The UFC announced on Thursday that they hired Jon Anik to work with them on Fuel TV and FX broadcasts. Anik has been the host of ESPN's "MMA Live" since 2008, and was Bellator's original play-by-play man. He'll handle hosting duties on a revamped "The Ultimate Fighter," plus do play-by-play for UFC fights on FX and Fuel.
Anik spoke with Cagewriter about his legacy at ESPN, the final broadcast and his new job. He said that the opportunity to call fights and focus all of his time on MMA was just too good of an offer to pass on.
"Doing live events for a sports broadcaster is where it's at. It's what I've always wanted to do. There's nothing like the adrenaline and the rush of being a small part of that live event. For a lot of broadcasters, when you get to ESPN, that is the pinnacle. You never think you'll leave there. I wouldn't have left if there wasn't interest from the Ultimate Fighting Championship. I'm appreciative that Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White were behind me."
Anik doesn't expect to make his TV debut for the UFC until January, but his first official day as a Zuffa employee is on Monday. All of his concentration can finally be on MMA, which is what he has wanted.
"At ESPN, I was pulled in a lot of different directions. With the singular focus, I have 280 fighters to learn every inch of, and that process begins on Monday. Part of my first month in November will be research, and I'm excited to do so. They deserve to have the person representing them on TV to be as informed as humanly possible. You can be sure that I'll be learning it all."
But before that first day of work, Anik had his final broadcast with the "MMA Live" crew. Kenny Florian and Franklin McNeil, two mainstays on the show, were with Anik during today's broadcast. That show will air tonight, and you might see Anik get emotional.
"It was tough today. Kenny Florian and Franklin McNeil were both there, and they've grown into great friends of mine. We all grew together. We're going through the show today, and obviously the focus is on UFC 137, but at the end, they paid a nice little tribute and I was holding back the tears. I appreciate that ESPN let me do one final show."
He said that though MMA's coverage at ESPN has grown, it was still only about 30 percent of his work week.
"I've been pushing for increased mixed martial arts content and an increased MMA role at ESPN. Even though they've been receptive to some of that, I have hit some brick walls. I'm satisfied with a lot of the things that I've gotten done at ESPN from an MMA standpoint, there were other things that didn't materialize."
Anik said that "MMA Live" will continue on without him, though he does not know who his replacement will be. It's possible that ESPN will use a rotation of hosts to fill the job.
Though he is leaving, Anik is proud of what "MMA Live" has accomplished in its three years. The show started on the internet only, and was moved to ESPN2 after its viewership steadily increased.
"The staff wanted a news and information show cut from the same cloth as NFL Live, and I think we were able to do that. The fact that we were able to graduate to ESPN2 is really something that I will always look to with a great sense of pride, because it's very rare for ESPN to put a show on TV when they don't have rights to that sport. You don't see an NHL 2Night. A lot of the fighters who came on and served as analysts deserve a whole lot credit for that. I think that's some sort of legacy that I hope we leave, and MMA Live is going to go on long after I'm gone."
The work on ESPN prepared Anik for his new role with the UFC. A big part of his job will be the face of the UFC's programming on Fuel and FX.
"One of the goals that we have collectively with the UFC right now is to make Fuel TV a monster. There's going to be so much programming on Fuel TV and on FX that I think it's important to drive people to that platform."
Watch Anik's final episode of "MMA Live" on ESPN2 at 1 a.m. ET.