The voices of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan have become synonymous with the UFC brand over the last 10 years. However, when the organization announced a seven-year network broadcast partnership with FOX television entities in August 2011 that included roughly 30 fight cards a year, it was obvious Goldberg and Rogan couldn’t keep up with such a hectic schedule.
Enter Jon Anik.
The 33-year-old former ESPN employee was hired by the UFC in November 2011 to lead a second octagon-side broadcast team. Anik did play-by-play for Bellator Fighting Championship in 2009, and for over three years hosted ESPN’s weekly mixed martial arts show "MMA Live". After getting a taste of the play-by-play game with Bellator, and with his ESPN contract close to expiring, Anik opted to sign with the UFC when the opportunity to call live fights presented itself.
While he had some hesitations about leaving "The Worldwide Leader in Sports", the Massachusetts native knew his play-by-play commentary desires would be fulfilled working for the UFC.
"Bellator season one just made it crystal clear for me that’s what I wanted to do, and I think if you want to call MMA fights for a living, certainly your aspiration will be to try to work for the UFC just the way these fighters want to fight for the UFC."
"The UFC was the destination for me," Anik told FightCove.com. "I was so appreciative that they were interested, and I knew that live events and doing play-by-play was going to be a part of it."
Play-by-play will be the primary roll in Anik’s new job description. He will sit directly next to the action and call 12-14 fight cards on FX and FUEL TV in 2012, the first of which is this Friday night (January 20th) on FX from Nashville, Tennessee.
In addition to calling fights on FX and FUEL TV, Anik has a boatload of duties with the UFC. He will be the lead man for selected weigh ins, "Fight Club" Q&A sessions, pre and post fight shows and will host "The Ultimate Insider" on FUEL TV, a magazine-news oriented show that starts on February 7th and is scheduled to run 40 weeks in 2012. Anik will also play an unannounced roll on the revamped "Ultimate Fighter" reality show on FX.
As part of preparation for his new job, Anik underwent the colossal project of thoroughly researching every fighter on the rapidly growing UFC roster, which currently includes upwards of 250 athletes.
"The research obviously comes in handy and it’s the type of thing where it’s daunting, there’s never enough time in the day," Anik explained. "It’s definitely a lot of work to try and learn these guys inside and out."
"A lot of work" is certainly an accurate statement. Anik is now the man who must educate the world about every competitor who steps into the octagon within a limited time frame. He must pass along valuable information viewers need to know about every fighter, from the moment their walkout music hits the speakers, to the time they exit the octagon. With a sport as unpredictable as mixed martial arts, Anik knows every second he is able to educate the audience counts.
"I think my job as a play-by-play guy is to do some of that story telling," Anik said. "Given the nature of our sport, and how quickly things happen and move once the fight starts, there’s not a ton of time to get that information across."
"You really need to humanize these guys to create fans of individuals. I need to pick my spots and find those windows to tell those stories. Part of my job is not just calling the fights, but introducing these fighters to a mass audience and trying to grow the sport."
In the months leading up to his debut, Anik had the opportunity to put his research into practice, taking part in four "dry runs" (untelevised commentary) alongside a number of different partners including UFC fighters Kenny Florian, Stephan Bonnar, Frank Mir and Rich Franklin.
According to Anik, those dry runs were significant in helping him prepare for his debut on Friday night.
"To call 48 fights was a huge way of getting the rust off of me. I was pretty appreciative to have that opportunity, but I’m ready to go," he said. "Can only do so many of these things that don’t hit the air before you’re jonesing to actually crack the mic."
As anxious as Anik may be to get his UFC tenor officially underway, he recognizes the pressure of jumping into a roll fans are used to seeing only two men play.
"For the last ten years the only voices people have heard during UFC fights are those of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan, so I think there’s a big focus for me and my partner to make sure that we have our own style and sort of our own flare,"
"I think it’s important to have a team that can develop chemistry the way Goldberg and Rogan have,"
On top of creating his own style and flare, Anik is working to improve to the weak points in his game; such as letting his voice flow with the action, picking the correct spots to speak, using the knowledge of the analyst beside him to his benefit and keeping his emotions in check.
No one fully gets the hang of a new job in the first few days, and Anik is aware of the difficulties involved with a job that involves channeling a split-second moment into a articulate description for the world to hear.
He may be fresh on the scene as a UFC play-by-play man, but Anik is prudent of the fact there is only room to grow and get better at his new job.
"I certainly don’t know all, and I am learning the sport, and everyday learning more than I have the day before," Anik said. "I’ve never had a perfect broadcast, I don’t ever expect too. I need to sort of grow on the job, I need to realize the fact that I haven’t called 500 MMA fights,"
With his diligent work ethic and passion for the sport, 500 fights are not far off for the Gettysburg College graduate. In fact, Anik intends to sit next to the octagon and call UFC fights for the rest of his broadcasting career.
"I took this job hoping that it would sort of be a life time thing," he said.
"One day I will have called 500 (fights), and hopefully number 501 is better than number 500,"
When "UFC on FX: Guillard vs. Miller" hit the FX airwaves on Friday night, the UFC audience will be introduced to a new voice, one who has put in countless hours of work to make your viewing experience as pleasurable and informative as possible. When Anik walks into the arena and the cameras start rolling, he will be ready to shine.
"I can’t possibly be more prepared."
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