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GOODEN JOB: Radlett resident’s journey from teen boxer to UFC commentator

 Published on: 5th May 2024   |   By: Sophia Sheera   |   Category: Uncategorized

Life-long athlete John Gooden played for just about every sports team in Radlett before fighting his way into the sports media industry as a commentator.

This month, John spoke to Radlett News about his local roots, Conor McGregor, and the meteoric growth of mixed martial arts (MMA) as a sport and industry.

John began: “My journey as a sportsman has been interwoven with Radlett life. While I was at Newberries Primary School, my classmate, Stephen Irwin, got me into judo at Scrubbitts Park Road. Eventually I started competing at a national level.

“Then I had a friend from Watford Grammar School who got me into karate; I played football for Belstone FC and both squash and tennis for Radlett Lawn Tennis & Squash Club. Combat sports were ever present through my formative years, and in my late teens, I took up boxing – somewhat influenced by the fact that I was neighbours with ex-England boxer Maurice Morley.”

Despite training with St Albans Amateur Boxing Club throughout his university years, John decided not to pursue a career as a professional athlete. He initially had a career in the City before a brief stint in the world of TV that left his confidence “crushed”.

Midway through his twenties and hopping between careers, John picked up MMA. It was in 2009 that a friend – David Lee from the CrossFace Training Center in Watford – hosted a show at Watford Colosseum. A presenter from LMA Muscle TV turned up to report on the event and John was disappointed with the way in which it was presented.

“You’ve got to remember that even at the beginning of the century, martial artists still weren’t respected as proper professional athletes,” explained John. “MMA was being spoken of in a very negative light – people in the media were calling us ‘cage fighters’ and other derogatory names.

“Yet after seeing the level of athleticism role-modelled by my coaches, I remember feeling that these athletes deserved better respect and a media industry that could do a more accurate job of representing them.”

At the next show, John was offered the opportunity to provide the commentary. With a life-long passion for martial arts combined with a natural eloquence, John soon found that he had accrued a lot of respect in local sporting circles. He started presenting nationally and even internationally, travelling to Russia and the Middle East to cover MMA fighters like Conor McGregor.

“It wasn’t about the money – in fact, I was losing money from taking time off work,” recalled John. “It was about trying to present a story.”

For some years, John’s work as a presenter and commentator was forced to remain a hobby, albeit quite the jet-setting one. His chances grew only when the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) – an American MMA company based in Las Vegas –started to expand internationally and began screen-testing commentators to present its shows. Only a year earlier, UFC had signed Conor McGregor, whose previous four bouts John had covered.

In 2014, the budding broadcaster embarked upon a fully-fledged career in TV for the second time in his life. This time, however, things shaped up quite differently; as a UFC presenter, John was soon producing features and commentating live on air for hours at a time. Under various guises, he was lending his voice to the growth of a sport he loved.

Ten years on and those who are familiar with UFC will know that matches are now swathed in promotional material. Over the past two decades, UFC and MMA more broadly have gone from a fringe sport derided by the mainstream to one of the most viewed sports in the world.

“Funnily enough, when I was at the BBC, I never really thought about commentating,” John laughed. “I thought it was all older gentleman and heavy statistics.”

To find out more, follow John on Instagram @johngoodenuk

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