Mauro Ranallo gives 'raw, unfiltered' look at bipolar disorder in new documentary

Yahoo Sports
Showtime’s new documentary “Bipolar Rock ‘N’ Roller” chronicles Mauro Ranallo’s rise in the sports broadcasting industry as well as his struggles with his mental illness. (Getty Images)
Showtime’s new documentary “Bipolar Rock ‘N’ Roller” chronicles Mauro Ranallo’s rise in the sports broadcasting industry as well as his struggles with his mental illness. (Getty Images)

If you are a fan of combat sports, chances are you know who Mauro Ranallo is. Over a three-decade-long career, the Canadian-born broadcaster has called countless fights in the worlds of mixed martial arts, boxing and professional wrestling.

What you may not know is that, despite being the voice behind all of those moments, Ranallo is a fighter in his own right, waging a personal war against mental illness for his entire adult life.

“Mental illness unfortunately is an invisible disease, it’s not seen or heard,” Ranallo said. “For whatever reason, because of that, society has decided that if we can’t see it, maybe it doesn’t exist, so they want to just sweep it under the carpet or say ‘snap out of it’ or that you’re looking for attention.”

Ranallo suffers from bipolar disorder, a mental illness that has caused him – and will continue to cause him – to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It’s an issue Ranallo does not shy away from and is at the center of Showtime’s upcoming documentary about his life, aptly titled “Bipolar Rock ‘N’ Roller.”

The film chronicles Ranallo’s rise in the sports broadcasting industry as well as his struggles with his mental illness. At times you see a side of Ranallo that is nothing like the quick-witted, passionate, vibrant personality fans have come to know over the past 30 years. Instead, you witness the darkness that has periodically enveloped Ranallo since the tragic death of his best friend Michael Janzen in 1989.

“I wanted to show a raw, unfiltered look at what I go through on a daily basis because I know millions of people are impacted,” Ranallo said. “I don’t really think it’s that courageous or brave but people say that. I think by showing myself others will do the same at a much higher level or even directly [to me].”

Throughout the documentary, you hear words like “paralyzed,” “terrifying,” and “ashamed” to describe some of the worst manic and depressive episodes Ranallo has experienced in his life. You’ll see him contemplate suicide and talk openly about wanting to end his life. Despite this, Ranallo ultimately isn’t portrayed as a victim, rather he is shown to be quite resilient.

In many ways, “Bipolar Rock ‘N’ Roller” doubles as Mauro Ranallo’s success story.

If you listen to Ranallo commentate, it’s abundantly clear that he is supremely talented, but he has had to deal with being bipolar in an industry that is as cutthroat as any. Ranallo has been hospitalized eight times since his initial diagnosis in 1989, and on several occasions his illness has forced him to miss long periods of work.

“My first full-time radio job at 21, I was there for only a couple of months before I was hospitalized,” Ranallo said. “I wrote a resignation letter. My dad wouldn’t give the letter to my boss at the time.

“From that job through every job I’ve ever had, people have said ‘Yeah he’s saddled with this, but his work is top notch, he always shows up, he’s always prepared. We want to support this guy.’”

Despite calling his twenties a “blur,” Ranallo continued to progress in his career, eventually getting hired by the Stampede Wrestling promotion in Calgary and growing close with the iconic Hart family during that time.

Ranallo’s world would once again come crashing down, as another hospital stay nearly derailed his entire career. Believing he was incapable of being in broadcasting, Ranallo considered alternate career paths before getting a life-changing voicemail.

Bas Rutten, an MMA star and commentator, had met Ranallo while working on a movie a few years earlier and was immediately impressed. So much so that Rutten asked Ranallo for his phone number in case any further opportunities arose for the pair.

When Rutten needed a partner for the Pride Fighting Championship in Japan, he knew just who to call.

“Thankfully the number still worked,” Rutten said. “What an incredible guy. When he’s in the zone he’s in the zone.”

While Ranallo suffered another brief episode in Japan prior to his first show with Rutten for Pride, it was immediately evident – mental illness or not – that there was something special about him.

“The first show we did in Japan, he forgot his medication so that was when I realized, OK, something’s up with him,” Rutten said. “He completely flipped out but we got him back.

“I was thinking ‘man, I hope he’s got it.’ Boom the light goes on and it was like a switch was flipped, no mistakes. Everybody was amazed. He flips to a different person.”

From there, Ranallo would go on to become the voice of MMA and boxing on Showtime. His authenticity and charisma made him a hit.

“People will say he exaggerates with the calling and he’s over the top, but he’s not, he’s in his own bubble,” Rutten said. “If he were to be an actor, he would be Daniel Day Lewis. Once he’s in that zone you could go in front of his face, do anything you want and it won’t affect him because he’s completely invested. That’s why he’s so good.”

As Ranallo’s reputation grew, his self-doubt did as well. In some the documentary’s most candid moments you see the insecurity that creeps into Ranallo’s mind. Moments after calling the biggest boxing match in history, Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao in 2015, Ranallo is seen in his hotel room combing through supporting tweets yet still, mentally, in a place of anguish.

Nonetheless, shortly after, Ranallo’s career would come full circle. After beginning as a teenager calling All Star Wrestling in Canada, Ranallo would join WWE’s broadcast team in 2016 bringing him back to his roots.

“When they first hired Mauro, I knew he’d be good because he brought something different to the table,” WWE announcer Booker T said. “He’s really good at what he does, he loves the business and that, first and foremost, will take you a long way.”

Shortly after his arrival in WWE, Ranallo was forced to take another leave of absence in 2017 due to his bipolar disorder.

“There was an issue when Mauro first got to WWE, and the thing is that if you don’t know, you can’t judge a book by its cover and you can’t treat everyone the same way,” Booker T said. “I think a lesson has been learned when dealing with someone like Mauro. He could have just kept it inside and quit and walked away, but he was willing to bring it up and it was a moment for all of us to take that lesson and run with it and say “Man, we have to know how to do better, be better and treat people better.”

There were rumors that an incident involving then-WWE commentator John Bradshaw Layfield sparked Ranallo’s episode. Both parties denied there was any issue and Ranallo has since opened up about the breakdown, attributing it to the demanding travel schedule he endured. Shortly after, Ranallo left the WWE’s “Smackdown Live” brand and joined “NXT.”

Since the move, Ranallo has been embraced by fans and talent alike.

“Mauro Ranallo, he commentates with his heart,” NXT star Johnny Gargano said. “I remember when I heard Mauro was going to be a part of NXT, I was so overjoyed because I tell him all of the time, he’s the voice of our generation. It’s such a perfect pairing.”

Much like his other bosses, Paul “Triple H” Levesque recognized how special and valuable Ranallo is.

“[The fans] see through the passion [if you don’t have it],” Levesque says in the documentary. “They love Mauro because he’s them, just with better seats and a microphone.”

If there’s anything to take away from Ranallo’s story, it’s that he is not alone and those close to him are seemingly in awe when they speak about him. It’s a message he professes not only for himself, but for others who are struggling with mental illness across the globe.

“[Friends and family] are crucial and paramount to my survival,” Ranallo said. “Anyone who is dealing with any issue or any illness whatsoever, without a support network, chances are the person will not survive.

“There is so much to be celebrated about mental illness. I do believe that there is something to be said about the truly artistic, the truly brilliant, those of us who have been ‘touched by fire’ that should be celebrated not stigmatized.”

Ranallo recognizes there’s still a lot of work to do to understand “what’s going on between our ears,” and it doesn’t all fall on his shoulders, but there’s one thing you can count on: The Bipolar Rock ‘N’ Roller is going to keep fighting.

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