There are many words that can be used to describe the environment of a live event on fight night, but unpredictable is the one that is commonly attached to the action. Despite the best efforts of expert analysts and visible trends of how an athlete has been performing on their respective trajectories, there is simply no way to tell what will happen when two fighters step into the Octagon to go to work.
As it has been proven time and time again over the past 20 years, the realm under the bright lights of the UFC banner is one of chaos and excitement, where anything can happen and often times does.
While the competitors trading leather on the biggest stage in the sport are the premier attraction for the viewing public, the men calling the action Octagonside are a crucial element of the presentation. They are there to serve as guides “on the fly,” and their added insight into what is taking place inside the cage can make the difference in how a fan not only keeps up with what is transpiring, but ultimately understands the “hows” and “whys” as well.
Jon Anik understands the true nature of his role on the call for UFC broadcasts and it’s a charge he takes up with absolute appreciation for the responsibility he carries on fight night. Anik knows he will be leading the dance for those watching at home and he’s continuously worked to make sure his presentation evolves with the sport.
“All the feedback that comes in from the MMA community has been great,” Anik said. “There are things I’ve been able to pick up from fans on Twitter that I’ve been able to incorporate or take out of the broadcast. Those things are very important to us. It is nice that the public seems to be getting behind the job we are doing, but at the end of the day, we are there to do the best job we can. (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva always says to go out there and have fun. At first it was difficult to even think about having fun because you are so focused on the job at hand, but I really try now to have fun on the job.
“I’m probably 600 fights in at this point and I’ve seen a lot of things happen inside the Octagon. All of those things help you develop skills. You are only as good as your last show, and while that may sound trite, that is the truth. There are a lot of events on the schedule ahead where we get to call some of the greatest athletes in the world doing their thing, and it is definitely not something we take for granted.”
While the Massachusetts-born play-by-play man makes sure to keep things rolling, he counts on his color commentator to drop gems of knowledge into the call. For the past two events, Brian Stann has been riding shotgun for color commentary, and the duo have proven to be a natural fit working together in the broadcast booth.
Furthermore, while Anik and the recently retired former middleweight contender have been near flawless on the microphone during their recent endeavors, their collective performances have not gone without appreciation from the UFC fan base. The fighting faithful are a passionate collective, and the team of Anik and Stann has been tagging walk-off home runs on fight night.
Calling live action just beyond the links of the Octagon is an interesting challenge. While describing what is taking place during the fight is a key part of the job description, finding time to present interesting information about the fighters involved can be a delicate play. Anik and Stann need to be acutely aware of all things Octagon-related and keeping the pace just right is one of the biggest hurdles they face when the cameras go live.
“There is no doubt we work in a unique environment, and I think one of the things all play-by-play guys pride themselves on is their ability to adjust on the fly,” said Anik. “You have to adjust to different situations, different broadcast partners and anything that comes your way. I just enjoy everything about the live event experience. Ultimately, the reason I took this job with the UFC is because it was heavily rooted in live events and not just studio work.
“I think a lot of it is the energy of the crowd adding to the experience. It is great to play off that, just as it is important to have silence be your friend. You learn the power of shutting up and laying out to allow moments to be what they are without wall-to-wall commentary. It’s a balancing act. We are on those headsets for six to seven hours at a time, and you have to pace yourself to make sure you are even throughout, and you have enough in your register when you get to the biggest fights on the card.”
When it comes to the topic of riding the wave of the hectic pace a live event brings, Stann certainly echoed the sentiment of his partner.
“It is definitely a different experience, and I was lucky to have been able to call some boxing matches leading up to this because it prepared me for what came next,” the decorated United States Marine Corps veteran added. “When you are calling the fights, you have to tell the people what they are seeing and why they are seeing it. But at the same time, you also have to be able to make it fun. You have to be able to inject some personality into it and that comes with being comfortable. If you are comfortable with what you are seeing and describing, then you can let your personality come out. But that is also largely connected with who you are working with. If you don’t have chemistry with your play-by-play guy it is going to be tough. All of these things go together.”
Where Anik has been on the job for over two years now, being underneath the headset is still relatively new territory for Stann. The heavy-handed slugger put away his gloves for good in 2013, and immediately stepped into an analyst role for FOX Sports 1 broadcasts. While working outside of the Octagon was a change of pace for Stann, he certainly wasted no time shining in his new role at UFC events.
Stann immediately earned rave reviews from the MMA community for his ability to break down bouts on pre- and post-fight shows, and he decided to take on a new challenge when the UFC tapped him to work alongside play-by-play staple Mike Goldberg at UFC 163 in Brazil.
Once again Stann rose to the occasion, and his performance on the pay-per-view broadcast opened the doors for more opportunities to come down the road, and those opportunities are coming at a fast and furious pace now that he’s found such a comfortable fit calling the action with Anik.
“Initially, for my first event I worked with Mike Goldberg at UFC 163,” Stann said. “We just didn’t have these barnburner fights that night, and that makes it hard to call. But I had spent some time with Mike leading up to the fight so we were able to talk and make sure we had some chemistry on camera on fight night. That helped a lot and it is the same thing with Jon Anik. I’ve known Anik since he was at ESPN and we’ve always maintained a relationship. When we did our first show in Singapore, he had reached out to me and we had been talking for the two weeks leading up to the event. He was huge in that process and that is very helpful when you are calling the action and can develop a good relationship.
“The hardest thing initially for me was that I would call a fight with Jon Anik, and then wouldn’t call another one for about three months. It was until recently that they’ve had me doing about a fight card a month. Back then I was just kind of filling in when they needed me, and it’s hard to catch a rhythm that way. It’s hard because Jon is so used to working with Kenny [Florian], then he has to switch directions really fast and work with me. That was the initial challenge because when you start to get a rhythm you can also make it more fun. You can start to let your personality come out instead of just being the analytical guy who breaks down the action.”
While Anik may be the more seasoned of the two, that doesn’t mean there weren’t adjustments to be made when Stann was slotted into his new position. The Las Vegas transplant is the anchor in the play-by-play role, and it is his job to navigate the vehicle to the finish line. Yet, long before Stann ever joined him at the commentator’s table, Anik recognized his talent for the task at hand, and this made the transition into being a team a smooth one.
“Brian has really proven that he’s the best in the business,” Anik said. “In this small space of MMA, we have so many gifted analysts and he’s right there at the top. His preparation has a lot to do with it. I talk a lot about his articulation because the way he is able to simply and explain things to the audience is very unique and special. He also has a great presence about him. They need to stick me on a wooden box so I don’t look dwarfed by “The All-American.”
“I remember the first time I met Brian Stann when I was working at ESPN and recall him saying, ‘Man…the mental agility it takes your job is something I could never do.’ My memory is not great, but I remember that clearly. It’s not like we are fishing for compliments, but one of the things that has made him so great is that before he was ever in the business, he appreciated what it took to do the job.
“He’s a great guy and a pleasure to work with. He has a lot of natural ability but to hone your skills the way Brian has is impressive. Brian Stann knocked it out of the park on his very first day as an analyst and that is the thing. He wasn’t going to fail that first day, but the way he’s honed his craft has been pretty powerful to see.”
The Atlanta-based fighter turned broadcaster has made a seamless transition into the booth, but he gives a large amount of that credit to Anik and the chemistry they possess. While their partnership is still young, the two men have been friends for the past several years and their established foundation has played a major role in their ability to work with another in the chaos of a live show.
Nevertheless, Stann revels in Anik’s ability to take the wheel on fight night and is consistently impressed with how the Ultimate Insider host handles the task at hand.
“Jon is phenomenal and people don’t understand how much time that man puts in. He comes to every fight card already having put in hours of work. He memorizes all the pronunciations of fighter’s names and has spent hours doing and redoing the introductions. The night before the fight he holes himself up in his hotel room to do his final prep to finalize everything. That is after having put in a good week and a half of work leading up to the event. He’s a true professional. He’s fully trained and has developed his own style and it is incredible to see how much he puts in.
“We both take the job very seriously and don’t take anything about it for granted,” Anik added. “I think that is a common thread with us and really what drives us. I also know we try not to put additional pressure on ourselves. Me personally, I treat every show I do like it could be my last. There is a clause in my contract where they can terminate me without cause at any time. If I have one bad show they can let me go, and while that is not my expectation, you have to approach the job that way.”