MMA on network TV is b-a-d

Shooting from the lip
Looking back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports ...

Kimbo_2 Ever been in a bar or at a ball game when a fight breaks out? At first, you think, "Cool, a fight.'' And you watch excitedly. But then you see people actually connect with punches, and you see blood and people getting hurt, and then you think, "Geez, I really wish I hadn't seen that.'' It's jarring, upsetting, the kind of image that sticks in your head when you close your eyes at night.

That's how it felt watching the big debut of mixed martial arts on network television Saturday night with CBS's EliteXC, featuring the downright terrifying Kimbo Slice. At the risk of sounding like a sissy, one thought kept running through my head: This stuff shouldn't be on regular old television.

Despite having the feel of professional wrestling with some stage names (The New York Bad A--, for example) and way-over-the-top announcing and analysis, it's nauseatingly real. The punches were real. The pools of blood that stained the mat were real. It comes off as way more barbaric than boxing, though MMA people will tell you it's safer because MMA fighters don't take constant punches to the head for 12 rounds. Still, it's disturbing and likely here to stay. The viewership, particularly among men ages 18-34, was strong, especially for a Saturday night. Nearly 25,000 responded to an ESPN poll, and two-thirds of them favored MMA being on television. But it's hard to imagine that the network that once used Saturday nights to make us laugh with Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett now makes us look through the cracks of our fingers as Kimbo punches a guy so hard that he bursts his opponent’s cauliflower ear and sends blood streaming down his face.

CBS will surely show more Saturday night MMA fights. Lots of people will watch. I won’t be one of them.

Cup_2 Most technical coverage
NBC's Stanley Cup playoff coverage has been outstanding … if you're totally into hockey. Mike Emrick is as good as it gets as an announcer, and analysts Pierre Maguire, Ed Olczyk and Mike Milbury know their stuff. But the game coverage is just too technical and all about the moment at hand. What's Detroit doing well? What's Pittsburgh doing wrong? How do you stop Sidney Crosby? What's this coach thinking? What's that coach saying?

This isn't Canada. NBC needs to give us more of the human element, give us more of what the players are like away from the ice. Tell us about where Pavel Datsyuk grew up. Tell us what kind of music Crosby likes. Tell us stories during the intermissions that make us like a particular player. Or dislike him. Instead, it's all about the hockey, and it has been pretty much proved that hockey isn't popular enough to use the sport itself as the selling point.

Pens Best hockey moments
NBC did have a couple of entertaining moments during Saturday's Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final. Pierre Maguire, who gives the network a bang for its buck from between the benches, asked Detroit's Kris Draper during the intermission about his ongoing verbal battle with Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.
Draper laughed and then said, "It’s been a pretty good one. A lot of that stuff would probably be beeped out on NBC, but it’s a lot of fun.''
Mike Emrick's best line came when a player could've been called for a penalty but was not: "There is tolerance, there is leniency -- everything we always want in traffic court but don't get.''

Rays Best team
The Rays are a real baseball team. How do we know this? They were mentioned several times during Fox's national Game of the Week broadcast Saturday, as well as being the subject of a segment on ESPN's Sports Reporters on Sunday morning. Hey, that's big-time.

First, during Fox's pregame show, analyst Kevin Kennedy was asked if the Rays and Marlins would be playing baseball in October. Kennedy said, "I don't think either one will, but I have a lot of respect for what both clubs have done. The Rays have been absolutely outstanding.'' During the Mets-Dodgers game, analyst Tim McCarver said, "How about the pitching they've been getting? You could understand with the young talent (that) their regulars would come along. But the pitching they've been getting?''

Then on Sports Reporters, it was good news, bad news (but mostly good news). The good news was what Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan said: "Absolutely, they are for real. They can contend in the American League East.'' ESPN's Howard Bryant, however, threw a little cold water on the talk of the Rays: "But, but, but … they are drawing 10,000.''

Best feature
Fox's baseball pregame show provided a unique and amusing way to tell the story of the first two months of the baseball season. Arizona teammates Eric Byrnes, Conor Jackson and Orlando Hudson did a 1970's police-detective show parody called Byrning Heat that came off looking like the Brock Landers scenes from Boogie Nights. That's meant as a compliment. Byrnes played Brock Storm. Jackson was Chazz Lightning. And Hudson stole the show by playing O-Dawg. It might have been the best thing on TV all weekend.

Floyd Best call
When Rays slugger Cliff Floyd led off the bottom of the ninth with the score tied at 1 against the White Sox on Friday night, he hit a ball that seemed like it took five minutes to get out of the park. But if you were listening on the radio, Rays announcer Dave Wills provided an exhilarating call that filled the time dramatically and beautifully:
"Swing and a drive! Deep right-centerfield. … Get outta here! It's (long pause) gone! Rays win! Rays win! Rays win! Cliff Floyd! Cliff Floyd will lead a team meeting at home plate.''

Favorite line
Mike Lupica, on ESPN's Sports Reporters, speaking a gospel that I believe in:
"Now Rick Dutrow, Big Brown’s trainer, is even second-guessing the way Smarty Jones' handlers got him ready for the Belmont. How do we get Dutrow to talk less and Big Brown to talk more''

Three things that popped into my head over the weekend
1. Fox's NASCAR coverage for the season came to an end Sunday at Dover, Del., and that's too bad. Fox covers NASCAR better than anyone.
2. Why do we have to wait until Thursday for the start of the NBA Finals? I'm ready now.
3. The French Open wasn't on Sunday because of the telethon on Ch. 8. Did anyone miss it?

[Last modified: Monday, June 14, 2010 3:41pm]

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