Exclusive Interview: ‘The Big Kabosh’

Schiavello Has Become Synonymous With Muay Thai And Kickboxing Commentary!

Michael Schiavello in a suit
Michael “The Voice” Schiavello. Picture courtesy of Thoth Hermes.

Michael Schiavello (born on the 10th of April 1975) is an Australian sports commentator and journalist. He has commentated for AXS TV, K-1, DREAM, Maximum Fighting Championship, King of the Cage, ONE Championship and The Contender Asia. He has also written for more than 50 publications worldwide, was the long-serving editor of Blitz Magazine, was the editor of International Kickboxer magazine until 2009, was a feature writer for Inside Sport magazine, and was the youngest ever inductee to the Best Australian Sports Writing Awards.

– Wikipedia

An introduction is really not necessary! People worldwide who follow Muay Thai and Kickboxing know who Michael Schiavello is – or The Voice as most call him.

He is one of the most charismatic, enthusiastic, entertaining and knowledgeable commentators out there, and by far THE best, when it comes to Kickboxing and Muay Thai.

FIGHT SPORTS had the opportunity to sit down and have a real long, sincere, funny and extremely interesting talk with the award winning artist – and he delivered “more knocks than a front door“.

Michael Schiavello and Pat Miletich
The Friday Night Show: The Voice and UFC Hall of Famer Pat Miletich. Picture courtesy of AXS TV.

 

FIGHT SPORTS: So Michael I know it’s been a long journey so far, but could you please tell us about your first foray into commentary? Was it fight sports from the very beginning?

 

Schiavello: The story of my journey into commentary began in 1991 in high school, when I volunteered to commentate the inter-school Track & Field championships at Olympic Park in Melbourne. Truth be told, I thought it would be a fun afternoon off school, but as soon as I called a race I discovered I had a talent for commentary. After that experience, I began commentating soccer on local radio for a few years, which I enjoyed very much.

 

FIGHT SPORTS: Ha ha, okay. So you went from Track & Field to soccer. It seems like a bit of a diversion to develop a passion for Kickboxing then. How did that come about?

 

Schiavello: It happened in 1992. I was in my final year of high school and plugging away at my dream to one day become a sports journalist. Every weekend while my friends were at parties I was covering football and soccer matches for the local paper and radio. I was also hosting a Sunday morning sports show on Southern FM radio, for which I became well known as a teenager who scored interviews with major sports stars. I remember interviewing the likes of Goran Ivanisevic, Stefan Edberg, Gabriela Sabatini, Wasim Akram, Richie Richardson, Pele and Jeff Fenech, all when I was 16 and 17 years old!
Anyway, in December of 1992 Melbourne hosted the biggest Kickboxing fight of all time when Stan “The Man” Longinidis fought Dennis Alexio for the heavyweight title. I knew Alexio from the movie ‘Kickboxer’ where he starred alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme. I thought he’d make a cool interview for my radio show, so I finagled an interview with him at his hotel, passing myself off as some hot-shot interviewer from a big commercial radio station. Alexio saw right through me, of course, but he gave me the most exciting and entertaining interview I’d ever done. After the interview he asked me to have lunch with him. I was blown away! Imagine that! I’m 17 years old and the heavyweight champion of the world, who is also a movie star, asks me to lunch!
I managed to get a media pass to the fight and covered it for the local paper. Even though Dennis lost, I developed a tremendous friendship with him. Not an Easter or a Christmas passed over the years when he didn’t call up to say hello and see how I was doing.
In 2007 K-1 headed to Hawaii with me as its official commentator. During that trip I finally met up with Dennis Alexio again, having not seen him since 1992. I haven’t seen him since and I know he’s run into trouble with the law, but I owe my career greatly to Dennis. If he had shunned me back in 1992, I don’t know that I ever would have fallen in love with Kickboxing and the martial arts.

Schiavello with Steven Seagal
Schiavello with Steven Seagal. Photo credit: ONE Championship.

 

FIGHT SPORTS: Wow! And so it began, ha ha. But how did the K-1 gig come about?

 

Schiavello: Well, in 1994 I got a phone call from a Kickboxing promoter (Paul Demicoli) who had heard me commentate soccer on the radio. He asked me to commentate his upcoming show but I turned him down because I had never commentated fight sports, even though I was covering martial arts for Blitz and International Kickboxer magazine (which I co-founded in 1993). Paul begged me, saying, “You’re so good at commentating soccer and you’ll be even better commentating Kickboxing I know it! Give it a go!” He twisted my arm so much that I ended up commentating his show.

 

FIGHT SPORTS: And your Kickboxing commentary career took off after that?

 

Schiavello: After commentating Paul’s show I got a phone call from Tarik Solak, who at the time was the biggest promoter in Australasia. He liked my commentary and asked me to commentate his next show. He paired me up with world heavyweight champion Stan “The Man” Longinidis and I brought in my friend (who was also training me in Muay Thai at the time) Mark “The Hammer” Castagnini. The show was at Dallas Brooks Hall in Melbourne and it featured Gurkan Ozkan versus Changpuek Kiatsongrit in the main event. Gurkan KO’d Changpuek and I screamed out, “Good Night Irene!” After the show, I remember Tarik calling me saying, “Michael, I love your commentary! I want you to commentate all my shows. I want this energy… but I have one question: who is this Irene you keep screaming about?”

 

FIGHT SPORTS: Ha ha ha, yeah we’ve all been wondering about this Irene mate, ha ha.
I know about Mark (Castagnini) through my time with International Kickboxer, and it’s fair to say that your partnership with Mark Castagnini became the stuff of legends Down Under!

 

Schiavello: True. In 1996 pay TV came to Australia and Fox Sports asked Mark and me to commentate for them. I was 21 at the time which still makes me the youngest TV commentator ever on Aussie television, and maybe one of the youngest in the world.
Mark and I were best mates, so we had that chemistry right from the start. We turned Fox Sports into our commentary playground and thankfully, Fox Sports let us run wild with it and didn’t try to handcuff us. We knew how to play to each others strengths. Mark was the straight guy, I was the crazy guy. We new how far we could go with each other and how much we could rib one another.
Mark would say: “This fighter’s moving more than you at a buffet line, Michael!”, and I would come back by saying: “At least I can spell buffet, Hammer! At school, your teacher asked you what came at the end of a sentence and you answered ‘parole’!”

You have to understand that at this time, this style of commentary was unheard of. Nobody was commentating fight sports with the over-the-top energy I did and nobody was using as much humor as Mark and me did. We created a brand so unique that audiences tuned in as much to hear what we would say next as they did to watch the fights.

FIGHT SPORTS: Ha ha ha: The Hammer and The Voice. You guys could have had your own stand-up comedy show, that’s for sure.
Would it be a stretch to say that many fighters from that era have you and Mark “The Hammer” to thank for making their names?

 

Schiavello: We did make a household name out of a number of fighters, because we made them into characters the viewers could become emotionally attached to.

If we take Gurkan Ozkan for example: by anyone’s reckoning, Gurkan was a one-dimensional fighter who wasn’t technical, but had loads of power. I began calling him “The Supreme Fighting Machine”, and developed a character for him as a wrecking ball laden with power, who could destroy anyone.
He became the biggest name in Australian Kickboxing in the late 90’s / 00’s. Everyone gravitated towards “The Supreme Fighting Machine”.

When you build characters, you can build drama and story lines. It was me who gave Tarik Solak the idea for Gurkan Ozkan vs Stan “The Man” Longinidis – Man vs Machine. Tarik came to me one day and said: “Michael, I need a show that will fill the Vodafone Arena.” That’s a 10,000 seat arena! So I said to him: “Make a fight between Gurkan Ozkan and Stan Longinidis.” He said, “You’re crazy! Gurkan is a middleweight!” and I responded: “He will come up in weight and you will pack the place out. We can create incredible drama and develop story lines that will set everyone’s imagination on fire”.
And I was right: Ozkan vs Longinidis was a blockbuster sell-out. They both talked the talk, made appearances on commercial television, and walked the walk. It was unforgettable.

FIGHT SPORTS: That is so cool.
Now let’s get back to K-1. How did you actually become the voice of K-1?

 

Schiavello: Hmmm, I think it was back in 2001. I was working on radio again while also still commentating on Fox Sports. I got a call one day from Dixon McIver, who was the K-1 New Zealand promoter. Dixon said that the SKY TV K-1 commentator, Neil Wakka, had fallen ill and he needed a commentator to call the K-1 show in Fukuoka that weekend. The next day I jumped on a plane and flew to Fukuoka, Japan.

It was a dream come true to finally call an international K-1 show. I was only 25 years old but I knew I could call Kickboxing better than anyone else in the world. Now was the time to show it!
I delivered my best performance, helped in great part by calling the legendary Mark Hunt vs Ray Sefo fight on that show. The New Zealand audience loved what I did and after that I got the permanent gig commentating K-1 events for New Zealand television.

A few years later, K-1 approached me to become their official “voice”. I commentated K-1 events all over the world. It was the greatest time ever! I was in my element. As a kid, I grew up adoring the WWF and their larger than life characters. I wanted to do the same for K-1. I wanted to make the likes of Peter Aerts, Ray Sefo, Ernesto Hoost, Stefan Leko, Semmy Schilt, Bob Sapp, Alexei Ignashov, Francisco Filho, and Mark Hunt into larger than life characters who viewers would become emotionally attached to. So that’s what I did.

The Voice and The Hammer
The Voice and The Hammer. Photo courtesy of Bloodyelbow.

 

FIGHT SPORTS: Fantastic.
I have to ask you about Badr Hari: it seems like the two of you had a very special relationship, am I right?

 

Schiavello: Yeah. I guess the greatest nod to developing larger than life characters is how I built up Badr Hari over the years. Between 2005 and 2011, the Schiavello/Hari relationship helped propel Badr to global stardom, particularly in the way I put him over with American fans on HDNet (later AXS TV). We were made for each other, like Muhammed Ali and Howard Cosell, or like Gorilla Monsoon and Hulk Hogan.

The Hari drama culminated with his rematch against Alistair Overeem at the K-1 Grand Prix in 2009. I built up the story line of Badr Hari being the K-1 savior against an MMA monster who had come to K-1 to embarrass everyone and show that MMA was a stronger style. I hosted the K-1 press conference before the Grand Prix, which gave me a chance to really light a fire. Before the press conference, I said to Badr in private: “You’re the messiah of K-1, the savior, the one who will free us of the evil MMA monster. That’s the story line. But to make it work, I need you to call your shot. I want you to put a time limit on when you will KO Alistair, okay? How about one round? If you think you can KO him in one round, let’s run that story line and make it electrifying.”

Badr played along and told Alistair at the press conference that he would not last 3 minutes in the ring against him in the semi final. Boom! The place exploded. It was gold. I knew how to work Badr and get the best out of him, whether playing him as the ultimate bad boy or as a savior.

 

FIGHT SPORTS: Ha ha ha. Fantastic.
We cannot sit here and talk without me asking you, how you actually got the nickname “The Voice”! How did that happen – was it during the K-1 days?

 

Schiavello: Nah the nickname comes from my Fox Sports days, probably around 1997. The ring announcer back then was Andy Raymond, himself a terrific commentator both in boxing and rugby. He began calling me “The Voice Behind the Violence” and later shortened it to “The Voice”. The name just stuck and, of course, later became a show title on AXS TV when I did “The Voice Versus” series in which I interviewed celebrities including Hulk Hogan, Steven Seagal, Joe Rogan, Dana White, Sugar Ray Leonard, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Fedor, Michael Jai White and others.

Ray Sefo and Michael Schiavello
K-1 Heavyweight fighter “Sugarfoot” Ray Sefo with The Voice.

 

FIGHT SPORTS: Right.
One of the special things about you as a combat sports commentator is the self-made phrases and lines like ‘The big Kabosh’, ‘Goodnight Irene’ and so on.
Is this something you come up with by coincidence or do you actually sit down sometimes and think up new phrases and lines?

 

Schiavello: As I said earlier, growing up I loved WWF professional wrestling. My favorite commentator was Gorilla Monsoon, who is still my hero. One day, I was watching a match featuring Adorable Adrian Adonis. Adrian had a sleeper hold finishing move called “Good Night Irene”. I heard Gorilla Monsoon mention the finishing move and it just stuck with me.
Years later, when I commentated that Track & Field event in 1991, I blurted out “Good Night Irene” at the end of a race. I then carried it over into my soccer commentary and then into my fight commentary. It just stuck and is a homage to my love for professional wrestling as a kid.

The Big Kabosh… I’m pretty sure I started saying that in the late 90’s as a way to convey the impact of getting knocked out by a Mark Hunt punch, ha ha.

Over the years I’ve become renowned for my One-liners. There are so many:

  • More knocks than a front door.
  • More muscles that a seafood platter.
  • More beef than a cattle ranch.
  • More strikes than a bowling alley / builder’s union / box of matches.
  • More punch than a high school prom.
  • More kick than a chorus line.
  • Wearing more leather than the Blue Oyster bar.
  • More hits than Google.
  • More punishment than an S&M parlour.
  • More battering than a piece of fish.
  • He’s been on his back more than my ex girlfriend.
  • If punches were people he’d be China.
  • He’s doing a Tony Danza and showing his opponent who’s the boss.
  • He’s so short he could milk a cow standing up.
  • He’s so short he models for trophies.
    He’s so big giraffes are attracted to him.
  • That round was ugly but entertaining… just like my last date
“He has less personality than a head of lettuce.
  • He’s taken more shots than an alcoholic.

And so on.

Most of these One-liners are spontaneous. Sometimes, though, a good line will pop up in my head and I’ll lock it in my memory. They’re never scripted because fights aren’t scripted. I never know how a fight will play out.

 

FIGHT SPORTS: Right. Very interesting indeed.
When I was doing TV-commentary myself , I always thought that the key to good commentary was passion and excitement, first and foremost. Would you agree?

 

Schiavello: Absolutely. There’s nothing worse than listening to a boring commentator dialing in a call for a pay check. The commentator needs to be as engaged in the sport as the viewer. He needs to be completely present in the moment. My best advice to commentators is to “feel” the action, don’t “think” about it. Too many commentators get inside their heads and get lost in statistics, facts and analysis, which makes for a boring commentary. Storytelling, passion and a feel for the sport you’re calling is key.

FIGHT SPORTS: I totally agree mate.
Now on to something completely different. You’ve authored quite a few books, and recently published “The Commentators: 100 Years of Sports Commentary” which topped the best-sellers chart in 2021. What’s the book about (for those who haven’t read it)?

 

Schiavello: I am extremely happy with how that book turned out. It is a celebration of the profession of sports commentary which dates back to April 11th 1921, when Florent Gibson performed the first live sports commentary ever when he called a boxing match on radio. Sports commentary is the soundtrack of our lives, and my book looks at the greatest calls through history from over twenty sports. I also received input from some of the world’s greatest commentators, including the late great Vin Scully, the amazing Peter Drury, BBC Radio’s John Murray, 10-time Olympic Games commentator Bruce Breslow, and many more.

 

FIGHT SPORTS: Fantastic Michael.
I know that you’ve done gigs in Australia, Japan, Jamaica, Singapore etc. and that you’ve met all the stars of Muay Thai and Kickboxing and recently all the stars of ONE Championship.
Can you tell us what it’s like to be around these people and maybe some funny stories about some big name fighters?

 

Schiavello: Yeah, sure.
To be honest with you, most of the Muay Thai and Kickboxing stars are down-to-earth, nice guys. I think the reason for that is because most of them come from traditional martial arts backgrounds, which promotes the values of honesty, integrity and respect.
You see a lot more brashness and outlandish behavior from mixed martial arts athletes because many of them do not come from traditional martial arts backgrounds, and therefore they were not instilled with these values.

Kickboxing reached its peak during the K-1 era and guys like Ray Sefo, Peter Aerts, Stefan Leko, Ernesto Hoost, Bob Sapp and Francisco Filho were true megastars. They couldn’t walk down the street without being mobbed.
One time, in Sapporo, Japan, I was out to dinner with Ray Sefo and his entourage. After dinner we decided to walk back to the hotel – big mistake! Within a few minutes we had ten fans following us, then twenty, then thirty, then forty, then fifty fans hot on our heels as they all started recognizing Ray. It really was like a scene from the series ‘Entourage’ and Ray was Vinny Chase. It got so bad that we ended up running down the street and hustling into a karaoke place. The usher rushed us inside the elevator and we struggled to close the door because fans were trying to get inside just to touch Ray. Eventually we took the elevator to the fifth floor karaoke lounge and stayed there for an hour before the crowd downstairs dispersed and we could go back to the hotel safely.

The craziest moment, though, was when I commentated a show in Dubai with Pat Miletich (UFC Hall of Famer). The show was a Kickboxing tournament featuring Badr Hari. Diego Maradona was ringside along with some of the Chelsea players and Michael Buffer was ring announcing. It was awesome. Anyway, there were thousands of Moroccans in attendance in support of Badr. When he won the tournament, these Moroccans went crazy and charged the ring. Security got Badr and his team out there in a hurry. With Badr gone, the crazy fans turned their attention to the next person who was closest to Badr… the person who they most associated with Badr… me!
The fans began to swarm and Pat Miletich, who is one of the toughest SOB’s I’ve ever met, began to panic and said, “We have to get out of here – now! This is not gonna end well!”
Security formed a circle around me, Pat and Michael Buffer and cut a path through the madness. They ushered us into Badr’s dressing room backstage, but that wasn’t the end of it. We’re inside Badr’s changing room and the fans are pounding on the door trying to get inside. Security had to lean against the door to stop in from opening. The promoter, Prince Amir Shafipour, himself a legendary former Muay Thai world champion, opened the door to try and calm the fans and they tried to swarm him. He threw a couple of punches and had his shirt torn and they forced the door shut again.
It was absolutely nuts and it didn’t subside. After about half an hour, security told us they’d escort me and Pat and Buffer to an SUV via a secret passageway. We left through another door, were taken under the rafters, though the darkness, out a back door and hustled into a black SUV that took us to the hotel.

Michael-Schiavello-Book-Good-Night-Irene
Another masterpiece by Schiavello. Photo credit: ONE Championship.

 

FIGHT SPORTS: Ha ha ha: oh yeah, the things you experience at some Kickboxing shows, ha ha.
Let’s turn our attention to the years working in the US Michael. You made a massive name for yourself working for Mark Cuban’s HDNet/AXS TV network. How did that experience come about and what was it like working and living in the USA?

 

Schiavello: Sure. The story of how I got signed by Mark Cuban to work on AXS TV goes something like this: I was working as the official K-1 commentator calling the 2008 K-1 World Grand Prix. The show was beamed live to the USA on HDNet (later AXS TV) in the early hours of the morning. It just so happened that Mark Cuban was watching that live broadcast. I said that Semmy Schilt had less personality than a head a lettuce, and apparently this single line made Mark Cuban fall off his couch with laughter. Apparently, Mark then rang the CEO of HDNet, Andrew Simon, and said, “Sign up this crazy Aussie!”
The following year as I was on my way to Jamaica to commentate the Champion of Champions Muay Thai show, I got a call from Andrew Simon while I was passing through LAX. Andrew said, “Michael, Mark Cuban loves your commentary and we want to sign you to HDNet to commentate all of our shows. This could make you a household name in the USA in mixed martial arts.” When I arrived in Jamaica there was a contract in my email. The terms were acceptable so I said yes.
AXS TV was a tremendous experience. I commentated thousands of MMA fights, hundreds of Muay Thai fights, hosted my own prime time interview show, visited most American states and made wonderful friends. I worked alongside Pat Miletich for most of my spell at AXS TV but also commentated with Guy Mezger, Bas Rutten, Frank Trigg, and Jason “Mayhem” Miller. AXS TV gave me free reign – they let the “crazy Aussie” do his thing and I took it to the next level. It didn’t matter that I had an Aussie accent. In fact, I think the viewers gravitated towards me because of the accent. I built a huge following of loyal viewers who tuned in each and every week without fail. Pat and I became THE Friday night event for a lot of people. It didn’t matter what show we were calling: MFC, LFA, RFA, Legacy, Lion Fight, etc. – people tuned into the broadcast product because they knew we’d entertain them for three hours on a Friday night.

Commentating Lion Fights Muay Thai was certainly a highlight. We showcased Muay Thai to a large television audience and Pat (Miletich) and I had a lot of fun putting the sport over with American fans and making followable characters out of the likes of Kevin Ross, Pedro Gonzalez, Tiffany Van Soest, Jo Nattuwatt, Malaipet Sasiprapa, Nick Chasteen, Gaston Bolanos and the other Lion Fight stars.

Fedor Emelianenko and Michael Schiavello
Fedor Emelianenko and Michael Schiavello. Credit: AXS TV.

 

FIGFHT SPORTS: Cool. And you’ve commentated over 7,000 fights so far. What is the best fight you ever called?

 

Schiavello: That’s such a hard question Thomas, because there have been so many over such a long time. It’s hard to go past Zambidis vs Chahid in K-1 World MAX as the best. Anyone who has watched that fight knows what I’m talking about, and anyone who hasn’t, needs to go on YouTube now and watch it. You can thank me later!
As for great Muay Thai fights, again, so many, but more recently I’d say Liam Harrison vs Muangthai is up there as one of the best because it was absolute craziness. Five knockdowns in one round – I’d never seen anything like it and don’t think I ever will again.

 

FIGHT SPORTS: Yeah those are two extremely entertaining fights for sure!
You’ve been commentating for such a long time, and you’re still doing it at he highest level as the voice of ONE Championship, broadcast to over 150 countries. Do you ever think about hanging up the commentary gloves and, well, how would you know when the time is right to do so?

 

Schiavello: That’s a really good question. I haven’t thought about quitting commentary because I still love it so much. I still get those butterflies in my stomach before I go on air. When those butterflies stop, when I no longer feel the passion, and when I dread putting on the headphones knowing I have to talk non-stop for the next four hours, that’s when I will stop.

 

FIGHT SPORTS: Alright Mr. Schiavello: it’s been an absolute pleasure and very funny talking to you.

 

Schiavello: The pleasure is all mine mate.

Mitch Chilson and Michael Schiavello
Mitch Chilson and Michael Schiavello. Considered by many as the best combat sports commentary team.

 

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