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boxing

Big Mo: From American Football to boxing's youngest professional ring announcer and the next Michael Buffer

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For a quiet kid, Kody Mommaerts is sure making a lot of noise. Literally and metaphorically, as if he had been saving his voice for the right moment. 

The right moment would come at the heart of boxing theatre, where these days he is better known as Big Mo and where these days his once-reserved voice now has crowds of thousands on strings as the tone-setter to nights of ringside drama.

He is the quintessential concoction of pristine tuxedos, glistening shoes, slicked blonde hair, dazzling teeth and a silk smooth bellow as the looks-the-part sounds-the-part rising voice of boxing on Sky Sports, out to stamp his own mark on a stage graced by iconic figures before him.

"I was actually very socially awkward, which doesn't make any sense," he laughs. "I was raised by an attorney and I was raised by a single father, so I spent a lot of time with adults.

"Despite being socially awkward among kids, I was actually comfortable with adults, so now being in a role of public speaking I naturally feel comfortable doing it and I've come into my own skin.

"It would be an interesting psychological analysis of how I've kind of changed because I went from somebody that always knew I could do it but was not comfortable in that setting to now there being nowhere to hide under the lights on a whole stage in front of a crowd."

He is a self-admitted perfectionist, with prides himself on flawless preparation that has so far seen him swerve any mistakes in a field prone to pronunciation clangers.

He has proven no slouch when it comes to nailing boxing's most complex names; he prompted an enormous wave of gratitude from the Samoan and Polynesian community after his perfect execution of Joseph Parker's high chief name Lupesoliai La'auliolemalietoa.

Still, UK spellings continue to prove most challenging to decipher. Not to mention learning to walk and drive on the opposite side of the road following his step across from the United States.

"I get asked all the time what are the toughest names to pronounce... I can do Eastern European names fine, I can do Asian names fine, I can do South American and Central American names fine, but towns and cities in England, they blow my mind how they're pronounced," he says.

"I'm usually good phonetically, like I can see something and I can understand. But there are some cities that just make no sense, you have Torquay - doesn't make sense. And you have Leicester. You guys just ignore letters!

"I've joked about it before, but I'm almost a real life version of Ted Lasso in the sense that I'm this American that's spending a lot of time in the UK learning customs, learning the culture, being a part of it all. I love it."

For the best part of four decades Buffer brothers Michael and Bruce have held a monopoly on announcing within combat sport, their distinctive voices narrating some of history's most famous bouts across boxing and MMA.

They have set the bar to which the likes of Mommaerts aspire, with one important asterisk; while challenging their voice, be your own voice.

"Some people like ketchup, some people like mustard, people have different preferences, but to me the Buffers are the gold standard and the best at what they do," he said.

"I've always looked at them as that benchmark that I will try to chase and ultimately hopefully become better than, and I mean that respectfully.

"I've gotten a lot of comparisons and I take that as a compliment, but I want to be myself. And I think that's critical as you build a role in the public eye, whether it's being a ring announcer or an entertainer.

"And the reality is, I got started in this industry at a much younger age than anyone else that did it, the average age of announcers today is like 50. I'm 28, I started with Sky, it's important for me to establish who I am now."

There are few career paths in sport quite as unique and as niche as that of an announcer, the figurehead tasked with standing in the middle of the ring and elevating a night of boxing.

Mommaerts has always been involved in sport. He spent five years playing American Football as an offensive lineman with the University of Northern Colorado, alongside which he studied Business Marketing; hence, perhaps, the ease at which he can sell a fight.

As his college career progressed his interest in public speaking grew, an opportunity to test the waters finally coming when he was granted the chance to host the athletic department's awards night.

"I was an athlete my whole life, martial arts was my first sport," he said. So that's maybe where the love for combat sports initiated. But I've enjoyed football my whole life, when I was done I knew I was done and I didn't have an opportunity to play at the next level.

"I'm a better student than I was a football player. I was able to get my undergrad and my masters degree while playing football, so I'm always thankful for that. I do miss that competitive environment a little bit, so I like to apply competitive thinking to how I do my job."

From there he secured a colour commentator role with local regional promotion Sparta in Denver, learning his trade in small halls before eventually stepping up as announcer at a boxing show at the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds at the age of 23.

"Internet people thought I was related to the Buffer, I just basically started using social media and getting recognised and one job led to another.

"I ended up doing the Eddie Hall versus Hafþór Björnsson fight in Dubai, and that's when Boxxer reached out and I started to get a little bit of interest.

"It looked quiet for a while and then they said, 'hey we want to give you kind of a test run', so I came out, did it for free and went out and did Chris Billam-Smith's first fight with Boxxer. Crowd received me well, everything went well and the rest is history."

What Mommaerts would perceive as his breakthrough coincided with history as he took centre stage at The O2 to introduce the UK's first ever televised all-female boxing card, headlined by Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall's world title clash.

"It broke viewership records because it was made available to everyone, it was for the undisputed title and then just cause the enormity of the event," he says.

"You have a big star like Claressa Shields and it was a top level fight. I had affirmations of being on that stage my whole life."

Awaiting is something of a full circle moment as he prepares to welcome Billam-Smith and Richard Riakporhe to their WBO cruiserweight world title clash at Selhurst Park this Saturday.

"For me Chris was my probably my first friend boxer here that I announced," he said. "I remember I came in and nobody knew who I was.

"I came in and gave Billam-Smith a great introduction, and it ended up being a Fight of the Year winner.

"I remember I ran into Chris at the hotel after the fight and he said 'I've never had an introduction like that, thank you so much', and since then I've had a good friendship with Chris and been able to do all of his sellouts in Bournemouth."

Between announcing the likes of Ben Whittaker and Fran Hennessy, he finds himself in the unique position of developing his career in unison with that of Boxxer's young rising talents. It makes for new friendships and mutual growth on the climb to the top, not to mention a comforting face with whom fighters can interact in the most tense of moments.

"It's kind of been an amazing story because I've got to be alongside them and I've gotten to see a side of them that maybe a lot of people don't see," he explains. "I see them backstage behind the press when they're the day away from finishing their weight cut, I've seen how they are in that moment and I've gotten to see that close up, it's been a blessing.

"I can relate to them because I've even though I haven't been a professional fighter I have understood what it's like to participate in a pretty violent sport in football, I understand what it's like to train seven days a week and to wake up at 5am and train every morning.

"It allows me to have a relationship with them. When we're in the ring it's a very intimate setting, so the fact that I can have more of a personal relationship with them beforehand makes the whole process a whole lot simpler."

The winner of Billam-Smith and Riakporhe have their sights set on taking their world title overseas, while the likes of Whittaker is destined to shine under the bright lights of America. Mommaerts, too, has his dreams of soaking up boxing's most iconic venues.

"Wembley Stadium, Madison Square Garden, for me it's the biggest platform possible," he said of his career goals. "I want to entertain as many people as I can in one moment, so whether that happens at a small stadium with a huge television audience or whether that happens in a massive stadium with maybe not as big a TV audience.

"I just want to entertain people. I love entertainment. I think entertainment plays a very pivotal role in society.

"Right now across the world there is a lot of tension, so I love the fact that entertainment can exist where hopefully someone can just detach from what's going on in life and just be entertained."

Watch Chris Billam-Smith defend his WBO cruiserweight world title against Richard Riakporhe at Crystal Palace's Selhurst Park, live on Sky Sports on Saturday June 15; or Stream with NOW