Lilian Garcia's voice resonates with every wrestling fan as the longtime ring announcer of the WWE. So, it might take some time for the WWE Universe to get used to seeing her in the mixed martial arts cage and announcing combatants for the Professional Fighters League. But she's making the transition to her new gig look easy.
Sporting News caught up with Garcia - who spent 15 years as the full-time ring announcer for WWE and still works part-time during special events - as she spoke about the similarities between announcing for the WWE and PFL, Michael Buffer calling her the greatest wrestling announcer of all time and her best WWE memory.
She also spoke about the first women's main event in WrestleMania history, the WWE's controversial shows in Saudi Arabia, AEW's presence on the wrestling landscape, the personalities of the PFL and having guests share their backstories on her podcast "Chasing Glory."
SPORTING NEWS: How has it been so far announcing fighters for PFL cards, and what are some of the similarities and differences between this and announcing in the WWE?
LILIAN GARCIA: The cross between WWE and MMA really is not as far and every day it gets closer and closer. I thought there was going to be more similarities as far as the job itself. Obviously, it's similar in a way that you're giving these championship introductions that you get to make the fights big. But the differences are in the WWE, a lot of the time - most of the time - I would say my introduction while the Superstar was making their way to the ring and once a night, I would make the championship introduction, with the two fighters in the ring.
Here (in the PFL), every single bout is that way. It's the championship introduction that way. So, every single fight feels very, very big. In WWE, they did that in the last fight to make the last fight the main event. Here, there's really no main event. Every single fight is that.
Also, there's way more stats to give on each fighter versus in the WWE, where the guy would weigh the same for years (laughs). It's so funny - I remember Triple H was 255 pounds forever. Here, the guys' weight fluctuates. There's more detail in the PFL than there is in the WWE as far as the announcement itself.
SN: What did it mean to you to have Mick Foley come support you and the PFL in attendance for PFL 2 last month?
LG: I actually invited him there and he took me up on the invitation. He was like 'Absolutely, I'll come, support you and see.' He loves MMA. He had such a blast. He sat next to me the whole night. He just loved it. He loved the whole format, too - the regular season and he even kept up with it on TV because right after I did PFL 3, he texted me right away and was like 'You were great tonight. It was so exciting.' So, he's following the whole thing because he loves the format of the regular season, the postseason, playoffs and championship.
SN: Last year, Michael Buffer called you the best wrestling announcer of all-time. With him being the gold standard and pinnacle of ring announcing, what do his words mean to you?
All great choices there..no doubt about it though with Lilian Garcia at the top and I bet everyone named will agree she's the BEST EVER pro wrestling ring announcer (and she always blew the house up singing the National Anthem)! #LetsGetReadyToRumble ? https://t.co/ILRKO6tGmR- Michael Buffer (@Michael_Buffer) July 17, 2018
LG: Man, I had to check and make sure that that was his legit account because at first I just thought it was a fan having fun with me or something. But when I saw it was his legit account, I was blown away that out of the blue he would say such nice things about me, whether it was announcing and then he said really nice things about me singing the national anthem. And then he did it again this year.
What was the craziest thing was that when the PFL reached out to me and when they were interviewing me, he did it again. He mentioned me and so, it was perfect timing because the PFL is now like 'We want her! This is a good idea!' And boom, there's this Michael Buffer endorsement.
I really want to meet him. I want to meet him, shake his hand, thank him for those nice compliments. I've always looked up to Buffer. I think he's just an icon in the business, so to get words from him, it feels really good.
SN: What are some memories with the WWE that are permanently etched in your mind?
LG: Well, WrestleMania, definitely. Whether I was introducing some of these amazing Superstars to the ring and seeing them work all year long to be on the WrestleMania card was just … that's etched in my (mind) because I saw their journey for an entire year and then, getting to see they're there.
Also, singing the most times at WrestleMania and holding that record was amazing.
But I think above all, the moment that's really etched in my mind is singing after 9/11 because it was so unexpected, something so tragic and for Vince to say 'the show is going to go on, we're going to do this' and everyone else (other sports) are canceling.
So, to have me do the national anthem at the beginning of the show and see all those faces, the posters that everybody was holding and the flags and the need that everybody had - from all the Superstars lining up on the ramp - the need that everybody had to try to make sense of it and try to come to heal and for our national anthem could do that or be the first step toward that and me that person to do that as an army brat … man. That ... meant ... everything.
SN: How special was it for you to see Ronda Rousey, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair being the first women to close out WrestleMania as the main event of WrestleMania 35 this past April?
LG: I was so excited that I got to be at WrestleMania, announcing the Women's Battle Royal for the second year in a row, which was awesome. So, when Becky and Charlotte and Ronda went to the ring, I snuck out there and watched it from the corner, so that I could really experience all of the fans and the music and the whole energy of it that night. I had tears streaming down my face because what an amazing feat at 35 years to finally have that moment of (women) main-eventing WrestleMania. I thought it was incredible that they got that.
SN: WWE received plenty of backlash for its shows in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. What was your take on that and did you speak to any of your WWE colleagues about it?
LG: I didn't. Things take time and it's pretty spectacular that Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss got to go to Abu Dhabi and there was a whole chant of "This is hope." That's a start, so hopefully soon, we'll see that. Look how long it took for women to main-event WrestleMania and that was a big step in the right direction. It's going to take time with Saudi Arabia, but hopefully every year, we can get closer and closer.
SN: All Elite Wrestling (AEW) is exploding in popularity and making wrestling that much bigger and exciting as a whole. What do you think about WWE's newest competition?
LG: Look, I think any time you have competition, it's good for everybody. Look at what it did for WCW and WWE. Competition brings more attention, it makes people even better and work even harder all the way around - from the Superstars to the writers to everybody. Competition is good in life. And I think it's great because it gives a platform for more Superstars to even work. I'm all for competition and Vince McMahon himself has said he's always up for competition, so no one is complaining.
SN: The PFL is so new, but its presence is already strong with the ESPN partnership. In WWE, Superstars' personalities and personas are as important as the wrestling. We've seen the MMA action in the PFL cage, but can you tell us a bit about the personalities that we're going to see event to event?
LG: I was really curious going into this because one of the things I've loved about 'Chasing Glory,' my podcast, and interviewing the Superstars is getting to know their story. I know them from backstage. 'Chasing Glory' has given me the perspective of even knowing them more from their backstory.
I was thinking to myself, 'I can't wait to go and meet some of these MMA fighters who are really, really fierce and it's serious competition.' With WWE, even though it's competition, it's still entertainment, so there's still that fun aspect to it. I was like, 'I wonder how MMA fighters are with their personalities. Do they walk around just like Grrrr?' (Laughs) 'Or do they have personalities?' I said, 'I bet I'm going to be surprised just as I was with WWE Superstars.' And sure enough, getting to talk to them, I was blown away. They're just like everybody else. They love what they do. They have such big personalities.
I got to hang out with Sarah Kaufman and we were waiting for our flight for hours and I got to know her a little better. I'm like 'You're really cool.' The more I get to be around them, the more I'm loving them as people and they're very entertaining in their own way.
SN: With the podcast, how gratifying has it been to be able to dig into your guests' backstories?
LG: That's what has blown me away - getting the backstories, especially with people who I've worked with for so many years and then finding out what they struggled with early on, how they grew up, any tragedies that happened in their life, the good things that have happened to them, how they got their opportunities in the WWE. I literally have been blown away from their stories. When they're finished, I feel even closer to them and they say the same thing to me.
I interviewed Sean O'Connell - he won the whole thing (PFL light heavyweight championship) last year.
(Monday), I was backstage at 'Monday Night Raw' and all the people that I've interviewed already saw me and were like 'Lil!' We have this even bigger connection because of the interviews.
SN: With all your years ring announcing for WWE, how much fun has this experience announcing for PFL been thus far?
LG: I am absolutely having a blast. I have been welcomed by open arms from everyone in the organization and they have helped me as well because they knew that it was similar, but different. Just having that much support and confidence from the organization has allowed me not to be so scared to even mess up or anything like that. When you don't have that pressure, you could go out and have a good time.
I love the sport. I've always loved combat sports, which is why I love wrestling. My dad used to box in the army. There's something about combat sports that I have a lot of respect for, so the fact that I get to do this, I'm enjoying it, I'm enjoying the journey.
I want people to stay tuned for the second half of the regular season. We're in Atlantic City for the PFL 4, 5 and 6. It's just going to be so exciting. We've had some major moments with a 10-second stoppage, making a record.
And just the caliber of fighters are so awesome to watch and then see how they're fighting so hard to make the playoffs and go for $1 million each! $6 million being given away is incredible, it's unheard of and I love to watch it as a fan and be part of it. I want everyone who has tuned into the PFL to keep tuning in and if you haven't, don't worry, you're not behind and can really catch up.
The second PFL regular season is halfway through, with the action resuming Thursday, July 11, when the women's lightweights and men's welterweights square off at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J.