Mailbag: Golden milestone

Mike Goldberg’s first announcing gig for the Ultimate Fight Championship, a sport he knew little about, came in 1997 and featured a heavyweight he knew little about. Nearly 12 years later, Goldberg loves both the sport and the man he’ll be broadcasting in the main event of UFC 91 on Saturday.

It will be an historic night for Randy Couture, the 45-year-old who will meet Brock Lesnar for the heavyweight title in the main event on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas.

But it will be an equally historic night for Goldberg, the one-time voice of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings who got his start calling UFC shows when he was the play-by-play man alongside Olympic gold medalist Jeff Blatnick for UFC Japan – Ultimate Japan 1, on Dec. 21, 1997.

Saturday’s card will mark the 100th broadcast for Goldberg, who admittedly had little idea of what he was getting into when he started.

“I was a hockey announcer and my contract wasn’t renewed and I was doing women’s soccer to try to make a living for my family,” Goldberg said.

Blatnick won the gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles as a super heavyweight in Greco-Roman wrestling. In 1997, he was doing color analysis for UFC fights. When Goldberg got to Japan, he knew nothing about mixed martial arts. The first thing he did was to get onto the mats and learn – or try to – the ground game with referee John McCarthy and Blatnick.

He met Couture, who won a decision over Maurice Smith on that card, and developed a friendship that remains close to this day.

“He’s a special human being and I’m humbled and honored to be his friend,” Goldberg said. “This is a special night for me, for it to be my 100th UFC show, and for Randy to be in such a big fight, it makes it that much more special for me. I can’t even begin to tell you how much that means to me. Having Randy in the main event makes what would have been a great night for me and makes it that much better.”

Goldberg became the voice of the UFC in the days before Zuffa owned the company. And he recalls the talk that surrounded it that each show might be the last. Camaraderie had developed among those who had traveled from venue to venue and they knew they were part of something special and wanted to appreciate it for as long as it lasted.

“Honestly, I never expected to be around this long,” said Goldberg, who for a long time didn’t even include his UFC work on his resume.

These days, as the UFC approaches mainstream status, Goldberg is rightfully proud of his UFC work. He’s spent hours learning the sport and has the ability as a play-by-play man to call the action at a fast pace without needing his partner to always jump in.

In the early days, whenever it looked like the fight was about to hit the ground, he turned toward Blatnick.

“I feel like I can see the fights now like I could see the hockey games when I was calling them,” Goldberg said. “It’s been an amazing ride to be a part of this thing and to see it go from where it was and gain this momentum and get to the point where it is now. When I go into a building now and look around, I can’t believe it. I think back to the early days and it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come. I am so honored and fortunate to have been on this ride.”

With that, and with congratulations to Mike for the great job he has done, it’s time to get to you questions and comments in this edition of the MMA mailbag. My answers are in italics, as always.

How does Randy win?

Kevin, I’m interested to hear your thoughts regarding the upcoming Brock Lesnar-Randy Couture fight. Fifty pounds is a lot of weight to be giving up, especially since the bigger man is also faster and stronger. How is Randy going to win this?

Aaron Smiley
Turlock, Calif.

Brock is significantly bigger, faster and stronger; Randy is significantly smarter and a better, more complete fighter. For Randy to win, it will have to be a case where technique overcomes athleticism. I think Randy’s best bet is to keep it standing. Lesnar has not proven he can take a punch and he’s not proven, really, over than one big punch against Heath Herring, that he has a standup game. I believe Couture’s advantage would be to keep it on the feet and try to win that way.


Silva vs. Machida?

What do you think about a potential Anderson Silva-Lyoto Machida fight? I’m sure there’s plenty of talk about it and I think Lyoto is one of the only guys out there who can take Silva out. Any thoughts?

Will Coremin
New York

I don’t think this fight will occur, because they are friends and there are other fights that could be made for Silva at 205 pounds. I agree, though, that if it is made, it would be a difficult fight for Silva, but I think the Spider is a complete enough fighter that he could find a way to win.


Why is Okami off TV?

I was wondering why Yushin Okami’s fight with Dean Lister is scheduled to be on the non-televised undercard of UFC 92 on Dec. 27? He is an impressive 6-1 in the UFC, with his last win being by knockout. What gives? Is there some kind of behind-the-scenes politics or disputes going on that we don’t know about?

Mike

No, there’s not. The UFC puts five fights on its pay-per-views and their slots are guarantees. It’s going to be the light heavyweight title bout between Forrest Griffin and Rashad Evans, the interim heavyweight title bout between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and the light heavyweight match between Wanderlei Silva and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. So the Okami-Lister fight was competing with the Cheick Kongo-Mustapha Al-Turk bout and the C.B. Dollaway-Mike Massenzio fight. It came down to which fighters the UFC wanted to showcase live. I have a feeling the Okami-Lister fight will make it onto the broadcast anyway.


Iole doesn’t suck but is unimpressive

While your MMA credibility has improved in the last few years, before that you were pretty much a poser with little knowledge, in my opinion. You continue to fawn over the overhyped “stars” who have not been tested. While no one is entirely objective, I feel you often buy the UFC promotional line and are like a lap dog for UFC, because if you anger president Dana White, you will not get the interviews. Sometimes you make critical comments but they are always tempered and give yourself an out. I think your article on Urijah Faber was an example of this fawning. I think the fact that Jens Pulver, who by most accounts is washed up, really tested Faber at moments demonstrates that Faber was overrated and you as a critical commentator should have made this obvious conclusion instead of going wild over Faber. While you don’t suck, I find you unimpressive.

Bobby
Oakland, Calif.

Dana isn’t answering the phone, so I’m not sure how to answer. Check back later.


Should Filho be stripped?

Since Paulo Filho missed weight for his WEC title fight against Chael Sonnen, why isn’t the champion held to a higher standard and stripped of his title? I know the division is going by the wayside in early 2009, but what would happen if this were a UFC champion? For a challenger to work so hard for his shot and then get penalized for the champ not making weight is unacceptable. When it came to Filho, the thought crossed my mind that if you didn’t want to compete, he could intentionally miss weight, fight and not lose the title. That just isn’t fair. In closing, I was sitting in the eighth row and Filho put on one of the most embarrassing performances I’ve ever seen. The crowd, including myself, let him know. I would love to hear your thoughts and great weekly mailbag.

Sandy Swartzbaugh
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

If the title hadn’t been going away, Filho would have lost the belt on the scales. Then, Sonnen would have won the title had he won the fight and it would have been vacant had Filho won. Filho’s actions were disgraceful, but I think he has significant personal issues that need professional help. Hopefully, his management team will help him get that help, because forgetting his fight career, you just want to see him straightened out as a person first.


Whither Horodecki?

What ever happened to Chris Horodecki? I watched him in the International Fight League and the guy looked like he should be in the elite class of lightweights. I heard that he signed with “that other company.” If so why didn’t the UFC pick him up? By the way, Couture over Lesnar by first round KO.

Adam
Minnesota

Horodecki is set to fight Dan Lauzon on the Jan. 24 Affliction card in Anaheim, Calif. I believe he chose to sign with Affliction rather than UFC. That’s a heck of a pick, by the way, coming from a Minnesota boy.

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Nov 11, 2008