Comedian Rogan the perfect, and unlikely, voice for UFC's broadcasts
Known for 'Fear Factor,' Joe Rogan stands as sports' most unique commentator
A long-time MMA enthusiast, he became the UFC's backstage interviewer in 1997
He's no stand-up making jokes; Rogan is trying to represent the educated fan
ATLANTA -- Joe Rogan readily admits that he doesn't know the rules of football. When he turns on a television and sees a basketball game, he has no idea what's going on when the whistle blows.
"When I watch sports, like a football game, I see a bunch of guys trying to dominate a bunch of guys," Rogan explains. "But it's not real: It's a ball and there's [a] line. But no one gives a [crap] if you throw a ball between two posts. It doesn't mean anything. The only reason it means something is if you attach some artificial significance to it.
"But it always means something when a guy kicks you in the head or is choking the blood out of your brain. That always means something. And when someone slams you on the ground it always means something. It's universal. It transcends languages and cultures. There's nothing like it. It is the root of all sports. The will of all sports is men dominating other men."
It's that type of primal passion that makes Rogan the most unique sports commentator on television. For a sport that prides itself in its no-holds-barred style, the unfiltered, uncensored and sometimes unbelievable Rogan is the perfect voice of UFC broadcasts, albeit an unlikely one.
He's the first to admit the relationship doesn't make much sense. How did a stand-up comedian -- known to many as "the dude from Fear Factor" -- become the voice of the fastest growing sports organization in the world? How did the quirky electrician from NewsRadio become a go-to source on mixed martial arts?
Rogan said he's been involved in MMA his entire life, but it wasn't until UFC 2 that he became captivated with jiu-jitsu. A four-time state taekwondo champion in Massachusetts, Rogan was blown away by MMA legend Royce Gracie's ability to submit larger opponents with ease. Through a connection with his comedy manager, Rogan was able to land a gig as the UFC's backstage interviewer in 1997.
It wasn't exactly hitting the big time. Rogan traveled on propeller planes to towns like Dothan, Ala. and "places you've never even heard of in Louisiana" to cover events. He said he eventually got tired of the rural venues and that fact that he was actually losing money so he decided to quit.
"I was talking to people at work and they would act like I was doing porn," Rogan said. "I was on a sitcom and flying all over the country on the weekends doing these cage shows."
But Rogan would return to the organization after meeting and forming a bond with new UFC president Dana White. Soon after, he moved from backstage to cageside on pay-per-views and began stepping out into the sport's spotlight.
"I had nothing planned -- no aspirations to get into sports broadcasting. It was 100 percent luck," Rogan said. "It's a merger of a bunch of things that don't make sense. Comedian/cageside commentator? That doesn't make any sense. This sport that comes out of nowhere? That doesn't make any sense. Even the way I do the commentary, it's not the way a regular sports guy does it. No one had done it before me. I don't remember anyone doing post-fight interviews so I just kind of winged it."
Unlike Dennis Miller's stint on Monday Night Football, Rogan isn't a comedian cracking wise about a sport he's loosely familiar with.
"What I try and represent is the educated fan, the real hard core fan," he said.
Rogan, 44, said he doesn't do any additional prep during a fight week because he is already so engrossed in the sport during a normal week. He pours through tapes, interviews and training sessions because it's his passion.
"There's never a time when a fight is about to start and I wish I was somewhere else," he said. "I've really gotten incredibly fortunate that everything I do doesn't feel like work."
He's also been lucky enough to train with some of the best in the MMA business -- including Brazilian jiu-jitsu legends Jean-Jacques Machado and Eddie Bravo. Using that background, he's able to call UFC events that can feature both MMA and wrestling moves with stunning accuracy. UFC middleweight Chael Sonnen recently marveled at Rogan's ability to decipher a fight explaining, "I couldn't do [his] job for a Jon Jones fight because I don't even know what half of those moves are called."
To even a knowledgeable fan, the intricacies of the sport can be lost on the ground. But Rogan is able to explain to aficionados and amateurs alike what is going on.
"The sport is so complex and fascinating in so many aspects that it's a never-ending source of entertainment for me," he said.
It's one of the reasons the UFC employs him -- a versatile analyst that can appeal to the average man and appease die-hards. But he's not for everyone, thanks to an opinionated style that knows no bounds. He's angered fighters like Quinton "Rampage" Jackson before for being critical of fighters on telecasts. And his unfiltered commentary -- much like his comedy -- has gotten him into trouble more than once.
Recently, at UFC 142, he called out referee Mario Yamasaki in a post-fight interview inside the octagon after the official disqualified Erick Silva for illegal blows to the back of Carlo Prater's head. Much like an incensed fan, Rogan put the referee on the spot and questioned his call. Rogan drew criticism for skewering Yamasaki, but the commentator said he has no regrets about his controversial and always candid style.
White recently defended Rogan's excitable style and said that he embraces Rogan's passion regardless of what others might say.
"Nobody will tell Joe Rogan how to talk, act, do, whatever," White said. "He's not going to change. He is who he is, and that's why I love him, and that's why he works for us."
Rogan said that type of support is one of the reasons he loves his job. With enough money "squirreled away" from six seasons of Fear Factor and other mediums to express himself -- such as his podcast The Joe Rogan Experience and touring as a stand-up comedian -- Rogan said he doesn't worry about speaking out when he sees something he doesn't like.
"If I had to watch what I say, to be honest, I wouldn't want to do it. For real," he said. "If you're constantly worried about where your next check is coming from or you're on edge because of what your boss might say, it keeps you from doing a good job."
Rogan said that when he's working alongside co-host Mike Goldberg, all he is worried about is representing MMA the best to his abilities. He's not trying to steal any attention from the UFC, he's just trying to pay honor to the sport he loves.
"I don't think I should be thinking about anything else. What's most important to me is I'm passionate about what I do, I'm knowledgeable about what I do and I'm honest about what I do. Everything else just mixes it up."
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