Silver Linings to MMA’s Dark Clouds

It’s the half-way point in the year 2009.

We’re told this recession thing is in its final throes.

Major corporations like General Motors are being battered like a mismanaged start up company. Yet, the mixed martial arts industry continues to grow.

Has it slowed in its bloom? Sure.

Nevertheless, it’s not a bad idea to look at some of the things that have not only bolstered this sport we love, but also struck almost everyone as a complete negative at the time it happened.

ELITEXC:

This MMA brand, under the parent company of ProElite Inc., received brutal reviews at almost every stage of its existence. It seemed that no matter what adjustment they did or did not make to the fans’ reaction, a ton of MMA fans simply hated it.

It is no mystery that I, The Yacman, was employed with ProElite for its entire run. My main arena was for ProElite.com. And now that the company is gone, some web bloggers continue to beat the dead horse at any opportunity to take a shot at EliteXC despite its being expired.

However if any of them consider themselves a fan of the sport itself, then they should look at the bigger picture.

SHOWTIME AND CBS:

No matter what anyone else claims, says or thinks, EliteXC broke ground with being the first MMA promotion on premium cable television as well as being first on primetime network TV. That is an undisputed fact.

Anyone can suggest why they were able to do so,  in such a way as to discredit this major achievement, but it is desperate at best.

Dana White stated that companies like EliteXC were themselves desperate and willing to give away the farm to be on those media outlets. He continued saying that the UFC would not stoop to that level.

The truth is, the UFC didn’t need to accept the same type of deal that EliteXC did. They are the brand that made the sport. It is also reasonable that different companies at different stages of development will not all be best served by the same type of deal.

No start up promotion should hold onto as much control in a TV deal as the UFC would’ve wanted to have with HBO or CBS.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship is a fine tuned machine. But others, such as EliteXC, the IFL and Bodog for example, had enough to worry about without the broadcast intricacies coming into play.

That all said, EliteXC and its two television breakthroughs were not at all the failures many made them out to be. Let us not forget that the exposure their TV deals garnered is now paying dividends to Strikeforce in its taking of the mixed martial arts baton and running with it on Showtime and CBS.

EliteXC, still seen by many as a bad brand, did benefit mixed martial arts as a whole. It certainly was a benefit to Scott Coker’s Strikeforce.

MAINSTREAM = MONEY

If the UFC was still like its early days, the sponsors and media attention and every aspect of commercialization would not exist either. Mixed martial arts would be like grunge music, in one day, out the next. At best, it would’ve remained a small buzz on an underground level.

Nowadays, it can be like soccer — a global success yet not quite as big a thing in the United States as the NFL or NBA.

So if you consider that, and a thinking person should certainly consider that, then EliteXC’s exposure on Showtime, a solid broadcaster of quality boxing, is a big deal. Additionally, the primetime expansion onto the airwaves of CBS was monumental.

Those two advances of MMA by EliteXC are like a nitrous kick in a tricked out car. It didn’t last very long after it kicked in, but man did it make a difference while it lasted.

Even the now defunct IFL played a role in this building process, along with the initial Strikeforce deal on NBC. These promotions made steps forward and reached larger audiences, that at one time, were about as reachable for them as other solar systems are to NASA.

THE IFL:

Say what you will about this team driven league but it made some of the fighters currently making waves in MMA, major names and players by exposing thousands to their craftsmanship.

Ben Rothwell, Benji Radach, Chris Horodecki and Jay Heiron, to name a few, were all IFL fighters who continue to look impressive when they fight in other promotions.

No one would’ve cared to see Radach against Scott Smith on the new Strikeforce shows in Showtime, if they hadn’t had the chances to see how good he is when he fought on the IFL’s televised shows. The TV exposure made a difference.

KIMBO SLICE:

Ok, I have addressed this topic before so I’ll try to be succinct in my points here.

Kimbo Slice, in my opinion, made the best choice of his career when he took the olive branch from the UFC to be a competitor on The Ultimate Fighter, TV show.

Would he be the superstar that Strikeforce and Showtime would likely have billed him as again? No chance. Dana and company are making Slice climb the ladder of success, if he can in fact do it.

To me, this is a much more solid direction for Kimbo if he ever wants the respect that a legitimate mixed martial artist should receive. A place in the Strikeforce roster for him would’ve been like seeing one more season of ER. Why bother, it’s not going to evolve anymore?

Kevin ‘Kimbo Slice’ Fergueson is to me, one of MMA’s most extreme (no I won’t spell extreme as xtreme) silver linings, while it appeared to be nothing more than a dark cloud.

After the loss to Seth Petruzelli, a barrage of MMA fans and writers were going on about how much EliteXC and Kimbo’s majesty with them was going to damage the sport. So far, no one had produced an exhibit A, let alone, B, C or N. It simply did not happen.

For those who do think it did damage MMA, I urge you to watch Dream 9 on HDnet. Then, ask yourself why Dana White hasn’t extended the same offer to be on TUF 10 Heavyweights, to Jose Canseco.

TUF TIMES CALL FOR TUF 10:

Slice and his legacy in MMA as the most watched fighter in a single fight event, remains a statistical fact. People who know of the UFC and cage-fighting in mainstream America often cannot tell you who Dan Henderson is, or who Fedor Emelianenko is, but they know Kimbo Slice. Once again, like it or not, it is simply a point of fact.

The disaster that once was the main event wreck on EliteXC’s last primetime event, is now the potential nitrous kick for the biggest promotion in MMA, on the TV show they produced that launched the sport to begin with. That’s one hell of a silver lining.

STRIKEFORCE:

This well oiled fight promotion is undoubtedly on its way to a long and fruitful future. Scott Coker built the company up with a team of wise people and a level of intelligence not seen enough in combat sports.

Strikeforce had already held contracts on some of MMA’s best athlete’s before ProElite folded. But now, with additions like Robbie Lawler, Jake Shields and Brett Rogers, their roster is easily that of an A-level promotion.

GINA CARANO: WOMEN’S STATUE OF LIBERTY

Well, Gina is sort of holding the torch, though she did not ask to do it.

Look, this one is a scenario not to different than the much less proven Kimbo Slice. She is one of the two biggest names and audience draws in all of MMA, like Kimbo. Gina is also at a point where, if she is lucky, she can select either a UFC/WEC deal or a Strikeforce deal.

Which to choose, which to choose?

If Gina wants to make a living, continue being the star she is and fight top level opponents such as Cris Cyborg and Erin Toughill, she should go to Strikeforce. She will be royalty there and deservedly so, too.

But if Gina Carano wants to be the Rosa Parks of women’s MMA and make a difference in its overall acceptance, then a UFC oriented choice would be best.

Like it or not again, the UFC is the front runner and maker of what sells in MMA. If they can grab a star like Gina and get her fights that fans won’t view as a festival of worthless cans, then Gina will put women fighting in the cage on the map big-time.

This is a key difference from continuing how she had with EliteXC’s successor, Strikeforce, just doing MMA and gradually drawing in more fans from her other endeavors such as American Gladiators and Maxim Magazine.

One major difference between Kimbo Slice and Gina Carano, despite both being major celebrities in MMA, is that Gina is a highly respected fighter, while Kimbo is chasing the hype that precedes him everywhere.

THE WRAP UP:

Mixed martial arts is a phenomenon that continues to thrive in the toughest of times. New promotions emerge on the coattails of older one’s collapsing.

There are so many things that happen in this sport on a weekly basis that it often becomes a bit too convenient to drop things into categories that designate them as negative.

We love MMA and we love seeing it grow. Ask any doctor, growth comes with growing pains and sometimes you just cannot see the benefits of them when they are painfully making themselves known.

But rest assured, even the biggest of blunders can aid in the sport’s continual progress year after year.

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