UFC announcer Jon Anik says, “I’m trying to humanize these...

UFC announcer Jon Anik says, “I’m trying to humanize these athletes and help the promotion to build stars.” Credit: ESPN Images/Gabriel Christus

It was Jan. 20, 2012, and Jon Anik had just called his first show as a UFC announcer. He returned to his hotel room in Nashville and ordered a cheeseburger.

Then he sat down on his bed, opened Twitter and got an early lesson in the passion of UFC fans.

“There was just an avalanche of hate,” he recalled, a decade later. “I guess I expected that there would be some, but I didn't necessarily think that I would be the subject of that type of venom.

“So I've certainly had to earn my place with them.”

That Anik has, now established as UFC’s lead announcer and set to visit Long Island on July 16 for an event at UBS Arena.

It is one of about two dozen shows on his calendar, which takes him all over the globe from his home base in Florida, and in this case will be a homecoming of sorts. Anik grew up in Natick, Massachusetts, but his father, Joel, is from Seaford.

For Anik, 44, it has been an eventful ride befitting a sport that makes most others seem tame and impersonal by comparison.

NFL announcers sit in distant booths and follow 22 people in helmets and pads. Mixed martial arts announcers have front row seats and describe two fighters baring their skin and their souls.

To add to the task, Anik views himself more as a promoter than a journalist, charged with telling athletes’ stories to add to fans’ engagement.

“I'm trying to humanize these athletes and help the promotion to build stars,” he said. “You’ve got to have a reason to care.”

Knowing and caring about fighters’ back stories is as much a lifestyle as a job. Anik has befriended or at least bonded with many, adding depth to his coverage.

That can be tricky. Anik called it a “constant navigation.”

“At the end of the day, a lot of my best friends are fighting, and I'm charged with calling those fights,” he said.  “Dominick Cruz, a former two-time UFC bantamweight champion, is one of my best friends in the world, and I've had to call his last two fights.

“There’s nothing easy about it, but I can assure you, as hard as the walk may be, once the fight starts, the last thing I'm thinking about is any sort of kinship or friendship.”

Kenny Florian, a former UFC fighter who hosts a popular MMA podcast with Anik, said Anik’s personality is a key to making it work.

“It does become very personal,” Florian said. “You get to know these people, you get to meet their families and their coaches and you hear about what's going on in their training sessions, but also what's going on in their lives. And that can be a very difficult thing.

“You have to be able to give your opinion and be as honest as possible, but also have a certain level of humanity and empathy. And I think Jon balances that extremely well.”

Brian Stann, a former fighter and Anik’s former telecast partner, said that unlike covering an NFL or NBA player who has been in the spotlight since adolescence, UFC fighters often arrive in the glare while still finding their way.

“It takes a special type of person who's got the depth and social skills to get that person to open up to them,” Stann said. “He's got a very unique way of being able to get them to open up, and he has to do this not just for kids that come from the Northeast or the South. He's doing this globally.”

Stann said one of the best examples of Anik’s approach is the care he takes in pronouncing fighters’ names correctly — asking them to say their own names numerous times until he has it down.

“People try to argue with us on social media and say, ‘You butchered that name,’ and I would try to tell them, ‘Listen, guys, don't argue with Anik on this. I promise you he listened to it 50 times.’ But that's a microcosm of how he approaches everything, including his family.’ ”

Stann, a decorated Marine veteran who now is in private business as CEO of Hunt Military Communities, left announcing in part because of the lifestyle. He said he and Anik often would compare notes on juggling family commitments with work.

Anik and his wife, Chrissy, have three children age 10 or younger.

“There are a lot of people who don't want to hear a guy who has his dream job complaining, but I do feel like the last 11 years have beaten me up a lot,” Anik said.

“I really do have the job that I want, but there's definitely a mental hurdle for me to get over every time I leave my kids for two weeks to go to Singapore or Hong Kong or anywhere else . . . I’m a pretty emotional guy. I was a homesick camper. So it’s not easy for me to leave.”

He added, “Given the nature of my international schedule, I think when my UFC tenure comes to an end I will probably shred my passport and never leave the United States again.

“With respect to my wife, who wants to go to Italy and Greece, I think that part of me has perished . . . Everybody says Singapore is the eighth wonder of the world and the architecture is beautiful. But Seattle's pretty, too, and I haven't been there.”

For now, though, Anik is all in, as long as UFC will have him. And as with the fighters, that always is a day-to-day proposition in that sport.

Anik gave up a guaranteed contract at ESPN when he joined the UFC, where he serves at the pleasure of president Dana White, a charismatic media presence himself.

“They rode me pretty hard early on, and I think I've had to earn my stripes and earned my brown belt, so to speak,” Anik said. “I would never say that I'm a Dana White black belt. But sometimes you don't know exactly where you stand, honestly, until your contract is up.

“I'm coming toward the end of my third contract, and I'm certainly hopeful that this will be the job I have for the rest of my life.”

Anik said White is a demanding boss with a “Belichick-ian, tough love approach,” and added, “The most basic human need is to feel appreciated, and I haven't always felt that way. But there's nobody I'd rather bust through a wall for.”

How it started for Jon Anik

During his college years, Anik worked as an intern on the syndicated “George Michael Sports Machine” program.

“He was a firecracker,” Anik said of Michael. “He didn't know my name. He just called me ‘Boston.’ That was my first look at the intensity and the tension in a television newsroom.

“Obviously, I enjoyed that sort of friction and that environment. But the first time I heard him raise his voice, I was more scared than anytime my dad yelled at me, that's for sure.”

His path to UFC began when he hosted a radio show about boxing in Boston, having taken to the sport in early adulthood.

When he moved to ESPN, he was one of the few staffers who had an understanding of combat sports, so he was tabbed to host a show called “MMA Live” that launched as a digital property in 2007 and later made its way to ESPN2.

From left, Kenny Florian, Jon Anik and Rashad Evans on...

From left, Kenny Florian, Jon Anik and Rashad Evans on the set of ESPN's "MMA Live" studio show on Sept. 9, 2010. Credit: Joe Faraoni/ESPN Chris Berman, ESPN studio host of Sunday NFL Countdown, received the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinees Dinner in Canton, Ohio. President/Executive Director of the Hall of Fame, Steve Perry, presented the award to Berman. Ernie Aranyosi / ESPN/Joe Faraoni

“Candidly, mixed martial arts kind of ruined boxing for me because I just think the sport has much more to offer on a fight-by-fight basis,” he said. “But there was a time where I was more passionate about boxing than women or anything else.”

Anik was low on ESPN’s live-events depth chart. So when he had the chance to jump to UFC full time, he took it.

That began what Anik called “a crazy, wild 11 years” of establishing himself with UFC and eventually becoming its lead voice in 2017.

He said it was crucial that he got reps, and got to know the “bottom half of the roster” of fighters, by working lesser events in the early 2010s.

“I was doing shows in Brazil in 2013 in rat-infested arenas that weren’t climate controlled and you have main-event fighters walking at 4 a.m.,” he said. “I mean, things have evolved tremendously, but we've been to a lot of crazy places over the last 11 years.”

That sort of thing — there were 27 shows in Brazil alone — also taught him how to manage the grind.

“Every time I do a show, whether it's on the equator in Brazil on ESPN+ or to a massive pay-per-view audience featuring Conor McGregor, it's eight hours on a headset,” he said.

“I’ve really had to sort of build up the stamina and endurance to make sure that I have enough left in the tank for fight 15 on a pay-per-view night. It's the devil I know. But I do think eventually I'll burn out, before [age] 60 for sure.”

How it's going for Jon Anik

On the podcast, which also features Long Island's Ray Longo, Anik and Florian have more time to flesh out subjects.

“We targeted this toward the more hardcore MMA fan who wants to learn about the sport and hear about the inside stories,” Florian said. “For Jon and I, it's been a passion project that has grown tremendously and we're really, really proud of it.”

Stann and Florian both lauded Anik’s ongoing work ethic.

“Most people once they’ve made it begin to coast a little bit,” Stann said. “They know the sport so well. They don't have to put in that effort . . . Jon doesn't stop, and that has made him beloved by the athletes in the sport and the fans.

“It’s a very, very, very special and unique quality. And it's also the reason why everybody from the talent that works with him on TV, to the producers, to the people who put the lights up, they love Jon . . . He’s just so committed and so caring to everybody in the sport. He's such a big part of that culture.”

That would have been a lot for Anik to digest after that long-ago cheeseburger. But here he is.

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