Q&A: Showtime commentator Mauro Ranallo
Mauro Ranallo kind of snuck up on us. One day he was doing blow-by-blow commentary on MMA broadcasts and the next he was Showtime’s featured voice for boxing.
Ranallo was raised on a six-acre farm in Abbotsford, British Colombia, to Italian immigrant parents. He honed his craft doing practice interviews with the farm animals, graduated to sports commentary and now is a respected broadcaster with his high-energy style and obvious passion for fighting sports.
The 43-year-old is also something else – an inspiration. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Ranallo has not let that deter him from realizing his dream. That includes calling the biggest fight in years, Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez on Sept. 14.
The Ring: How did you get into broadcasting?
Mauro Ranallo: I was going to W. J. Mouat Secondary School, in Abbotsford. I was a regular high school kid, but I knew at 5 or 6 years old that I wanted to get into broadcasting. I was always a voracious reader and I would interview the animals on the farm (laughs). I mean it. I would interview the chickens, inanimate objects. I had a very fertile imagination. I would listen to the greats. And I was fortunate to have Jim Robson, Hall of Fame broadcaster for the Canucks, to listen to growing up. I would listen to different announcers and what they were doing and take notes. It led to me being the PA announcer at school. I did hockey play-by-play. I did all sports.
My real first start came by happenstance, very much so. Al Tomko promoted “All-Star Wrestling” out of Vancouver and was holding a show at my high school. This was 1986 and Vince McMahon was beginning his expansion. We still had Vancouver wrestling. Tomko was promoting and running all over the place. He was so busy that he asked me if I could announce the rest of the matches and I ad-libbed my way through it. Afterward, he asked me my name and the next thing I know, I’m an on-air personality. I was a teenaged heel manager and that’s where I learned my chops. I did it for three years. It was quite a journey
It sounds almost of announcing and narcissistic to say, but I only filled out one application in broadcasting in my life, and that was to be a DJ. Yes, you can say I had a Forrest Gump-like rise in broadcasting. My first break spawned very many other breaks. I happened to be at the right place at the right time throughout my career.
The Ring: What are the differences between doing blow-by-blow for MMA and boxing events?
MR: The biggest difference between MMA and boxing is that they’re two completely different sports. Boxing is part of MMA; MMA has so many more variables. With boxing, you’re talking about rich history and there is a certain rhythm calling boxing. I always prided myself with carrying a passion and I know it’s not for everyone.
In boxing, my focus is on my one job and that’s to do the play-by-play. In MMA, I used to do a lot of things, the blow-by-blow, the color. They are two different animals.
I’m juggling a lot less with boxing, but it’s far from the case from MMA. It’s telling the story and painting the picture in boxing. Doing this 30 years, you find it’s subjective and filled with different styles. For me, the some of our parts and the natural chemistry with Al Bernstein and Paulie Malignaggi, the pieces do fit together. Everyone associated with Showtime sports, I owe my career to them, Steve Farhood, David Dinkins, Stephen Espinoza. Every one of my colleagues has been very helpful. I know I have a long way to go, but I am heartened by the feedback from people in the boxing industry that have supported me.
The Ring: How would you describe your broadcasting style?
MR: The fact of the matter is, I’ve received a lot of scrutiny about my style. What you see on air is what you see off the air. I have a vast vocabulary that I like to use. I can tone it down, I am learning to pick my spots better (laughs). I pride myself on expressing what I feel. These fighters deserve my attention and respect. They deserve everyone’s attention and respect. I thought boxing broadcasting needed an injection; someone calling punches with zest and relish. If you’re not a fan of the sport you’re broadcasting, you should be doing something else. You would be able to tell who the phony is, because I’m not just doing it for a paycheck.
I would describe my style as passionate and intense. I like to convey the drama. I feel I’m a very good traffic cop. I want to get the fans to feel what I’m feeling. I like painting word pictures. You’re always aware of the sound bites. I’m the in-your-face, play-by-play guy who can enlighten and entertain you along the way. I know it’s not for everyone. But I like to portray who I am.
The Ring: What’s the most difficult aspect of your job?
MR: The most difficult aspect is, I think, I still talk too much (laughs). I need to pick my spots out more and let the fight breathe a little bit. My duty is to let Al and Paulie in. They’re the experts and the analysts. The most difficult thing for me is finding that perfect rhythm. Stephen Espinoza and Dave Dinkins took a chance with me. I’m getting people in MMA that are telling me that I’ve made it in boxing. They can’t believe that I’ve adjusted to this in less than a year. I wouldn’t be here without Gordon Hall, David Dinkins, Brian Kenny, Al and Paulie, they’ve all made the transition so smooth.
I’ve received incredible feedback that has been aggressive and it’s helped me get better. I do this because I’m blessed to do this. I have the best seat in the house, calling the greatest athletes in the world. I love the sport and I don’t want to insult them and the athletes, and the people at Showtime who took a chance on me. I have to give them the best Mauro Ranallo that I can be.
The Ring: You’re very open about your battle with your bipolar disorder. How and when did you find out you were bipolar?
MR: I was 19 when a very close friend, Michael Janzen, died of a heart attack. That sent me into a deep depression. I was diagnosed shortly thereafter and it has been hell, and anyone who suffers through mental illness knows the hell that I have been through. There were times I was in a psychiatric ward and I thought that I would never get out.
Very few people know this, but two weeks prior to my break doing the Pride Fighting Championship, in October 2003 in Tokyo, Japan, I was in the hospital. I didn’t want to be labeled as mentally ill. I woke up one day and I wasn’t going to let myself defeat myself. In 2003, I started taking my medication and I have taken a pill every day since then. I went through a very good run there when I was very stable. I don’t need a lot of sleep. I’m very compulsive. I’m always reading, I’m always working and it is a daily battle. I’m no different from someone who has overcome drug addiction or alcoholism. I’m doing much better in taking care of myself, but I’m learning to dial down and to have a balance. Being bipolar in some ways is a gift (laughs), believe it or not. You’re able to think quickly. I played the keyboard for meditation purposes and I can almost mimic anything I hear.
The Ring: What have been the biggest challenges with being bipolar?
MR: I never attempted suicide, but I have had suicidal thoughts. The biggest challenge is there are many days I feel like a fraud. I’ll be honest. Then I think I helped myself get to this point — but everything I thought of came to fruition. What I’m doing now is what I always thought I would do as a child. I want people to know and I’m glad the stigma is being mitigated with mental health. I’m very open with my battles. Yes, some of us have been given a life sentence with mental illness, but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. It’s why I call myself the “Bipolar Rock ‘n Roller.”
I was a DJ in the clubs and it just came to me. Some people might not think it’s cute, but right there, that was my introduction. People knew who I was. I think the conversation needs to be held. I’ve been given one of the greatest jobs in the world and I’m bipolar. People see what I do and think it’s easy. Everyone who’s ever watched sports would love to do what I’m doing. But there is a fear sometimes — and if you’re not afraid of live TV and a live broadcast, I don’t know what you’ll be afraid of. It can be daunting. It’s why I’m also a big proponent of being in touch with your gifts.
The Ring: I understand that you are devoted to helping those with the disorder. Can you talk about that?
MR: My voice is my instrument and I have to take care of it and use it accordingly. It’s also allows me to trumpet what I’ve been through. I won’t hide behind being bipolar. I never have. I was a debilitatingly shy boy growing up. My personality developed when I got older, in school. My parents were old-school Italian that thought in traditional ways. You go to school, you work for everything you get. I know both of my parents are very proud of me. I know what it’s like to have the stigma of carrying a mental disorder. It’s why I say here I am here as living proof that you can have a functional life. You can chase and realize you’re dreams. Some of the most brilliant minds in history suffered some mental disorder. Look it up. I learned to deal with it and take my medication. I get out and do things. I don’t, or won’t, let pressure get to me. No one criticizes me more than I do myself. I’m always trying to get better.
The Ring: You’ll be calling the biggest boxing event in years when Floyd Mayweather Jr. fights Canelo Alvarez on September 14. You must be thrilled.
MR: I am. You have to be. It will be without a doubt the biggest event I ever did, and I think of how fortunate I was to call many, many great events. But I think I’ve earned the right to call this fight, and I say that humbly, because I worked my ass off to get to this point. In many ways, I can’t believe it, because sometimes too many people are afraid to grab the brass ring when it’s out there to grab. Too many times personally I’ve been told no. I know how big this fight is and I can’t wait to be at ringside with my colleagues and be the verbal soundtrack.
I’ve already called the many scenarios of this fight in my head. I was preparing for this fight for months, and months away. To me, it isn’t work — it’s a passion. In terms of the magnitude of the fight, I feel blessed to be ringside, and I have a lot of people to thank for the opportunity.
The Ring: What stood out most from the 10-city promotional tour for Mayweather-Alvarez?
MR: What got me was the crowd support and the atmosphere from each stop. It was unbelievable, from the beginning in Time Square and everywhere you went, there was the palpable feel just how fight this fight is. I also felt something else: Saul Alvarez is a superstar and I think he connects with a cross section.
We can be in for a perfect storm. Mayweather is older. He will be 36 going into the fight and he wants to shut up a lot of critics who have questioned that he never fought the best. That he hand-picked his opponents. It’s also a chance for the sport of boxing and that whoever losses on September 14, it shouldn’t hurt their stock. For me during the tour that was so unusual, Mayweather wanted to play the good guy. Canelo doesn’t have the speed of Mayweather, but I truly believe we’re going to see the kind of fight Mayweather had against Miguel Cotto. It’s going to be great. I can’t wait to see it.