Sean Wheelock has a few things he wants to clear up about his departure from Bellator MMA.
For one, it was not his choice. And secondly, Wheelock said Bellator president Scott Coker didn't make the call.
The longtime Bellator play-by-play man was not renewed back in July and Sean Grande, the radio voice of the Boston Celtics, took his place. Wheelock had been with Bellator working with color commentator Jimmy Smith since 2010 back when Bellator was on FOX Sports Net. The duo worked 127 straight shows together. Smith was kept on with Grande.
The dismissal was sudden -- not just to fans, but to Wheelock himself. Wheelock said Bellator had delayed extension talks all spring until July when he was told that the promotion would not re-sign him. Grande told MMA Fighting that he had been contacted by Bellator as early as March.
"It felt like a full-on Thai kick to the face, actually," Wheelock said in his first interview since not being brought back. "It was a huge surprise."
From Wheelock's knowledge of the situation, he said the decision did not lie with Coker.
"I know that Scott Coker has taken a lot of heat from people who like me as a commentator or like me as a person or liked the dynamic of Jimmy Smith and myself," Wheelock said. "It's my understanding that Scott Coker had nothing to do with this. This was a Spike decision not to renew my contract. I would have happily renewed. I adored Bellator."
Awful Announcing was the first to report the story of Grande replacing Wheelock in July, writing that Coker "wanted to go in another direction."
Bellator never addressed letting Wheelock go aside from a Coker tweet thanking him. When asked for further comment, Bellator declined through spokesperson Danny Brener.
Wheelock, a former broadcaster for PRIDE and M-1, took an unpaid role as a commissioner on the Kansas Athletic Commission in July and some thought he was leaving Bellator for that position. Untrue, Wheelock said. The commission gig was in the works for more than a year previously, he said, and he had Bellator's blessing to take it. Wheelock wants to make it clear that it's his intention to continue on as an MMA commentator.
"I went from Titan to PRIDE to M-1 to Bellator without skipping a beat," said Wheelock, who also has a podcast with referee John McCarthy entitled "Let's Get It On." "This is really the first time in about 10 years that I have not had an MMA TV job right now. I'm looking at different things. I'm flattered about how many people have reached out to me and I'm very, very eager to get back on television and get back to it."
Wheelock, 45, has experience in soccer, but stopped calling MLS games full time when he got the job with Bellator five years ago. MMA became his focus then and he plans on that being the case in the future, too.
"I love soccer," he said. "I'm as big a soccer fan as I ever was. I don't have a huge desire to go back and be a full-time soccer commentator. But I have a huge desire to go back and be a full-time MMA commentator."
Bjorn Rebney hired Wheelock back in 2010 and Wheelock believes the former Bellator owner gets a bad rap from fans and media. Rebney sold Bellator to Viacom in 2011 and the media conglomerate replaced him as promoter with Coker last year.
"I think the world of Bjorn," Wheelock said. "He always had my back. He always was complimentary. He was always kind.
"Bellator was Bjorn's vision, brought to life by his sheer will, tenacity and focus on excellence across every aspect of the business."
Wheelock isn't sure where he will end up next, but he hopes his Bellator run is remembered for its thoroughness. He understands that liking or disliking a broadcaster can be subjective, but he stands by his work ethic.
"We did all those prelim fights that aired on dot com," Wheelock said. "I treated every prelim fight the way I treated every main fight. I did the same amount of prep time. I did my same length of fighter interviews."
The Kansas native wishes things were different and he was still with Bellator, but he looks back at his five years there fondly. He has nothing bad to say about Coker.
"I have nothing but good memories with Bellator," Wheelock said. "I consider Scott Coker to be a friend, and I think he's a great guy. It wasn't his call. Scott Coker isn't involved in TV. Ultimately, the decision not to renew my contract and for them, as they told me, to go in a different direction comes from executives and senior management at Spike."