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Despite COVID-19 concerns, Jon Anik confident officials will ‘check every box’ to make UFC 249 safe

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Jon Anik finds himself in a tricky position.

Having served as a play-by-play man for the UFC since 2012, Anik is literally one of the promotion’s leading voice, so it only makes sense that he’d have something to say about its recent efforts to soldier on in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and proceed with UFC 249, a pay-per-view event currently scheduled to take place on April 18 with a location to be announced. The card has already undergone multiple changes due to coronavirus precautions and travel restrictions, including the all-but-official cancellation of the eagerly-anticipated lightweight championship clash between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson.

Appearing on MMA Fighting’s What the Heck with Mike Heck show, Anik talked about how it feels to not have his usual full plate of broadcasting duties ahead of him.

“It has been strange to not have a show on the books, to know exactly which 26 fighters I need to prepare for next,” Anik said. “I’ve only missed one show, the Columbus, Ohio, show three or four days ago was the only show that has gone off my schedule, so I have had pockets of time where maybe I’ll have two or three weeks off on a row and then do a rip of six or seven out of eight weeks. I’m conditioned for a little bit of the breathers, but to not have a show on the books is a super weird feeling.

“I’ve said this in interviews over the last week or so, there’s a lot of us—present company included and perhaps foremost in some cases—who have maybe pined for a UFC offseason. ‘Man, if we just shut it down for the month of September when college football and the NFL are peaking and then come back October 1 it’ll be the most watched show in UFC history, give the staff a chance to catch their breath and everybody who covers the sport.’ I wanted that off-season, now I’m not sure I do. Having a month off, I’m jonesing to hit the road and hopefully, all things considered and everybody’s health considered, it’s sooner rather than later.”

Anik isn’t surprised that UFC President Dana White has been so insistent on pushing forward with the event and its historically competitive main event. According to White, he has “four to five locations” lined up for UFC 249, and out of respect for the fighters, Anik plans to make his best effort to be on-site if it happens. Should the event take place outside of the U.S., say in Russia or Abu Dhabi, he expects to have a conversation with his family about it first.

Regarding the criticism that White has received in the media for seemingly flying in the face of coronavirus concerns, Anik thinks it’s a complicated issue. From what he’s heard, many fighters are looking not only to compete and be paid, but also for a return to normalcy. Anik himself vacillating on the issue as the situation remains fluid.

“There are a lot of different elements to this,” Anik said. “I do think that emotionally you kind of ebb and flow a little bit at least as an employee thinking, ‘Man, I hope they cancel these shows, because I really can’t leave my kids and leave my family because then I gotta quarantine and come back.’ Then you get to a place maybe a few days later where it’s like, ‘I gotta get out of here. I’m having cabin fever. I want to support Dana and the UFC and work a show.’”

Fans of the UFC and MMA in general have argued that putting on shows while the majority of the sports and entertainment world has been shut down could work greatly in the UFC’s favor as it could essentially be the only game in town for months. Already, the promotion held a show in Brasilia, Brazil, just days after the NBA announced it would be indefinitely postponing its season (the viewership numbers ended up being well below average by UFC Fight Night standards).

Anik doesn’t see the UFC as necessarily winning in the court of public opinion here, even if it manages to keep its upcoming pay-per-view together.

“No, I mean I wouldn’t see this as a win for mixed martial arts,” Anik said. “I think a lot of people are on the firm opposite side of that and think it would be a win if the UFC fell in line with everybody else and just shut things down indefinitely. They did the show in Brasilia, granted everybody was there at the time, (and) you can be sure that this well-oiled machine that is the UFC and this brass, executives, have thought about logistically how best to pull this off.

“Announcers in edit trailers, minimizing the people that are gathered under one roof, shuffling the fighters in and out, you’ve gotta think they’ve been immersing themselves in trying to pull off the impossible for weeks now, if not a full month. I have every bit of confidence that they will check every box and try to make it as healthy and proficient an event as possible. I know in texting with Chael Sonnen, to pull off (Submission Underground 12 on March 29) for him was a huge, huge challenge, but they were able to get through it—we’ll see however unscathed—but I don’t see it as this huge win for MMA if you can pull it off. Certainly in my heart, I’m hoping that Dana and the brass is able to do so for sure.”

A gambling man, Anik is willing to roll the dice on White and the UFC having an event on April 18. His biggest concern is how the matchmakers will manage to cobble together a card with so many hurdles in the way of them and their roster, but if the fighters are there, Anik will be as well.

“I’ve been saying always bet on Dana,” Anik said. “If you’re giving me a choice to bet on Dana White to make this show happen or not, where do I sign? Where do I get action on Dana White? ... I really feel like this fight is gonna happen because Dana is committed and convinced it is. I was also encouraged by the fact that he mentioned multiple international and domestic possibilities, so it seems like they do have some options.

“I think the biggest challenge, if they want to do a 13-fight card, is just to get 26 athletes in the right matchups improved and to whatever your destination is. I feel pretty convicted here less than three weeks out that somehow, someway, on April 18, from somewhere in the world I’ll be calling a fight.”