No one is more disappointed than Mike Goldberg about the way things ended between he and the UFC.
The longtime play-by-play voice of the Octagon unceremoniously parted ways with the UFC last month after spending 20 years as a mainstay of the company’s broadcast booth — exiting the UFC without even a tribute from the promotion itself. On Monday, speaking publicly for the first time since his departure, Goldberg said he was stunned to learn of the UFC’s decision to not renew his contract at the beginning of December, and explained that he simply resolved to close out the final three shows of his UFC career with the same level of professionalism as everything that came before.
“It was a shock,” Goldberg said on The MMA Hour. “I was speechless. I didn’t know what type of emotion to have, because I was just in a state of shock and disbelief. People love that warm, fuzzy blanket. That’s what you were describing a second ago, and (longtime broadcast partner) Joe (Rogan) and I have been that warm, fuzzy blanket for a long time when it came to the UFC. Everybody gets new blankets and they get new furniture, but at the end of the day, when you cuddle up on a Sunday and you watch football, that blanket in the corner that’s got holes in it, and it’s kinda smelly but that’s your blanket, that’s the one you utilize.
“Joe and I have been so blessed and fortunate to be — and I love the description, ‘the soundtrack’ — so blessed and fortunate to be the soundtrack of the UFC for so long, that it really was, I was in shock and disbelief for that reason.”
Prior to his leaving, Goldberg was one of the last remaining figures within the UFC to pre-date the Zuffa era. His career outside the Octagon began all the way in 1997, back when he replaced Bruce Beck on the play-by-play desk at UFC 15.5: Ultimate Japan — a full three years before an investment group led by the Fertittas and Dana White purchased the struggling UFC for just $2 million dollars.
Over the years since, Goldberg and his broadcast partner Joe Rogan announced hundreds of UFC events big and small, serving as the voices of the Octagon at a time when the sport grew from awkward sideshow to the international behemoth that it is today.
But Goldberg’s dismissal was not an isolated incident. A myriad of high- and low-level UFC employees have either left the company or been laid off since the UFC was acquired by entertainment giant WME-IMG for a massive price tag of more than $4 billion in July 2016. And for that reason, Goldberg said he did not ask the UFC why it was letting him go after initially being offered no reason behind the move.
“I’m no different than the guy in merchandise, or the 15 vice presidents who got let go, or the entire team in Canada that was shut down,” Goldberg said. “I’m not the only guy who was let go by the new ownership. Well over 100 people [were let go], and good friends of both yours and mine. I’m the one being talked about because I had the high-profile job, but I’m not going to sit here and weep because new ownership came in and I was one of the guys who got cut. I was one of a lot of people, and a lot of good people, from the Zuffa era who got cut. And so I felt for my co-workers, for my friends, as much as I felt for myself.
“I watched everything around me be shattered,” Goldberg continued. “It took 15 years to build this wonderful family, and it felt like it was taking 15 minutes to destroy it. And it just was a really tough time, and it may still be tough. There may be more to come throughout the UFC family. This is not uncommon in an ownership change with anything. It might just be corporate America, it might be on Wall Street. In this instance, it’s a sports property.
“So what reason were they going to give me? And would that make me feel any better or any worse? No, not at all. So honestly, I just felt respect for the other members of the family that also were released, and I’m no better than any of those guys. So, it is what it is. Extremely disappointing, don’t get me wrong. But mostly disappointing because our family has really been torn, and that’s what I’ll miss the most.”
Goldberg admitted that he was still bothered by one aspect of the way things went down in December. Despite giving 20 years to the company, Goldberg said he never once heard from UFC president Dana White about the UFC’s decision, and that he had not spoken to White since everything went public at UFC 207.
“No conversations, no contact. Nothing, really,” Goldberg said. “Nothing. Which was surprising. Disappointing, certainly. But nothing was said, and I’ve got to live with that. At the end of the day, what matters to me is my family, my children. But no, to answer your question directly, there was no conversation. Nothing at all.”
When asked if he was surprised by that fact, considering the length and history of the relationship between he and White, Goldberg admitted that he wasn’t quite sure.
“How do you answer that really?” Goldberg said. “What’s more important to me is my character. I’m just going to stay strong, and I’m going to think about myself and the professional that I am and my character. I don’t think there’s any way to answer that without it being somewhat controversial or somewhat angry, so I’ll leave that one alone. But certainly, I’ll tell you this: that I’m a team guy and I love the UFC brand, and I represented it in the way that I was asked to for two decades, and of course, about 15 years with Zuffa. So yeah, when you carry the flag the way you’re asked to, yeah, it was somewhat of a bummer, to say the least.”
While he had his critics over the years, there is zero doubt that Goldberg served a major cog in the UFC machine for nearly two decades. His many catchphrases helped to define the organization, and he was an omnipresent figure for many of the UFC’s most historic moments.
That is one of the reasons why Goldberg’s final night at UFC 207 left such a bitter taste in the mouths of many observers within the MMA community. Rather than preparing a tribute for its longtime commentator, the UFC made no mention of Goldberg’s impending departure on the UFC 207 broadcast and Goldberg was given zero time to offer his thanks for everything over the years. That left Goldberg with no recourse but to quietly reflect about his road once the cameras turned off and UFC 207 was in the history books.
“We all sat there as the building was cleared, and we actually all got in the Octagon and did pictures,” Goldberg reflected. “Joe and I had a couple of big hugs. There were tears. There was confusion. Disbelief, for sure. Frosty, our longtime audio guy, it was his last show. It was Kru Mark DellaGrotte’s last show. Again, going back to the family, and it was emotional. Being with my stage manager for all of those years, we did pictures. We haven’t done pictures in the Octagon in about 100 years, but (we) did that night. And we all went back to the dressing room, and Bruce Connal, our longtime producer, and Anthony Giordano, we all just sat there for about an hour and we just shook our heads. Like, how is this happening? How is this ending? Back to the shock and disbelief.
“But we cherished that time together, and like I said, there were hugs, there were tears. But there’s one thing for sure, and there’s one thing that will never be taken away, and that’s our friendship, and that’s the great run and the memories that we’ve had together.”
Goldberg admitted that, at least initially, he was hurt by the fact that the UFC declined to give him a chance to say his formal goodbyes on-air. However, as time has passed and hundreds upon hundreds of well-wishes have streamed his way, that sense of regret has faded. Today, Goldberg is OK with how things ended simply because the love shown to him by fans and fighters since Dec. 30 has been a better tribute than he ever could have gotten at UFC 207.
Moving forward, Goldberg vowed that he still intends to stay busy in the announcing space, perhaps even within MMA, and he offered his deepest thanks to everyone who reached out to him with words of encouragement or support over the past few weeks.
“I don’t even know if I can put it into words,” Goldberg said. “Because all I wanted to do during my career, and I said this on my Twitter, was entertain the fans, to bring energy and enthusiasm to every single show, and to represent the fighters. I didn’t think, for one minute, that I would get this kind of love and support from all over the world. I knew people enjoyed Joe and I on the UFC. I knew people always said that it’s different when it’s not Goldie and Rogan. But I never really knew, until now, how much they truly appreciated the job which I had done for two decades. And the outpouring of love and support has been overwhelming.
“It has been the most humbling experience of my life, and it makes me know, deep in my heart, that regardless of anything else, that I did it right. And I will continue to do it right, wherever that next place might be.”