Last Saturday the UFC introduced a 3rd set of announcers - The British tandem of John Gooden and former UFC welterweight contender Dan Hardy. They'll be heard frequently on Fight Pass for shows based in Europe, such as the London event, and the Middle East, as well as Africa when officials eventually announce their plans for the continent.
I had high hopes for the duo based on Gooden's past work as Cage Warriors play-by-play man, and Hardy's great knowledge of the sport and his entertaining and informative opinions, of which he's shared both in UK newspapers and with Bloody Elbow directly.
Gooden and Hardy didn't revolutionize the commentary profession, nor did they become MMA's Pat Summerall/John Madden duo in one fell swoop, but it was probably the most enjoyable listening experience for a long time, and that's a credit both to them and the UFC's production.
My biggest pet peeve with UFC broadcasts is the feeling of sameness to the point where it's become stale. It's a monotonous format with interchangeable names and faces and the product is presented on a PPV in the same way as some Fox Sports 1 events. If you were to isolate the commentary from the arena atmosphere you'd think that the Fight Pass prelim guys are of a similar quality to championship caliber fighters. The excessive hyperbole runs deep, whether it's "elite" Che Mills, "50 guys have canceled on" Patrick Cummins, or "(Fighter X) has no weaknesses", Goldberg and Rogan have made a habit of this over the years. You can effectively advertise a fight without resorting to these extremes. The NFL does not advertise Jaguars vs. Browns as being of a similar quality to Seahawks vs. 49ers, nor does the NBA with Heat vs. Spurs compared to 76ers vs. Buck, so why does the UFC persist with this? It feels every bit a "dumbed down" production when watching a PPV or Fox show.
Gooden and Hardy seem well-researched, with an emphasis on European camps and fighters otherwise unknown to the casual fan, and it gave off a sense of intelligent analysis and intrigue. Hardy had a chance to call Ilir Latifi a "Rocky" story (one of the most irritating quips to hear on a UFC broadcast), and even with the movie theme playing during Latifi's walkout, opted not to make that equivocation. Gooden was not only effective at his primary job of play-by-play, but with his own extensive MMA background was able to chip in his own bits of analysis alongside Hardy. he Goldberg/Rogan set up has essentially been made for Rogan to assume both duties while Goldberg reads off inane facts, resorts to FightMetric stats, or asks the question "Can (s)he finish the fight?" before the trademark "IT IS ALL OVER!".
I also couldn't have been the only one to notice that they both went away from the now-standard set of adjectives attached to just about anyone on the roster. I'm not sure the words "elite", "explosive", "athletic", etc. were uttered on either the prelims or main card. They were informative, intelligent, incisive, didn't need to yell -- they were frequently drowned out by the boisterous crowd -- and most importantly unobtrusive.
Unsurprisingly, there were a few hiccups along the way. I found them inadvertently interrupting each other's sentences, and Gooden mistook Michael Johnson for Melvin Guillard on at least one occasion. There were some accusations of bias towards British fighters floating around, which I found to be somewhat justifiable but understandable considering this was broadcast on UK television on both Channel 5 and BT Sport. It wasn't overbearing but it was definitely there, particularly for the hyping up of Jimi Manuwa, making his UFC accomplishments seem on par with Gustafsson's.
Their next appearance is for UFC Fight Night in Abu Dhabi on April 11th, when Big Nog battles Roy Nelson, and I definitely look forward to hearing them again.