Sean Grande is a man mainly known for calling traditional sports. He’s the radio voice of the Boston Celtics, has filled in as a Boston Red Sox radio commentator, and is also the radio voice of the Frozen Four NCAA hockey tournament. This Friday, Grande will be diving into the deep end of a brand new pool as he begins his career as the play by play commentator for Bellator MMA, replacing long-time, established Bellator voice Sean Wheelock.
Grande had been approached by Bellator in March, and that’s when he began to seriously think about the job. Discussions ramped up in May once the Frozen Four finished up.
“You always, in the back of your head, think there might be something different,” Grande told AA, bringing up Gus Johnson and Dave O’Brien’s brief tenures as soccer broadcasters. “Once that seed was in there, that was when I sort of started to consider it, and to watch it, and to start to learn about the product. It didn’t take me very long to get hooked.”
MMA fans haven’t immediately taken to Grande, especially considering the double whammy of him being an MMA neophyte and the fact that he’s replacing someone who has been involved with the sport for years. But he’s not going to attempt to convince them to give him a chance, and instead urges fans to tune in simply to watch an exciting Bellator product.
“I think if you make up your mind about somebody, they’re going to ruin your enjoyment of it. I’m never going to pretend to know more than I do. I would say over the last sixty days, I know as much as probably anybody,” stated Grande. “I’ve studied it, I’ve fallen in love with it, and I’m going to continue to do that. It’s my job to make this entertaining for everybody. The show is going to be great, and you’re going to see some great fights.”
Grande was also quite complimentary of his broadcast partner, Jimmy Smith.
“As a sports analyst, putting him up with other sports analysts, Jimmy Smith is phenomenal. This is a star.”
He also won’t be hesitant to lean on Smith during the broadcast, “I ask a lot of questions. Sometimes I know the answers, but I want to hear him say it. I think it might be more of a traditional play by play/analyst type of thing. I want to hear more from him. I want to hear ‘why?'”
Grande is an MMA newbie, and instead of feeling like that newness is a detriment to his broadcasting, he feels like it might actually end up being a strength.
“I want to know ‘why?’, and maybe it’s because I don’t know why side control here is better than going full mount. But if I don’t know it, and even if I do know it, that doesn’t mean the audience knows it.
“When you’re doing this for a national audience, some things I might have Jimmy explain, the hardcore fans might know them. But we’re trying to build this brand and this product. The 600,000 watching on a regular Friday night, or 800,000, or whatever it is, those are our core fans, and we love them and we need them. But when 2.9 million are watching on the Kimbo Slice night, and they’re seeing Pitbull for the first time, and they’re seeing Bobby Lashley, there are things they may not know that the 700,000 know.”
There is one thing that Grande doesn’t have a feel for yet – that sense when something is about to go horribly wrong.
“You have that little trigger in your head that you’ve had your whole life, that something maybe is about to happen.” He described it as when the Celtics are up 15, and they throw a couple of possessions away, or when a Red Sox player drops a pop-up with one out and none on. “What’s going on in the clinch that might be changing the fight? Things that a year from now might be second nature to me, might not be on the 17th.
“I know there’s gonna be people this Friday night that tune in and say ‘who is this guy? He’s a football guy, he’s a hockey guy, he’s a baseball guy, he’s a basketball guy’, and that makes this an extraordinary challenge for me,” said Grande. “I could do those four sports for the rest of my life, and I’m sure I will, but this is the biggest challenge in my life.”
Grande’s debut on Bellator MMA begins on July 17th. The preliminary card is available streaming online at Spike.com at 7 PM, and the main card kicks off on Spike at 9 PM. The main event features Bellator welterweight champion Douglas Lima defending his belt for the first time against challenger Andrey Koreshkov.