(Combat Lifestyle captures the excitement before the bell.)
As a study in contrasts, you couldn’t have scripted it any better. On Saturday night Elite XC delivered the dancing girls, the smoke machines, the big-time hype to go along with their network TV debut. Then on Sunday night the WEC delivered the fights. It’s a statement on the yin and yang of the MMA world, and it’s almost too perfect.
What the WEC delivered was an epic battle between two fighters who most sports fans wouldn’t recognize if they passed them on the street. Elite XC gave us a sloppy, mismanaged affair on a show ironically titled “Primetime”, featuring two fighters who were anything but.
It’s just a shame that the one show this weekend which best represented what MMA is all about was stuck in the cable hinterlands of the Versus network, while the all-show, no-go Elite XC main event ended up introducing millions of new viewers on CBS to everything that MMA has been trying to prove that it isn’t.
It’s not that the Elite XC show was horrible. Certainly, it was disappointing. The odd conclusion to the Kimbo Slice-James Thompson bout had some hastily crying ‘fix’ without any proof to support it, while others merely felt cheated out of a real finish. But what really hurt Elite XC was that what we saw on Saturday night felt so far from what we – the hardcore, pay-per-view buying fans – have come to expect.
Like many of you, I tried to keep my expectations for the CBS debut realistic. I felt about it the way you feel about introducing your new girlfriend to your parents: nobody has to do anything extraordinary, just as long as nobody embarrasses me. But when Kimbo Slice and James Thompson threw tired haymakers at one another and rolled around like two novice grapplers on the mat before the inauspicious ending to the sloppy display in the third round, embarrassed is exactly how I felt.
Embarrassed for Elite XC, for MMA, and more than a little sad for the guys on Sunday night’s WEC card who put on a thoroughly professional display that most CBS viewers will never even hear about.
The accusations of corruption and fight fixing are baseless, at least until someone can offer some proof. If Elite XC wanted to fix the Slice-Thompson bout they would have had Thompson jump into a guillotine choke to prove Slice’s submissions bona fides (which we know now he doesn’t possess). But what lends credence to those knee-jerk accusations is the fact that, at the end of the night, the fighters who Elite XC wanted to see win were all victorious.
It’s trouble for an organization whenever we can go down the list of match-ups and pick out their preferred winner. It makes them seem like a PR firm for a few select fighters, rather than a legitimate sporting organization.
Compare it to the WEC main event featuring Urijah Faber and Jens Pulver. The WEC has clearly benefitted from being able to market Faber and put on shows in his hometown, but one doesn’t get the sense that they would have thought it a catastrophe for Jens Pulver to beat him on Sunday night.
The same can’t be said of Elite XC. Had Thompson won, had Dan Miragliotta stepped in during the spree of unanswered elbows in the second round, Gary Shaw would have buried his head in his hands and wept.
There was no doubt who Shaw wanted to see win. None at all. He needed Kimbo to win, and that’s no way to run a fight promotion. That is not the kind of mentality that leads you to match your golden boy up against top competition. It’s the mentality that leads you to protect him, and in this business you can’t be protected and challenged at the same time.
Compare Elite XC’s philosophy to that of Zuffa, who has undoubtedly set the gold standard for MMA event production. When the UFC had a big name fighter in Brock Lesnar, they didn’t look to protect him and build on his broad appeal. They challenged him right away, matching up against a former champion. It’s the exact opposite of what Elite XC has done with Kimbo Slice.
What’s most disappointing about this weekend’s MMA activity is that the Slice-Thompson fight only confirmed the worst stereotypes about MMA. It was sloppy, it was bloody, and it didn’t do anything to support the assertion that MMA fighters are world-class athletes competing with dignity and dedication. What’s worse, it happened in front of a huge audience. Meanwhile Faber and Pulver put on a clinic, Torres and Maeda poured their hearts out in a display that was both gritty and technically sound (see, you can have both), and it amounted to little more than preaching to the choir.
In a way, it’s fitting. Real MMA will always be more appreciated by the aficionados than the masses. Maybe that’s the way it should be. But if Elite XC is going to represent our sport on national television, there’s a lot they can learn from Zuffa and the WEC. If only they seemed more interested in learning it.