MMA comes off CBS event

Jun 3, 2008 - 9:57 PM By Anthony Malakian PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

There's a lot of Monday quarterbacking going on in the world of mixed martial arts after MMA's debut on network television this past Saturday.

First off, Kevin Ferguson, aka Kimbo Slice, was the perfect opponent to fight in the main event. Those saying he wasn't simply didn't understand what Saturday was about.

The CBS-televised card had everything to do with making an event and little to do with competitiveness. Saturday had everything to do with appealing to the guy who loves football but has never seen MMA and nothing to do with appeasing hardcore fans of the sport.

Granted, the Slice didn't live up to his end of the bargain. But if he would've had a (young) Tyson-esque performance and looked spectacular in knocking out James Thompson in the first round, there would've been a lot more support on Sunday morning for the 34-year-old YouTube-manufactured star.

Those who said the Urijah Faber-Jens Pulver war would've been better as the main event don't seem to truly understand what CBS and Elite were going for.

The first MMA event had to be a ratings bonanza, as they say. And the second event needs to be just as big as the first and the third bigger than the second. That's what MMA needs if it wants to stay on the network TV.

You can't have women punching each other in the face and ears exploding puss all over the first row on free TV without eyes on the tube. Those eyes bring advertising dollars, which quells the angst felt by those ultra-conservative suits at CBS, NBC, FOX and ABC.

Slice got people to change the channel from what they were watching to checkout the man with the funny name, massive beard and legend that has outgrown reality. That means money and money means more shows.

For proof of the Slice-effect, all one needs to do is look at the ratings (which were quite good, thank you very much). During the Slice-Thompson fight, 6.51 million viewers were watching according the Nielsen ratings.

But, at 9 p.m. EDT, when the telecast started on CBS, only 3.38 million viewers were watching. Which is still very good, but viewers in the beginning were likely the fans of the sport and those in the mainstream were tuning in at 10:30, when the main event was supposed to start.

From 9 to 9:30, there was an eight-percent increase; a 22-percent increase from 9:30 to 10; and 15 percent increase from 10 to 10:30. This means many viewers only wanted to see the Slice pulverize someone.

Still, there is no arguing that the first network MMA event did even better than expected, ratings wise. That is a very good thing.

But was the event good for the future of the sport on network television? Well, that depends on if the UFC secures a TV deal with one of the other big three networks based off Saturday's results.

EliteXC, which has had financial difficulties and is counting heavily on the CBS deal to keep the company afloat, may be the first on free TV, but their future does not look bright.

For the exact reasons why Slice was the perfect main event, the result of his fight with Thompson may spell doom for the organization.

People clearly tuned in to watch Slice. What happens when Slice is not on the card or people start thinking he is more hype than substance?

The UFC can afford to have one of their stars look bad or miss a fight due to injury because they will simply replace that star with another top-flight fighter.

For example, Chuck Liddell gets injured and is forced to pull out of a fight, in steps Matt Hughes. Mark Coleman pulls out of his fight with Brock Lesnar, in steps Georges St. Pierre to save the day.

Heck, the WEC and DREAM organizations have FAR more bankable fighters then Elite has.

Heavyweight Brett Rogers looks like a champion-in-waiting. But can he pull in a 4.1 rating on CBS? Even if he fights Antonio Silva, which is a fight fan's fight, he won't put that many butts on the couch.

If Elite signs free agent Tito Ortiz, whose contract with the UFC expired after this last fight against Lyoto Machida, then they can pull in a mass audience and keep the network, and more importantly, the advertisers happy.

But even if Elite was to sign Ortiz, and there haven't been any indications he will sign with Las Angeles-based organization, that won't be enough for sustained success.

If fans want the sport to continue its upward momentum, the UFC needs to get a crack to show its stuff on the big stage.

Slice is one of the toughest men on the face of the planet, but he's too old to become a legitimate force in the sport. While Thompson let him off the hook, he isn't likely to be so lucky against the next opponent that is reigning down elbows on his head.

If Slice can't rise to the levels of Tito Ortiz or Chuck Liddell, then don't expect to see EliteXC on CBS get too far either.

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