The three-man announce team of Gus Johnson, Mauro Ranallo, and Frank Shamrock give their thoughts on next week’s debut of EliteXC on CBS:
Operator: Good day and welcome to the CBS EliteXC Announcer’s Call. Today’s conference is being recorded.
At this time, I will turn this call over to Ms. Kelli Raftery. Please go ahead, ma’am.
Kelli Raftery: Thank you. Welcome everyone to the CBS EliteXC Announce Team conference call. Thank you for joining. On the call today we have the CBS EliteXC Saturday night fights broadcast team, Gus Johnson, who’s play by play; Mauro Ranallo and Frank Shamrock will be joining.
Mauro’s on; Frank Shamrock will be joining us shortly. They’re our analysts – and cageside reporter Karyn Bryant. They will have the call for the inaugural primetime network event to be broadcast live from the Prudential Center in North New Jersey, Saturday, May 31st, 9:00 to 11:00 p.m., on CBS.
At this time, I’d like to turn it over to the announcers for opening comments and then we will go to your questions. Gus?
Gus Johnson: Hey, guys. How’s everybody doing? We at CBS are really excited about having an opportunity to get into the mixed martial arts business. I really feel that mixed martial arts is the sport of the future. It gives people an accurate – kind of a simulation of what hand-to-hand combat would look like and I think it takes, you know, combat sports to a whole other level.
It’s a sport that’s sweeping the country, the kids love it. And I also believe that, you know, you’re seeing mixed martial arts academies, dojos and Jiu-Jitsu academies popping up all over the country. Not only are they watching but there are a lot of young people that are also going out and training.
So, I think that this is the perfect opportunity for mixed martial arts to be shown to the world through CBS in primetime and I think Kimbo Slice is the kind of person that can give this sport the added attention that could really develop it. I was with him yesterday, he’s a terrific man, he is focused, he is poised, he’s very articulate and he understands the opportunity that’s being given to him.
He is training hard. I mean, when I looked at Kimbo Slice yesterday at the end of his workout he weighed in at about 238 and, you know, when I got there he was on time and he did about four or five rounds with Bas Rutten in shadowboxing at a very high level.
Then he got into the ring, he did about five rounds, five five-minute rounds on the hand pads, and then he got off the – got out of the ring and got onto the floor and did about five rounds, intense rounds, in ground and pound with the dummy, then he did his calisthenics and he got a great workout.
It was efficient, it was positive and the camp has a great energy in it. So, I just think that mixed martial arts is the sport of the future, as I mentioned, and I am really happy to have an opportunity to be a part of it.
Kelli Raftery: Thank you. Mauro?
Mauro Ranallo: Yes, hello there. I’m Mauro Ranallo. It’s a distinct honor and pleasure to be a part of this landmark event on Saturday, May 31st; working with a very talented crew like a Gus Johnson who has definitely made his name as one of the preeminent sports play-by-play broadcasters, Frank Shamrock, who is a pioneer of mixed martial arts and, of course, Karyn Bryant who has been in many forms of media and has definitely built a name for herself.
I’ve had the pleasure of calling some of the biggest mixed martial arts events ever in Japan for Pride Fighting Championships and, of course, with EliteXC and ShoXC and just a myriad of other organizations in mixed martial arts. And to see the sport now arrive on primetime on May 31st, and CBS having the foresight and vision to bring it to a mass audience is just a banner day for all of us who have been involved for the length of time that we are in.
And to echo what Gus is saying, the one thing about mixed-martial-artists at a world-class level and having worked with other professional athletes, and not to denigrate any athlete whatsoever but mixed martial artists are all about the fans.
You can approach them on any given day in the gym or outside of their gym they’ll spend any amount of time talking with you, educating you, giving an autograph or photograph. And really that’s what really attracted me to the sport was the fact that these people are the greatest of athletes inside the cage, but some of the nicest human beings you will meet, outside of the cage.
So, like I said, this is a dream come true for me. It’s something that I know is well deserved for the sport of mixed martial arts and for me to be a part of it is definitely a career highlight and I’m looking forward to it on May 31st.
Kelly Raftery: Thank you. Karyn?
Karyn Bryant: Yes. Hi, everybody. Well I, too, am absolutely thrilled and excited to be a part of this. I’ve been working with SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING since early 2006 and that has just been unbelievable as far as working with SHOWTIME, the broadcasters there have been nothing but the best and I know they’ll continue that tradition as I transition to CBS.
And I am a huge fight fan. I grew up watching boxing with my father. I’ve been a fan of fighting for a long, long time and mixed martial arts is just so exciting and I really am happy to represent the women who watch the sport.
There are a lot of us who are fans, a lot of us who, initially, just might have just gone to these things, kind of, as a date and turned out to, you know, really enjoy the sport and become big fans. And we’re signing up for, you know, classes and buying the fights on TV and going to the fights just as happily and anxiously as the guy fans are.
So, I’m happy to, sort of, give voice to the women that are watching and I think that this is just going to be fantastic. We have such a great lineup and I think for those eyeballs who have never seen this before, they’re going to see something revolutionary and something that they’re going to want to see more of.
Kelli Raftery: Thank you. Has Frank joined?
OK. We will let you know when he joins.
And operator, if we could turn it over to you for questions?
Operator: Certainly; at this time if you would like to ask a question, please press the star and one on your touchtone phone and to remove your question, please press the pound key. Once again to ask a question, please press the star and one.
First, we’ll go to Bernard Fernandez of the Philadelphia Daily News. Please go ahead, sir.
Bernard Fernandez, your line is open.
Kelli Raftery: Want to go to the next question?
Operator: OK, we’ll go to Mel Bracht of the Oklahoman. Please go ahead.
Mel Bracht, your line is open.
We’ll now go to Eddie Goldman of No Holds Barred. Please go ahead.
Kelli Raftery: Are their lines definitely open?
Operator: Their lines are open; hold for just a moment.
Eddie Goldman, your line’s open.
Eddie Goldman: Hi, can everybody hear me now?
Gus Johnson: Yes, we got you.
Mauro Ranallo: Hello, Eddie.
Eddie Goldman: Great. Thank you very much. First question for Gus.
Gus, you’ve been involved in announcing a lot of different sports but, as you know, people in the combat sports, particularly mixed martial arts regard them as something special. Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement? We understand you recently started doing some training in Jiu-Jitsu in the mixed martial arts and do you view these types of sports as different from some of the other game and ball sports in which you’re involved in?
Gus Johnson: I don’t really view mixed martial arts as a different sport. I think that, my approach is going to be to call mixed martial arts with the same passion, intensity, focus and commitment that I do when I call the NFL, the NCAA, pro basketball or professional boxing or any other sport that I have an opportunity to call.
In terms of my involvement, I’ve been an boxer for a number of years, I trained with a guy by the name of (Keith Dosreese), who was in the Eddie Mustafa and Tim Witherspoon camp so, you know, I’ve had an opportunity to receive high-level boxing training for the past six, seven years.
I’ve been studying Shin Yi Kung Fu for the past two years and recently, you know, as you mentioned, I have taken up Jujitsu at the Renzo Gracie Academy on 30th Street in Manhattan about eight blocks away from my house. So, I think that there’s going to be a learning curve for me.
But at the same time, I’m trying to dig in deep to make sure that I’m fully aware of what I’m going to see and to try to be able to understand what I’m going to see and that basically takes place when the two fighters hit the floor and the ground attack starts.
So I’m really excited about it, enthused about it, a little nervous about it but at the same time confident that when the fights begin I will be shown and I’ll be able to explain to America as best as I can what’s going on in the cage.
Eddie Goldman: Do you think since you’re newer to covering the mixed martial arts that you actually might be on the same page with most of the people in CBS audience? Because some of the people watching will have been watching or even participating in this for years but given that it’s on CBS on a Saturday night in primetime, there’s bound to be a large number of people, maybe even the majority of the audience, that have little knowledge or maybe have never even seen the sport.
Gus Johnson: I think that’s a really good point and I think that is one of my strengths. Coming into the show on the 31st, everything is new to me therefore I’ll be able to kind of – what I – what my goal is to be able to, with fresh eyes, tell, especially the fans that haven’t been watching mixed martial arts, what’s going on, what is an arm bar or triangle choke or guillotine or rear naked choke?
And try to set up Frank and Mauro, who are experts in this beautiful sport, to really go even deeper in my knowledge and I think – with some enthusiasm about what’s going on the floor – rather, on the floor in the cage when the ground attacks start. I think that’s really going to be something that can be beneficial to the new fans that are tuning in, in primetime, to watch mixed martial arts, maybe for the first time.
Eddie Goldman: And last thing, you said you were watching Kimbo Slice training. Even though this is only his third official professional fight he had the backyard brawls and all that. There’s a buzz about him that a lot of people haven’t seen since the early days of Mike Tyson. Do you think he has the potential to meet those expectations and become a top, top level heavyweight MMA fighter?
Gus Johnson: Based on his commitment, I do think he has that ability. It’s still early. He’s a strong guy, he’s a committed guy and he’s a focused guy, but mixed martial arts is a totally different sport.
You know, I was talking to him yesterday and, you know, a lot of his training, his serious focus, took place when he was working with the dummy on the ground with the ground and pound and I just think that, you know, it’s very important for him as he starts to climb and fight fighters that have a higher skill level, he’s really going to have to understand how to, not only fight on the ground but his defense, in terms of not allowing people to get him to the ground is also going to have to be sharp.
So, I think Kimbo has that kind of ability. He is a – he’s like a college football player or a young pro football player that walks around with a swagger, has that kind of great athletic body but more than that he has the focus and the commitment and the passion.
He said to me yesterday when I was with him, he said, man – he was on the ground after training and after you finish training and he was like, man, you teach a guy from the streets this kind of stuff, man, I think I can go really far in this sport and I’m looking forward to it. He said, I want to get on the ground, I want to break somebody’s arm, I want to ground and pound somebody so people out there can understand that I’m serious and I’m training hard.
Obviously, Bas Rutten is one of the great fighters in the history of the sport and, you know, he has great training and is committed to it and I think that Kimbo Slice, like Mike Tyson, has the potential to go very far in this sport and to be a star.
Eddie Goldman: OK, thanks. And don’t try any of this stuff you learned at Renzo’s on Frank, because he knows it too.
Gus Johnson: Yes, I know. He – Frank is the only – is the only analyst that I’ve ever worked with that, you know, you just know when you stand next to him that he can beat everybody up in the room. So, I’m very respectful when I talk to Frank Shamrock.
Kelli Raftery: And Frank has joined the call. He’s on now, as well.
Gus Johnson: Hey, Frank.
Operator: We’ll now go to Beau Dure of USA Today. Please go ahead.
Beau Dure: I have a question for Gus and that would be, how much room is there in the sport for different organizers? You have, obviously, UFC, you have IFL although it’s wavering, you have EliteXC, you have Strikeforce and you have whatever’s coming up in Japan.
Gus Johnson: DREAM.
Beau Dure: Right, DREAM and World Victory Road. How many organizations can this sport support and how much unification should there be between the organizations?
Gus Johnson: You know what? That’s a question that probably will be better answered by somebody like Mauro or somebody like Frank because I’m new to the sport. And, Mauro, you probably can answer this a lot better, or Frank.
You know, I just think that the organizations are great; they’re different production companies that are trying to highlight fighters. And, to me, right now the more the merrier until it gets to a certain point. But I’d like to turn that question over to Frank or Mauro Ranallo.
Beau Dure: Sure, everybody.
Frank Shamrock: Hey, if you don’t mind I’ll go because I came on late, I apologize. This is Frank Shamrock.
Beau Dure: Hello, Frank. Thank you.
Frank Shamrock: And, first of all, yes, thanks for everybody for being on the call. We appreciate the time and opportunity and I’m excited about it. This is what I’ve been working for a long time and, you know, to me it’s a lifestyle and it’s an art form and it’s an amazing way to live your life.
About the question – you know what? I look at our current time period as the same time when Vince McMahon took wrestling and took all the satellite shows and all the local regional shows and they eventually became one big show.
This sport, in order to evolve, will eventually have to do these unification-type opportunities but I think we’re a long way away from that. I think there’s room for everybody in the industry that knows how to promote talent and put on a good show, because at the end of the day we are sports entertainment and people are going there to see, you know, a good show and a good story told.
Mauro Ranallo: And I can just chime in by saying that competition is, obviously, a good thing for the sport because it forces the promoters to make the best fights possible. And, of course, from a fighter’s perspective, of course, anything that can help them in the bottom-line in their bank account I’m a big fan of because they are the show.
So, while we’ve seen a few organizations go through a lot of growing pains and, of course, you’ve got to spend money to make money. And we’ve heard about the trials and tribulations of the IFL, even EliteXC now going to the big stage.
I think, in the end the strongest will survive but there definitely should be competition and not one omnipotent power and I think we will see that, you know, in the wash at the end of the year, who the strongest are. Especially, after May 31st. You know EliteXC is definitely going to put itself on the map.
Karyn Bryant: You know, I actually have one thing to add and that’s to say that as a fan of the sport if I’m sitting her watching it with my husband I don’t really care what channel it’s on, necessarily or who, you know, the production company is behind it.
If we’re sitting down and we want to watch some fight, we sit and watch some fights. I think we learn, you know, we learn from watching fighters that maybe aren’t as polished to the guys that are at the top of their game on pay per view.
Either way, I think the fans just like the sport and kind of it seems like right now the more the better and wherever it is they seek it out, they find it, they want to watch it and they enjoy it. But I think, obviously, going on a network is going to be a whole other thing and it’s going to be great for new people to be able to see.
Mauro Ranallo: And the other thing I want to quickly add is, and I think, Frank, maybe you’ll agree that while it’s good to have competition, I would like to see streamlined rules for every organization. That we fight under the same rules, we fight on the same fighting surfaces, so that we don’t confuse the masses.
And I think that’s a work in progress for mixed martial arts to come under the same umbrella when it comes to either if it’s going to be the cage, it’s the cage. And, you know, if it’s going to be the – you know, in Japan you can kick to the head, there’s knees to the head, there’s elbows in some organizations, not elbows in others. I really, truly believe that if all the organizations decided on one set of firm rules that would make it much easier and really help the sport flourish even more.
Operator: We’ll go to Ariel Helwani of MMA Rated.com. Please go ahead.
Ariel Helwani: Hey guys, great to be with you. I just wanted to start off with Mauro. First off, Mauro, congratulations, one-year anniversary of Fight Network Radios.
Mauro Ranallo: Oh, thank you.
Ariel Helwani: But I wanted to know because, as you know, I’ve been trying to find out for a while what your role would be in this color cast and now we find out that you’re sort of the (Max Kellerman) of the three-man booth. How comfortable are you going to be, because for people who have been following you for a while in your work, we know you as the lead play-by-play man, so how comfortable are you going to be in this new position?
Mauro Ranallo: Well, thank you very much, Ariel, for the question. And, yes, anyone who’s followed me knows, you know, I’ve been predominantly a play-by-play guy for 22 years. Starting from 16 with various sports and then to 1999 getting into combat sports with Muay Thai and then moving on to Pride and then various other organizations.
But I can tell you that the opportunity afforded me by ProElite and CBS is one that you definitely do not turn down. And knowing my passion that I have for the sport and my, you know, the anecdotal information that I can provide and just the energy and passion that I bring to the broadcast, I truly am comfortable.
Especially working with a guy like Gus Johnson, who, you know, again, as I said at the beginning, one of the preeminent play-by-play guys who I know is a tremendous quarterback of the broadcast and Frank Shamrock who’ll definitely handle the Xs and Os and breaking down what the fighters are doing.
I think my role is really to humanize these fighters, to stress the importance of each fight and where they might go from here. And to be honest with you, I don’t want to say the role is easy, because it’s not, but I really, truly believe that this is a role that I can make unique to myself. And it is a new experience but I promise to bring everything that it is – you know, my signature, in terms of being in this role that I always do as a play-by-play guy, just knowing that the role is different and to make sure that I fit into the three-man booth.
So, I’m very excited. Nervous, as all of us are, because this is the first time we are doing this on network television, but I am very confident in the crew that’s been assembled that we will definitely bring the fans the information and the energy that they deserve.
Ariel Helwani: Well, you talk about that signature and that’s, obviously, very exciting, high-impact, your noise, you know, you sort of, for the fans watching at home they sort of feel like they’re there when you’re on the call, at least for me.
And that’s the same with Gus Johnson, that’s sort of his signature, very exciting, you know, screaming when needed and all that, have you guys been able to – you know, obviously, we just heard about the announcement, but we don’t know what goes on or how long this has been in place. Have you guys been able to, sort of, practice how you would work out, in terms of your styles, and not having that maybe inevitable clash?
Mauro Ranallo: Well I think, you know, granted it’s obvious, Gus Johnson is the play-by-play guy, he will be doing what Gus Johnson does and it is a different role for me. And I think you are going to see a more restrained and maybe more subdued Mauro Ranallo because I’m not calling the fight, I am analyzing the fights. So, it may even, you know, I may surprise a few people who’ve – who have followed my career.
And, you know, I just want to compliment the rest of my partners on the broadcast and I’ve been chosen for a specific role, it is my job to do my homework and prepare for it. And, like I say, the one good thing about working with a guy like Gus Johnson is, in many ways we are very similar in the passion and intensity that we bring to a broadcast, so I’m just going to have to – instead of being my normal spinal-tap ((inaudible)) 11, maybe I’ll be a seven or an eight.
Ariel Helwani: OK, awesome. I just had a couple of questions for Gus. Gus, in the previous question, I heard you even mentioned the name DREAM. So, obviously, that tells me that you are up to date with the world of mixed martial arts, you’re not coming in as a total newbie. If you could just tell us a little bit, you know, do you actually watch the pay-per-views? Do you, you know, go online and read up? Do you know who, you know, some of the – not big names, you know, not like the Tito Ortizes of the world but, you know, some of the up and coming stars or is this a fairly new venture for you?
Gus Johnson: Well, it’s a little bit of both. You know, I’ve really been studying a lot and I’ve had an opportunity to go to, you know, different sources to study. Fightsport Magazine, I like it, I’m sitting here looking at the 2000 review and the spider man, or the spider, rather, on the cover, Anderson Silva.
And, you know, I’ve been prepping a lot and trying to find out, you know, who the great fighters in the world are, who I should be paying attention to. Whether it be a Randy Couture or Rampage, some of the guys over there at the UFC and also really studying the guys that we have here, the Ruthless Robbie Lawlers and the Jake Shields, who are ranked in the top 10 in the world in their weight classes.
So, it’s going to be a work in progress, it is a new sport for me and I won’t lie about that and try to make it anything other than what it is, but I think I’m a quick study and I like this sport. I think this is a refreshing – this is a very refreshing sport for me because it – these athletes that we’re going to be highlighting are hungry. One thing I’ve noticed is they’re very nice people and they’re not arrogant and, you know, they’re not overpaid.
And it’s something that, as I mentioned, coming out of pro football and pro basketball and high levels of college basketball and high levels of professional boxing, having an opportunity to work in mixed martial arts, I think, is a great career move for me because I was starting to get a little bored at some of the other things that I was doing.
And I think adding this to my career is going to really give me some new life and energy. So, it’s going to take some time, like I said, to – there’s going to be a learning curve here but I have a man like Mauro sitting next to me and a legend like Frank Shamrock on the other side and I don’t think that it’s going to take very long for me to be up to speed with everything that I need to know when it comes to mixed martial arts.
Ariel Helwani: OK. Final quick question, are you familiar with the almost cult-like following that you have online, particularly with the sports blogs and how excited they are every time, you know, you’re doing NCA tournament and you’re, you know, doing one of the main games? Then, if so, why do you think that is?
Gus Johnson: Just like Mauro, I think the reason that people like watching me – yes, I am familiar with those – that cult-like following, and I’m a little – that’s a lot for me. Even though I’m on television on a regular basis, I’m a very private person and I can be a little bit shy at times and I like to pride myself with – I pride myself on being under the radar.
But I am familiar with the kids and how the kids have followed my career and I’m really thankful and I’m really appreciative, that’s why I always try to go out there and do every podcast, blog, Web site that I possibly can to show my respect towards these young people that are supporting me.
But I think one of the reasons that they like me, as Mauro said, is just like Mauro I think that we’re excited and we’re excited about having the opportunity to call professional sporting events or college sporting events or just being in sports television.
And when the game or when the match or when the fight is at its highest point, like Mauro, we let go and I think that’s one thing that a lot of the kids appreciate. Now some older people think we – you know, I may yell and scream too much and, you know, I’m a loudmouth but – and that’s OK, too, and that’s a fair criticism.
But, you know, I am aware of the cult-following and I think that because, you know, you show a certain passion for your job, you know, some people really take to it and that’s been the case so far.
Operator: We’ll now go to Teddy Greenstein from the Chicago Tribune. Please go ahead.
Teddy Greenstein: Hey, Gus, I’m glad I didn’t get into a fight with you, man. I didn’t know you were a boxer.
Gus Johnson: Teddy, what’s going on, man? How are you, brother?
Teddy Greenstein: Things are good. For you, Frank, and if anybody else wants to chime in, you know, for people who’ve never watched this before, what would constitute a great fight? I mean, how many rounds, how long would it go, lot of take-downs, I mean, just sort of describe what constitutes a great fight, you know, hoping that you guys get one on Saturday.
Frank Shamrock: Yes, well I think we’ll have a lot of great fights. But what constitutes a great fight, for me, is showing all the styles in mixed martial arts or showing the game as a complete one.
Which, the time is not as important although it does take a few minutes to develop, you know, a complete game and a complete story. But, you know, a little punch, kick, wrestle, knee, throw, some ground and pound, position changes and a nice submission hold, something definitive that we can showcase prominently on film and on camera. But something that shows the whole game from top to bottom.
And, you know, it takes you know two to three minutes to do it; it can take as much as two to three rounds. But if we’ve done our job of marketing these guys right and they can tell that story through the art, you know, I think that’s beautiful.
And the knockout is good too, you know, that’s definitely a definitive end that’s hard to argue with. But either way, you know, as long as there’s a finish to the fight or it’s a successful fight, I think we’re doing our job.
Teddy Greenstein: Anybody else?
Mauro Ranallo: Gus, I was just going to say, if you look at this card on paper, the five fights that are scheduled for May 31st on CBS, the promoters – you get one chance to make a first impression and there’s no doubt that they want to come out of the gates with a bang.
I mean, these match-ups probably will spell some emphatic and electrifying ends in almost every fight. I mean while it would be nice to see a lot of the groundwork, because I feel that the ground game is the art in mixed martial arts, I think we’re going to see a litany of knockouts and that’s OK by me too.
Especially, with casual North American fans watching for the first time, everybody loves a KO and I think you’re going to get an all-you-can-eat buffet on Saturday, May 31st.
Teddy Greenstein: Clarifying, that was Mauro just speaking and Frank before?
Mauro Ranallo: Yes.
Teddy Greenstein: OK. Thank you.
Operator: We’ll now go to David Darling from the Orlando Sentinel. Please go ahead.
David Darling: I’d like some thoughts from all of you on this. But this sport, traditionally, is a guy sport and Saturday nights, traditionally, are a date night. I think a lot of women consider this sport to be a little too brutal for them to watch, I’m just wondering what’s the strategy to try to combine the two of Saturday night guys’ night and Saturday night date night and how do you get women – how do you engage women to get them to watch?
Mauro Ranallo: I think you just said it yourself and, Karyn, sorry. I’m sure you want to answer this. This is Mauro. I just want to say, again, culturally speaking, it’s weird because when I was in Japan from 2004 to 2007, you saw couples, husbands and wives dressed up, you know, 40,000 fans in Japan watching MMA. That was the date.
And if you go to UFC event or a lot of our EliteXC events or any show that I’ve been to, small or big, in Canada or in United States, you will be amazed at the amount of females that are there. And I know Karyn can speak a lot more toward it, but I think this whole brutality in the bloodsport and the stigma that is attached to mixed martial arts, you know, they say that ignorance is bliss and I think that those people are living in a blissful state.
If you watch, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea because, yes, it is the purest form of competition, yes, there is contact, yes, there can be blood. But it’s like seeing a crunching body check in hockey, a devastating tackle in football, the hard fouls in basketball.
I think females have already drawn to the sport and I think Saturday, May 31st, we’ll see a lot of women watching and, you know, not to degrade what we’re doing but when you see good-looking guys who are in perfect shape and, you know, their tight fight shorts doing their thing, I think, Karyn, you’ll agree that’s not such a bad thing for the ladies.
Karyn Bryant: Yes, I mean you know I say that in jest a lot of time that, you know, what woman wouldn’t want to be at a job where I’m around guys in perfect shape, mostly naked but, you know, you can’t discount that. I mean you really can’t.
Truthfully, as far as our broadcast goes, we are going to you know definitely involve the personality of the fighters. A lot of these guys have, sort of, outside personalities that you can play on, that may be something that you know if we’re talking about what women usually respond to that might be something they’d usually respond to.
There’re definitely going to be celebrities in the audience, we will have them participate, you know, to a degree as far as, you know, asking them what their thoughts on the fight were. There’s a way, I think, to make the sport more relatable to women who aren’t usually down with sports but who like entertainment, I think that they may come away from this seeing the entertainment that goes along with this sport.
But I think also, the fact that we have Gina Carano in there who you know is on American Gladiators, she’s a lovely girl, she’s a sweetheart of a girl and she’s a hell of a fighter. I think that by highlighting her and Kaitlin in a female fight, you’re going to see a lot of women who maybe didn’t understand that this is a sport for everybody and I think that they’re going to see themselves in her, to a degree.
I mean, it’s a very primal sport, you know, I’ve been around boxing now for a while and certainly a lot of women have asked me, you know, how tough is it to be sitting there, you know, ringside – and in this case it’s going to be cageside and I say, you know, it’s really – it’s not tough at all.
I mean, as a woman, maybe I’m a little more sensitive sometimes, going oh, Jesus, that guy’s a really great guy and I just saw him get beat up. But that really goes away quickly when you look at the intensity and the athleticism and just the beauty of what they’re doing in there.
And it certainly is primal and, you know, it doesn’t mean that women aren’t going to be able to relate to it because when you see the action in there, you know, it’s just too intense to look away, I think.
David Darling: For lack of a better way to ask this question, then, you’re basically saying then that if I sit down Saturday night to watch this and I get my wife to sit down, the hope is that she’ll get into it?
Karyn Bryant: Absolutely, I would hope that she would get into it. It’s just exciting, it’s fast moving, you know, a lot of times – and I grew up a sports fan all my life, but you hear the complaints, sometimes from women, oh, football’s too slow, it’s three-and-a-half hours and the balls only in motion, you know, a few moments a minute, or you know such and such reason why this sport isn’t exciting enough and baseball takes too long.
Well, this sport is incredible. I mean, Kimbo’s longest fight is 45 seconds or something – I mean, not just women, but you know anybody with a short attention span who doesn’t think they like sports is going to have to check this out and there’s no way that they’re not going to be excited by what they see.
It’s all action for at most you know 15 minutes. How anybody can’t get in line with that? I don’t understand.
David Darling: OK, thank you.
Operator: We’ll know go to Sharon Robb from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Please go ahead.
Sharon Robb: Frank, hi, I’m curious, athletes such as yourself who’ve paid their dues throughout the years in mixed martial arts. How do you feel about someone like Kimbo Slice who has just become this unbelievable, larger than life figure in your sport?
Is there mixed emotions that, yes, he’s attracting more people to your sport but, you know, he doesn’t have that reputation, he hasn’t come up the hard way like you and everyone else did in the early days.
Frank Shamrock: Well, that’s a really good question, and I’m glad you asked it. Yes, you know what, I do have mixed emotions about it, mixed feelings about it. You know, the very normal human side of me feels a little slighted that you know I’ve been at it for almost 15 years now and approaching it as an artistic form and you know sacrificing a lot of my body and time and family time and everything for it.
But the other side of me is the business and, you know, the realistic side and that’s – we’re in the business of sports entertainment and regardless of how I may feel about my artistic form and how I want to hold it special and I want to be, you know, respected for what I’ve done, the truth is, we’re a television-based professional sport.
And it’s all about timing, it’s all about, you know, being at the right place at the right time for television entertainment and, you know, Kimbo’s that guy and I, you know, my professional mind and, you know, I want to support him 100 percent. You know, I’m going to give the absolute best commentary I can for him, truthful, honest, technical and, you know, I think it’s a good thing because whatever grows our sport, at the end of the day, and whatever allows more people to participate in this amazing lifestyle is a win for us.
And if it’s Kimbo Slice or me or Gina or anybody, it doesn’t really matter as much as our sport is making an impact and we’re getting the fans that we need to.
Sharon Robb: Following that question up then, do you wish, Frank, you were growing up in this era then? I mean, I know you laid a great foundation and you’re considered one of the pioneers, but I mean, now the timing is just so right for mixed martial arts. I mean, it has exploded. And I’m just curious, now do you wish you were coming up now where you would get your just due, so to speak?
Frank Shamrock: You know, I don’t know, I can’t honestly – I can’t – I would say no because for me it was really about the journey, and it’s been about the experience. God forbid, this would have happened to me when I was young because I was a complete wild man and the odds are I wouldn’t have been able to sustain it and understand how important it was anyways or what type of opportunity it was.
For me, the whole experience has been a journey for my life to, you know, keep me sane and give me something to focus my daily life on. You know, it is what it is, we are where we are and we all have our roles to fill. And, you know, I’m blessed and I’m still fighting, I’m still popular and I can call a good fight, for me, that’s a just free win.
Sharon Robb: And Mauro, with your sense of history with the Pride FC, I’m curious, back in the day, how would Kimbo have been received? Would they have gone ape over there?
Mauro Ranallo: Yes, there’s no doubt about it, Kimbo – it’s funny that you say that because in many ways, EliteXC has taken what Price FC did in Japan so well and I know people hate to hear about he comparisons to Pro-Wrestling, but already Frank Shamrock’s made it in.
And really, in the end of the day, we are in the entertainment business. And Kimbo Slice, no doubt in my mind, would have been a huge attraction in Japan at the height of the Price Fighting Championship glory years.
And I think the promoters of the EliteXC and even the UFC with Brock Lesnar and all these curiosities – like some people call them freak attractions, I hate that term. I think whatever it takes to sell tickets, if they can back it up at the end of the day and so far, Kimbo Slice has been able to do that, then I think Kimbo would have been a star in no matter what era.
And I think Frank’s being a little humble as well because Frank is still a very high-quality fighter. He and Cung Lee just sold out the HP Pavilion in San Jose recently and let’s face it, when you have a guy like Kimbo Slice who that it, you can’t be taught that, you cannot buy it, you have that it-factor, the charisma and just the curiosity, it helps everyone else on the show.
The more the main event sells tickets, the more the trickle-down effect will be. And I think any fighter who has mixed emotions about Kimbo Slice being involved in mixed martial arts just has to – like Gus said, he’s had a chance to spend time with him, I know Kimbo very well, he’s a father of six kids, it’s all about feeding his family, it’s all about being the best that he can be.
And some of the media that, you know, has portrayed his so-called thug life and whatnot, I mean, that’s being overblown and I really think it’s our job and it’s incumbent on us on Saturday, May 31st, again, to show that other side of Kimbo Slice.
But don’t, you know, don’t mistake that once the bell goes, you are going to see the primal Kimbo Slice, you’re going to see the primal James Thompson, the primal Gina Carano. They are professional fighters and fighting is a contact and violent sport. But I truly believe Kimbo would have been a star for any promotion in any era, he just has that it-factor.
Gus Johnson: I’d like to add to that …
Sharon Robb: When you were in the United States, did you see this – when you were in Japan, did you see this coming in the States? I mean, would you ever have fathomed the popularity this sport has risen to right now?
Mauro Ranallo: Bas Rutten and I spent many, many a night in hotel rooms pondering that exact comment and to be honest with you, I still am a little heartbroken and I have mixed emotions that this isn’t Pride Fighting Championships that’s doing this right now in the United States.
Unfortunately, due to some, you know, management issues and a lack for foresight, like we’re seeing with the EliteXC and CBS, I definitely did envision it, there’s no doubt about it. I mean, when I began working with Price in 2003 and seeing just the huge crowds and the mix between the sport and entertainment aspects of it.
And I know there are a lot of MMA diehards who stay take me to task that, you know, I don’t sell the purist aspect as much as the entertainment side. I am the biggest mixed martial arts fan there is, but I’m also a realist. And I know that you have to entertain as well as show off your athletic aspects.
And you take a look at this card and you’ve got personalities like Phil Baroni, you’ve got personalities like Gina Carano and Kimbo Slice. So the short answer is yes, I did envision this and I’m just glad that CBS and ProElite are the two that are going to bring it to a mass audience and promote the sport of mixed martial arts, that’s the name of the sport. It’s not ultimate fighting, it’s MMA.
Sharon Robb: All right, thank you.
Mauro Ranallo: Thank you. And with that guys, unfortunately I – Mauro Ranallo – I have to go and do my radio show, but I know you’re in good hands with Gus and Karyn and Frank and I just want to thank everyone for coming on the call and I really look forward to being a part of this historic broadcast on May 31st. So thanks again and good luck with the rest of the call, you guys.
Female: Thank you, Mauro. And I think Frank has to jump off in a few minutes as well.
Frank Shamrock: I’ve got a little bit more time.
Female: OK, great, we can go to the next question.
Operator: We’ll now go to Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated. Please go ahead.
Richard Deitsch: Yes, just a brief one for Gus. Gus did you or your representatives actively campaign for this assignment or did CBS approach you?
Gus Johnson: Actually, CBS approached me about doing this. We didn’t really campaign for anything, it just seemed like it would be a very nice fit.
Richard Deitsch: Why do you think they came to you as apposed to another announcer?
Gus Johnson: I don’t know, I think that they know that I’m excitable; they know that I have a connection with some of the younger fans out there. They know I’m interested in martial arts because I study.
And I think they thought that with my boxing background, in terms of calling a number of fights over the years, fights at CBS, fights for Madison Square Garden Network, the Golden Gloves, Broadway Boxing and with my martial arts background that this will be a very good fit when they looked at the stable announcers that work at CBS.
Richard Deitsch: And here are two quick ones. Was there an executive at CBS, in particular, who asked you, whether it’s Sean (McManus) or someone else?
Gus Johnson: Initially it was Tony Petitti. Tony Petitti came to me and said that there was an interest. Sean McManus our President, obviously, had to bless it and I spoke to Sean recently and he’s excited about it as well and excited about me doing it and is excited about it being on CBS.
And (Kelly Kahl) also, who runs our primetime programming at the network thought that I would be the perfect person to do this for CBS Sports.
Richard Deitsch: And lastly, can you again, repeat the karate that you are studying?
Gus Johnson: Shin Yi; it’s Kung Fu.
Richard Deitsch: Kung Fu; I’m sorry.
Gus Johnson: And also, Jiu-Jitsu.
Richard Deitsch: Jiu-jitsu, great, thank you very much.
Operator: We’ll now go to Bernard Fernandez of the Philadelphia Daily News. Please go ahead.
Bernard Fernandez: I have two questions. One, I think Karyn knows that I’m a long time boxing guy and she was at the boxing writer’s dinner on May 1st. There hasn’t been primetime network boxing, I think, in 25 years. And so I think there’s a lot of reasons for people in MMA to be excited about getting, you know, network exposure, over the air exposure.
But that said, does CBS anticipate any sort of negative feedback from people that are watching for the first time and are going to, you know, believe, even though there are statistics that have proven that there are fewer injuries in MMA than there is in boxing, you know, that it will seem like the violence is at a higher level than they have anticipated?
I’ve got to believe that they have to be some sort of anticipation of some, sort of, negative feedback of that.
Gus Johnson: Yes, I think that we at CBS feel that there is going to be some negative feedback, there always is some negative feedback and that’s part of the balance. There are a lot of voices out there, there are a lot of critics out there but I don’t think that at CBS we are focusing on the negativity, we’re focusing on it being positive.
We’re focusing on the positive feedback that we’re going to receive by having an opportunity to introduce mixed martial arts to the world in primetime television and highlight these great athletes, these great artists who, as Frank mentioned, sacrifice their bodies and have established a way of living through mixed martial arts.
And they’re going to be so many different art forms over the next year that we will be able to showcase, whether it be Jiu-Jitsu or grappling or somebody that’s a great western boxer or a guy like Cung Lee that’s a terrific Kung Fu expert. And then you have a man like Frank Shamrock who can do a little bit of everything.
So yes there is going to be some negativity, there always is. But I think that when you look at this card and you look at some of the people that are going to be competing and not just focusing on the main event with Kimbo Slice, but if you look at Robbie Lawler and Scott Smith, you have two tremendous punchers that are going to fight for the EliteXC Middleweight Championship, you know, and five five-minute rounds.
That’s going to be an epic battle because they really go out there and try to destroy each other and put on a show. And another fight that I’m really excited about watching is Phil Baroni versus Joey Villasenor, that’s going to be another serious clash.
Frank just got through fighting Phil Baroni, he choked him out and put him to sleep and Baroni needs to bounce back. And Phil is a “New York Bad Ass” (Baroni’s nickname) who’s going to be fighting close to his hometown in Newark and, you know, he’s a great college wrestler at Central Michigan and he’s a guy that’s going to come out there are really try to afflict some pain and put on a show.
So, yes, there’s going to be some negativity and that’s understandable, but there’s also going to be some positive things said. And hopefully the positives will outweigh the negatives two to one.
Bernard Fernandez: OK, I have one other question. That is – I had done a fairly lengthy feature story on UFC and Dana White last year. And he said something I thought was very interesting and he said that the groundwork for, you know, the whole sport of MMA was laid by people like Bruce Lee because people saw those movies and they became interested in that.
I’ve seen some of these YouTube Kimbo Slice fights. One of my sons, I think, has all of them downloaded. In a sense, is Kimbo Slice, you know, the real live embodiment of the (inaudible) character that Clint Eastwood played in those “Any Which Way” movies 20 years ago?
Gus Johnson: Frank, I think that’d be a better question for you.
Frank Shamrock: You know what, that one was dying for me to answer. I was brought up in the era of Bruce Lee and martial arts and I can honestly say that those were the influences that got me into the art of fighting, the study of martial-arts and the study of mixed martial arts.
That was my path that got me into this sport. Everybody has their own path; everybody has their own journey that gets them to that point. What I can say about the general audience and what they’re going to see – here’s what I think we need to know about our new young audience and that is that, you know, they’re used to a high level of violence and so are the parents.
I teach martial arts in school in the south United States and 10 years ago, you know, they wanted no contact and the kids were not suppose to hit each other and they were not supposed to grapple. Now if your kids are not doing full-contact MMA, the parents are unhappy.
And these are, you know, 30 to 45, you know, year-old section of our society where the adults want that realness. The adults want that contact. Their kids, in turn, are the new YouTube young generation that are supporting the Kimbo Slices and that are, you know, helping drive this sport.
I think, you know, Kimbo Slice is just a – he’s a character in the world of energy when it comes to the art of fighting and certain people are going to follow him, certain people are going to follow me, as long as they’re following the sport and they’re getting something out of it. I think everybody should get something out of what we’re doing, you know, a life lesson, some technique that works, some confidence, some something.
If we can get that point across, then it doesn’t matter if it’s a character or a real person or whatever. If people are following the sport and they’re getting something out of it, I think it’s an important thing.
Bernard Fernandez: All right, thank you. I was just curious, as whether, you know, that there was some legitimacy to people, maybe, even making that link in their minds?
Frank Shamrock: I don’t know. I think a lot of that generation is, you know, kind of, past now and may or may not make the connection.
Bernard Fernandez: OK, thank you.
Operator: We’ll now go to Andrew Falzon with MMApayout.com.
Please go ahead.
Andrew Falzon: Sure, no problem. Thanks, guys, for taking the call.
Gus, I wanted to ask you first, this is the first time mixed martial arts is being broadcast on the network level and for people who have been following the sport, when EliteXC landed the deal at CBS it was a pretty big deal. And there was some talk about how the UFC didn’t land a deal with HBO when they may be working something with Fox, but they wanted to control the announcing. I just wanted to get your input since you’re going to be driving the car for the show, for the most part. Is there a ground rule for the broadcast that they don’t want you talking about other organizations?
And what it means to really cover the sport on the network-level as opposed to having in-house broadcasters do the show.
Gus Johnson: Well, you know, this is the first show, so I think it’s a work in progress, but nobody has come to me and told me what I can’t talk about. At CBS Sports, one of the things our boss’, Tony Petitti, prior to him leaving CBS and Sean McManus always talked about is trying to be global.
So we’re going to have to be global when it comes to broadcasting mixed martial arts. The UFC – it’s not as if we can pretend that the UFC doesn’t exist. The UFC has the best fighters in the world and that’s just a fact.
So we’re going to have to talk about the UFC, we’re going to have to talk about, you know, the Anderson Silvas and the great fighters, the Rampages and the George St. Pierres they have over there and that will come out in time.
And we’re also going to highlight the great fighters that we have at EliteXC – the Robbie Lawlers, hopefully he’ll do well, the Ninja Ruas, the Jake Shields, the Nick Diazes, those kinds of cats that are coming up. And Gary Shaw and Doug DeLuca are trying to build that brand and they’re trying to build these fighters and that’s what we’re going to talk about as well.
So we’re going to sell what we have to sell, but at the same time, we’re not going to keep the fans and pretend like, you know, these other fighters that are fighting with another company don’t exist. Eventually, and as Frank mentioned, and as Mauro mentioned, eventually we want to get to a situation with MMA that sees the best fighters fight the best fighters.
I really want to see Frank Shamrock fight Anderson Silva or Cung Lee fight Anderson Silva. Eventually I want to see Kimbo Slice fight Randy Couture or Tito Ortiz or Rampage Jackson, something like that.
That’s what we want to see, we’re going to talk about it as much as we can in the framework of our broadcast and not try to slight what’s going on with the great fighters that we’re seeing in front of us from EliteXC.
Andrew Falzon: OK and just in terms of the purity of the broadcasting, do you see any potential conflict of interest that there are – and this isn’t just EliteXC, this is across the sport, UFC does it, IFL does it – that there are active fighters who are participating in the broadcast?
Gus Johnson: No, I don’t see it as a conflict at all. Frank Shamrock is a legend. We’re lucky, I mean, we’re lucky to have him, you know, it’s an honor and I said this to Frank, it’s an honor to stand next to Frank Shamrock.
He’s like a Bruce Lee of our time. And yes, he’s an active fighter and Frank told me he wants to fight until he’s 45 and that’s a great thing. But at the same time, having an opportunity to stand next to him and broadcast MMA with him so he, a legend, can explain to the world, in primetime, all these new eyeballs, what actually is going on, I think that’s a feather in everybody’s cap.
I really believe, whole-heartedly – and as I said, I’m very new to this, I think that we all need to come together eventually, all the different production companies and try to work at one unit to not just build up one particular brand, but to build up the sport of mixed martial arts.
Andrew Falzon: Yes, thank you. Frank, are you still with us?
Frank Shamrock: Yes, I am.
Andrew Falzon: Frank, I wanted to ask you two quick questions. This deal really shook the MMA world when it first came out, everybody was expecting the UFC to land the first network deal. Can you just talk about the challenge that this poses to the UFC and then, in the bigger picture, what happens to the sport if this broadcast is a success?
Frank Shamrock: Well, first off, it challenges the UFC to – what I’ve been trying to get them to do and that is to tell the truth because when you have a network and primetime show that, like Gus said, is going to tell the truth and present the sport exactly as the sport is for what it is, you know. I think it’s going to open up continued growth and open up the industry to, you know, talking about what’s really and truly going on.
The fans are going to demand these fights. The fans are going to demand these unification matches and demand that these guys fight at the end of the day, as soon as we develop this fan base and educate them.
It’s inevitable and it’s part of good business. You know, you mentioned earlier, too, about having a fighter who’s still active on the broadcast team. I know my role and I know why I’m there and I would be remiss to promote, you know, my skill-set or whatever over what was truly going on in that commentary booth.
So I’m dedicated to, you know, filling my role as a professional commentator. And while my experience is going to help me, I would certainly never you know mix the two or use that as an opportunity.
We have the best announce team in the business for, as far as I’m concerned, most sports. And I really think we’re going to make a huge impact.
Andrew Falzon: Frank, let me ask you also, just one more time, if this broadcast is successful, where do you see it going? Do you see – you know, does the sport explode from here?
Frank Shamrock: Yes, this is the opportunity and the launching point for this sport to really reach the mainstream and the masses. And everybody’s hesitant that – everyone doesn’t know how the public’s going to feel about it.
I’ve been teaching that public for the past 15 years, martial arts. And I can tell you that, as a social movement, the martial arts lifestyle and the idea behind you know living your life this way, being physically prepared, mentally prepared for life opportunities, whatever it is you’re doing, I think that idea, as a movement, has already gone mainstream and is just waiting for content to support it.
Andrew Falzon: And one last question for anyone who wants to field this, Eddie Goldman was touching on it earlier, this is going to be introduced to wider-scale audience for the first time. Is there any particular part of the broadcast that’s going to be geared toward the folks who are seeing a rear naked choke or a kimura or a kneebar for the first time?
Gus Johnson: You know that’s what we’ve been talking about. We want to make sure – and I just – it’s a timing issue, we want to make sure that, you know, and I want to talk to (David Dinkins), our producer, and I think he may have some pieces already lined up to do some things that will allow our fans to understand exactly what’s going on.
Like most fans, even a causal fan, of boxing, knows what a jab is, knows what a left-hook is, knows what an uppercut is, knows what, you know, a right cross is. So hopefully what we want to do is – starting on the 31st, make sure we allow our fans to know what a triangle choke is, what a rear naked choke is, what an armbar is, what an ankle lock is or a kimura is or a keylock is.
You know, it’s the same thing, but we want our fans to know what these things are and once they become more knowledgeable, then it makes for a better viewing experience and it’s going to take some time.
It’s not going to happen in one show. But, I think that, in time, over the next year or year-and-a-half, these terms – just like the jab and the left-hook and the upper-cut, the rear naked choke and the guillotine and the, you know, scissor sweep, all these kind of terms are going to be just regular terms and very familiar terms with many more fans that are tuning into MMA events.
Andrew Falzon: Gentlemen, it’s an absolute pleasure, thanks for the time and best of luck. This is good for EliteXC and CBS; it’s good for the sport at this point.
Gus Johnson: Thank you.
Operator: We’ll now go to Brian Lowry from Variety. Please go ahead.
Brian Lowry: Not to get to back to accentuating the negative, but a couple of the people that have spoken out against this being on CBS include the Chairman of CBS, Sumner Redstone, and the Head of Fox Sports. I just wanted to get your reaction to that.
Gus Johnson: Well, Mr. Redstone is Mr. Redstone and, you know, he has that opinion. And hopefully we can change his mind. That’s what our hope is one he sees it and sees how beautiful of a sport it is and hopefully we get a good number, then maybe, you know, his mind will be changed and he’ll see it a different way.
Karyn Bryant: Plus, I mean, not to mention the fact though that violence is on television all the time in prime time. It might not be in as outright an exposition as this is, but, you know, on primetime cop shows, every show, women are getting beaten up, guys are getting shot, killed, I mean, violence is just there.
Video games that have violence sell like crazy. So I don’t think we’re doing anything that’s out of the ordinary for what the public is demanding and certainly, you know, hand-to-hand combat is violent, but I don’t think it gratuitous and I don’t think that it’s going to be something that’s outrageous.
It’s, you know, it’s a sport, it is what it is, you know, we’re not pretending it’s not what it is, but I don’t think people aren’t used to that.
Brian Lowry: OK, thank you.
Female: OK, we have time for one more question.
Operator: And our last question comes from Sam Caplan from fiveouncesofpain.com. Please go ahead.
Sam Caplan: Hey, Frank, I had a question about your Strikeforce contract. Does that preclude you from fighting on CBS in the future?
Frank Shamrock: No, it does not.
Sam Caplan: And if you were to fight on a future CBS card, is there anyone in particular that you would like to face off against?
Frank Shamrock: You know no one in particular, but you know I think a new era of building talent is going to come into play with network television. And for me it’s taken years to build talent, it’s taken you know I put 12 months into marketing my next fight.
I look at having CBS, you know, as having an opportunity to build these guys immediately over night into superstars that, you know, will present compelling fights. The talent inside of ProElite is strong, there’s Robbie Lawler, there’s Phil Baroni, there’s a lot of talent that’ll make great fights.
And I think that’s what sells television and sells the sport, having really, really great fights. So I’m just looking forward to fighting and if I can keep going for another eight, nine years, I’ll be happy.
Sam Caplan: All right; thanks for your time.
Kelli Raftery: Thank you, everyone, again, for joining today’s call. There will be a replay of this call for one week at 719-457-0820, confirmation code 3756482. Thanks, Gus, Mauro, Karyn and Frank for joining, and if anyone has any questions, please call (Mitch Graham) or myself at CBS or any of the publicity contacts on the media advisory.
Gus Johnson: Thanks, guys.
Operator: This does conclude today’s program. You may disconnect at any time. Thank you and have a great day.
Tags: EliteXC, Frank Shamrock, Mixed Martial Arts