Lilian Garcia talks new PFL venture, changes in WWE, Evolution PPV, podcasting and more

NEWPORT BEACH, CA - JULY 29: Television personality Lillian Garcia attends the Komen Orange County Race For The Cure kick off on July 29, 2015 in Newport Beach, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images)
NEWPORT BEACH, CA - JULY 29: Television personality Lillian Garcia attends the Komen Orange County Race For The Cure kick off on July 29, 2015 in Newport Beach, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images) /

Longtime WWE ring announcer Lilian Garcia discusses joining the Professional Fighters League, how it’s been different from her time in wrestling, being a part of the Evolution pay-per-view, and much more.

This August will mark Lilian Garcia’s 20-year anniversary with WWE, and in that time, she’s become one of the most memorable and beloved on-air personalities the company has ever had.

The decorated ring announcer was last seen by the WWE Universe at October’s Evolution pay-per-view and again at WrestleMania 35 during the second annual WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal. Now, she’s taken her talents to Professional Fighters League, an exciting new MMA promotion with incredibly cool format.

From the regular season to the playoffs to the championships a little later on this year, Lilian Garcia will be there to announce it all the only way she knows how: in spectacular fashion. With two decades worth of experience, she couldn’t be a better fit for the role and has already begun to find her footing on the mic in the cage despite debuting not long ago.

In addition to her announcing in WWE and PFL, she continues to express herself with her Chasing Glory podcast, where she talks to talent from the wrestling world and beyond about their lives outside of the squared circle. Their inspiring stories have given her another platform to touch the hearts of fans and motivate them to stay strong no matter the circumstances.

Ahead of PFL 4 on July 11th on ESPN, Daily DDT spoke with Lilian Garcia about signing with PFL, changes she’s noticed in WWE whenever she’s returned, the Women’s Evolution and the part Ronda Rousey played in it, the success of Chasing Glory, her singing career, and much more.

Daily DDT: How did the opportunity to announce at PFL come about?

Lilian Garcia: It was really crazy because I got this phone call out of the blue from Ryan Satin. So, Ryan, when I was doing my original podcast, he was co-hosting it with me and he called me and goes, “Hey, this organization Professional Fighters League is trying to get a hold of you!” And I’m like, “They are?” He said, “They want you to be their announcer. I got it through Jamie who got it through someone else at Professional Fighters League who told Jamie, ‘Hey, they’re trying to get a hold of Lilian.’” Jamie knew how to get a hold of me through Ryan. That’s how the whole thing came about and then I interviewed with George Greenberg who is the executive producer there and it just went from there and here I am.

DDT: How much did you follow mixed martial arts before joining PFL, and if so, who have been some of your favorites?

Garcia: I didn’t follow it per se like I did wrestling. I’ve dabbled in it. From watching the fights with Conor McGregor and some of the bigger names, obviously from Ronda Rousey coming around before when Ronda Rousey was doing her thing in MMA, I would watch her. And then Brock Lesnar made me more intrigued into the sport as well when he went over, so I’d definitely watch his fights and some of our other guys who have dabbled in it. It’s kind of like a cross thing, right?

Back and forth from one thing to the other from WWE to MMA, so it made me intrigued into the sport. When this came about, I’ve always been a fan of combat sports anyway. My dad used to box when he was in the army. He and I used to watch wrestling when I was a kid. Like I said, watching MMA, the little bit that I did, it made me intrigued me to where this seems like a natural progression of the next step in my journey.

DDT: What has stood out to you about PFL so far?

Garcia: The whole thing! I’m so amazed at this organization. Very, very professional. They have welcomed me with open arms. Anything I need, any kind of information, they say, “We’re here to help.” And they have. They’ve completely helped me because I thought it was going to be very similar yet I find that it’s kind of own entity as to the announcements and how I do the announcements there. I’ve had to learn a lot of their different format because it is a different format. You got to remember, WWE is definitely more entertainment, which is why there wasn’t so much focus on the person’s weight fluctuating from one pound to the other from one week to the other. Here, it’s all about the exact weight and the stats and how high they are and what their professional record is. In WWE, we didn’t say any of that. It’s more about the town, what kind of title is it, do they hold a title, so the announcements are pretty much completely different.

DDT: Has there been any adjustment period for you going from ring announcing in WWE to announcing in the cage at PFL?

Garcia: Look, there was an adjustment period for 15 years in WWE. I never, never got cocky. I never went, “Oh, I got this!” No, that’s why I’d still have nerves because I always want to do a great job and you never know what can happen on live TV.

I’ve felt very good at PFL in the fact that they’ve set me up to win where they’ve really helped me with a lot of information that I hadn’t, I think I would’ve fallen flat on my face on Day 1. The way they set me up with so much guidance and help and teaching me as to, “Okay, this is how we do things over here,” that literally set me on the right foot from Day 1. I could not have done it without them. So, when you ask me about the organization, it’s just been everybody from the top.

Another thing I love is the format. The regular season, the playoffs, and the championship. Who can’t get excited about that? They know how many fights they’re going to have, they know that they’re going for a million dollars in each division. Six million dollars awarded to all of these fighters is incredible and it’s life-changing for them and their families. Another thing that’s surprised me is how nice and humble all of these fighters are. They love the sport and when they’re in the cage they’re very aggressive and they’re there for a purpose and they’re there for a reason and they’re in their sport. Away from the cage, they’re so really down to earth and so nice, and that’s why I love getting to know their personalities. The MMA fans have been so receiving of me and I can’t thank them enough for that.

DDT: Have you received any key pieces of advice so far in PFL or are still trying to find what works in this new venture?

Garcia: George Greenberg, the executive producer, literally said to me, “I want you to go in there and just have fun. Whatever happens, happens. If you mess up, just laugh at yourself and continue.” That instantly put me at such an ease where was I like, “Oh, I can just go there and have a good time!” (laughs) When that is said to me, you can pretty much go in there and do your thing and enjoy it. I love to introduce and go in there and make these big ring announcements. I enjoy it so much to set up the fight.

For me, it’s part of performing. It really is. In a way, it’s kind of like a ringmaster at a circus. The ringmaster is so important, we saw that in The Greatest Showman, the movie. He’s hosting it and presenting it and sets everything up. That’s how I feel as a performer and as a signer. It gives me an opportunity to just go in there and set the stage for something so big that’s about to happen.

DDT: Do you feel you have more freedom to pronounce names the way you want in PFL compared to when you were with WWE, or were you never really limited with your announcing while there?

Garcia: I never had that issue but you have to remember, with ring announcements, there’s definitely a certain way to do them. With WWE, there was a certain way to do them and I learned them. Now, did I get wiggle room? Absolutely. Because I’d say, “I feel like the nickname needs to be ahead” or “The nickname needs to be in the middle.”

Same thing with PFL. I’ve been able to talk to Josh Fowler who’s been helping me tremendously and I’ll look at him and go, “Hey, what if we did it this way?” And he’s the same way with me. He’ll say, “Hey, you know this craft, whatever you think works, go for it, but there are certain things that have to stay the way they are.” I have to learn their format. It’s been a give and take and that’s what I love.

DDT: In the times you’ve returned to WWE to do ring announcing, have you noticed any major differences between how they ran things when you were there full-time and now?

Garcia: I just noticed that they have a lot more people. Whether it’s ring announcing, the broadcast team, backstage interviewers, it’s definitely expanding. I remember the days when it was just Tony Chimel, Howard Finkel and myself. That was it. And of course, you had King [Jerry Lawler], and Michael Cole, and J.R. [Jim Ross], but that has immensely grown from the six of us to what it is now and I’m like now, “Wow, this is its own entity.” That’s pretty amazing.

DDT: Do you think more of the announcers would benefit from having more of an identity and personality the same way you, Howard Finkel and others did years ago?

Garcia: I think what definitely helped me was that I was able to incorporate my singing when I was doing the national anthem or “America, The Beautiful”. I think people got to see another side of me by doing that versus… I don’t know if you would have gotten to see me if I was just announcing. Also, you got to remember, it was the Attitude Era.

I got thrown in doing different storylines, which was so cool, so neat. Now, it’s just a different era. I think it’s kept separate now. I’ve seen backstage interviews, I see that they have fun with the interviewer, which is what they used to do with me. I think because there’s so many it’s hard to kind of get to know them all. Being the first female to announce WrestleMania and all that and being able to stay there for so long in this job I really got to establish myself. That helps.

DDT: After announcing the first-ever Evolution pay-per-view back in October, how likely do you think it is that WWE brings back the event later this year?

Garcia: I would love to see it come back. I think the women proved that they can hold a pay-per-view on their own, but if not, I don’t think that’s a bad thing either in the fact that the women are now present in every single pay-per-view. It’s almost not even needed if it doesn’t come back. Either way, I think it’s going to be okay. I just think it was beautiful to do it and establish it that very first year just to make a statement and from there the company has continued to… I mean, think about it, the women main evented WrestleMania this year. That’s the way you continue that. They’ve continued with the Money in the Bank matches, the Ladder matches, Elimination Chamber, all those kind of matches that keep showing off the women’s capabilities. I think it’s great, and like I said, whether they have another one or not, I don’t think that’s a big deal.

DDT: A lot of the women of WWE have come out and said Evolution was like their WrestleMania. Having been a part of both, how did the two experiences compare?

Garcia: Well, that was incredible. Obviously, I have been at WrestleMania for so many years and Evolution, but Evolution definitely did something to just put a stamp of approval. That’s what I think felt so good to see that every match I was announcing, we were all like, “Woah, this is really happening!” I never imagined an all-women’s pay-per-view and I look back and go, “Wow, how small-minded.” I don’t know why I never imagined it, so when it got announced, I was blown away. When it happened, I thought to myself, “Oh, this is so natural.”

But that’s our culture and I don’t mean just America. I’m talking the world, but we’re coming little by little where it’s happening and now it’s becoming a habit to see women competing or an all-women’s pay-per-view. There would be times at ringside that I was the only one woman to come out the entire show. To see the evolution of that where no women were represented at all except for me to see the evolution of an all-women’s pay-per-view, it hit me really hard like, “Wow, this is incredible.”

DDT: How do you think Ronda Rousey has helped WWE’s women’s division since her arrival, and do you feel her absence has been felt since WrestleMania 35?

Garcia: I think the women are working so hard and doing so, so good. I can’t tell you whether she’s helping or not, I have no idea. I think it’s cool that she came. I love that she came. I respect the fact that she now wants to raise a family and I know that the women that are there now are just focused on their absolute best and are killing it. Becky Lynch, Charlotte, all of them. So proud of them.

DDT: How fun has it been to host your own podcast and who have been some of your favorite guests so far?

Garcia: Chasing Glory has taken off in such a big way and in a bigger way than I knew it was going to be. What I mean by that, I’m not just taking about the six million downloads that it’s had, I’m just getting ready to approach 100 episodes, so it’s pretty fascinating to have that kind of number in less than 100 episodes. It’s the stories being told. It’s the impact the stories are having and the lives that they’re saving.

I mean, literally, I get letters from fans who have said, “I was at my wit’s end” or “I was contemplating suicide” or there were literally some letters that said, “I had my suicide planned when I listened to this episode” and they listed the certain episode that touched them and the story of the Superstar who talked about their own struggles that they endured and they got through that struggle.

They said, “Hearing that struggle made me realize that I can get through this and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and there is something beautiful and I can still become somebody.” That to me has meant everything. That’s why Chasing Glory is so important to me because it is way bigger than me.

It is just a vehicle to get these stories out there and to put hope in people’s lives that you don’t have to live with struggle. Whether you’ve been depressed or you’ve been bullied or been sexually assaulted or you’ve had an eating disorder. Whatever the situation is, you can get through it, and here’s an example. And that’s usually all somebody needs is an example. Then they’re been able to identity with that Superstar even more and that’s why I’ve expanded it beyond WWE. Obviously, I started there and I wanted to get the stories of the Superstars, but I also saw that there were other people reaching out to me from other celebrities and other athletes.

The more I looked into this, I realized, “Woah, this is incredible, let’s do that!” I get all these different stories, even from wellness coaches, I’ve had my mentors on this, so they can help the people listening to this. I want to say, “Look, this person helped me, let me share what their journey is and what their teachings are so they can help you.” They’ve really resonated with the fans. It’s just been a beautiful thing.

DDT: Do you think the Superstars benefit from having the extra outlet to express themselves and tell their story considering they don’t always get that opportunity on WWE TV?

Garcia: Stephanie McMahon came on Chasing Glory, which I was so grateful to her for doing, and she even said, “Thank you, Lilian, for having this show, having a place for our Superstars can come and tell their stories.” They can’t do that at WWE TV because it’s about the storyline.

Even the [WWE] Network has gotten into this more where they do 24s or 365s so that you can dive a little bit deeper into the Superstar’s story. The fact that I get to do this every single week really does put out content that is extra. It’s extra to what you get at WWE programming. That’s the thing.

Even the Superstars have come to me and said, “Wow, thank you for your platform because I didn’t realize what telling my story would do, but now the fans are connecting to me even better and it’s really helped me.”

There’s been a good luck charm thing and I’m not taking credit at all. Like I said, this show is way bigger than me. It’s all about Chasing Glory. All of a sudden, really cool things happen. Even Josiah Williams was on recently. He just got hired by NXT. He was doing some things for Chasing Glory and then WWE hired him and he and I did a single together called “Now”. I had him on Chasing Glory to take about that.

Right when we did his episode, all of a sudden, he was asked to perform and bring Adam Cole to the ring and do a solo with Adam Cole there and I said, “Woah, that’s amazing!” That’s not just Josiah, I can say that about so many others. There’s a beautiful synergy that’s happening and I always loved what the journey is taking us to. It’s just been a blessing.

DDT: Do you ever anticipate stepping in the cage as as competitor the same way you did in WWE’s squared circle years ago?

Garcia: Oh, I don’t think the PFL wants anything to do with that (laughs). Let’s just keep the PFL and the MMA fighters doing their thing, that is way too aggressive for me. I’m fine just presenting the match and getting out of the cage. Let them do their thing.

DDT: Mick Foley recently popped up at a PFL event. Do you think WWE fans will be seeing any more faces they’d be familiar with in the remainder of the season?

Garcia: You never know! I invited Mick and he took me up on the offer and came and had a great time there. Yeah, I’m going to see about inviting more and we’ll see what happens. They love the format. They love that it’s the regular season and then the playoffs and then the championship. People can keep in line with a fighter a little bit better and follow the point system.

The point system makes a lot of fun where you win three points if you win the bout, but you get an extra three points if you win in the first round, an extra two points in the second round, an extra point in the third round. Just to follow their journey and it’s all up to them. How well they do is up to the fighter. It’s just seeing the fighter succeed, and even if they don’t, how are they going to come back from this next time and win this?

To see that flip of, can that person come back from being in a stoppage of 10 seconds, can he come back and what is he was going to come back like in his next bout? Just watching that journey makes it exciting all the way around.

DDT: Between ring announcing in wrestling and now in MMA, do you have any other professional goals you hope to accomplish in your career?

Garcia: Yeah, like I said, I just released a brand-new single. Singing has always been my passion, I’ve been singing since I was five. I almost didn’t even take the WWE because I was like, “Wait, I’m a singer, I don’t how this fits in” but I’m glad I did because I got to sing on the show and all. I’m working on an EP right now with Josiah Williams. We kind of made that announcement.

We loved how the single worked out and we then performed it live at Powerful-U. We realized, “Wow, loved each other on stage, so let’s do it! Let’s do an EP together!” We’re working on an EP and I’m also speaking. I love storytelling.

Because of Chasing Glory and listening to the stories and all, I realized, “Man, there’s a story in me” and I wanted to share my own journey of some things that I’ve gone through. That’s what I’ve done at some speaking engagements and man, it’s been so fulfilling.

When I get up there, I feel like I just gave a concert. They’ve given me that same feeling of giving a full-out singing concert. I’ve been working with Powerful-U and other organizations to get my message out there and trying to do that more. I also host and moderate panels for the Comic Con and different gigs, so I’m very busy but what I love is that I’m busy doing everything I love to do. And I think that’s important to do and remember that you can make a living in doing something you absolutely love.

DDT: What can fans expect from you and PFL as it enters the second half of the season?

Garcia: More exciting moments! It’s just going to get more and more intense as we get to the finals. It always does, right? It’s like any season. You’ve got football. At the beginning, it’s entertaining, you watch it for the entertainment. As it goes and it starts to get closer and closer to the playoffs, you’re like, “Woah, my team’s got to get there!” Same thing here. “My fighter’s got to get there!” So, you really start pulling for your fighters.

The energy in the whole place is going to start going through the whole place. We’ve got PFL 4, 5, and 6. They’re all going to be in Atlantic City. That place is going to be blowing up. It’s just going to be way more exciting as it keeps going on and on and then onto the playoffs and then the championships on New Year’s Eve in Madison Square Garden. It can’t get any bigger than that.

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Check out Lilian Garcia in the Professional Fighters League on PFL 4 on July 11 on ESPN.