By Thomas Gerbasi
Thanks to his duties as the UFC’s longtime play-by-play man, Mike Goldberg has certainly seen his share of athletic giants over the years, from Semmy Schilt and Tim Sylvia, to Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, and Stefan Struve. But nothing prepared him for his latest gig – as host for the new ABC series, SHAQ VS, which sees him working with ‘The Big Aristotle’ himself, future NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, all 7-1, 325 pounds of him.
Yet as Goldberg puts it, working with and watching the Cleveland Cavaliers center has made it clear that beneath the brawn is one of the most accessible pro athletes in the world today.
“Shaquille O’Neal just turns people into mush,” said Goldberg, who just finished up his duties for UFC 101 in Philadelphia. “He has such a way about him, he’s such a big kid. He’s playful and people look at him like a big teddy bear. They just want to see and touch him. Plus, he’s so approachable, which is why I think this show will work.”
Plus, where else can you see O’Neal competing against some of the world’s greatest athletes in their own sport than on this show, which premieres on August 18th? That’s the really intriguing part of the series, which will kick off with O’Neal playing football against Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. As Goldberg recalls, the atmosphere was electric when Shaq rolled into town to challenge Big Ben in his backyard.
“For the first shoot we were in Pittsburgh at Ambridge High School,” he said. “You can tell that they live and breathe football and there were 7-8,000 people there. The cheerleaders were there, the band was there. The PA announcer, Randy Cosgrove, is their athletic director, who happens to be the guy who does the Steelers games. So you’ve got Big Ben coming in with two Super Bowl rings, and Shaquille O’Neal walking through the high school and onto the field in a football uniform, and he’s like a big kid out there. It was awesome.”
Upcoming episodes are scheduled to feature O’Neal facing off against tennis great Serena Williams, volleyball stars Misty May and Kerry Walsh, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, and will also see the NBA star visit the community before the show-ending competition.
“The event is the last quarter of the hour show,” said Goldberg. “It’s a whole three, four days where he comes into the town and gives back, and interacts with the kids. That part of the show will be as entertaining as the competition itself.”
But with the NBA season fast approaching, was there any trepidation on the part of Cavs’ management to have O’Neal engage in such competitions with fellow-world class athletes?
“His trainer is with him 24/7,” said Goldberg. “From a true ‘get ready for the season’ point of view, there’s nothing else he can do. He’s lifted weights his whole life, he’s done this and done that, so he’s really trying to utilize this as cross training, to train in a way that he’s never trained before, to use muscles that he hasn’t used before, and he’s trying to turn the show into a great way to take the boredom and repetition out of getting ready for the season. They’re taking every precaution to make sure that nothing freaky happens, but he is looking at it as an opportunity to push himself and train like these guys train.”
Which leads to the question, will O’Neal - a diehard mixed martial arts fan who is regularly seen at UFC events and who recently cut a promotional spot for the upcoming WEC event in Youngstown, Ohio – be bringing MMA to his show in the near future?
“I think if Shaq has his way, it’s only a matter of time before he fights somebody,” said Goldberg. “When I saw Shaq in Pittsburgh, we were talking about UFC 100 and (UFC heavyweight champion) Brock (Lesnar) and could anybody beat him, and then he said ‘I keep telling (UFC President) Dana (White) I want to fight. I want to fight Hong Man Choi. Seriously, I’m coming.’ And one of the episodes planned is for him to work against (former boxing champion) Oscar De La Hoya, so we’re only one step away from it, and if Shaq has his way, because of his love for the sport, that will certainly happen in the future, unless we see him fight for real in the future.”
Now that would be something to see. In the meantime though, the stage is set for O’Neal to battle the best in other sports, and if history has proven anything when it comes to the All-Star center, it’s that he will certainly make for compelling television.
“When it really comes down to it, it’s Shaquille O’Neal having fun against other world class athletes,” said Goldberg. “To see him walk out on the field in football gear was crazy. And it’s cool because you start to think, ‘what if he would have played football? Could you see him at tight end?’ Plus, our fans love a storyline and they love a little trash talking, and I’m pretty sure that Shaq will give us a storyline and a little bit of trash talking every week.”
Goldberg on The Road with Another Heavyweight - Shaq
Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - Thanks to his duties as the UFC’s longtime play-by-play man, Mike Goldberg has certainly seen his share of athletic giants over the years, from Semmy Schilt and Tim Sylvia, to Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, and Stefan Struve. But nothing prepared him for his latest gig – as host for the new ABC series, SHAQ VS, which sees him working with ‘The Big Aristotle’ himself, future NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, all 7-1, 325 pounds of him.