up from this film as a commentator. I’m not as catastrophically mentally ill as him, but I relate to so many things shown here. Things like frequent tendency to lose things, reading text out loud for fun, and getting easily overwhelmed, among other things.
Looking at the notes on his iPad, I could see that he prepares notes way more extensively than I do. I just make bullet points and trust that my knowledge will carry me. On the other hand, he does a thousand times more and gets into the tiniest details.
If there’s such a thing as muscle memory in commentary, he makes use of it. That’s why I’ve been pausing and stumbling all the time. I rely too much on just winging it, and that’s just not enough. I need to prepare even more meticulously from now on.
Objectively, I have so many gaffes and gaps in my commentary. I’m staring up at Mount Everest, with Mauro, Jim Ross, Howard Cosell, and Gordon Solie at the peak. Here I am at the bottom, perplexed and flabbergasted. There’s much work I need to do for 2020 and beyond.
However, I see a light at the end of the tunnel. If Mauro can have that career, despite the steep challenges he faces every single day in his life, I feel like I can aspire to the same heights or at least make a living out of screaming into a microphone while watching two people clobber the hell out of each other. I imagine that to be my best life.
Mauro gets a lot of flak for perceived histrionics, like how he reacted to John “Bradshaw” Layfield’s bullying and Corey Graves’s slight towards him on Twitter that saw him disappear for a couple of shows. I have first-hand experience in being anxious and depressed after being mistreated, and I know it takes immense mental fortitude to recover and go back.
Having to wrestle with something that’s often misunderstood and mistreated is an incredibly frustrating experience. Countless people have to deal with their own mental illness without any support or care, often blamed for just being shitty and told to just suck it up, which is no help.
Seeing someone like Mauro Ranallo deal with his condition and still excel in his field is boundlessly inspiring. It tells me to fearlessly hone my craft and reach my goals as well, despite my own self-doubts. That’s powerful, and I can’t help but praise this film because of it.
Making this film was Showtime’s way of telling one of their most beloved employees that he is appreciated. I can definitely respect that.
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