The Peanut Gallery is the weekly personal thoughts of Audibly Offensive co-editor Chris Lemke. You don’t have to like them…you just have to read them.
I have made every excuse in the book, from “it’s not my cup o’ tea”, to “I have to wash my hair that night” but basically it boiled down to not wanting to watch grown men pummel each other so they can try to pass it off as a “sport.” Yup, that’s a whole lotta air quotes, but I think that’s the perfect way for me to describe my relationship with Mixed Martial Arts, “air quotes”.
Is it really a sport? Is this really the evolution of boxing? Before Saturday night, I would have said no way, no how. Honestly I just didn’t get the appeal. Unfortunately for CBS, Kimbo Slice, and EliteXC, after Saturday night the answers to my questions are still no. Actually it’s less of a no, and more of a no…BUT.
The EliteXC show that I watched increasingly frustrated me and not just because I was trying to give the show a chance at the partial expense of seeing my Penguins lose another game. The pomp and glitz and glitter of the show felt more like opening scene of Rocky 3, Balboa vs. Thunderlips, than it did preparing to watch two barbarians go at it.
Most of these issues fall to CBS and the EliteXC producers than the actual fighters or matches. The prematch video packages, followed by the extended shots of the cheerleaders, then the pre match analysis by perhaps one of the worst groups of assembled announcers ever. I felt like I was listening to Don West and Mike Tenay at TNA! rather than actual sport commentators. Finally the fighters were brought out to their theme music, pryo shooting off, and the introductions being made. Then once both competitors were in the ring, more introductions. Finally the fight…wait…its over? 45 minutes of build up to a 1 minute fight? As a person trying to watch this for the first time it was maddening. It was like going to the Superbowl and finding out that everything switched and the halftime show and the kickoff were the only thing you were allowed to see.
There were some good moments in what was a rather lackluster card, mostly the women’s fight between Caitlin Young and Gina Careno. That was a really impressive bout and seemed like the only time that one of these matches veered into actual MMA territory. Careno has a great story and really fulfilled all of the hype surrounding her. Definite high spot of the night.
Then came the middleweight title fight after another 45 minutes of introductions and unnecessary buildup shoved down the viewer’s throats. Of course, that match led to another unsatisfying conclusion as it was called no contest in the 3rd round just when these guys were getting warmed up. It was also at this time that I realized that technically the show should be wrapping up. This obviously was the case because it was Kimbo time!
What can I say about Kimbo Slice that the announcers, who OBVIOUSLY weren’t reading off of cue cards written by Don King style promoters, hadn’t said. Kimbo Slice is an innovator? No, not really. Kimbo Slice is like Tiger Woods? Not on this planet. I think the closest thing I can compare Kimbo Slice to would be former number 1 draft pick to the Cleveland Browns, Tim Couch. He was supposed to be the star to bring back football to the dogpound, but despite being a decent player was never as good as they wanted him to be. That is Kimbo Slice. Much like I said on the radio show last week, Kimbo is a marketing tool. He’s a promotional gimmick. None of this is Kimbo’s fault, he sees this as an opportunity to get paid quickly and well, but I do believe that underneath the gruff exterior knows that he is not the fighter who is going to lead MMA into the next platform.
The match itself was a bit of a joke as I expected it to be. James “Colossus” Thompson came out, grotesque cauliflower ear and all after having lost the last 9 out of 10 matches and might as well have had sucker written on his head. The fact that they didn’t drain the blood and puss from his ear prematch when it was that size spoke volumes, it was a giant bull’s-eye for Kimbo and a easy chance to see the blood that CBS was clamoring for. Surprise, surprise, however when this dullard and never was actually starting rocking the immortal Kimbo Slice back. That sound you just heard? That was the collective gulp of every CBS Sports and EliteXC executive as this match went into the second round.
Now I have a lot of people say that this match was fixed. From a relatively layman’s point of view, I didn’t get that perception. Though it didn’t speak well when one of the judges in the second round still ruled in Kimbo’s favor after he was being toyed with my Thompson against the side of that cage. Did it look like they held out to get to round three as people claimed? That’s not for me to decide, I will leave that one to the experts. I did however, and much like the previous all Kimbo crowd, thought that the match was called prematurely. As expected that cauliflower ear was busted open giving everyone the blood show that they thought they wanted but not to have that call the match. They wanted the KO, they wanted Kimbo standing tall. Instead we had Thompson screaming and shoving the ref away as Kimbo laid down in the middle of the ring exhausted and thanking his lucky stars. Kimbo Slice was still undefeated, he was still the king, the lynch pin main event of EliteXC, and the superstar possibly in the making…at 3-0. Again, I’ll let you debate the merits of that one.
What irked me by the end of the show was that it had run almost 45 minutes past its allotted time. We had almost a 3 hour show with nearly 30 minutes of actual MMA fighting. If this was the norm, count me out. If I wanted to watch hyped up stars playing to the fans and performing for 3-5 minutes of actual athleticism while the announcers did nothing but hype work then I’ll watch the WWE. This wasn’t the grim and gritty fight that I had expected to see, it was the equivalent of My Super Sweet EliteXC. I was not amused or entertained.
My interests were however piqued.
So with nothing to pay attention to last night, I switched on the Versus channel and happened to watch another MMA card, World Extreme Cagefighting. I could not believe the difference in every single aspect. Better commentating, better production, better matches, and much much better fighting. Was THIS MMA? Is THIS what everyone is raving about? Because THAT I liked. That was entertaining, it was athleticism, it was sportsmanship, and it was incredible. It made me forget about Kimbo Slice, James Thompson or Phil Baroni as I watched men like Urijah Faber, Miguel Torres, and Jens Pulver. Who were THESE guys and why weren’t they on a national network?
Match after match, I was floored by the difference between what had left a sour taste in my mouth and what I was following with absolute glee. I did find some refuge in the world of Mixed Martial Arts after all.
CBS aired the EliteXC card to capitalize on the growing MMA trend in this country. Unfortunately, much like most of America, they had the wool pulled over its eyes. It was one of the biggest blunders on network television since giving Joey a spin off after Friends. The unintentional result of this is while they might have picked up some of the casual viewer’s attention, it was in its failure that drew me to giving it another shot. Thanks to WEC, I get it now. I get the draw of Mixed Martial Arts.
And maybe…just maybe…I might even catch the UFC PPV coming up.
So thank you EliteXC, Kimbo Slice, and CBS. In your failure to entertain or bring a fully realized MMA to America’s living rooms, you might have just given the sport the boost it needs.