Blog Entry

The risks and rewards of 'Saturday Night Fights'

Posted on: March 20, 2008 10:17 pm

On May 31 from 9-11 p.m. ET, CBS EliteXC Saturday Night Fights will break new ground -- not just for MMA, but for major network television.
There are multiple factors surrounding the May 31 event that could help steer the course for MMA's future. Among them:

Exposure to new eyeballs. The key word here is "new." The MMA diehards are tuning in for this show no matter what. You had them at hello. But with the scope of the CBS audience, EliteXC and its fighters will likely be seen by plenty of people who haven't given MMA a chance until now. They don't subscribe to Showtime, they don't flip over to Spike TV for The Ultimate Fighter, and they have yet to purchase a PPV. They might not even know who Chuck Liddell is.

EliteXC is in a position to create a new horde of MMA fans. On the flipside, if EliteXC makes a lackluster showing before a bunch of first-time viewers, they could turn those people off to ever watching MMA again.

This new audience represents a huge growth opportunity, so long as EliteXC avoids making costly mistakes. I'll get to that topic in a minute.

Name recognition. EliteXC stands to have greater name value with CBS exposure. More importantly, the fighters on the card can significantly raise their profiles by appearing on network TV. A no-name fighter, even if he loses, could become a star if his performance is memorable.

For a UFC parallel, look no further than Clay Guida. He's become a massive crowd favorite, despite an unimpressive 2-3 record in the UFC. Why? Because people remember him for his look, his personality, and his gutsy performances in the cage. Fans respect Guida as a warrior and as a person they like to cheer for. If an EliteXC fighter puts that kind of effort into his CBS debut, the sport -- and that fighter's career -- will benefit.

Business model. Right now, both EliteXC and the UFC are set up to make most of their profit from PPV buys. While the UFC does fine on Spike TV and has sponsors like Budweiser to help pay the bills, the financial success of the UFC largely depends on PPV profit. If EliteXC finds success on network TV, that could change the game for everyone.

Big ratings, in theory, yields big advertising dollars. If the ad sales pick up -- and granted, that's a big "if," since many advertisers are still ignorant to MMA or altogether put off by it -- it could result in the first ray of hope for a fight promotion (including boxing) to succeed financially without putting all of its eggs in the PPV basket.

It's not as far-fetched as it might sound. The UFC has attracted sponsors like Burger King for its Spike TV broadcasts. If that's possible on cable, it will be interesting to see the caliber of advertiser EliteXC could attract with the promise of prime time network exposure for their brand.

Fighter pay. Virtually all fighters supplement their income by selling logo space on their attire and acting as a walking billboard for a company. The idea is to make MMA fans aware of a product. With CBS having the potential to reach a bunch of new customers (who didn't just blow $50 to see the show in the first place), surely it ought to be worth a bit more to have their logos seen on the network, right?

For UFC fighters like Josh Koscheck or Andrei Arlovski, EliteXC now gives them a true alternative if they don't get the offer they're looking for from Zuffa. Even if EliteXC doesn't match or beat the UFC's dollar figure, a number in the same ballpark -- coupled with the chance to get themselves over as star on national television -- might ease their worries about leaving the UFC. And you can bet that any UFC fighter with a name will get TV time if they jump to EliteXC.

Those are some of the positives that could come out of EliteXC's CBS debut. But the benefits are almost completely dependent on EliteXC making a respectable showing of itself, and that is not a lock by any means.

EliteXC needs to put its absolute best foot forward on May 31. Everything from the production to the commentary to the fights themselves need to be superior quality, if they are to convince first-time viewers to come back for more.

Things that may need fixing, based on EliteXC's past efforts:

Ditch the dancers. There are enough MMA skeptics out there who claim the sport appeals to the lowest common denominator. Don't give the naysayers another thing to criticize. The dancers are over-the-top eye candy at best, and it's hard to imagine any harm done by their absence that couldn't be solved by flipping over to Cinemax once the EliteXC broadcast is over.

And the DJ, too. Seldom do I listen to a postfight interview and think "Man, this really needs sound effects added." I also think it would be helpful if Jimmy Lennon Jr. didn't have to compete with the DJ to be heard during fighter introductions. The DJ is annoying, it's unnecessary, and it threatens to narrow EliteXC's demographic at a time when they really ought to work on expanding it.

The commentary. This is a tricky one, because they need a play-by-play man who knows the sport well. Mauro Ranallo and Stephen Quadros both fit that bill perfectly. First-time viewers may not grasp the strategies the fighters use and they won't know the name of every hold, but they need to trust that the commentators do. If a fighter uses a D'Arce choke or a gogoplata, the move needs to be called properly. You can't just shoehorn a generic sportscaster into an MMA broadcast. Unless they've been a closet fan of MMA, they won't get it. And then, neither will the new viewers. If the viewers don't get it, they probably won't watch it anymore.

If Ranallo and Quadros are not on the CBS broadcast, their replacement needs to be just as knowledgeable, or the first-time viewers may not be convinced that there is strategy involved in MMA. And if that happens, they're just one snap judgment away from mislabeling the sport as a glorified street fight, as so many critics have done.

That said, Ranallo and Quadros should be careful with overhyping fighters and forced delivery of one-liners. Hype is a slippery slope. The right amount helps fans to fully appreciate a fighter. Too much hype, and viewers will recognize the sell job for what it is, and reject it on principle. Once they do that, you've lost their trust as a broadcaster. When they see you as a carnival barker, your credibility is shot.

I'm actually not as bothered about Bill Goldberg on color commentary as some critics are. But I do agree that he's a little too green as a broadcaster to be featured heavily on CBS. Again, they need to put their absolute best foot forward this time. Goldberg still flubs the occasional line and hasn't perfected the art of the subtle wisecrack enough to use it as frequently as he does.

There is a lot on the line on May 31. A strong CBS debut could strengthen the fan base of the entire sport, including the UFC.

Here's hoping the fighters leave it all in the cage, the production is the tightest it can possibly be, and EliteXC gives the DJ the rest of the year off.

Since: Jan 25, 2008
Posted on: March 24, 2008 3:59 pm

The risks and rewards of 'Saturday Night Fights'

the article was good but could have gone more in depth.

I believe one fight which needs to be made an put on the card is KJ Noons vs. Yves Edwards.  They are both quality fighters who represent the sport well, and their styles should match up well against eachother and make for an entertaining fight.

I also believe making a good match for Antonio Silva and showcasing him the same way they are going to showcase Kimbo is important.

The Lawler vs. Smith fight could be good let's hope Lawler is healthy.

It is very possible for Koscheck or Arvloski to sign in time to be on this card, and don't count out the possibility of Fedor (his contract with M-! was announced last week to not be official).

EliteXC has smart MMA people worjking for them and I think the match making will be good.

I just wish they could find someway to get Bas Rutten back in the booth with Ranallo!!!

Since: Mar 24, 2008
Posted on: March 24, 2008 12:10 am

The risks and rewards of 'Saturday Night Fights'

MMA sucks. Boxing is King.

Since: Mar 8, 2007
Posted on: March 23, 2008 10:21 pm

The risks and rewards of 'Saturday Night Fights'


Andre lost twice to Tim Sylvia. The same Tim Silva who taps out the second he is taken to the ground.Andre has the talent to be the best HW in the UFC, but he doesn't fight like it. Kos is boring but is very good. Tito hasn't had a quality win in at least 5 years.Kimbo hasn't experienced or done enough to headline a fight event.I keep thinking once he fights an experienced quality ground fighter that he will get submitted.Fighting a one dimensional 9-13 40 year old + has been Tank Abbott doesn't teach Kimbo anything.While I personally have never liked Matt Lindland, he has been very good in recent years outside of the UFC(where he was mediocre). You say fighters sell tickets, but really fights sell. The general public doesn't know who these fighters are but they do like to watch fights so they will tune in.Most MMA fans will see it as "minor league" if a 2-0 Kimbo headlines a card though.MMA fans may also see these fighters as "retreads" with the likes of Tito,Arlovsky,Lawler,Koscheck,Baroni,&Lindland. I do hope it does put these fights as well as boxing in the mainstream on weekend afternoons like it used to be in 1980's. 

Since: Dec 14, 2006
Posted on: March 22, 2008 6:59 pm

The risks and rewards of 'Saturday Night Fights'


Since: Sep 11, 2007
Posted on: March 22, 2008 5:03 pm

The risks and rewards of 'Saturday Night Fights'

Please dump the Dancers, It just kind of make the whole show look cheap.Consentrate on the fight and the fighters. The first time I saw the Elite XC the dancers were just a little to much. Im over the American Hooker Show.

Since: Mar 15, 2007
Posted on: March 21, 2008 12:56 pm

The risks and rewards of 'Saturday Night Fights'

Great article....what I find ammusing is the fact that so many MMA fans want to discredit Kimbo Slice.  I've been watching MMA since the first UFC and have yet to miss one, so I can understand why other hardcore fans aren't exactly thrilled that Slice is being booked as a main event.  I just feel that the diehard fans should be happy that Slice has become as popular as he has.  Like him or not, his popularity can only be a good thing for the sport and should help to open doors for more and more fighters.  In fact, I doubt that CBS makes the deal without Slice as a headliner. 

Another point I'ld like to make, whether or not you take Kimbo Slice seriously does not change the fact that Kimbo does take the sport seriously and the internet is full of reports that talk about his training and work ethic.  I expect his skills to increase while the level of his opposition increase as well.

As fight fans we should all be hoping for this network deal to be as successful as possible.  If so, who knows where this will lead??  Maybe a year from now we see Elite XC, UFC, and maybe even some big name boxing matches on free TV.  Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself but anything is possible and for all the Kimbo haters, you will have him to at least partially thank for this. 

Since: Mar 6, 2007
Posted on: March 21, 2008 9:43 am

The risks and rewards of 'Saturday Night Fights'

Interesting article.  EliteXC has the potential to gain fans in a way that Zuffa, Inc. has not, and that could spell trouble for Dana White.  Fighters like Kos, AA, and Tito(who has mentioned interest in EliteXC for his final three years of fighting), will be watching this closely to feel out a potential jump.  Any undercard fighters who can manage to steal the show will also be catalysts for for underpaid UFC undercarders to make the jump as well. 

On the other hand, if this production goes well for CBS, this does set Dana up to make deals with the other major networks.  That's just a win-win for the fans.  Hopefully they stay away from the pro wrestling atmosphere with the girls, DJ, etc., and I believe the most crucial aspect will be the announce team.  Substandard fights can be made more interesting, or at least educational to the fans, by informed, articulate announcers.  I believe CBS has already announced they will bring in their own production team and announcers, which is why we're not seeing the UFC on a network yet.  That's a sticking point for Dana.  Let's hope they clean up the production a bit and surprise us with announcers who know the sport.

Strangely, I think the fighters are the least important aspect to this ONE particular show.  They already have a few guys with MMA fan name recognition, and the enigma that is Kimbo Slice.  As long as they pick good stylistic matchups, that will give new viewers all the enticement they need to tune in again.

Let's cross our fingers and hope for the best, for this is one of the greatest opportunities for MMA to finally be viewed en masse as a legimate sport.

Since: Aug 14, 2006
Posted on: March 21, 2008 8:18 am

The risks and rewards of 'Saturday Night Fights'

I mentioned Arlovski and Koscheck because, as many MMA fans know, they are the two highest profile UFC fighters who are currently without a new UFC contract and have no UFC fights remaining before they can sign with another company.

Tito Ortiz has one fight remaining, so once Ortiz fights Machida, he will certainly look elsewhere, too.

Since: Mar 21, 2008
Posted on: March 21, 2008 2:34 am

The risks and rewards of 'Saturday Night Fights'

I understand the need for an alternative to the UFC in order to keep them honest and to force the orginazition to properly pay their fighters. EliteXC is not it. Their first show on network TV features a street brawler by the name of Kimbo Slice who has only fought twice in MMA. His first fight was to a tomato can and the second was to an over the hill Tank Abbot who was always one dimensional. The ridiculousness of scantily clad girls dancing around and the fact that a former "wrestler" is commentating is completely eclipsed by the farce inside of the ring. I also find it odd that you listed two of the dullest and least popular fighters (Koscheck, Arlovski) as possible UFC defectors. CBS please take them! Maybe CBS should start with reporters who know a thing or two about MMA is they want this EliteXC experiment to pan out.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or