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Hockey

A UFC fighter is calling the Kings game Saturday. He’s never seen them play in person

UFC Fight Night Chile
Henry Briones, right, battles Frankie Saenz during a UFC bantamweight fight in Chile in May 2018. Briones was a hockey player before fighting in mixed martial arts.
(Getty Images)

Fox Sports will carry the Kings on both of its local sports channels on Saturday — in English on Fox Sports West, in Spanish on Prime Ticket.

The analyst on the Spanish-language telecast will be a Mexican UFC fighter who never has seen the Kings play in person.

No, really. It’s a pretty good story.

The Kings air a dozen games on the radio in Spanish, with Francisco X. Rivera and Nano Cortes as the announcers. For the first time in recent memory — and as part of a Dia de los Muertos promotion — the Kings are airing a game on television in Spanish.

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Cortes will remain on radio. Rivera will do play-by-play on television. That left a need for a guest analyst, one night only.

Rivera first thought about his nephew, who grew up in Canada and played junior hockey. Alas, his nephew had just signed a modeling contract.

“He decided to forget hockey,” Rivera said.

As Rivera scrolled through his social media feeds one day, he noticed a picture of one of his broadcasting colleagues playing recreational hockey. Rivera and Henry Briones are announcers for the Lux Fight League, a mixed martial arts circuit that has staged six fight nights in Mexico.

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“Dude,” Rivera asked Briones, “what’s up with this?”

Said Briones: “Hockey has been one my passions forever.”

Briones grew up in Tijuana. He was 12 when the first of the three “Mighty Ducks” movies came out in 1992. His friends loved the movie so much that they started playing street hockey on basketball courts.

“They were selling skates and hockey sticks at Walmart,” Briones said.

Briones played so well that he ended up representing Mexico in international inline tournaments, he said — in England and Brazil, and in Las Vegas and Irvine. But he ached for a chance at the real thing: hockey on ice.

He had an aunt who lived in Tulsa, Okla., where there is a minor league hockey team. He thought about playing a year or two in the United States, then moving to college hockey, maybe even turning pro.

So he moved to Tulsa and joined the high school team.

“That was the first time I stepped on the ice,” Briones said. “It was for a game. I didn’t have a practice. I was pretty bad, I think. But I actually scored.”

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It would be unlikely for anyone to start playing ice hockey at 17 and turn pro at 18, and Briones was no exception. He returned to Tijuana, crossed the border to play recreational ice hockey in California, went to law school, worked as a bartender, and eventually decided to give mixed martial arts a shot.

“I consider myself a hockey player,” Briones said. “I’m an athlete. I thought, ‘This should be easy.’

“The first time training at the MMA gym, the guys were beating me up. That got me hooked.”

He fought for the first time as a professional in 2007, winning 15 of 20 matches and earning a shot at UFC competition. He fought five UFC matches, the last in 2018, losing four times.

The Kings may be in a rebuild, but coach Todd McLellan has set a high bar for his veterans such as Tyler Toffoli.

“I’m thinking of coming back,” he said.

He is 39. For now, he said, he is doing some broadcasting, some matchmaking and some management of fighters. He still crosses the border to play recreational hockey.

On Saturday, he will be a voice of the Kings.

“I think there is an audience that is curious,” he said. “There are a lot of people who like their sports in Spanish. There are probably some other people that are not interested in hockey, but they’re probably going to watch because a UFC fighter is going to do it.

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“Fight fans are going to say, ‘Really, this UFC fighter is going to comment? Let’s see how it goes.’ ”

That, Rivera said, is also how the Kings and Fox Sports are approaching the broadcast. Rivera hopes this broadcast will not be the last one in Spanish.

Briones and Rivera have practiced together recently, but Briones said he has seen only one NHL game in person. He saw the Ducks “at the Arrowhead Pond,” their home arena, last called by that name in 2006.

“Never the Kings,” Briones said. “I’m pretty excited.”


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