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Flo’s Bader: the Dick Vitale of Wrestling
Shortly before the start of the freestyle finals at this past summer’s Junior Nationals in Fargo, N.D., a large group of young wrestlers were sitting in the stands of the Fargodome and eventually started chanting, “Bader, Bader, Bader …”
Soon, the man of their affection — Mark Bader of FloWrestling, which was broadcasting the prestigious event — got out of his chair, walked across the mat and eventually climbed into the stands to join his fans.
After entertaining them by putting them on the video screens in the Fargodome with the video camera he held, Bader dropped back to the floor and headed back to his broadcast position … but not before the former University of Missouri wrestler performed several gymnastic-like flips … and to the amusement of the same fans he left just moments before.
“That was a lot of fun,” remarked Bader. “The kids were so fired up and were excited because a Flo guy jumped in there. Soon I did a cartwheel and they got even more excited. It was a good happy feeling in the arena that morning.”
The reality is that Bader, a native of St. Louis, where he once won several Missouri state championships for St. John Vianney High School, can be found in nearly every arena where a national or international event is held — including the Russian Nationals — and reported on by Flo, the on-line medium that features Bader’s unique style of broadcasting.
And even though Bader graduated from Missouri, which features one of the strongest journalism schools in the country, he graduated with a degree in physical education. He had very little broadcast experience before Flo founder Martin Floreani hired Bader as one of his videographers and announcers six years ago and who Floreani now calls a “rock star.”
“There was not a whole lot of instruction,” said Bader to when he first joined Flo five years ago after teaching and coaching at his former high school. “We were all just figuring out what we were doing. There was not a handbook on how to start FloWrestling.
“(Martin) just said, be yourself.
“It’s fun for me. I’m just out there having fun. Give me a cup of coffee, let me run around, talk about wrestling and jump up and down.”
There are a countless number of examples where Bader has entertained many wrestling fans, whether it’s from his broadcast chair — where the man short in stature is usually standing — or from unique locations like a karaoke bar in Austin, Texas, the home of Flo, performing “Magic Man,” a song he wrote — with the melody of Billy Joel’s “The Piano Man” about Penn State’s two-time Hodge Trophy winner and NCAA champ David Taylor.
Bader’s performance, which took place last February, eventually became a YouTube hit.
“We started coming up with lines and 45 minutes later we had a full song,” said Bader, who added he practiced the song at least 20 times before going on stage before a non-wrestling group. “We were going to use a green screen background (in Flo’s studio). Then we said, ‘let’s take it a step further.’ ”
Testing the limits in broadcasting wrestling is common with Bader, who was known as much for his long hair before cutting it a year ago.
Bader also knows that his style doesn’t fit the traditional wrestling fan.
“Some people think I’m loud and I scream,” Bader said. “Sometimes it may be loud on your computer. If they don’t like it, that’s fine. I’m just trying to tell a different story and describe what’s going on. If people are being entertained, that is more reason to tune in.
“Hopefully, that enhances the wrestling and people will say, ‘Wow, this is fun to watch.’ Ultimately that’s the goal; getting more people to get involved in wrestling and watching wrestling.”
And Bader continues to win over new fans, including family members.
“My dad is 75 years old and does not get on the computer much,” Bader said. “He knows what I do now. He tells his friend I’m the Bob Costas of wrestling.”
But in reality, Bader is actually more like Dick Vitale, the former basketball coach who created a name and personality for himself on ESPN with the way he broadcasts games and the way he relates to fans before the games begin.
One of those who agrees with that comparison is Missouri head coach Brian Smith, who took over the Tiger program in 1998 the same year Bader was a 125-pound freshman and his first season as a four-year starter.
“When he got the job at Flo, I said, ‘You are going to be perfect for this.’ ” Smith said.
“You can see and hear his passion for the sport when he’s announcing. His personality permeates through everything.”
This is the same coach who introduced a tough “Tiger Style” that drove away several wrestlers when he took over the program … but not Bader.
“I know people look at him as happy-go lucky, but when he was with me as a wrestler, it was time to wrestle,” Smith recalled.
“At practice, he would go 100 miles per hour. If I told him to run the hills, he’d be running the hills.
“When we ran the seven-mile run, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a faster guy in the 15 years of my program.”
Bader’s best friend and roommate in college was Jeremy Spates, the current coach at SIU-Edwardsville.
“Jeremy was quiet and Mark was the crazy one,” laughed Smith. “They were perfect timing when I came here to grow the positive feeling that we needed.”
Bader also helped out with recruiting and promoting the program.
“Most schools have a golf outing around the beginning of the school year,” Bader said. “At that golf outing, he would break us up in a couple teams and we would do skits to entertain. I think that’s when my personality would come out.
“One year, me and Spates did a Saturday Night Live skit. We played the cheerleaders, Hans and Franz. We were mocking all the other kids on our team.”
Bader still has a strong relationship with many of today’s past and current wrestlers and hopes he can bring out the fun of the sport the way wrestlers like Taylor and Kyle Dake perform on the mat.
“I think that’s part of the whole thing,” Bader said. “When I was wrestling in season, especially in college, I would take it up another step. I was really serious and focused, maybe too serious.
“Maybe that’s why I run around and act like such a goof-ball these days.”