Any male over the age of 16 who enjoys watching sports likely flips on ESPN at least a few times every week if not daily. The cable network provides continuous cycle of information covering nearly every major athletic endeavor. However, one of the areas ESPN has fallen short in relates to Mixed Martial Arts.
Sure, Sportscenter may feature the occasional blurb or mention on the ticker and shows may occasionally involve interviews with fighters or even Dana White, but in general ESPN ignores MMA and treats it like an unwanted stepchild. If you need evidence, consider how little attention UFC 137 has gotten on ESPN programming or how poorly MMA Live has been treated in terms of timeslots or being preempted for less popular sports. The reality is ESPN would rather show bowling than brawling, high-school football than high-level grappling.
Now, the UFC has signed longtime MMA Live anchor Jon Anik who was one of the sport’s biggest proponents at ESPN. The knowledgeable, professional, and straight up likeable Anik brought legitimacy to the cause with a fan’s perspective. His loss will not only be a crippling blow to the program but, to me, indicates ESPN is pulling up their stakes and moving on from MMA.
I have no insight into the money involved but the logical side of me has to believe the UFC is not likely to have offered an exorbitant amount for Anik’s services – just what he was worth as a journalist. Likewise, I have to believe someone with pockets as deep as ESPN’s could have matched it had they been so inclined.
Is it possible Anik simply wanted to try something new? Absolutely, but he’s also father to a newborn and packing up shop to move across the country for a job that will have him traveling a lot, especially in comparison to his gig at ESPN, is not a decision someone in those shoes would typically make unless financial stability was involved.
In my humble, uninformed opinion, it appears ESPN felt Anik’s departure was beneficial to them on some level or else they would have fought harder to keep him on board. He was the glue that made all the components of MMA Live work, not an insignificant cog in the machine (plus he did other work within the network).
So what did ESPN get by letting him go? Two things: 1.) Peace of mind in knowing they did the right thing by allowing Anik to find a set of welcoming arms in a field he loved, and 2.) The ability to relegate MMA discussion to the occasional bit on Jim Rome is Burning or another similar daily talk show rather than treat it with legitimacy.
Let it be a reminder to you the “Worldwide Leader in Sports’” job is to entertain first and inform second. Anik’s exit, while great for the UFC, is a very tangible indicator it’s RIP for MMA on ESPN.
What do you think about the subject on today’s “Opening Round”? Tell us on our Twitter account (@mmatraining)!