I had the privilege to interview Jon back in January of 2010 while he was still with ESPN, doing both MMA Live and almost every single internet highlight there was. Since then, Jon Anik has gone on to become one of the faces of the UFC broadcast team. Working both the studio with Fuel as well as doing play by play.
Jon, back in our original interview you said “there is nothing in broadcasting quite like play-by-play”. Now being in MMA full-time working for the UFC, have your dreams come true? What has been your most memorable moment so far since leaving ESPN for the UFC? What was it like calling play by play in replace of Mike Goldberg live on Pay Per View with Joe Rogan?
Jon Anik: I guess you could say my dreams have come true. I certainly had a vision that I would one day be calling UFC fights but candidly, I didn’t think it would materialize this quickly. The first 18 months have had a lot of memorable moments. The whole experience of joining and becoming a part of this amazing UFC team and operation has been a pleasure. Were I to point to a singular moment that stands out, it would have to be UFC 155 and the chance to call my first PPV. Joe Rogan is as dynamic a talent as there is in the space. Everything he does in the entertainment business, he does well. So having the chance to work with one of MMA’s iconic figures was quite a thrill. And being able to call a fight card of that magnitude so early into my UFC tenure was a great opportunity and I’m thankful they threw it my way.
Seems the only thing missing from the old ESPN MMA Live crew is Franklin McNeil doing cameos. Even Molly Qerim has chipped in with some FuelTV shows. What can we do to get Franklin on UFC TV? Get the family back together!
Jon Anik: The F-Mac is entrenched at ESPN, but I’d love to see him get into the UFC mix. Before I even started covering combat sports, he was someone I looked up to a great deal. His work and longevity speak for themselves. He is the real article. He is as loyal and honest a journalist and human being as I’ve ever worked alongside. I cherish our friendship and wish him nothing but the best. I trust our paths will cross plenty over the next few years.
The biggest buzzwords in MMA today are “Super Fight”. Every one from Anderson Silva vs Jon Jones or Georges St Pierre to Benson Henderson trying to throw his name in the hat. Not to mention Daniel Cormier and his heavyweight or 205 and Jon Jones quest. Which fights are you excited to see and which do you think are just hype and will never happen? Will any of the fights happen in 2013?
Jon Anik: It’s not hard to get me hyped for superfights and, fortunately, I think a lot of the proposed options are plausible. I don’t believe Georges St-Pierre is in any great rush to fight Anderson Silva. If GSP moves up to 185 lbs., I believe he will do so with finality. And, given the emergence of welterweight contenders Johny Hendricks and Jake Ellenberger, the division hasn’t been cleaned out just yet. As for a Silva-Jon Jones fight, I do believe Silva would like to retire undefeated in the UFC and that becomes a lot more difficult if he takes a fight with Jones. Of course, Chris Weidman could change all of that any way. Ultimately, I think the superfight that has the best chance of happening in the near future is Jones v. Daniel Cormier.
MMA has grown so much in the last 10-15 years and absolutely exploded over the last 5. So much so that some feel that it’s over-saturated a bit. Too many shows and not enough star fighters. Jon Jones vs Dan Henderson being a prime example of how injury can hit an already stretched roster and the cancellation of an event. There is a big difference between fighters and fighters with star power. Do you think that the UFC is running too many shows or do you feel that it’s not enough and that there is still room for even more TV time?
Jon Anik: I think we run the right number of shows; not too many, but I certainly don’t believe we need more shows. The UFC roster is swollen right now, largely due to injuries and the obligation to get ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ veterans a fight after they appear on the show. Our biggest challenge – always – is to build and sustain stars and that is not always easy. We spend a great deal of time, money and energy in this area and will continue to do so. Ultimately, it’s the MMA game of the fighters that truly draws fans in, but you’re right, you’ve got to have a hook to create star power. Nick Diaz has a hook and moves the needle like few fighters in the business. We knew this day was coming, when the Coutures and Liddells of the world were done fighting. But I like our chances when it comes to developing and promoting new stars. As we saw recently with Conor McGregor, it seems as though a star emerges every time we have a show.
One of the biggest phenomenons over the last couple years has been the amazing growth of women’s MMA. Seems like only yesterday that Gina Carano was paving the way being the main event on an EliteXC CBS card putting women’s MMA on the map. Since then, Cris Cyborg and most notably Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate have taken women’s MMA to the next level and now to the UFC. What are your thoughts on the women’s division and what match-ups are you excited to see in the future?
Jon Anik: Well, we are now just five days away from the second women’s fight in UFC history between Tate and Cat Zingano. I cannot wait to call that fight and see what all the Zingano hype is all about. Clearly, there is an appetite for women’s MMA at the elite level. Our challenge is to make sure there is enough depth at the top to keep Ronda Rousey (or whomever is the champion) challenged with new opponents. A second fight between Rousey and Tate greatly piques my interest, but a lot of folks think Zingano will get in the way of that. We’ll see soon enough. And I really do hope we get to see Rousey v. Cyborg, because I believe they are clearly the two best women in the world.
I’d be re-missed if I interviewed you a second time and didn’t take time out to mention that you used to teach autistic kids for a number of years. What was that experience like and what are some the lessons you learned from them while spending so much time around the kids? What can people do to help more towards the cause and help the children out? Are there any charities and causes that are passionate to you?
Jon Anik: It was the most rewarding experience of my life. I started when I was 16 working with autistic preschoolers, eventually moved up to middle school. Then after college, I worked as a vocational coordinator/job coach for autistic teenagers. The biggest challenge was finding viable jobs for them and making sure they fell in line to keep those jobs. I just cherished every day I had with those kids and, as humbly as I can say this, truly felt as though I was making a tangible difference in their lives. They taught me about the power of education and compassion. I hope one day to get back in the mix as a volunteer. It’s something I would suggest to any one who wants to help these wonderful, needy children. As for charities and causes, I’m certainly an Autism Speaks advocate. And I also am passionate about Amyloidosis Awareness. It is a devastating, largely under-the-radar disease that took my stepfather away from us at just 58 years old. It is a nasty, nasty disease and one that is often misdiagnosed. Had my stepdad been diagnosed correctly, he might still be with us. Hopefully, I can continue to help create awareness.
Last time I asked you what your plans for the future were you said to make MMA your full-time Well you’ve accomplished that. Now have kids and a family and become the face of UFC on FuelTV. So what can you do top that next?
Jon Anik: It’s been a wild ride and we really enjoy living in Las Vegas. We’re expecting our second daughter in a few days and fatherhood has really changed my outlook on life. My priorities have changed, obviously. I am most excited about raising two daughters and spending as much time with them as humanly possible. I still have the drive to move my career forward and I’m not quite sure what the next challenge holds. I just remain thankful for this UFC opportunity and hope to be in the MMA space for years to come.