An Exclusive Interview With UFC Commentator Jon Anik
By Leigh Dent
As UFC prepares to embark on its next chapter with ESPN, fans of the sport were delighted to learn that there will be at least one guaranteed consistency. On 22nd October, UFC staple and #1 play-by-play commentator, Jon Anik, announced that his future with the company will continue beyond the Fox era, after signing a multi-year extension contract.
Jon was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions surrounding the move, what makes a successful commentary team and his 2018 in the world of MMA.
“I’m excited to be a part of what will be a huge transition for the UFC and for ESPN. There are always some growing pains when you go through a network change like this, but our job is to make it seamless and to prove to ESPN that they made the right investment. It’s a five-year deal and we’re looking to make them wish it were ten.
“Personally, it’s crazy for me to be going back to ESPN, so to speak, where I began covering MMA back in 2007. A lot has changed since then and I think the timing for this partnership is right. There is no denying the UFC’s global imprint, but I think this ESPN deal and the accompanying coverage will help the UFC grow domestically in the United States. A lot of work to be done and we’re ready.”
It is well-known that Anik already has a lengthy history with ESPN and his career has taken many twists and turns, bringing his journey full-circle somewhat. When reflecting on his accomplishments to date, Jon took us back to his college days, where he studied Political Journalism at Gettysburg College, Pennsylvania.
“Sports journalism was always the goal. I thought briefly about a career in law, politics, or business but I wasn’t a great test-taker and for whatever reason, I decided journalism was a better path. I also just got turned off from politics during my collegiate years. My senior thesis was entitled ‘How the Media Undermines American Democracy’ and 17 years later, I’m not even sure I could tell you exactly what my thesis statement was! I always just worked hard and thankfully, I discovered fairly early on that I wanted sports to be part of whatever job I had. That led me to print journalism, sports radio, and eventually television.”
Upon preparing for his return to ESPN, Jon reflected on how he has evolved in parallel to the sport of MMA itself.
“When I left ESPN in 2011, I wouldn’t have done so unless I thought there was a chance to eventually ascend and work the big shows. Perhaps it happened sooner than I thought it would, but that was always the goal. It’s been a wild 7+ years and I’ve learned a ton about MMA, live TV, and broadcasting. I feel like I’m a better version of the guy the UFC hired back then. I think you’ve gotta make sure you’re improving and not getting worse. Ultimately, you’re only as good as your last show and, not unlike a fighter’s mentality,
“I’ve gotta earn it at every show. If I don’t do the job, it’ll be the next person up. I think that approach and attitude helps keep me sharp.”
I shared with Jon my views on the power of a successful commentary team, in how when executed well, can elevate a fight to new levels. Perhaps cheekily so, I also shared with Jon that as a fan, I love having Anik, Cormier and Rogan ringside for my Saturday night/ Sunday morning viewing.
“We appreciate you saying that. Joe Silva always used to tell me before each show to have fun and I think it’s important to not lose sight of that. I’ve never had as much fun in TV as I am having now. I think mutual respect is critical for any good broadcast team and, humbly, I think we all respect each other and the job we are there to do.
“There is also a friendship that exists between all of us and I think that can only help your performance on fight night. I have spent a lot of time with DC and I think that relationship carries over. And anytime Joe Rogan is in the booth, the show has a special feel. He has embraced me and Daniel to such an extent and I’m grateful for it. We don’t take those seats for granted. I’ve had the chance to work with about a dozen different teams and I think they all kind of take on a different feel.”
A current ‘hot potato’ that seems to divide us as MMA fans is the emergence of the ‘superfight.’ Jon explored his views both in his professional capacity, and those which he has appreciated as a fan of the sport.
“As a commentator, I just call the fight that is put in front of me and try to promote these world-class athletes to the best of my ability. I definitely have an appetite for the superfight when it is truly warranted, as was the case with DC vs Stipe. I’m less enthused for Henry Cejudo vs TJ Dillashaw at 135 pounds because Cejudo has yet to defend the flyweight belt. Were Dillashaw to be the one dropping down to try to become a two-division champion, that would seem to make more competitive sense (even though I’d advise against TJ cutting the weight). The rankings are a good base but there are a lot of circumstances in the fight game.”
With UFC 230 looming around the corner, and the much anticipated return of Jones now set in stone, I asked for Jon’s views on the ‘Double Champ’ trend which we have now seen twice, both in spectacular fashion through the careers of McGregor and Cormier.
“Well there is no denying the trend but I’m not sure you will see it all that often going forward. There have been some special circumstances and some special athletes who have taken advantage of opportunities. Certainly in DC’s case, he is on the radars of celebrity-types in the sports world that, prior to his win over Stipe Miocic, didn’t know who he was (even though he had twice fought Jon Jones).
“He is certainly becoming a superstar and I’m happy that he has cemented his legacy as one of the all-time great mixed martial arts athletes. As far as holding up divisions, I don’t see that as a huge obstacle. DC defended the light heavyweight belt in January and will vacate inside of 12 months. The UFC needs active champions and the shows must go on and largely, I think Dana White and the matchmakers are doing a bang-up job.”
And finally, as the year draws to a close, many of us are reflecting on MMA’s 2018 and which moments will be forever cemented in our memories. Jon is no different.
“I think UFC 229: Khabib vs McGregor will forever be hard to top. And I would’ve said that even before the post-fight brawl broke out. It was the biggest sporting event I’ve ever called by a mile and it was just a really special night all around. I was proud of our whole live production team that doesn’t get the credit it deserved. As for 2019, it’s really all about this pivot to ESPN and making sure we get off to a good start. The next UFC star tends to emerge when you least expect it, and there’s a lot of talent coming through that door.”
Upon speaking to Jon and delving into his career in MMA to date, it is impossible to deny the passion and love that he has for the sport, both in his professional capacity, and simply as a fan like you or I. It is this authenticity that shines through Jon’s work and pervades through our screens each weekend.
I would like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to Jon, for giving up his valuable time and for answering my questions so openly and honestly.