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“. . . I Can’t Wait To Share The Stories And Background Of This Sport With A New Audience”

ESPN.com’s Brett Okamoto discusses covering MMA ahead of the debut of UFC Fight Night on ESPN+ and names the ESPN personality ready for the Octagon

Brett Okamoto interviews UFC featherweight Max Holloway. (Photo courtesy of Brett Okamoto/ESPN)

UFC is set to make its Fight Night on ESPN+ debut, with the showdown between UFC flyweight champion Henry Cejudo and UFC bantamweight champ TJ Dillashaw for Cejudo’s 125-pound title belt, live from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center this Saturday.

Front Row asked ESPN.com’s lead MMA writer Brett Okamoto about covering UFC heading into the big weekend.

What’s your favorite UFC event you’ve ever covered?
UFC 132. I loved the Dominick Cruz-Urijah Faber rivalry. One of my all-time favorites. And I will always have a soft spot for events at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. UFC has moved on from that venue to Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, but there was always a “big fight” feel at MGM.

What does the company’s deal with UFC mean for how you will cover UFC going forward?
I have always tried to cover the sport objectively and fair, and I will continue to do that during this deal. I am excited, though, at the increase in interest ESPN has in MMA and I can’t wait to share the stories and background of this sport with a new audience.

What’s the best part of the new MMA FightCenter on the ESPN App and ESPN.com?
Stats. I’m a stat guy. I was the kid who would study the backs of baseball cards. Stats don’t tell you everything in sports, particularly MMA, but they can add a lot — and getting them in real time on FightCenter is very cool.

What ESPN personality would make the best MMA fighter?
Gotta go with [ESPN boxing analyst] Teddy Atlas. Obvious answer, but it’s the truth. If I were to get in a fight tomorrow, I’d want Teddy with me.

Use one word to describe your colleagues:

ESPN MMA host Ariel Helwani: Hardworking.

ESPN MMA analyst Chael Sonnen: Lovely.

– Molly Mita

1. College GameDay Covered by State Farm is back! The traveling pregame college basketball show returns for its 15th season Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN) at Duke University ahead of the matchup between the Blue Devils and No. 4 Virginia (6 p.m. ET, ESPN).

2. ESPN’s NBA Saturday Primetime on ABC returns for the fourth season this Saturday when the Houston Rockets host the Los Angeles Lakers at 8:30 p.m. ET. ABC will also broadcast a special matinee edition Saturday at 3:30 p.m. as the Philadelphia 76ers take on the Oklahoma City Thunder.

3. ESPN+ airs its first UFC card exclusively on ESPN+ on Saturday night at 10 p.m. ET.

4. ESPN coverage of the NFL Conference Championship Weekend will include a special three-hour Postseason NFL Countdown on Sunday at 12 p.m. ET.

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