Sh*t Gets Real: Gus Johnson Defends Strikeforce Commentary in Angry Late-Night Phone Call

My wife and I had just sat down on the sofa last night around 11 pm and I was pecking away at a “Where are they now?” story for CP about Jared Shaw, when the phone began to ring. I consulted the call display, which did little to identify who was on the other end of the line, besides displaying a nameless and unfamiliar number.

“Who the hell is that calling here at 11 o’clock at night?,” I wondered aloud.

“You should probably answer it,” my wife suggested. “It must be serious for someone to call this late.”

She couldn’t have been more right.

“This is Gus Johnson,” the person on the phone informed me. “I want to talk to you about some things you said about me.”

The $kala update would have to wait.

I start racking my brain. What could I have possibly said about him that could have been so offensive that it would warrant a long distance call to Canada to discuss at 11 o’clock at night?

“Dog, what are you doing going around saying I don’t know the difference between an armbar and a kimura and that I’m mistreating the sport because of comments I made on Saturday?”

You have to get up pretty early in the morning to pull a fast one over on me. I call bullshit.

“Nice try, buddy,” I said to the obvious imposter. “You had me until you called me ‘dog.’ Gus Johnson isn’t street. Who is this?” I demanded. “Is that you, Goldstein? Let me guess; this is some kind of hazing for my first day on the job.”

“Scott Coker forwarded me your email. Where do you get off saying that to my boss? Writing it on your website is one thing, but you contacted my boss to ask him about it,” a growingly more aggressive version of the man pictured above asserted. “Now it’s personal and you need to be accountable.”

Remembering that I did indeed email the Strikeforce president (and this man’s boss) to get a comment on the irresponsible statements made by his commentator at the past weekend’s Nashville event, I quickly scroll through my “sent” folder to the message in question and read through it one more time to see what I wrote. I couldn’t discern exactly which comment had so effectively gotten Johnson’s “proverbial panties,” as his Strikeforce broadcast partner, Mauro Ranallo might anunciate, in such a tight knot:

Hi Scott,

I hope this email finds you well. It was disappointing to see the otherwise great show marred by the incident Saturday night. I hope it doesn’t affect the CBS deal.

I was hoping you would comment on Gus Johnson’s comments Saturday night that “Strikeforce disrespected Shields” and “continually brought in guys to beat him” and that you “counted him out over and over.”

Also, what do you think of his off the cuff remark that brawling and scuffles break out all the time during MMA events?

Will he be working future Strikeforce events on CBS after badmouthing you and your company, or can we expect to see someone more familiar with MMA and who behaves more professionally?

He didn’t seem to know the difference between an armbar and a kimura.

Thanks in advance.

Mike Russell

Senior Editor

Sure, I may have been baiting Coker into responding, since he has up until this point chosen to remain silent on the issue, but I didn’t write anything in the email that was untrue or that scores of MMA fans and pundits haven’t been thinking, discussing or commentating about on scores of web outlets or message boards since watching the show Saturday night.

Opinions aside on his submission knowledge (or perceived lack thereof), which was really more of an afterthought or a footnote in my email to Coker, I had Johnson on the line and a written promise from the Strikeforce president that he would respond to the NBA-turned-MMA commentator’s offhanded and disparaging remarks today, so I had done half of my job as a reporter.

The onus was now on Johnson to explain himself and give his side of things and as much as I may disagree with what he says or does, I respect him for seeking me out to give me an explanation.

Game on.

As he had informed me a few moments prior, that I needed to be accountable for making him look bad by asking Coker for comments for a story, I turned the table on him and asked him why then he didn’t feel that he should be held accountable for what he said about Strikeforce’s treatment of Shields and his somewhat inaccurate dismissal of the dispicable display that took place after the main event on Saturday night.

To refresh your memory, after Team Cesar Gracie regulators Gilbert Melendez, Nate and Nick Diaz initiated what looked like a Stockton gang-style jump-in on Jason Miller, who had jacked the microphone from Johnson to plead his case for a rematch with Shields, the fixture of CBS Olympic coverage, scores of NBA and NFL games and March Madness broadcasts, explained that brawls like that were commonplace in MMA.

“Sometimes this happens in MMA,” he flippantly told the audience watching at at home. “There’s a lot of testosterone in the cage.”

As pointed out by your “other dad,” Ben Fowlkes in the first article he wrote for since turning his back on his aging wife and mouthy kids in favor of a younger, more endowed version, the ramifications of the remark may be more than meet the eye.

“If only Johnson had left off the “in MMA” part, or better yet, not tried to dismiss a complete breakdown of good sense with a flippant remark that suggested we were looking at people who weren’t responsible for their own actions, maybe it wouldn’t have seemed so bad.

As it was, there were likely many viewers checking out MMA on CBS for the first or second or even third time who saw the melee, heard that remark, and decided that yes, this kind of thing does just happen sometimes in this crazy sport.

After a finish like that, and at the end of a slightly boring night of fights, it’s hard not to wonder what the future holds for Strikeforce and for MMA on network TV in general.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not shifting the blame from those who are really to blame for the embarrassing melee that was broadcast to the homes of an average of 2.63 million television viewers. Miller, Melendez, the Diazes and even Shields should have to answer to more than the media for their hand in the negative light that was cast on the sport as a result of their rash actions.
But those stories have been done to death by now, so I wanted to look at things from a different angle.

And what an angle.

Besides inviting me to hop a plane to New York so we can settle this once and for all, mano-a-mano “on the mat, ring or whatever,” Johnson — who is perhaps best remembered as the announcer who called Seth Petruzelli’s win over Kimbo Slice “the greatest victory in the history of mixed martial arts” — was now also questioning my credentials as an MMA journalist, a career I’ve worked at for the past five years before being hired as senior editor of CP. When I inform him that my opinion is shared by several fighters, trainers and journalists I have spoken to as well as a growing number of message board posters who have made countless posts on his remarks in the past few days, he became incensed.

“Do you even train? If you’re as credible of a journalist as you say you are, you can’t take the opinions of people on the Internet to heart, without talking to somebody who knows what they’re talking about — me included. I take jiu-jitsu three times a week. I know the difference between a kimura, an armbar, a reverse armbar and an Americana from side control, because I study it,” he asserted. “As far as people saying that I damaged the image of the sport because of what I said about the shit that went down Saturday night, if anything, it was me trying to make an excuse for these idiots going out on national television and pulling what they did after the card was over. It’s obvious that it happens. People don’t need to hear it from me to know that it happens. We’ve all seen it. I state the obvious, and that’s obvious.”

Informing me that his own credentials include a blue belt under Renzo Gracie that he earned over two-and-a-half years of BJJ training (which coincides with the time he was hired as a commentator for EliteXC’s CBS broadcasts), four years of kung fu and 10 years of “Western boxing” training, Johnson, also made the lofty claim that he does more to further mixed martial arts than the majority of URL owners who cover the sport.

“I take a lot of criticism, but I try my best to try to help promote this fucking sport, when nobody else, including television executives could give two shits because they think it’s barbaric and it’s filled with a bunch of hoodlums, which is exactly how it looked to everyone watching the show Saturday night. I don’t really care about the ‘growing opinion’, because there’s another side that isn’t going to feel that way [about me],” Johnson explained. “There are certain messageboards and websites where people don’t feel that way at all. The problem with MMA is that these Internet guys ruin the sport because they’re negative 90 percent of the time. I’ve looked at them. if we give everyone a voice, we wouldn’t get anything accomplished. I try to say as many good things about these athletes in this sport on a network level — not on an underground level or a Spike TV cable level or a pay-per-view level. This is actual television and nobody knows if they’re going to pull the plug on this thing. If that happens, then everyone will lose money.”

So it’s about the money then?

Shouldn’t it be about promoting the sport and furthering the Strikeforce brand, not just doing your job under the guise of such things?

I’m not sure how saying that it’s common to see felonious brawls break out between corners at MMA events or repeatedly making statements like “Dan Henderson was brought in here to beat Jake Shields” and that Shields was “undervalued and disrespected” by the promotion is classified as promoting the sport or furthering the brand of the company you are under the employ of.

According to GJ, who says he stands by his assessment of Strikeforce’s mistreatment of their middleweight champ and shares his thoughts on who is to blame for the fracas, his job description doesn’t include being an ambassador of MMA.

“My job isn’t to promote the sport. I’m paid to give my opinion and to describe what I see and it’s my opinion that the guys they had Jake fight were supposed to beat him. That’s how I see it. I said it, so I believe it. That’s disrespect. Do you mean to tell me that Strikeforce didn’t bring a former Pride champion [like] Dan Henderson in to beat Jake Shields? Come on, man. I’m also not blaming Miller for what happened,” he said. “Mayhem didn’t do anything that Shane Mosely hasn’t done, or other fighters who aren’t a part of the main event of the card who get in the cage or the ring to hype a future fight haven’t done hundreds of times before. Floyd Mayweather wins a fight and Shane Mosley comes into the ring as soon as it’s over and asks when you gonna give me a fight, man? It always happens. That’s not a big deal. The reaction from Gilbert and Jake and all these guys was what was the big deal. It was improper, and to be honest, it was shameful.”