UFC’s Commentary Diversity Meter Remains At An All-Time Low

The UFC recently announced the addition of veteran color commentator Jimmy Smith to their broadcast team. Smith was formerly the main color commentator for Bellator MMA and was recently replaced by long-time MMA referee “Big” John McCarthy. 

Smith is one of the most respected voices in both mixed martial arts and boxing and will join UFC broadcasts for Fox Sports and Pay-Per-View events, as well as for pre-fight programming. It is not clear whether he is replacing Joe Rogan or adding to the trio of Rogan, Jon Anik, and fighters like Dominic Cruz, Daniel Cormier, and retired fighter Brian Stann. 

 I am honored to join the worlds premier combat sports brand in 2018,” said Smith. “It is a privilege to call fights for a living and I cant wait to join the tremendous UFC broadcast team to call the best fights in the world. To the UFC fans, I am thrilled to join you for this wild ride. See you all very soon!  

However, with diversity outside of the cage still being a problem, the move could have been better utilized to provide a platform to another person of color. During the UFC on FOX broadcasts hosted by Karen Bryant, a collage of different diverse fighters have manned the commentary desk like Tyron Woodley and Rashad Evans. Still, the ringside play-by-play duties have yet to extend beyond current UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier. 

Bellator announced today that sports television mainstay Jay Glazer will join the Bellator broadcast team. Beginning with Bellator 192, Glazer will host the broadcast desk as Bellator kicks off 2018 on Paramount Network (formerly Spike) this Saturday.

Glazer joins reporter Jenn Brown, play-by-play men Mike Goldberg and Mauro Ranallo, as well as color commentators Big John McCarthy and Chael Sonnen. In addition to his broadcasting duties, Glazer will also appear in upcoming original content produced by Bellators digital team.

When the UFC replaced Mike Goldberg for Jon Anik, they overlooked candidates like Gus Johnson, who was the primary commentator for Showtime Championship Boxing before the perfect pairing of Mauro Ranallo, Paulie Malignaggi, and Al Berstein. Currently, Brian Custer is the primary at the Showtime host desk for pre and post-fight commentary. But this is boxing, which has always been very diverse in contemporary times with their commentary selection.

With knowledgeable veteran former fighters like Dr. Rhadi Ferguson and Herschel Walker potentially available, or some of the best women’s combat sports competitors like Ann Wolfe and Lucia Rijker, there is an entire talent pool that is underutilized. It hearkens back to the main issue at hand, which is that the MMA powers that be, do not view its constituents of color to be part of the general market narrative of the sport.

When Tyron Woodley spoke about the racism he has experienced as a UFC champion, it either fell on deaf ears or he was ridiculed en masse by the majority of the fans. None more so than when he beat Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson the first time, which set off a maelstrom of racial animus online. By the time of their second pairing, many tried to make it a black versus white superiority match instead of a high-level battle within the welterweight division. Even though he won both matchups, Woodley stands alone as the martyr in a sport that is now valued at billions of dollars.

As the changing of the guard happens with more fighters cycling in and more events being created, it is time for an inclusive approach to the ringside broadcast teams. Like Biggie said, “Mo’ Money, Mo Problems” and the UFC definitely has more like “99 Problems” as Jay-Z professed. 

Between making back the $4 billion that was spent to purchase the organization to Conor McGregor destroying the promoter-fighter narrative constantly, inclusion is another issue that the UFC and MMA as needs to look at while addressing while their diversity deficiencies.

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