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Laura Sanko will make her official UFC color commentary debut Saturday at UFC Fight Night.
She will be the first woman on color commentary in UFC’s Zuffa era (which started in 2001), following in the footsteps of only former kickboxing champion Kathy Long—who provided commentary at UFC 1 in 1993.
“I’m excited and honored, and it feels a little surreal,” says Sanko. “I knew how big of a deal this was to me and the people close to me, but I wasn’t fully prepared to see how the support swelled up. It means a lot.”
Sanko, who had success in her amateur career, never fought in the Octagon. But she brings a knowledge, passion and enthusiasm about the sport and its fighters. She also has a plethora of experience covering MMA since 2010.
“It’s been a lot of hard work,” says Sanko. “There is still a lot of antiquated thinking about women doing commentary in a male-dominated sport. There have been a lot of no’s and failures. That’s kept me deeply motivated throughout the years.”
If Sanko is an overnight success, it is because she put 13 years of intense preparation, dedication, and devotion into her craft. Her analysis is precise and thorough, and she is excited to break down a night of fights alongside fellow color commentator Michael Bisping and play-by-play man John Gooden on Saturday.
UFC Fight Night is headlined by a battle of heavyweights that pits Derrick Lewis against Sergey Spivak. Lewis has become the gatekeeper of the division, while Spivak is attempting to break into the top 10.
“Sergey Spivak’s raw, physical strength is so oppressive, and this fights hinges on whether he can find those clinch situations,” says Sanko. “If he shoots for the hips, Derrick Lewis has an amazing sprawl and a fantastically timed uppercut, so that could lead to a knockout.
“Lewis has put a huge emphasis on his cardio, and I really think we’re going to see him push a pace he hasn’t been known for in the past–but Sergey wrestles so well to the body with great body-lock takedowns. If Sergey’s able to get him down and end up in top half-guard, then it’s going to be a long night for Derrick.”
Another strength of Sanko’s is that she is able to translate complex aspects of the sport in an understandable, compelling manner. And her appearance at Fight Night will not be a one-off. She is going to provide color commentary at other events, potentially even a pay-per-view, though her entire focus remains solely on Saturday night.
“Other opportunities will open up naturally if I do my job on the Fight Nights,” says Sanko. “I’m focused on what’s in front of me.”
Led by a driven, tenacious approach, Sanko will be accomplishing more than calling fights tomorrow; she is setting an example for women in MMA.
“It is a responsibility I am not taking lightly,” says Sanko. “Women can succeed in these male-dominated spaces. There is a very particular type of criticism you receive in this spot as a woman, and I hope women in the future don’t get the same type of scrutiny or criticism in the same particular vein that people have tried to do to me.
“I want to make this path a little easier and a little more palatable for the next woman, and then the next and the next.”
Coker: Bellator 290 is 'Biggest Event in the History'
Bellator 290 airs on CBS on Saturday. It marks Bellator’s first live showing on the network, and the first time MMA has aired on CBS in 13 years.
Scott Coker, who is Bellator's CEO, led the effort to bring the promotion to network television in a prime-time slot.
“This is the biggest event in the history of the company,” says Coker. “It’s going to be a great success for us and CBS.”
There are a total of 14 fights on the card, headlined by a heavyweight title bout pitting reigning champion Ryan Bader against the great Fedor Emelianenko, who has said this will be his final bout. The three fights that will air on CBS are Bader-Emelianenko, as well as Johnny Eblen against Anatoly Tokov, which is Eblen’s first defense of the middleweight title, and a three-round welterweight bout pitting Sabah Homasi against an inspirational comeback story in Brennan Ward.
“We’ve been trying to put this together for two years,” says Coker. “There was a lot to this process, but the goal never changed: we wanted to be on CBS. We had a meeting about 22 months ago, and everyone wanted to do it. The process was quite challenging, but we are so happy to be here now.”
The timing works out especially well for Bellator. When CBS offered the February date, Coker was thrilled that it aligned with Emelianenko’s final fight.
“When CBS says, ‘This is the date,’ you just say, ‘Yes,’” said Coker with a laugh. “We’d been holding off on Fedor to do something special. The plan was to do it last July in Russia in [Moscow’s] Red Square. We had approval, we had the date booked, and then the war started and the ability to go in and out of Russia no longer made sense. We knew Fedor was going to fight in the first quarter, so once CBS mentioned this date, it was a perfect fit.”
This card jumpstarts Bellator’s year, which is full of big fights–including the upcoming return of Yaroslav Amosov as well as Usman Nurmagomedov’s first defense of the lightweight belt. For 290, Emelianenko’s retirement bout is likely to generate a lot of interest, but it will be carried by Eblen and the welterweights. Coker is optimistic that this card will put a lot of new eyes on Bellator.
“It’s a great, great moment for Bellator,” says Coker. “This is going to be great business for our company, as well as help build the brand.”
Emmett Chooses Peculiar Sponsor
McDonald’s, this is not.
UFC featherweight title contender Josh Emmett has signed on to serve as a spokesperson for Wahl Manscaper, which is sponsoring a body part that exists beneath the waist.
Emmett will match up against Yair Rodriguez next week at UFC 284 in a bout to determine the new interim featherweight champion, a spot caused by reigning champ Alexander Volkanovski’s move to lightweight. Emmett (18-2) has won five in a row, including a tightly contested split decision against Calvin Kattar last June, and he is now just one victory away from gold.
Atop of all that, he has an interesting choice for a sponsor.
The Pick ‘Em Section:
Bellator 290 heavyweight title bout: Ryan Bader (c) vs. Fedor Emelianenko
Pick: Ryan Bader
UFC Fight Night heavyweight bout: Derrick Lewis vs. Sergey Spivak
Pick: Sergey Spivak
Bellator 290 middleweight title bout: Johnny Eblen (c) vs. Anatoly Tokov
Pick: Johnny Eblen
Bellator 290 welterweight bout: Sabah Homasi vs. Brennan Ward
Pick: Brennan Ward
UFC Fight Night light heavyweight bout: Jung Da-un vs. Devin Clark
Pick: Jung Da-un
Last week: 2-3
2023 record: 3-7