This was a huge weekend, a weekend of firsts for televised Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), or “cage fighting”.
CBS, in conjunction with EliteXC, aired a primetime “Saturday Night Fights” Special featuring five full-contact bouts. This is the first time, to my knowledge that mixed martial arts has been aired on a major television network. Their selling point was the title fight featuring Kimbo Slice, an internet street-fighting legend. If you don’t know about this man, he is fucking terrifying.
The next night, VS Network and their WEC brand boasted a mixed martial arts special highlighting a title fight between the two most dangerous feather-weights on earth, Jens Pulver and Urijah Faber. To my knowledge, this was the first heavily promoted televised feather-weight bout. I’ve always loved watching feather-weights whether in a boxing ring or in a cage because it’s easier for me to relate because they’re my size, around 145lbs. Also, feather-weights are lighting fast while still wielding knockout power. Speed and power. Seriously, what else can you ask for?
Here we go.
In the blue corner: CBS
I was very disappointed by how closely CBS’s production design resembled that of a pro-wrestling event. It was actually offensive to me. By the production design alone, a first time viewer would be forced to draw a parallel between mixed-martial-arts and pro-wrestling –a parallel that is entirely inaccurate and highly insulting. Mixed martial artists at this level are olympic caliber athletes. They are highly trained and devoted self defense practitioners who put their lives at risk every single time they step in a cage. Unlike pro-wrestling, these men don’t need fog machines and laser-light displays to put on a good show. The event is the fight itself. There is no need for special effects. While I commend CBS for taking a chance by airing a fight special at all, I condemn them for not taking a chance on a format, instead, reverting to a format we’re somewhat familiar with, but draws an wholly inaccurate and highly insulting parallel.
Also, at the first sight of blood, it seemed that the referees were searching for any reason they could find to stop the fight. I have a feeling that the CBS producers were responsible for this. It’s almost is if the network bigwigs told the ringside doctor and referees, “A little blood is okay. We actually need a little blood. But as soon as there is blood, any blood, find a reason to stop the fight, any reason.” That is fucking ridiculous. I’m not sure how the television bigwigs thought that they could put two professional fighters in a cage together and there would be no blood. They are fucking fighting, There will be blood! Again, I commend CBS for airing a fight special in the first place, but condemn them for not committing to what is involved. In fighting, blood is usually involved. Sometimes, uncomfortable amounts of it. This is the game.
The title fight between Kimbo Slice and James Thompson personified all my gripes with CBS’s attempt at mixed-martial-arts coverage. In the intro of Kimbo Slice, apparently unable to think of a different angle and stopping just short of calling him a role-model, CBS praised Kimbo for beating the shit of people in the streets to feed himself his whole life. This is right after they’ve emphasized that fighting belongs in the ring among professionals, not on the streets. This was the perfect example of CBS’s attempts to talk from both sides of its mouth the whole night. Now the fight. Coming into the ring, Thompson’s left ear was one of the worst cauliflower ears I’ve ever seen. Without spoiling the fight for you, the fight was stopped as soon as the blood came, which didn’t take long.
I found it all too convenient that the headline fighter, previously and currently under contract to EliteXC, the same production company that CBS partnered with for this venture, gets pitted against some guy who’s ear is one mean look away from exploding. All Kimbo had to do was land one punch to Thompson’s left ear and it would explode. That is exactly what happened. Blood-shy CBS yells “Cut!”, they get their ratings, EliteXC booked an easy “W” for their fighter and the merchandise starts flowing.
I’m vomiting now.
To quote www.mmafrenzy.com writer Eric Shapiro:
“Kimbo has the potential to be a great fighter, but that doesn’t mean that EliteXC should tailor-make victories for him either. Good effort Kimbo, shame on you EliteXC.” Well said, Eric.
Overall, my opinion of CBS’s EliteXC coverage is not so favorable.
In the red corner: VS Network
The VS Network did a pretty good job with their coverage of the WEC event on Saturday night. This paragraph is going to be much easier to write because I don’t really have any major complaints. The production design was more tasteful than CBS’s, though still a little showy for me. The allegiance of the officials belonged with the standards of the sport and not with the standards of the network. Also, the fights were fantastic. The feather-weight title fight didn’t disappoint, and the undercard bantam-weight bout between Torres and Maeda may have been one of my favorite fights ever. Nice job, VS Network.
Ladies and gentlemen, our winner by way of knockout, in the red corner, VS Network!
All things considered I think it was a good weekend for the sport, exposure-wise.
Just to be safe though, CBS, do me a favor and leave this genre alone. This sport doesn’t need to be watered down any more that it already has been.
[UPDATE: This article by the NY Times was published a couple days after my article. It explains my thoughts better than I ever could have. I guess that’s why I don’t write for the NY Times. For what it’s worth, they quoted the same writer and website that I quoted, who also dissects this fiasco with precision.
[UPDATE: This article by “TIME” Magazine echoes some of my thoughts.
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