Joe Rogan performs the job of MMA color-commentator better than virtually anybody else in the world. From his ability to explain complex grappling concepts on the fly, to his honest criticism of fighters, cornermen, officials, and ice-buckets when they deserve it, Rogan does a lot behind the broadcast booth that’s admirable. And for a guy who makes his living as a comedian, he shows remarkable restraint in not turning his commentary gigs into a constant yuk-fest.
That being said, Rogan has a few bad habits that fans and fighters alike have pointed out over the years. For example: his tendency to focus on one fighter’s performance while ignoring the other, the verbal sex-acts he performs for jiu-jitsu fighters, or the way he pushes a pre-established narrative even when the actions in front of his face don’t actually support it.
UFC 171 gave us a pretty good example of this during the Carlos Condit vs. Tyron Woodley fight, which Condit was a clear favorite going into — in terms of betting odds as well as the UFC’s future plans. But even as Woodley dominated the majority of the match, it seemed like Joe Rogan was instead doing a play-by-play about how Woodley was gassing out because he’s too muscular. Woodley, as you can imagine, wasn’t too impressed afterwards. Here’s what he said about Rogan’s commentary in an interview with mmamental (via MMAFighting):
“It’s almost like they’re punishing you for training hard. They’re punishing you for being physically fit. I think Joe Rogan is horrendous for his commentary that he did for that fight. Everything was, ‘Oh, Tyron threw a hard bomb but Carlos took it. He’s got such a great chin. Oh, Tyron has a takedown. Look at Carlos. He’s doing the mission impossible guard [mission control].’ Everything that I did he was leaning it towards the credit of Carlos Condit.
“I think sometimes when you watch a fight and you listen to the commentary you can kind of veer the spectators, and hopefully not the UFC, in directions it shouldn’t be going…
“I was not wincing,” says Woodley. “I was not in any harm or any danger at any point in the fight. My cardio felt great and it was even in my gameplan to increase the level in the third round. I wasn’t even at full speed. People say, ‘He started off hard! He started off in a full sprint!’ I didn’t even start off in a full sprint. If they think that’s a full sprint for me, then I’m happy with it because they haven’t seen a full sprint yet.”
After the event, Rogan tried to argue for Rory MacDonald as the rightful #1 welterweight contender, since Woodley won due to an unexpected injury. That, to me, is pushing a narrative, and if you want to criticize him for it, go right ahead. Still, I don’t think Rogan’s performance during Woodley vs. Condit was that bad, for a couple reasons…
1) If you’re calling a match between two fighters, it’s natural to focus attention on the one who is more famous. On Saturday night, that was Condit. This isn’t necessarily a flaw in Joe Rogan’s performance, it’s a byproduct of all broadcast news-delivery: You lead with the person/thing that viewers are tuning in for.
2) If a fighter is dominating a match, it’s also natural to suggest ways in which the fight might actually be more competitive than it looks. Blowouts aren’t dramatic; fans don’t like them. Woodley kicked ass in round one, so in order to hold viewers’ attention, Rogan created a narrative in which Condit was staging a comeback. That might seem like bias — especially if you’re Tyron Woodley — but it’s also what a good storyteller does. Joe Rogan is simply doing his job.
Do you agree with that justification? Or does Rogan need to be more fair and balanced, no matter who’s fighting or winning?