He’s known simply as “The Voice,” and while he’s got the pipes, let’s be fair- a lot of guys have that. What sets HDNet announcer Michael Schiavello apart is his comic timing, quick wit, and years of experience. With HDNet, Schiavello is able to bring his unique take to K-1 kickboxing and MMA events like DREAM, Sengoku, and M-1 Global. Heavy.com’s Dave Walsh chatted the voluble Australian up about what’s up in Japan, Joe Rogan, and his favorite fights.
Heavy.com: Of late you’ve been announcing a lot more on MMA shows for HDNet, which has really garnered you a following stateside. You’ve announced a ton of stuff, from soccer to boxing to K1, muay thai and now MMA, which sport do you feel the most excited about while you have that headset on?
Michael Schiavello: I get excited about any sport I commentate. It’s hard to choose a favourite between K-1 and MMA, especially between K-1 and DREAM as they are both just epic events to commentate, but I’d have to say K-1. For me K-1 has awesome fights, lots of drama, great characters and the atmosphere at a show is just insane. This is a really hard question because I really love everything I commentate and even if there is a boring fight I enjoy the challenge of finding ways to make it still interesting to watch.
Heavy.com: Who are you favorite fighters to announce or watch in MMA, K-1 and K-1 MAX?
Michael Schiavello: In MMA I love watching Fedor Emelianenko, GSP, Anderson Silva and Gegard Mousasi the most. I think each is extraordinary and just highly entertaining, with Fedor being the guy I’d probably watch above anyone else in MMA purely from a fan perspective. As far as MMA fighters I enjoy announcing, Minowaman is probably my favourite because he is such a character and constantly defies the odds by beating larger opponents in dynamic ways. He’s the Hulk Hogan of MMA in my opinion.
Whatchya gonna do when Minowamania runs wild on you, brother!
I also love commentating Sakuraba’s fights. I have been a fan of his since the start of his MMA career and when I commentated him for the first time at Dynamite 2006 it was just amazing. As for K-1 it’s no secret that my favourite fighter to watch and to commentate is Badr Hari. There is nothing he can’t do in the ring. His knockouts are off the hook — a highlight reel possibility with each and every shot he throws. He’s also a great guy outside the ring. I also love commentating Melvin Manhoef as anything can happen when Melvin fights and he always goes for broke. Peter Aerts of course is the man and I get a huge thrill every time I call his fights. In K-1 MAX I’m a Masato devotee through and through. In my opinion he is one of the finest fighters on the planet in any combat sport.
Heavy.com: You’ve mentioned in the past that K-1 MAX is some of the best action, yet K-1 MAX always seems to get pushed on the backburner. This weekend K-1 MAX has their big tournament and K-1’s big media push is for Masato’s New Year’s Eve fight. On top of that, HDNet is airing it a week after it happens, while shows like Sengoku, DREAM and most regular K-1 shows air live in the states. Why do you think this is so, do people really have a size fetish with fighting still?
Michael Schiavello: I don’t think it is a size fetish at all. Why you don’t see a lot of K-1 MAX live on HDNet is because of the strange days that MAX fights are held. They are usually on week nights in Japan, which is fine for the Japanese audience but doesn’t sit well for US television. If MAX held their shows on Friday or Saturday nights I am sure you would see them live on HDNet. Also remember that K-1 GP and DREAM are bigger brand names than MAX for the moment as K-1 GP is long established and DREAM is part of the whole MMA craze, so MAX naturally takes a back seat to them but only for the moment. MAX’s popularity is building in leaps and bounds on HDNet so I don’t think it will be long before MAX gets the same prized attention as K-1 GP and DREAM.
Also lets give credit to HDNet because they are the only Amerian broadcaster to ever show live K-1 GP and to show MAX events. HDNet really is your home not only for MMA but for ALL fighting. I am so proud to be a part of the HDNet family and I think we have the best team in the business — if anyone dares to argue I will get Bas Rutten to liver punch them!
Heavy.com: Speaking of K-1 MAX, who do you see taking the World MAX tournament this year?
Michael Schiavello: Well at the start of the year I said Giorgio Petrosian would be my darkhorse to win it all and I still stand by that. He is just a superb athlete and a real thinking man’s fighter in every sense of the term. I have followed him and commentated his fights in the Muay Thai world for years so to me it is no surprise that he is doing so well in his debut K-1 year. It won’t be easy for him as I see a final between him and Andy Souwer (a rematch we have all been waiting for after Petrosian controversially decisioned Souwer in Milan earlier this year) but I think Petrosian is hitting his stride and just too good with his counter-attacking style and use of angles.
Heavy.com: Masato’s retirement has sort of cast a cloud over K-1 MAX, to where his retirement is bigger news than the tournament itself, and without a doubt he has been the Japanese star to watch in MAX to engage the Japanese fans. Do you think Masato’s retirement will hurt the K-1 MAX shows or will Japanese stars like Yuya Yamamoto be able to captivate those fans?
Michael Schiavello: I think it will hurt MAX, for sure. It’s like when Mike Tyson was sent to jail and thus gone from the world of boxing for the first time — it hurt boxing big time as there was no one else with Tyson’s ferocity or marketability to immediately take his place. Obviously Lennox Lewis would come along and offer a whole different marketing strategy but he was no Tyson. Same for Masato. He offers the perfect marketing tool for MAX as a brilliant fighter who is technically sublime but can also knock people out. He’s a two-time champion, he’s so good looking that women want to be with him and so successful that men want to be him. He’s gold dust for K-1 and that is why they are looking for ways to keep him around in some capacity, either as a commentator or even moreso as the new K-1 MAX event producer. Guys like Yuya Yamamoto, Kido, Sato, Nagashima etc all have their marketing angles and are all good fighters but none of them hold a candle to Masato.
Heavy.com: One name we never stop hearing about the past few months is Alistair Overeem, with a lot of American fans upset with him holding the Strikeforce Heavyweight title but not really focusing on fighting stateside. How do you feel about Overeem’s rise in popularity, especially on the K-1 circuit and do you feel some of this controversy is putting a damper on just how good he is right now?
Michael Schiavello: I feel that people aren’t giving Alistair his dues. He is an amazing athlete and always has been despite your thoughts on his size and muscularity. He has fought Muay Thai, MMA and K-1 which is something rare in itself. He has beaten top names in all these fighting styles and maintained an insanely busy schedule across several organisations. That said I would like to see him on Strikeforce again defending the title. It is ridiculous that he has not defended it as it really cheapens the title at a time when Strikeforce need to solidify the value of their heavyweight strap what with the signing of Fedor.
Alistair’s popularity is due to a few things: firstly he brings a big MMA fan base to K-1. Second he brings an aggressive style with a lot of strength and very good technique. Third he gets results even when the odds are against him, such as against Badr Hari last NYE and against Peter Aerts in Seoul. He speaks well, he looks imposing, so he seemingly has it all. These are all reasons why he is one of the most demanded fighters in the world right now.
Heavy.com: The K-1 World Grand Prix has an interesting lineup this year, with Peter Aerts not appearing for the first time, Semmy Schilt back in the mix and wildcards like Alistair Overeem involved, who do you see walking away from the World Grand Prix as champion?
Michael Schiavello: At this stage my money is on Badr Hari to meet Semmy Schilt in the final. Badr looks like he is ready mentally, spiritually and physically. He’s had two fights this year and they’ve lasted a total of what? About three minutes? He blasted Semmy in Amsterdam in under a minute and then knocked out Samedov in Seoul with just one punch to the guts. I think his time in Morocco earlier this year where he was a special guest of the Royal Family did him wonders. It took him away from the hecticity of Amsterdam and it made him appreciate what he has, who he is, his life and those around him. He has exorcised the demons of 2008 and just looks ready to accept his destiny.
Heavy.com: Everybody has crazy Japan stories, be it with women, gadgets, yakuza, hotels, do you have any?
Michael Schiavello: Hahaha. Why is that? Japan is the sort of place where you can get really crazy and yes I have a few — quite a few — but I don’t know how many I can tell you! Let’s just say there have been crazy groupies in hotel lobbies at 4am. Me and Ray Sefo got chased by screaming hordes of fans down the street in Sapporo at midnight once and had to take refuge in a Karaoke bar till like 3am! I stuck my finger in a novelty item called “pussy in a tin”! I’ve been lost on the subway system. I’ve sung Karaoke with Konishiki. I’ve partied with Shaggy at One Eyed Jacks. But I don’t have any yakuza stories for you as I like to keep my fingers intact!
Heavy.com: You are clearly a fan of the sports you commentate and make mention of fan run blogs and sites during your commentary, do you think this helps give you a better perspective than most of the “professional” commentators who are rather dry? I know you’ve cited in the past that guys like Joe Rogan you are a fan of and would love to work with, do you feel like the internet making the fight industry a “smaller world” has helped guys like you, fans, becoming integral parts of the fight industry?
Michael Schiavello: I think the internet has been a god-send for MMA and without the internet MMA would be nowhere near as big as it is now. I use the internet all the time to keep abreast of fans’ thoughts and feelings and I think any responsible, good commentator who understands that they are commentating not for their own ego but for the fans needs to know what the fans are thinking and feeling about the game. If you’re not in touch with the viewers then you risk being completely out of touch yourself. This is why I often give a shout out to various sites during the broadcasts. There are hundreds of thousands of fans who go online and chat about MMA every day and drive all the discussion and speculation about the sport. That makes it so much fun! I look forward to devouring websites when I get the chance and seeing what people are thinking and arguing about. As a fan myself first and foremost I love it but as a responsible commentator who wants to do his very best each and every show I make it part of my job — a big part — to know what my audience wants. The internet also allows me to be very accessible. I’m pretty easy to get a hold of if viewers want to get a message to me and I always do my best to answer each and every letter I get. A lot of commentators have a holier-than-thou attitude that they are somehow above the common fan. That’s rubbish. To be a good commentator at any sport you HAVE TO be a fan yourself otherwise you’re nothing more than a shilling mouthpiece. This was really hammered home to me at the Olympic Games last year in Beijing where I commentated all the boxing for 110 countries as part of the ABU. Every day I was working alongside some of the world’s finest sports commentators and the thing about each of them — even the guys who were commentating sports like handball and discus throw — is that they were all massive fans of the sports they called and hence they were selected as the best of the best to commentate the Olympic Games.
And yeah you mention Joe Rogan — he’s one guy I respect the hell out of and would love to work with one day. Joe’s a fan first and foremost. You can hear it in his voice and see it in his eyes. He’s also a great bloke. We hung out in Edmonton recently and got on like a house on fire.
Heavy.com: What is the best fight that you’ve called and what fights are you looking forward to calling?
Michael Schiavello: This is a tough question as I have called over 4,000 fights! The best one though was Masato vs Buakaw in 2007 at the Budokan. That was just insane! The crowd was insane, the fight was insane and the commentary came up insane as I was calling it with my brother Ray Sefo and Mike Bernardo. As for what I am looking forward to, well, everything. The K-1 Grand Prix in December is always the big one, the Super Bowl of Striking as I like to call it and that’s become my signature event I suppose. This year will be my seventh K-1 Grand Prix I have called. Also I am looking forward to Dynamite on NYE. That show is just the bomb. It is like a rock concert mixed with Cirque du Soleil mixed with the most incredible night of fights imaginable. I’m like a kid in a candy story calling Dynamite every NYE.
For more about the Japanese kickboxing scene, check out Dave Walsh’s blog Headkick Legend. Michael Shiavello is online as well and can be heard seemingly daily on HDNet.