Alan Jouban: ‘Bad move’ for Jamie Varner to criticize Laura Sanko the way he did

Laura Sanko has received almost universal praise as a great addition to UFC’s commentary team since making her broadcast debut, but no one in that job is above criticism.

Rarely does a UFC card end without broadcasters having fans or fighters take aim at them for something said during telecasts that often last for seven to eight hours. This past weekend at UFC Vegas 89, it was former WEC champion Jamie Varner who took issue with Sanko’s commentary in a pair of since-deleted tweets. Varner declared that Sanko “sucks so bad at commentating” and “speaks about things she knows nothing about.”

Varner was also critical, saying, “leave the commentary to the people that have actually fought,” which earned a response from Sanko reminding him that they actually shared a card together when she was still actively competing in her own MMA career.

Alan Jouban, who serves as a color commentator for LFA and works as an analyst for the UFC, understands that it’s inevitable you’ll eventually face negative remarks when doing that particular job. That being said, Jouban disagrees with Varner’s assessment, especially about Sanko’s knowledge of the sport and her supposed lack of experience as a fighter.

“I think Varner, he’s focusing on the wrong things too much,” Jouban explained on the latest episode of The Fighter vs. The Writer. “What do you know about a blast double? How many times have you shot a blast double? She knows! She grapples. Maybe that’s not her go-to move, but she’s educated enough to speak on the fact and I think he got a little off track. Everybody has certain people that they like more or don’t like more, but to come out publicly and speak so harshly on it, it’s a bad move by Jamie.

“She’s very educated and she speaks so well, and she does have the background to back it up. The problem is what Jamie Varner is focusing too much on is that, look, maybe she wasn’t a blast double type of fighter, but she still fought. That doesn’t mean you can’t know what it’s like or [have] an educated opinion on it having been around the sport for so long. I wasn’t a blast double guy either. But if I see a blast double, I know how to speak on it, and that’s what Laura’s doing.”

Whether it’s Varner or someone else, Jouban accepts that nobody escapes harsh comments when calling fights. Fans have their favorites, and what appeases one person may irritate another.

Jouban knows from personal experience that it’s impossible to please the entire crowd, but unlike his fight career, he does take those comments to heart a little bit more.

That’s likely the same for Sanko as she continues to learn and grown as a color commentator — and the only woman currently working in that capacity for the UFC.

“You’re going to get criticized every time,” Jouban said. “You’re not going to win over every fan. A lot of fans have their favorites, and when they don’t have their favorite [and] one of their least favorites are commentating, they’re going to criticize, and you see that quite a bit in this sport. The best thing to do is to just stay away from it, but it’s impossible not to look and see, especially when we’re talking about your career, something like this. It was much easier as a fighter. If somebody criticized me about fighting, ‘oh, this dude sucks, he’s going to get wiped out, this guy’s going to get knocked out,’ that’s because they don’t like me or whatever.

“But when you go out there and you study and you train and you call a fight, and your job is to build these fighters, to make this event not about you but about the fighter, and make this exciting, and also give your educated opinion on certain areas to help kind of guide the audience through these fights with you, you’re telling a story and you want them to come along on the story with you. But the whole time, the focus is the star of the show, is the fighters. That’s all that we’re trying to do, but you don’t always make everybody happy in these things.”

Beyond her work as a color commentator, Jouban also praised Sanko for the work she’s done in other facets since joining the UFC broadcast team. Sanko originally started as a backstage interviewer and now wears many hats, including her more recent gig as a color commentator.

Jouban believes that makes her even more valuable to the promotion.

“Laura’s a unicorn for the UFC,” Jouban said. “That’s why they love her. That’s why [executive producer] Zach Candito puts her on so many jobs. Because how many of us that do this can do color commentary, can do the desk job post and pre-fight show, can do sideline reporting, can do interviews backstage, and also has a great personality? [She] can go do the weigh-in show with [Daniel Cormier] and hold her own against former champions drinking beer in a very guy-oriented environment and hold her own. She can do all these jobs and hang with everybody.

“She’s like a utility knife of this type of job. They can put her anywhere and she’ll be able to do a great job. That’s why she’s always constantly on TV, because she can do it all. She really can.”

As far as Varner goes, Jouban won’t tell anyone how they should feel. He just believes the UFC and WEC veteran went about it the wrong way with how he took aim at Sanko this past weekend.

Jouban can’t promise he would have reacted in similar fashion, but he appreciates that Sanko was so gracious with her response.

“Obviously, Laura wasn’t one of Jamie Varner’s favorite commentators,” Jouban said. “He found an event that he just got his phone in his hand and said, ‘I’m going to go off on her.’ It was the wrong move. It was a bad move by him.

“She took a very classy route. That was tough to do. Credit to her. I’ll see if I can take the high road when I get that criticism one day.”

Listen to new episodes of The Fighter vs. The Writer every Tuesday with audio only versions of the podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and iHeartRadio