Bloody Elbow Exclusive: An Interview With Michael Schiavello

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MMA fans received an early Christmas present at Dream 9.  Instead of the usual drab banter between Kenny Rice and Bas Rutten, we had the pleasure of listening to Michael Schiavello call the action.  A 13-year veteran at the ripe young age of 34, Schiavello has called kickboxing, Muay Thai, and MMA fight the world over. 

If you know anything about me, I'm pretty particular about my commentary.  Schiavello has impressed me with his quick wit, expansive knowledge of the sport, and strong broadcasting voice.  The guy, in my opinion, is right at the top when talking about MMA play-by-play guys.

Thanks go out to Michael for taking the time to talk with us.

Bloody Elbow: How did you get the opportunity to do Dream 9 for HDNet?  Has there been talk of doing future shows?

Michael Schiavello: Well as you know K-1 shows are now broadcast on HDNet and I commentate all of those. The response to the commentary of the K-1 stuff has been tremendous, I am very humbled by it all. The powers that be at HDNet decided to give me a run commentating DREAM.9 live for them, which I was thrilled about.

At the end of the day I was happy with the broadcast and had a lot of fun with it. It was great to work for the first time with Guy Mezger, he's a cool guy, pardon the pun.

BE: During the telecast you referenced the "Imanari Foot Fetish War Wagon" and Yoshihiro Akiyama's "Sexyama" moniker while also namedropping Sherdog.net.  How much time do you spend scouring internet message boards for material?  Is this your way of reaching out and giving a wink to the hardcore fans or do they just add a layer of flair to your repertoire?

MS: I'm a massive consumer of information. Whenever I have a passion about anything, I get totally obsessed with it and just need to get every piece of information I can on it.

Commentating is no exception. Whether commentating MMA or K-1 or Muay Thai or The Contender or The Olympic Games, I'm always thoroughly researched and fully prepared. I am passionate about my work and what's more I am a passionate MMA fan, so I am always looking at sites and getting as much information as I can.

I love reading the various sites and I often give a nod to sherdog because I read the site a heap and get so much entertainment out of it, as I do most of the sites. There are always those oddballs on every site who want to sniff Akiyama's thong and rub Imanari's feet, but there are also those great, educated fans who enter into some very good online debates. 

I think it would be remiss of an MMA commentator not to scour the internet. After all, MMA owes much of its success to the internet. Without the internet, promotions like the UFC in particular would have died in the ass many moons ago. In fact you could probably say that MMA is the world's first ever internet driven sport. I mean from Bloody Elbow to Sherdog to Kakutougi to InfiniteMMA to Five Ounces to MMAJunkie to SportzBlitz to MMA TV... how many other sports can boast such a huge internet presence?

At the end of the day too, like I said, I am a fan. I fucking love MMA, just like I love K-1 and Muay Thai and most other fight sports. I can't get enough of the shit. Checking the websites gives me a direct insight as to what the fans of our sport -- the people who give us ratings that keeps me in a job -- are thinking and feeling.

The worst mistake a commentator can ever make is to think that somehow the fans are below him. Every true commentator should be a fan of the sport he announces.

So yeah, I like my commentary to be layered, I like to offer as much insight and storylines and tidbits as I can. The internet is a great tool for me to collate more and more information.

Oh by the way, I have been calling Akiyama "Sexyama" for a long time now. This was just the first time US fans heard me say it. The fans gave him that name and I fucking love it!

BE: You made your feelings clear about Jose Canseco's involvement on the show and reacted harshly and honestly to Sokoudjou's lack of restraint at the end of his bout.  How important is objectivity to you in your broadcasting?

MS: Objectivity is important to a degree but I will always call it as I see it.

What was I gonna say with Canseco? That he's the next big thing in MMA? That at 44 he's a threat to everyone? That he's embarking on a serious MMA career? Puhlease. Like everyone else I thought: here is this guy who was on The Simpsons, who tapped Madonna (not in the MMA sense, wink wink), who used to be the shit in baseball, who is now a celebrity past his used by date who would go to the opening of an envelope just to be seen. He's clearly doing this for the pay day. End of story. What I wanted to do in commentary was question this. I wanted to question if it was a wise move, fronting up against a giant without any training, even for what I said was a rumoured six-figure pay day. I wanted to get Guy's thoughts as a former great fighter would he have taken on Choi with no training, no experience, just to get paid a bunch?

And you know what, well done Jose! He had the nards to step up and he threw down for 45 seconds or so till his knee went and Choi pummelled him on the ground. Choi isn't a great fighter but he is fucking huge, fucking scary to even stand next to and if he hits you with his little finger alone you're gonna feel it!

As for Sokodjou, well, that was just a classless act. I mean, that was insane and I told it like it was. We all did. He is just lucky Ray Sefo and Faii Falamoe were restrained by officials or they would have cracked heads South Auckland style.

I know that Ray is itching for a piece of Sokodjou in K-1 or DREAM. I wanna be there when that shit goes down!

BE: How did you get started in broadcasting and broadcasting for combat sports in particular?

MS: Oh man I have been in this game for a long time, even though I'm only 34.

When I was 16 I did my first ever commentary of a Track and Field event in Melbourne. I also began hosting my own radio sports show. Yeah, I was a nerd at High School. While all my mates were out popping their virginity and getting drunk at house parties on the weekends, I was commentating soccer, reporting on Aussie rules football, and doing lots of radio.

Then when I was 21 a fight promoter in Melbourne asked me to commentate the video of his show. Other promoters heard it, liked my style and asked me to do their shows. Then when Foxtel (Fox Sports) came on air in 1996 they asked me to commentate for them and I have been ever since. The rest, as they say, is history, and I am fortunate to have commentated the most amazing events around the world.

BE: You like to run down the odds prior to a bout.  Are you a gambling man yourself?  How would you describe the role gambling plays in the fabric of combat sports?

MS: No I am not a gambler at all. Even when I go to Vegas I don't gamble.

I don't mind people gambling if it adds to their drama and excitement for the sport, as long as it doesn't become an addiction. Also as long as gambling does not infiltrate the sport so much that it affects outcomes.

Also, I wouldn't like to see gambling affect the aesthetic of the sport, like it does in Thailand with Muay Thai. Those fights start so fucking slow for the first three rounds because the Thais all bet during that time. But Westerners see this and think this is what Muay Thai is and so they start fighting all slow and shit too. What the fuck! You're not Thai! You're not in Thailand! No one is betting on you! I understand a feeling out process but seriously get in there and fucking hit the guy! That really irritates me.

BE: Who is the best fighter and what is the best fight you've called in your career?

MS: The best fighter on the planet? Fedor. He pwns all. Anyone who thinks otherwise should be slapped with a wet trout.

Oh man the best fight I have called? I have called thousands of fights and so many were epic. Probably the best was Ray Sefo vs Mark Hunt in 2001, still voted by K-1 fans as the greatest K-1 fight ever. Also Masato vs Buakaw at the Budokan in 2007 was off the hook. Commentating Kawajiri vs Alvarez last year was crazy. In Beijing commentating Vasyl Lomachenko's run to the gold medal in boxing was exhilarating.

Overall though the best events are Dynamite on NYE. I have done the last three and they are just the bomb. I hope HDNet will show Dynamite live this year so the US audiences can see how epic Dynamite is.

BE: Which broadcasters have influenced you throughout your career?

MS: The only broadcaster who has influenced me was the late Robert Marella, who you may better know as Gorilla Monsoon.

I am a huge wrestling fan, not so much now but old school when it was still the WWF and the likes of Hulk Hogan, Macho Man, Rick Rude, Mr Wonderful, Mr Perfect, the Ultimate Warrior etc were running around. Back then it was Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura forming the greatest on-air partnership ever.

Gorilla was just a class act. He was exciting, he was informative, he could sell a story line and he was very generous with his co-commentators and had great chemistry and great anchoring. I still get out my old video cassettes and watch and listen to Gorilla do his thing. You will hear some references to my love of wrestling in my commentary, such as when I say "Goodnight Irene". That was the finishing move of the late Adorable Adrian Adonis, who I loved watching, so I adopted his finishing move's name as one of my knockout signature catch-cries.

BE: Who are your favorite broadcasters in the combat sports realm? 

MS: I don't know, man. Nobody really grabs me or gets me excited to be honest. It's just that a lot of the broadcasters out there are dull. They are just soundbite guys, just shillers. That's not commentating. Where's the drama? Where's the passion? Where's the excitement? If you sound like you're reading from cue cards, that's a cue for viewers to fall asleep!

You have to have passion behind the microphone. You have to have knowledge too. I mean as a play by play announcer you don't necessarily have to have an Eddie Bravo-esque Jiu Jitsu IQ of 200, but you need a solid grip on what you're commentating on. A lot of guys don't have that. What you lack in the technical department you can make up for in information and excitement and passion. But a lot of guys don't have those either!

Look, Joe Rogan is someone I really like to listen to. I have never met the guy but I would want to work with him because you can tell that, like me, he is above all else a fan. If he wasn't announcing you know he'd still go watch the fights. He has the passion and it comes across.

I think it was Bruce Springsteen who once said that the key to him being a great artist was his ability to make HIS obsession his FANS's obsession. That is what a good announcer needs to do. For fuck sake, we commentate the most crazy, awesome sport in the world! If you're obsessed with it then relay that obsession, that passion, to the viewers.

BE: If given the opportunity to work with anyone dead or alive, who would you choose?

MS: I'd work with someone alive, definitely, as the dead guy wouldn't say much! Kidding! I know what you mean. Again like I said before, Joe Rogan. I think he and I would rock. Also I'd like to work with Guy Mezger again, he was just cool and laid back and very knowledgeable. Stephen Quadros would be good to do a show with. Bas Rutten and I could have a lot of fun. But yeah, that would be about it.

BE: Describe your most embarassing on-air moment.

MS: It happened years ago at a Muay Thai show in Melbourne on Fox Sports. The emcee was brand new and my director asked me to give him some instructions. Anyway at the end of the main event the emcee goes to the loser of the fight to talk to him. I flicked off my mic, flicked on the talkback to the emcee's earpiece and said, "Nah fuck him, go interview the winner..." ... lo and behold if you listen closely, even though my mic was off, you can hear me say this on air!

BE: How many five year olds could you take in a fight?  Ground rules as follows:

-You are in an enclosed area roughly the size of a basketball court.
-There are no weapons or foriegn objects.
-Everyone is wearing a cup.
-The children are merciless and will show no fear.
-If a child is knocked unconscious he is "out."  Same goes for you.

MS: Haha! Man, my nephew is five years old and when we playfight he clobbers me. Five year olds are brutal, man, they have no moral barometer and no sense of what hurts. And they stand at junk height so when they hit they hit the worst spot!

How bout we just let the five year olds duke it out themselves, Lord of the Flies style, and I will commentate!

BE: Using a one liner, how would you describe yourself?

MS: He's got more lines than a cocaine addict.

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