Long-time Bellator MMA viewers may be surprised -- or even shocked -- when they tune in for Bellator 140: "Lima vs. Koreshkov" this Friday night (July 17, 2015) at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., airing live on Spike TV.
Fans have become so accustomed to the commentary tag team of Sean Wheelock and Jimmy Smith that it's a signature of the promotion, much like Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan calling the action on a major Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event.
Bellator MMA, though, will shake things up moving forward, swapping one familiar Sean for another -- Sean Wheelock is out of the broadcast booth and and Boston Celtics announcer Sean Grande is in. Earlier this week Bellator MMA confirmed the change with a statement from President Scott Coker.
"Sean Grande is an incredibly talented and well-accomplished sports announcer with a passion for mixed martial arts. He has been behind the microphone for many championship events and we look forward to him bringing his enthusiasm and energy to Bellator as our league continues to grow."
After an initial humorous tweet hinting at the switch, Grande updated his Twitter profile to say he was "proud to begin a new adventure with Bellator MMA." Today, MMAmania.com chatted with Grande about this surprising change by Bellator and his thoughts on moving into a brand new sport.
"It's a long story that had a very sudden conclusion. I was asked if I was interested I'd say back in March. The truth was I had never really considered it. If you're a play-by-play guy that's done the 'big four' you always think about 'How would I do that? How would I do golf? How would I do some of the things that I haven't done before?' I actually hadn't considered MMA."
Grande was able to do his research, give it some thought over time, and once the NBA and college basketball seasons wrapped up the prospect of trying MMA became more appealing.
"I put the seed in my head and I just became aware of it. After years that skipping that part of the Observer, I actually started reading the MMA part, and learning a little bit. When the season ended in May I said, 'Let me just immerse myself in it and see how I feel about it.' And before you know it, you're falling in love with it, and the sudden death overtime excitement of it, and the storylines, and the fighters, and the presentation, and all of it."
From talking to Sean it's pretty clear he fell in love with MMA because he sees it as the natural evolution of what boxing used to be in the 1980's -- larger-than-life personalities presented as a big-time sporting spectacle.
"In my very young childhood in the 80's it was a great for boxing with Sugar Ray Leonard, and Larry Holmes in the heavyweight division, and eventually Mike Tyson coming up. You knew who the fighters were, you knew who the next contender was going to be, and 30 years later this now is to the age I was and a little bit older, MMA has become that. This is the millennial version."
It's evident that Sean is excited about the prospect of calling fights, but he's jumping into the deep end of the pool feet first by calling a major show like "Lima vs. Koreshkov." And he's acutely aware that could rub viewers the wrong way.
"I'm not sure any one had more respect for Sean Wheelock than I did. The most important thing at any level whether it's the Super Bowl or your local high school game -- preparation and passion -- love of the game. Love of the product oozed off of Sean, and it was clear to me as a complete outsider, it jumped off the page - his love of it. I'm a fan just like anybody else is of Sean's. My thing is no one likes a new guy anyway, and if there's resentment toward me because you like the way Sean did it, I totally get it. I'm not going to be offended by anybody's loyalty to the guy who came before me."
It's not my job as a writer to sell you on Sean Grande, but it's clear to me from the lengthy conversation we had that he knows there's a lot to learn and big shoes to fill, and he's going into this 100 percent committed to his new role.
He's also got a sense of humor that seems like it will rub MMA fans the right way.
"I should say I'm a 99 percent fan of Scott Coker. I have one qualm I'm gonna bring to the table -- we're going to have to do something about the word 'tentpole.' If you're from a certain age group, all you get is Beavis & Butthead off of that."
When I asked him about preparing to call a welterweight world title fight with two guys who haven't fought in more than one year, Sean even had jokes about doing the research.
"Every time you try to watch their fights against Ben Askren you fall asleep!"
Whether you love or hate the fact that Wheelock disappeared in the unceremonious way he did (I reached out to Wheelock for comment and received no response) Grande deserves a chance.
"You'll get more of my personality going along. I get the novelty of this and me, and I think the element that instead of seven weeks I've (only) got seven days adds some excitement to it. But, come 9 o'clock on Friday night (and the opening fight) all eyes are going to be on Michael Page. I think there are ways a play-by-play announcer can really ruin people's enjoyment of a show, and I feel with a lot of confidence that I'm going try very hard not to ruin anyone's enjoyment. The show is in the cage."
The complete audio from our interview is below and complete Bellator 140 coverage resides here at MMAmania.com.