Some fight fans will take what they can get, and are pleased that they will be able to turn on the TV on Saturday night, tune to CBS, and watch some fights.
Yes, the fighting that will be offered by CBS will be of the MMA variety, not the sweet science, but beggars can't be too choosy.
Yes, many boxing buffs have sampled the MMA fare, and haven't taken to it. All that rolling around on the ground just doesn't resonate with some folks who like their action to feature two athletes on two feet.
And some boxing fans who have learned to appreciate the science involved in MMA, and the excitement that can be generated by clashes of styles, and the different means to force a foe to succumb, are not enthralled by the product CBS is offering. The show, which kicks off at 9 PM Eastern, and runs for two hours, will feature the talents of one Kimbo Slice, an underground streetfighter who smashed his way into water cooler conversations when his bare knuckle backyard mashups were posted on YouTube.
The show is being put on by the Elite XC company, not UFC, which is a turnoff to UFC-partial mixed martial arts fans, who deride Slice as a subpar practitioner who has climbed to the top of the card by virtue of a skillful marketing campaign, rather than on his merits as a fighter. Anti-Slice activists, most of whom smartly reserve their scorn for the Miami-based MMA newbie to anonymous posts on message boards, protest that Slice has been fed a diet of geriatrics, yellow bellies and yahoos pulled off barstools as his legend is created.
To my view, I understand and respect the views of those who don't care for the sport, as long as they don't go overboard in their dismissiveness of the fighters. There is copious science and skill and training involved in crafting a solid MMAer, and just as I believe us keyboard tappers should refrain from being excessively snide in tearing down any fighter who steps into a ring and gives his all, I feel the same way about snarky comments directed at those who step in the cage.
I also get those who see Slice as a manufactured commodity. Heck, the fighter himself readily states that he is a new kid on the block, has tons of ground to make up, and will be learning the craft as long as he takes part in it.
Also, I get those who look down on his foes, but I also get where his promoter, Gary Shaw, is coming from. His son Jared turned him on to Slice two years ago, and the elder Shaw told his son to get on a plane, ASAP, and get Kimbo in the fold. The promoter had seen some of his top boxing talents, like Pacquiao, and Winky Wright, jump ship. He saw an MMA fanbase building, and pounced on a fearsome fighter, with a somewhat Tysonesque level of malevolence, and capacity to inflict neurological damage, and propensity to toss out the sort of mayhem-promising soundbites that stick to Tyson 20 years after he uttered them. He saw an attraction, a moldable commodity, in Slice, that with the right nurturing, and a bunch of luck, he could build around.
To those who sneer at Slice's progession pace, why should, or why would Shaw toss Slice in with a jiu-jitsu specialist with ten years of experience, and get him beat? It so happens I have an answer why he would do that. If Shaw were Dana White he would put Slice in with a stiffer test than Slice will be matched with on the CBS show, one James Thompson of England, who is a willing battler, but one whose chin is his least cooperative body part.
That is because White has a different mindset when it comes to building his company. In White's view, the parts will burn out, and be replaced, but the UFC machine will continue to rev. That's why he put Brock Lesnar, the WWE refugee, in tough, with Frank Mir, in Lesnar's first outing. He did so understanding the risk that Lesnar, an attraction White could potentially build PPVs around, could get beat, and perhaps be scared away from the sport. But more crucial to White is the nurturing of the UFC brand; UFC viewers can expect their faves to be matched tough, by and large, and upsets are the norm, not the exception, when you buy a UFC PPV. You buy a UFC PPV, and you will get your money's worth. Conversely, Shaw feels that people tune in to see a bright light in action, and enjoy attaching their allegiance to a winner, someone they can root for, and indentify with.
Shaw presented the entire batch of MMAers who will take part in the CBS experiment at a NYC press conference on Thursday, and explained some of the reasons why he's building this major network MMA debut around a 34-year-old former streetfighter/porn company bodyguard.
“The first time I introduced Kimbo, I was introducing him as a YouTube sensation with over 10 million hits,” Shaw said. “I knew he was a star then. I knew he could be a superstar. There are great basketball players, but nothing like Michael Jordan. There are great golfers, but nothing like Tiger Woods. Every once in a while there is someone who crosses over that line to a superstar. You just know. When Mike Tyson walked in, the place erupted. When someone else walked in there were only a few claps. Well, Kimbo Slice is a superstar. He is probably the most recognizable name in all of MMA. On May 31, when he gets in the cage, he will be the single most known face of MMA.
“(UFC’s) Dana White will be at home watching us on CBS. When he rips Kimbo Slice, it only proves he is an idiot. When he says that BJ Penn is the best fighter in the whole family and can knock out Kimbo Slice, the DEA should raid his home. I know BJ Penn would never say that and is probably embarrassed. Although BJ Penn is the best fighter in the family, he’s not the smartest Penn (JD, his brother, is an executive at EliteXC).
If you want to do something good for the sport, you should support CBS. Whether Kimbo has two fights, or six, he is raising the tide of MMA. All ships rise with the tide. The fighters on this card have said it. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. He trains with Bas Rutten. If you train with him, you are a real fighter. He is the closest thing I know to Tyson. He has an off and off switch. When he is off, you would have him baby sit your kids without a second thought. When it is on, someone is in trouble for sure.
Kimbo has a complex side to him as well. He is intelligent. He is well-read, well-versed. He is street through and through. He has not forgotten where he came from. On the bus ride over here, he told me he bought two 26-inch TVs and is going to give them to someone needy in the work area in Newark. He wants to leave Newark with a positive impression. It not only says something about Kimbo but the MMA family. I am telling you, Kimbo Slice is real.
We are up for the challenge in a cage. When this is over, you will be proud that Kimbo has represented MMA. You will be proud he is a family man and has taken care of his kids. You will find when the story is over that Kimbo rose to the occasion as a standup guy. He is our franchise player right now. The guys that has helped us more than he knows. I have called upon him more than any other athlete.”
Please tell us, TSS Universe, if you are going to be tuning in to the CBS show. If yes, is it because you are an MMA fan? Because you are a Slice fan? Because HBO and Showtime aren't offering any boxing?
I'd recommend you do tune in, if only for curiousity's sake, for this reason: if this show draws mad eyeballs, suits at NBC and ABC may be more inclined to toss some boxing on, on a Friday or Saturday night. And some boxing suits might be a bit PO'd at all the attention that MMA is getting, and decide that maybe they should work a little bit harder, and maybe—gasp!–leave a mill on the table, and put together a compelling show that the nets might just say yes to, instead of continuing their tired whining about how the networks won't touch boxing, because advertisers won't touch boxing. Remember what Shaw said about rising tide's lifting all boats? OK, maybe the fightgame cousins are too dissimilar, and boxing's demographic doesn't have the appeal of the MMA watchers. Maybe a good showing on CBS won't translate into Mayweather vs. Cotto on NBC in the spring of 2009. But stranger things have happened. I mean, have you heard about the big scary dude who was fighting in backyards in Miami for a few grand, and his fights were loaded on to YouTube, and now he's in MMA, and making $300,000 a fight?
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