By DAN GELSTON, AP Sports Writer
Mauro Ranallo is back in the faux fight game.
Ranallo, who split with WWE amid the type of controversy not even its creative team could script, announced his return Thursday to call the action for the sports entertainment company’s feeder system, NXT.
He better rush back from Friday night’s TV taping in Winter Park, Florida.
Ranallo has a date on the pay-per-view broadcast team for Bellator NYC: Sonnen vs. Silva on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Ranallo will handle play-by-play with longtime Bellator color commentator Jimmy Smith for the MMA promotion’s anticipated card headlined by Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva.
The biggest, baddest bouts in Bellator history on the fight game’s grandest stage? You bet.
The richest card Ranallo will call this year? Not quite. Ranallo was named this week as the play-by-play announcer for the mega fight between UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor and boxing great Floyd Mayweather.
Ranallo, a veteran combat sports announcer, will have the best seat in the house for a tripleheader of fight promotions that has made him the main event voice of 2017.
“I’ve never been more successful than I am right now,” Ranallo said by phone as he walked the streets outside MSG.
Bellator, the No. 2 MMA promotion behind UFC in the United States, loaded its card for its MSG debut. MMA great Fedor Emelianenko fights Matt Mitrione, and Phil Davis anchors the undercard against Ryan Bader in a light heavyweight title fight.
“You’re seeing now where highly-prized free agents are actually choosing to leave the UFC,” Ranallo said. “I think the healthier Bellator can be, the better it is for the entire sport, especially the athletes who, let’s face it, need to be paid more. They need the opportunity to negotiate and have an option. Bellator definitely presents that.”
The familiar names stretch into the booth — Bellator plucked longtime UFC voice Mike Goldberg to call play-by-play on the undercard and then anchor the desk once the PPV kicks off. Ranallo will anchor the desk for the undercard billed as Bellator 180: Davis vs. Bader that starts at 8 p.m. on Spike.
Ranallo has a history with Bellator MMA President Scott Coker from their time together at the defunct promotion, Strikeforce.
“I like the mix, I like the direction,” Ranallo said. “It’s one of the reasons I decided to sign on with Bellator.”
Bellator will broadcast on pay-per-view for only the second time in promotional history.
Ranallo and Bellator seem like a natural fit.
But his return to WWE following a stint calling “Smackdown” went off the rails in April, a bit of a surprise to all but wrestling insiders. His nearly two-year run ended amid stories he had been bullied by a broadcast colleague . Ranallo, who has been open about his battle with mental illness, missed two tapings in March because of what WWE said was a snowstorm and sickness. He was never mentioned on TV again.
“I was willing to walk away from my dream job, let’s leave it at that,” Ranallo said. “In order for me to do that, I had to be true to my convictions and what makes you a human being.”
Ranallo has made the move to NXT , a sort of minor league system for WWE based in Florida.
“Never one to miss the precise name of an esoteric hold, a timely pop-culture reference or an exclamatory ‘Mamma mia!,’ Ranallo will soon have his first chance to commentate over NXT’s hard-hitting brand of action,” WWE said on its website.
WWE executive Paul Levesque — known better as the sledgehammer yielding Triple H — tweeted his support of Ranallo’s return.
Ranallo will also be behind the mic for the sporting event of the summer when McGregor and Mayweather fight in a boxing match Aug. 26 in Las Vegas. Al Bernstein will handle the color with Paul Maglianaggi. Jim Gray is the sideline reporter.
“This is the money fight,” Ranallo said. “This is a sporting spectacle, nothing more. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I equate it to the Battle of the Sexes with Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. It’s Evel Knievel attempting to jump over Snake Canyon.”
Ranallo did play-by-play for Showtime for the last richest prizefight of all time, Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao. He also called the Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko fight at Wembley Stadium in London.
“Dealing with my own health issues and where I come from, I’m not supposed to be here,” Ranallo said. “Now I’m calling one of the biggest MMA events of the years, calling the biggest prizefight of the year … and the fact that I’ll soon be getting back into professional wrestling, I wouldn’t trade places with anybody.”
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