Goldberg's fightin' word

JOSE RODRIGUEZ, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

UFC announcer Mike Goldberg calls it the first big fight he called before he began calling the biggest fight club on the planet.

As a member of the Detroit Red Wings broadcast crew in 1997, the former ESPN announcer was doing the play-by-play when Motor City grinder Darren McCarty exacted his revenge on perpetual pest Claude Lemieux of the Colorado Avalanche for a dirty hit that broke Kris Draper's jaw in the previous playoffs.

"Mickey Redmond was my partner at the time," recalls the 44-year-old Goldberg.

"Mickey used to go down at the end of the period to do between-period interviews, but he'd always go down a couple of minutes early so he could have a smoke.

"All of a sudden, Mickey misses it and I'm up there by myself calling what has to be considered one of the greatest fight moments in Detroit Red Wings and NHL history.

"Mac came around the backside and hammered Lemieux. He dragged him right back in front of the boards where Drapes got hit and started pounding away on him."

START MADE IN JAPAN

Goldberg remembers thinking he'd found his dream job and would be calling NHL long into his golden years.

But in December of that year, his hockey producer, Bruce Connal, asked him if he wanted to earn a little extra money announcing a niche spectacle called the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

"I got a call from Bruce saying there's a gig in Japan, they'll pay you this much," says Goldberg.

"All I heard was 'gig' and 'pay,' so I jumped on it."

UFC Japan was the 16th show staged by the fledgling promotion. Goldberg readily admits he didn't know a lot about the event.

He recalls cramming on the long flight to Japan.

"I'd heard about Tank Abbott and I heard of this Royce Gracie guy, but I wasn't one of those guys who in 1993 said 'wrestler meets karate man, that's the greatest thing ever,' " says Goldberg.

"I did a quick brush-up, but it was (referee) Big John McCarthy's wife Elaine, who was the travel co-ordinator at that time, who gave me the background on the Gracies and the UFC."

Goldberg remembers Big John putting him in chokes in a Yokohama hotel lobby the day of the fight to explain some of the finer points of what he was about to witness.

"It was a crash course," he says.

Randy Couture went on to win the heavyweight belt in a fight with Maurice Smith that night and Frank Shamrock made his UFC debut.

Since then, Goldberg has called every major UFC fight, but one stands out.

'MIRACLE' IN THE OCTAGON

Following a year-long dispute with the UFC, Couture returned to fight for the heavyweight belt at 43 years old against a monster-sized Tim Sylvia in the fight club's first foray into Ohio in March 2007.

"I'm from Ohio, so I had family I didn't know and friends I didn't like there that night," he says.

"But what stands out for me was the way the crowd reacted. The way they counted down in the fifth and final round to me was like when the U.S. Olympic (hockey) team won the gold medal in 1980," says Goldberg of Couture's unexpected victory.

"I felt like Al Michaels. Like I should have screamed out, 'Do you believe in miracles?' "

Goldberg, who trains in all disciplines needed for MMA, also counts Georges St. Pierre's win over Matt Serra in Montreal as one of his favourite fights.

Goldberg has become a UFC staple and, along with main event co-host Joe Rogan, is as popular with fans as many of the fighters.

Outside his play-by-play duties, Goldberg also hosts UFC Unleashed on Spike TV.

JOSE.RODRIGUEZ@SUNMEDIA.CA


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