Joe Rogan takes issue with Stephen A. Smith’s Donald Cerrone rant after loss to Conor McGregor

Joe Rogan was standing just inches away when Stephen A. Smith provided some harsh criticism of Donald Cerrone following his loss to Conor McGregor at UFC 246.

The rant from the polarizing personality came on ESPN’s post-event coverage, and he tore down “Cowboy” for suffering a 40-second TKO defeat to McGregor (22-4 MMA, 10-2 UFC) and once again coming up short when the spotlight was brightest. Smith repeated much of his criticism on ESPN+’s post-fight show, as well.

It was clear at the time Rogan, who was positioned on-camera with Smith and “SportsCenter” anchor Michael Eaves, was somewhat put off by the take. He attempted to provide his own insight and put the outcome in perspective as a big moment for McGregor, but the scorn of MMA fans as well as many fighters watching had already set in.

Rogan has had a few days to reflect on what unfolded, and during a conversation with Bellator analyst and former UFC fighter Josh Thomson on Thursday’s episode of his “JRE MMA Show” podcast, the longtime UFC analyst condemned the choice to give Smith the platform he was offered.

“(Daniel Cormier) and I would’ve had a completely different conversation and it would’ve been better for the sport,” Rogan said. “There’s no positive in downplaying the career of Donald Cerrone and what he can do as a fighter. What that showed to me is how phenomenal Conor performed. That’s what it showed to me. If either you or I was talking about cricket, and we were on TV doing commentary on cricket, we would look out of place. It would be (expletive) up and real cricket fans would be upset at us. That’s nothing. You are naked in the most literal sense of the word (in MMA). Physically, you are naked. Emotionally, when fighters lose, it’s (expletive) devastating.

“For Conor to smash ‘Cowboy’ like that in front of his wife, his kid, his grandma and the whole world. You’ve got to have some respect for that man, and this sport demands a different perspective. It’s not the same thing as a ball going into a hoop. It’s not the same thing as crossing a line with a football. It’s different. It’s very intense and very personal, and it’s also very (expletive) dangerous and to play it off like it’s just a game, I don’t agree with it.”

UFC 246 did not represent the first time Smith has appeared on a UFC broadcast. Certainly, though, he’d never garnered as many eyeballs than the aftermath of a thrilling McGregor victory. Rogan said he understands Smith’s reputation and why he’s viewed as a major asset to ESPN in the sports world, but when it comes to MMA specifically, he said that type of character is a disservice.

“That’s a bad look for everybody,” Rogan said. “It’s a bad look for ESPN, it’s a bad look for him, it’s a bad look for the sport. There’s other people that can do this. … We have plenty of people out there who understand the sport. There’s plenty of them. But the thing about him is he’s really popular. (He just got a contract extension) because his personality is so fun. He’s a fun guy to watch and people love (expletive)-talking and they love people arguing about (expletive) and one person is better at arguing. Stephen A. Smith is really good at that stuff. But it’s not the place for MMA. It’s just not the place. It’s not the same thing.”

Rogan made it clear numerous times he thinks Smith is a “nice guy” and each of the handful of face-to-face interactions they’e shared have been positive. He said he understands the brand Smith has built for himself, and the image he portrays, but was insistent that’s not the type of persona that belongs in a prominent MMA analysis role.

“There’s a lot of currency in being Stephen A. Smith,” Rogan said. “He’s really entertaining. That (expletive)-talking that he does, he’s a guy that’s fun to watch. He talks a lot of (expletive) and he gets real loud and everyone disagrees with him. Look, it’s made him a fantastic career. He carries that over to MMA – I think it’s a bad idea.

“There’s a culture in sports broadcasting, whether it’s radio or television – just this diminishing of people. This (expletive)-talking that goes with sports. ‘He always falls apart. That mother(expletive) should give us his money back. He sucks.’ Then the other guy is like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe he’s saying that.’ They do that in sports radio. People love it. Because if you’re on the job site (expletive) hammering nails, you’re like, ‘You’re right, he does suck.’ There’s a mentality that goes along with hat kind of sports guy mentality, sports radio talk. I hate that (expletive). I’ve resisted that from the beginning and I’ve (expletive) on those guys from the beginning because it’s not the same thing. You’re not talking about the same thing. You’re talking about fighting. You’re talking about unbelievable physical consequences, including – knock on wood; in our sport, it’s very rare, but – death.

Given the controversy stemming from his post-UFC 246 airtime, it remains to be seen how ESPN and the UFC utilize Smith on event broadcasts moving forward. For his part, though, Rogan appears to think that he doesn’t want to be in the same position he experienced this past weekend again.

“I would’ve preferred to talk to ‘DC’ or Felder or you (Josh Thomson) or anybody who understands the sport,” Rogan said. “I don’t think it’s the right way to do it. … I have no problem with (Smith) as a human being. Look, I don’t know jack (expletive) about baseball, I don’t know jack (expletive) about basketball. I literally don’t even know the rules. When people foul people, I’m not sure why. I’m not sure what’s happening. I know MMA. I understand. So, if you want to talk about MMA, I’d like to talk about it with someone else who knows about MMA.”

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