"Questions surround first "Saturday Night Fights" event
by Steve Sievert on Jun 02, 2008 at 10:29 am ET
It was a night aimed at finally ushering mixed martial arts into the mainstream.
Instead, EliteXC "Saturday Night Fights" on CBS swung and missed with a main event that raised serious questions about how the outcome was handled.
Debatable officiating by referee Dan Miragliotta in the headline match that pitted former street-fighting Internet star Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson against James Thompson left a black eye on a night of fighting that, until the main event, had been entertaining.
The announcing crew of Gus Johnson, Mauro Ranallo and Frank Shamrock (more on the trio in a moment) harped on "safety first" in MMA during both an opening package that outlined the rules of the sport and again during the stoppage of the Robbie Lawler-Scott Smith tussle. However, Miragliotta showed disdain for that safety mantra when he let Thompson pound away on a defenseless Ferguson for 40 seconds near the end of round two.
That unabashed beating was in stark contrast to the ultra-fast stoppages of the evening's first two primetime fights. Both the Brett Rogers-Jon Murphy heavyweight bout and the middleweight fight between Joey Villasenor and Phil Baroni were waved off as soon as Murphy and Baroni were dropped to the mat. While clearly Murphy and Baroni were in dire straits, the casual viewer had to be scratching his head about why Ferguson was given every opportunity to weather the storm, while Murphy and Baroni were not.
Miragliotta added further fuel to the conspiracy-theorist fire that there was no way Ferguson – EliteXC's prime-time meal ticket – would lose on national TV by stopping the fight in the third with Thompson still on his feet.
Where's "Big" John McCarthy when you need him?
Even the announcer Johnson called it a "horrible stoppage." It appeared only a matter of time before Thompson ultimately succumbed, but if Miragliotta stopped it there, he should have stopped the fight when Ferguson was eating a steady diet of ground-and-pound and doing nothing to defend himself.
Inconsistent and questionable officiating is just one aspect of the evening's show that made the viewing experience feel more like a spectacle than sports.
To be sure, the production was unmistakably EliteXC, complete with booty-shaking dancers, pyrotechnics, and fighter intros dressed up as music videos. Song titles and artists names, with a plug for a web site to download the tracks, actually appeared on screen. The NFL on CBS this was not.
While some of the initial scene-setting on the broadcast made sense – covering the rules and stepping first-time viewers through moves and terminology– the show was nearly a half-hour old before the first punch was thrown.
As a quick sidebar on the package that Shamrock did to outline the rules, it was ironic that when Shamrock said knees to the head are not allowed that the footage used for the shot was none other than his illegal knee to the back of Renzo Gracie's head from the first EliteXC show last year. Very nice.
Speaking of Shamrock, he was visibly nervous during the opening standup, but later settled in to deliver solid color commentary.
Overall, the broadcast trio of Johnson, Ranallo and Shamrock did a decent job. As you would expect for the first time working together, there were some stumbles. In the Gina Carano-Kaitlin Young fight, they failed to recognize a choke attempt by Carano when she was using her shin against Young's throat. Shamrock described it during a replay. In the Lawler-Smith bout, the crew was perplexed as to where blood was coming from, when it was clear to the viewer that Lawler had a gash on the top of his head.
Also, Johnson overcalled portions of the Lawler-Smith fight saying Smith was in trouble and "ready to go" on a couple of occasions when Smith was not close to being KO'd.
And, by the descriptions of virtually every fighter on the card by Johnson, you would have thought these were the best fighters on the planet. Sure, selling the product is part of the announcer's role, but don't try to convince us that a 10-9 Baroni is a world-beater. His cage walk was five times as long as his fight!
But, the announcing crew was the least of the concerns on this night.
Hyped as the most significant night in MMA history, the first network prime-time broadcast lacked the production polish that comes standard with a UFC experience, felt more music video than sporting event, ran 45 minutes over its allotted time, and raised considerable questions about inconsistent officiating that can only be damaging to the sport's image.
As first impressions go, this first network broadcast of MMA fell short.
Steve Sievert is the Lead Staff Writer for MMAjunkie.com. He is also the former MMA beat writer and blogger for the Houston Chronicle."
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A LOT of attention is being directing at the CBS show from Saturday night- good/bad or eh? Overall this did get good ratings but A LOT of MMA fans thought the show was garbage and that the stoppages were questionable at best. I'd just like to see what ya'lls thoughts on it were. Was this show good exposure good for MMA? Bad? Or we'll have to wait and see.