One month ago at UFC 152 in Toronto, Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez fought for the first flyweight championship in the organization’s history. It was a closely contested battle that went to decision, where Johnson won.
During the bout, a sizeable portion of the 16,800 fans in attendance booed at numerous occasions, seemingly unhappy with the flow of the fight or feeling there to be a lack of exciting action. It was not an isolated incident, as fans often express their displeasure when a fight isn’t deemed to be explosive.
However, it was particularly noteworthy when it took place during a historic fight with two of the best athletes in the sport battling their hardest for a unique chance at 125-pound glory.
Longtime UFC play-by-play announcer Joe Rogan, who called the fight for the pay-per-view broadcast, said that there are some positives and negatives to be taken from that.
But first, he draws a distinction between two types of people who attend live shows.
“I think there’s a big difference between fans and people that are in the audience who came to watch a spectacle,” Rogan said in a recent interview with Sportsnet.ca. “I think that the people who booed that flyweight fight are people who came to watch a spectacle. That fight between Benavidez and Johnson was an amazing fight. So technically brilliant, their transitions were incredible, the drama was great. The stakes were high. I thoroughly enjoyed that fight, yet I was amazed during that fight that I heard a lot of boos. Those aren’t fans. Those are fair-weather fans. Those are people who came to watch a spectacle.”
Rogan said those booing are the type of people who will go to see any event if they think will give them a thrill. It could be monster trucks, bull riding, or MMA — whatever’s in town that weekend.
“‘What can I watch that’s crazy?’… Those aren’t MMA fans,” Rogan said.
While UFC president Dana White was fired up in the UFC 152 post-fight press conference, imploring such people to never watch a UFC fight again, Rogan took a much more tactful approach, even suggesting that there is some value in their voiced opinions.
“When fans are critical about styles or about whether or not someone’s boring, I think that’s good,” Rogan added. “I think it’s important to understand for the fighters that they need to be exciting in order to get fans and this is a business as well as a sport. It’s important to get the win, but it’s also important to sort of get people excited about your performance, to get people excited about the idea of your fighting again.
“Criticism and the access to this criticism is important to both the sport to grow and to continue to be this dynamic and exciting sport that it is today, but it’s also important for the fighters themselves to hear what the people actually think about them instead of being surrounded by a bunch of people just bulls—ing them.”
Rogan, who is also an accomplished actor and stand-up comic, believes that applies beyond the fight game, and he has plenty of experience.
“When it comes to myself, in regards to my standup comedy or my commentary, I benefit tremendously from criticism, even painful criticism that I don’t like. It inspires me, it motivates me, and sometimes it’s accurate. And when it’s accurate, it inspires me to improve.”
One particular case during his time as UFC commentator when he took some specific criticism came earlier this year after a fight between rising welterweight Erick Silva and Carlo Prater. At UFC 142 in January, Silva stopped Prater with punches and hammer-fists to Prater’s head 29 seconds into their bout in their home country of Brazil. However, referee Mario Yamasaki disqualified Silva for blows to the back of the head, even though it seemed he never connected with any.
In a post-fight interview in the cage, Rogan publicly questioned Yamasaki on his decision and he received some criticism from fans and other media for that, with some calling his line of questioning “unprofessional.”
Rogan defended his critique of Yamasaki, saying not only did he feel it was professional but that it was necessary.
“My job has never really been defined (but I believe) my job is to ask the questions that I would want to ask if I was a fan, which I obviously am,” Rogan said. “I heard (people say) it was unprofessional, but … what does that word even mean? You might think that it was rude to put someone on the spot, but guess what? That’s their job to make calls, and when they make a really controversial and — in my opinion — bad call, it’s also important to visit that because I feel like Erick Silva, who is a substantial talent, probably one of the top talents in the 170 pound division, was robbed of a victory by a bad call.
“I don’t think it’s unprofessional at all. It was my job as a commentator, as a voice of the public, as a voice of the fan at home who felt the same way.”
Rogan, who has been calling UFC events since 1997, wasn’t just speaking off the cuff and he wasn’t trying to stir up controversy. He knew what he was talking about.
“If you watch the replay, clearly I was correct. He’s clearly not trying to hit him in the back of the head. And if you want to go back and look at Mario Yamasaki, who I love — he’s a great guy — but you want to look at some of his calls where he hasn’t done that where guys have blatantly punched guys in the back of the head. For instance, Vitor Belfort vs. (Yoshihio Akiyama at UFC 133), that’s a perfect example of a fight where Belfort teed off on the back of Akiyama’s head and Mario didn’t turn that fight around because Akiyama was out cold, but because Carlo Prater was complaining about it, Mario for whatever reason, made the call to disqualify Silva and I think that was a big mistake. I don’t think it was unprofessional.”
Rogan, who won “MMA Personality of the Year” at the 2011 World MMA Awards, certainly has the experience and the clout to express his honest opinions on his sport, its fans and anyone involved.