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Mauro Ranallo: Tommaso Ciampa paid me compliment that ‘doesn’t get any better’

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LOS ANGELES — Mauro Ranallo has called Floyd Mayweather’s boxing matches against Manny Pacquiao and Conor McGregor. He’s been cageside for MMA fights featuring Ronda Rousey, Brock Lesnar and Kimbo Slice. Ranallo has been in the broadcast position for WrestleMania and the Royal Rumble classic between John Cena and AJ Styles.

Suffice to say, Ranallo, WWE’s play-by-play voice of NXT, has been around the block a few times in the combat sports world. He’s one of the more recognizable broadcasters in the space.

And yet, when asked about his most memorable moments at work, Ranallo can’t help but put last month’s NXT Takeover: New Orleans near the top of the list.

There was the card-opening ladder match that drew five stars from Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and a heck of an NXT title match between Aleister Black and Andrade Cien Almas. But the kicker, the unsanctioned five-star main event between Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa continuing their epic feud is what really got Ranallo.

“It was just a combination of something that is why we watch everything — why we watch all sports,” Ranallo said in a sit-down interview last week. “The storytelling, that visceral, palpable energy in that crowd and how firmly behind the ultimate babyface Johnny Gargano [they were]. And Tommaso Ciampa, right now — other than Samoa Joe — there’s no better heel in the business, because he completely embraces his role and it’s 24/7.

“But the story they told in the ring and the ebb and the flow. The fact that it was a year in the making, which nowadays with our gnat-like attention span, you just can’t do it. Well, we proved at NXT that you can. That’s why it’s so special to me, because it reminded me of what got me so invested in this business in the first place. And they were off the charts, what they did.”

Ranallo has a documentary coming out Friday, detailing his very real and sometimes devastating struggles with bipolar disorder. The longtime pro-wrestling announcer is hoping to further break the stigma surrounding mental illness with “Bipolar Rock ’N Roller,” which will air on Showtime.

Part of Ranallo’s mental health issues are a feeling of not belonging — imposter syndrome. Like he’s a fraud and didn’t earn his way here. Ranallo said he was given some validation during the Gargano-Ciampa match, one he did not expect. When Gargano threw Ciampa over the announce table, sending Ranallo and his broadcast partners running, the crowd at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans began chanting Ranallo’s catchphrase: “Mamma mia!”

“To hear the audience know that I was off the headphones, to have a crowd start chanting “mamma mia!” … I’m an announcer, but I guess I realize that I am making an impact,” Ranallo said. “And it’s not about the ego. It’s about, OK, well now that this is happening, how do I use this in a positive way? That was memorable, because it allowed me to say, you know what Mauro? These people do care and they are invested in what you’re doing. Again, maybe the illness or maybe just being a perfectionist, I’m never satisfied.”

Ciampa did pay Ranallo a compliment after Takeover that did more than satisfy him, though. Ranallo said that Ciampa told something along the lines of this: You’re doing for me what Jim Ross did for Steve Austin during the Attitude Era.

“Tommaso Ciampa, as one of the best heels,” Ranallo said, “it meant a lot to me for him to tell me what JR did for Stone Cold in the ’90s, he feels I’m doing for him now. It doesn’t get any better than that as an announcer.”