Tony Reid – I wanted to go outside your standard conversation a bit and talk about your interest in Mixed Martial Arts. You are one of the very few national voices or figures that shows legitimate interest in the sport. How were you were first introduced to the sport?
Ryen Russillo – “I got the first one. (UFC 1) I remember getting it on pay per when we were in college. That was back when you had to win multiple fights in one night to win the whole thing. We were like “this is ridiculous.” I was pretty scrawny, punky kid in high school. I had moved to another town and I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t really have anything to do. After school I would play basketball and study. I would go to this gym near my house and there was this guy from the Netherlands that was there. He was a trained marital artist. He would just kick these Thai pads. I just asked him if I could do it. I didn’t really know what I was doing. It was Muay Thai stuff with knees, elbows and kicks and variations. I loved it. Trust me, I’m not saying I train or that I’m good or that I’m tough or that I know what I’m doing but I just absolutely loved it. The respect I have for the athletes that do this… everybody always talks about swimmers being the best athletes because it’s incredibly challenging or basketball players for their size and movement, to be that tuned in to every single movement by the opponent and being that stressed, the stress of those five minutes in a rounds is like nothing else in sports. I like to watch people fight. I think most of us inherently do whether we want to admit it or not. The fact that these guys are so good, you can just see the skill level. It’s ridiculous what these guys are capable of.”
TR – MMA is a completely different beast since that first UFC event in 1993. Has your interest ebbed and flowed with it over the years?
RR – “For me it has definitely cranked up the past few years. I was still getting the Chuck Liddell fights ten plus years ago. I went to McGregor/Mendes. I ran into Dana after the event on Sunday. I went to go see John Anik, who is a good friend of mine. I went to see him call the fights on Sunday night. I went up to Dana and I was telling him how I remember when I was working at this small station in Boston and he got a car service for the day and went around to all the stations that would have him. We sat in a side room next to my office and we sat and watched Liddell Ortiz fight on DVD that they left for us. It’s always been really cool. I tell everybody I’m really into it because I don’t have to talk about it. I love nothing more than getting an event on Saturday and knowing I don’t have to have a take. My opinion doesn’t matter. That’s probably why I have been doing it more and more the past few years.”
TR – You and Anik have history, like you mentioned. You were co-hosting the Diehards in Boston years ago. We now see him as one of the main on-air voices of the UFC. What are your thoughts on where his career has taken him?
RR – “I’m just so pumped for the guy. At first he was an intern for our radio station. He was trying to find a way in. As you know, this business is really tough. It’s hard to find somebody that actually wants to have you on the air on purpose and have a check that you were actually paid to be heard on air. Our station was a mess. The only reason I got to work there was because the other high profile names there decided to stop showing up for work. I was filling in constantly. They didn’t have a great signal. They overpaid certain people. They paid the Celtics five times what they should have for the rights. They did it to make a splash. People were getting laid off constantly. We were surprised the bills were being paid. Then Anik just shows up. He had been there for a few months and I really liked him. My co-host just decided to put an intern on the show without asking me. He was on every day. I was pissed. This was ridiculous. You know what? I couldn’t have worked out any better. He is as smart as anyone in sports broadcasting. I’m not kidding. He has always been passionate about the fight game. His work in the boxing game kind of filtered over into MMA. The UFC should be pumped to have him. He is one of those guys that will never get lazy with it. He cares so much.”
TR – You attended UFC 189. That environment was one of the craziest environments ever seen in combat sports. What was your lasting memory from that insane weekend?
RR – “That was insane. The Irish made it insane. When Mendes was introduced, and he’s from California, you would have thought he was from Russia. That place booed him like crazy. The have that chant “There is only one Conor McGregor…” all these Irish guys are doing it. They are nuts. Some of these Irish guys were so drunk and rowdy that they were getting arrested before they even got into the arena. I’m thinking… you make it all the way over here from Ireland. You get your tickets, you fly, you get your hotel situated and then you get arrested before you even make it to the fight. It wasn’t like soccer stadium mayhem where you fear for your safety but that fan base was so incredibly passionate. To be in the building with the Irish in that atmosphere…I don’t know if what we saw from McGregor last summer will ever be topped.”