MMA in Prime Time: Right Network, Right Time, Wrong Promotion

Devin FratusContributor IMay 20, 2008

MMA's checklist for its live network television premiere on CBS:

  • Time-slot likely to draw substantial amounts of viewers? - Check.
  • Leading network with prestigious sports coverage? - Check.
  • Fight promotion well-equipped to consistently deliver buzz-worthy bouts? -...

EXC has had a silver platter placed in front of them, and on it lies the chance to become the leading promotors in MMA. But it's a big dish, and I'm not convinced that EXC's stomach is quite big enough to handle it.

Allow me to start off by stating how glad I am to see this on CBS. I've suffered through enough games on ABC interrupted by ads for made-for-TV movies based on Oprah's latest book club addition and games on FOX marred by the utter stupidity that manages to dribble out of the mouths of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.

While the NBA Playoffs will be airing at the same time, EXC Saturday Night Fights is sure to draw a good amount of viewers, and the main card fights are likely to fall around halftime of the basketball game. But what does EXC really have to offer? An internet icon, an American Gladiator, and a handful of fighters related to MMA legends.

One thing that concerns me is the title of the show, "Saturday Night Fights." As in, more than one. I don't see how this will happen, with consistently exciting bouts, unless Robbie Lawler and Kala Kolohe Hose have a best-of-seven series, Tito Ortiz signs on and does the same with "Ninja" Rua, or Kimbo Slice starts taking on three lightweights at a time. After that, I'd rather watch Phil Baroni and Frank Shamrock battle it out on MTV's "Yo Momma."  

New viewers might be drawn by the likes of Kimbo Slice and Gina Carano, and will likely be enticed when they see them both demolish their opponents. But anyone who has watched MMA and has spent a couple hundred dollars on pay-per-views will immediately recognize the apparent fact that whoever is lining up fights for the MMA's biggest night to date is scared to put up any fight without a definite outcome.

If I were James Thompson (Kimbo's opponent for next Saturday) then I would pack up my gear and leave EXC with some dignity, rather than essentially step in the cage with a proven striker and get paid to suffer the worst knockout of my career in record time. This kid is risking long-term brain damage for a paycheck. 

When a budding heavyweight is knocked out in the first round, two fights in a row no less, he is on thin ice with his promotion. But apparently, EXC sees him as the ideal person to main event the most pivotal fight card in MMA history.

There is, however, something to say for playing it safe. Case in point—Liddell vs. Jackson, UFC 71. The weeks leading up to the light-heavyweight title fight was filled with interviews and cameos for the UFC poster boy. It would seem that UFC was primed to take the nation by storm, and introduce MMA to the popular kids table in the cafeteria.

But when the intrigued masses tuned in they must have been somewhat disappointed to see the man they have been told "has dynamite in his hands" get put down by the first glancing blow he received from some guy who wore lots of bling and howled like a wolf. Thus, MMA was left to eat lunch at the reject's table with hockey and Arena Football, waiting for another chance.

But this level of pussyfooting is downright inexcusable in my opinion. Alas, I am sure that hoards of friends will come up to me on Sunday and ask me if I saw Kimbo obliterate some British dude ,and I will only be able to reply, "yes, but I could've told you that on Friday"