Editor’s note: Saturday from Las Vegas, heavyweights Quinton Jackson and Matt Hamill head the UFC 130 mixed martial arts pay-per-view card. We asked MMA Live host Jon Anik to breakdown that bout in the video above, and to tell us more about himself and the ESPN2 show.
MMA Live airs Friday at 11 p.m. ET.
FR: May 2011 marks the first anniversary of MMA Live‘s transition from ESPN.com to ESPN2 programming. Does it seem like a year, and what have been the highlights?
Anik: Appreciate the reminder. It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s already been a full calendar year since we made the transition from ESPN.com to ESPN2. We were very thankful for the opportunity at the time and are eternally grateful to the MMA Live fans for tuning in and setting those DVRs. The ratings have been strong– we did one of our biggest numbers ever last week — and I have to think that has played a huge part in our ability to stay on ESPN2. Mixed martial arts deserves this coverage from the worldwide leader in sports and we are happy to deliver it.
As for specific highlights, there have been many. We’d had some of the best fighters in the world (Frankie Edgar, Gilbert Melendez, Rashad Evans, Jon Jones, Brock Lesnar) in studio. But I’d have to say our first ESPN2 broadcast tops the list of highlights for me. We were in Montreal for UFC 113 and did a one-hour post-fight extra live on ESPN2. We usually tape our weekly show the morning it airs, so it is always thrilling to do the shows live and I think the remote shows represent some of our best work. Adrenaline was high when we first cracked the mics last May in Montreal. Later in the year, we also got to do our first outdoor show for UFC 121 in Anaheim. It’s been a great ride and I hope it doesn’t end anytime soon.
FR: A person with a degree in political journalism doesn’t seem like someone you immediately would associate with mixed martial arts. How did you become involved with the sport? Do you compete yourself in some way?<!–more–>
Anik: From the time I was 16 years old, I knew I wanted to work in sports. I had done a ton of writing in high school as the Editor-in-Chief of our school newspaper and, growing up in Boston, I was born with a passion for sports. When I arrived at Gettysburg College, there wasn’t a journalism program. So, I designed my own major in political journalism that included one semester at American University in Washington, D.C. Politics was the major focus, but I worked an internship for The George Michael Sports Machine to satisfy my sports craving. At that point in time, I got the TV bug and, for the first time, my focus started to shift from print to broadcast journalism. I enjoyed political commentary and debate, but sports was always the passion. If I could’ve gotten a major in sports journalism approved, I would’ve gone in that direction.
I hosted a boxing radio show in Boston from 2004 to 2007 and began to follow both boxing and MMA closely. I didn’t grow up a combat sports fan. I was all about the Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots, not unlike most kids in Boston. My experience covering boxing helped me land the job as host of MMA Live. I began working for ESPN at ESPN Radio. In 2007, I moved over to the digital media platforms. Shortly thereafter, MMA Live was born. I was given an audition in large part because of my boxing background and haven’t looked back. I hope to one day cover MMA full-time for ESPN.
FR: How important is social media to MMA Live and the sport in general?
Anik: Social media is huge for MMA Live and for mixed martial arts. Perhaps no sport is as active on Twitter as MMA, and the UFC has set the standard. All of their fighters and executives have Twitter accounts and all UFC fighter profiles at UFC.com link to their individual Twitter feeds. But Twitter is an unbelievable resource for fight fans and media. I spend several hours a week interacting with MMA Live fans, answering questions, and engaging in debate. There is definitely an addictive quality there and I’m sure my wife wouldn’t be opposed if Twitter went away. But it’s not going anywhere. It’s amazing how much news breaks on Twitter every day and how proactive fighters are with their individual accounts. We are in an unprecedented time, as fans are able to speak directly with professional athletes. It’s exciting to see the growth. And you can follow (or unfollow) me anytime @Jon_Anik!
FR: Besides the main event, is there another bout in UFC 130 you’re excited about and why?
Anik: I am excited to see the heavyweight fight between Frank Mir and Roy Nelson. Mir has been an MMA analyst for us many times on MMA Live and Roy Nelson has also been featured on the show a few times. There aren’t a ton of obvious contenders right now at the top of the heavyweight division, and the winner there figures to be in a great position to perhaps get a title shot before the year is out. So Mir-Nelson greatly piques my interest. Also looking forward to the middleweight clash between Brian Stann and Jorge Santiago. Stann has also worked as an MMA Live analyst and is literally the most impressive human being I’ve ever come across. A former U.S. Marine Corps Captain and Silver Star recipient for his valor in combat, Stann is the ideal ambassador for MMA. He’s also a much-improved fighter who seems to have found his groove since moving down from light heavyweight to 185 pounds.
FR: Beyond mixed martial arts, what are some other things that interest you (politics, other sports, travel, etc)?
Anik: I follow the Boston sports teams pretty closely, albeit not as closely as I once did. I remain a dedicated boxing fan and huge Bernard Hopkins supporter. Family is the most important thing in my life. I have an identical twin brother and two other siblings. Being a twin is the greatest blessing in my life. That figures to be topped soon, as my wife and I are expecting our first child later this year. In my down time, I enjoy playing basketball, golf and tennis. I don’t like to work out, but I do it so I don’t look too fat in HD.