Anik gets shot calling MMA
It’s a tough call trying to decide which rapid ascent is more impressive: that of Jon Anik or that of mixed martial arts, the sport with which he will now be indelibly associated.
The 33-year-old Boston native was hired last week by the Ultimate Fighting Championship as the voice and face of its Fuel TV and FX broadcasts. Anik, who had hosted ESPN’s “MMA Live’’ studio show since its inception in 2008, will handle play-by-play of the networks’ UFC fights while also hosting “The Ultimate Fighter’’ reality show.
“I’m so appreciative that the UFC has the confidence and faith in me to be someone they want to build around. It was an easy decision to make once the UFC showed some interest,’’ said Anik, who took one day off before the new gig and will call his first fight Jan. 20.
“I know I’ve got a lot of work to do. There’s some pressure. If [UFC president] Dana White doesn’t like how I sound calling his events, then they’re not going to keep me around. But when opportunities present themselves, you have to take them.’’
It’s a long way, if not so many years, from Anik’s days as a fledgling sports radio host in Boston. He first became familiar to local fans in the mid-2000s when, along with Ryen Russillo (now a standout at ESPN) and Anthony Pepe, he hosted “The Diehards’’ during afternoon drive on 1510 The Zone.
“The Diehards’’ was a smart, informative alternative to WEEI’s “The Big Show,’’ then swollen by massive ratings and egos. It was also doomed by 1510’s feeble signal. “The Diehards’’ died suddenly - the hosts arrived for work, only to be told it was their last show - and nearly six years to the day the UFC announced Anik’s hiring. It’s a coincidence Anik doesn’t miss.
“For a lot of us growing up in Boston, it’s a dream to host a sports radio show,’’ said Anik. “I always wanted to be on ‘The Big Show.’ Back then, as a football/baseball/basketball guy, I never would have thought that I would ever end up covering combat sports for a living. But it’s gone in this direction, and I’m very thankful for those initial opportunities.
“Sometimes ‘The Diehards’ feels like a long time ago, and sometimes it feels like it was a week ago.’’
Anik, who landed at ESPN Radio after leaving 1510, was able to put behind him any second thoughts about leaving a place that is viewed as the ultimate career destination for many broadcasters.
“Once the decision was made, I thought about that more: ‘Wow, you just left ESPN after six years,’ ’’ he said. “It’s like, ‘Is that really what you want to do?’
“I guess it just comes back to carving a niche. The sports broadcasting arena is so competitive, never more so than it is right now. And I feel like at ESPN they want you to be a jack-of-all-trades, to be able to do a golf show, a fantasy football show, an MMA show. While I felt like I was capable of handling all of those assignments, I wasn’t able to throw myself into one thing.
“Now, for the first time since I was on 1510, I have a singular focus. Back then it was Boston sports. Really, it was an easy decision to make once the UFC showed some interest.’’
An outlet for UMass
The Atlantic-10 has been handcuffed by a regrettable television deal reached with CBS before the 2006-07 season that gives the network’s college sports outlet the rights to broadcast conference basketball games. (A-10 games are also shown on ESPN’s array of channels, though a contract extension signed in April calls for just 32 men’s and women’s basketball telecasts over two years.) So the University of Massachusetts deserves some kudos for finding one way to enhance the television presence - in the Boston market, at least - with an agreement with WBIN to telecast approximately a dozen live football, hockey, men’s and women’s basketball, and lacrosse games this season. The UMass schedule on WBIN begins tomorrow when the Minutemen host Boston College in hockey . . . College hockey’s national profile received a nice boost with the news that Versus (set to become NBC Sports Network) will air 16 games this season, including one quarterfinal, both semifinals, and the championship game from the Hockey East tournament. Locally, however, it’s likely that its coverage of the Hockey East tournament will blacked out since NESN, according to an industry source, is expected to announce that it has retained local rights . . . ESPN Films’ latest can’t-miss documentary, “Unguarded,’’ an unsparing account of Fall River native and former Celtic Chris Herren’s battle with addiction, re-airs tomorrow at 7 a.m. on ESPN2.
‘Stove’ warming up
There is sure to be no shortage of Red Sox news in the months ahead, and NESN will cover all of the developments again on “Red Sox Hot Stove Live,’’ which will air each Tuesday at 6 p.m. beginning next week, with additional shows planned during the winter meetings. One change this year: Don Orsillo will serve as host since Tom Caron, who has anchored the show in previous years, has picked up additional hockey-related duties, including hosting “The Instigators.’’ As far as we know, NESN has no plans to produce a similar program for Liverpool FC after the English Premier League season ends. But you never know.