I thought last night’s show on Showtime pay-per-view was great. It was the second best MMA show I’ve seen this year, just behind Pride 33. All the matches were good and none of them were bad.
I was really impressed with how Showtime covered the event. I like how they cover it like a sport in contrast to the UFC. It’s refreshing that they do a custom intro the same way a network does for an NFL or baseball game as opposed to the canned intro that the UFC uses. Little things such as the pro wrestling-style entrances (having them announced before they get to the cage), trying to get locker room interviews after the fight, and some of the graphics packages used (like listing the card at the top of the show) were greatly appreciated. I also really like the lighting concept they use. I just think that after all these years that it’s time for the UFC to really step up their production. I actually think the WEC telecasts look better than the UFC’s. The pacing of the show was also excellent.
There are still some areas of improvement though. I think the entrance music needs to be mic’d better, the crowd should be mic’d better (you couldn’t really hear much of them until Cung Le vs. Tony Fryklund and Frank Shamrock vs. Phil Baroni), and that there should be more crowd shots.
I thought Mauro Ranallo did an excellent job on play-by-play and that Jay Glazer (he wasn’t perfect though, I didn’t agree with some of the comments he made about submissions) did well too. However, Bill Goldberg just isn’t progressing like I thought he’d be able to. He knows more about MMA than he lets on. Some of his comments can also be downright unprofessional at times. I also thought it was terrible how late in the first round he said the fight between Shamrock and Baroni is over. If someone is going to make that pronouncement, it should be Mauro. Goldberg isn’t a bad guy but I just think they need someone in his place that can bring more technical knowledge to the booth. It would be great to have a former fighter on the telecast who can explain to the viewer the fighter’s perspective when a fighter goes to the ground similar to what Frank Mir does on the WEC shows.
I still don’t understand the decision to have Bill Goldberg do the in-ring and locker room interviews instead of Jay Glazer. Glazer is a sideline report for the NFL on FOX and it’s a role that he excels at. I’ll give Goldberg some credit, he handled the situation where Baroni sunshined him pretty well. I mean, what the hell was that!?
Also, can someone please tell Gary Shaw to stay out of the cage after the fights? I know he comes from boxing so he should know better than to pull the old Don King move. In the past he’s criticized Dana White for trying to be a celebrity saying that EliteXC will be about the fighters. Some of Shaw’s actions contradict his words.
Now, onto the fights…
Shamrock vs. Baroni – It was going to be hard to live up to all the pre-fight hype but that’s exactly what the fight managed to do. I was really surprised at hard some of Shamrock’s shots appeared on camera. It looked like he was really packing some pop. Did he look like the same Frank Shamrock who left the game in ’99? No. But did he look like the same Frank Shamrock who got taken down at will against Renzo Gracie this past February? No to that either. I was wrong about Shamrock as it’s obvious he still has something left in the tank. I will give Baroni a ton of credit for taking a lot of those shots. He displayed a great chin and a ton of heart. Most fighters never would have made it out of the first round. He was clearly hurt early because by the end of the first round he wasn’t moving his feet or head. I actually thought he might have been fighting on “auto-pilot” at one point (meaning that he might not remember most of the fight). I thought Baroni was turning the tide in the second half at one point. As for Shamrock coming into the fight injured, hats off to him if that’s the case. But with Frank Shamrock, you never know what’s real and what isn’t. Was it his way of trying to protect himself in the event of a loss? Or was he embellishing to make the win appear even more dramatic? Regardless, he needed a big win last night in order to remain a box office draw and he got the job done against a game opponent.
Cung Le vs. Tony Fryklund – I don’t know what Fryklund’s deal is. He stood with Duane Ludwig last December and paid the price and he paid the price last night. Le put on a clinic and if it was your first time seeing him, now you know why myself and a lot of other people hype the guy so much. He’s great for the sport and I hope we see a lot more of him. The problem is that he’s becoming such a huge draw in San Jose that Strikeforce is probably feeling like they need to protect him. I’d love to see a Shamrock vs. Le fight but is it a risk Strikeforce wants to take?
Ninja Rua vs. Villasenor – Rua looked great last night. I’m really excited that he looked like the Ninja of old and he could prove to be a huge acquisition for EliteXC. Villasenor fought well but I think Glazer made a great point about him being over-analytical. It’s great to be able to think in the cage/ring but sometimes you need to be able to act on instinct when a curve is thrown your way. He allowed Rua to take him out of his game and forced him to fight a more aggressive style that didn’t suit him. Hopefully EliteXC will go out and sign some more middleweights because I’m not really interested in seeing Rua vs. David Loiseau or Niko Vitale. I would love it if EliteXC brought in Robbie Lawler.
Paul Buentello vs. Carter Williams – Well, I asked in my preview as to which Carter Williams we’d see and we didn’t see the kid who won the K-1 U.S. Grand Prix in 2003. He really looked to be in terrible shape. He fought at 225 in his prime in K-1 and when he got out of shape, the heaviest he weighed was 250 lbs. Last night he weighed in at 265.5 lbs. Way too much fat and water weight on his body. Because of his height, I really believe that Williams could make light heavyweight (even when he weighed 225 lbs. he still had a lot of water weight). I know Strikeforce was excited when they signed him and so was I, so they had to be disappointed with his lack or preparation. Hopefully someone will sit him down and explain to him that MMA is no joke and just because you have a K-1 resume doesn’t mean you can take your competition lightly because as Glazer said, Buentello is a cagey fighter. He showed great generalship and deserves credit for his fighting style. I really earned more respect for Buentello based on his performance last night.
Berto vs. Valenzuela – I spoke to Valenzuela last week vs. phone and was pulling for him. He really has worked hard to become a more well-rounded fighter and has a strong passion for MMA. However, he got caught way too easily and I’m not sure he should be fighting on a national stage right now. As for Berto, I think it was Glazer who said he’s a better fighter than Krazy Horse and I agree 100%. Berto has a ton of potential and can fight on his feet and on the ground. He’s without question a top lightweight prospect. I don’t think we need to see a Bennett vs. Valenzuela rematch at this point so I’d love to see Berto choke Krazy Horse out.
Josh Thomson vs. Nick Gonzalez – Gonzalez worked hard in preparing for the fight but he ran into a UFC-caliber lightweight. If Thomson was in the UFC, he’d be a top-five lightweight. That’s how good he is. Overall, it was a good fight for what it was.
Duane Ludwig vs. Paul Daley – This match was U.S.-style kickboxing vs. Dutch-style Muay Thai and Dutch-style won. I really was surprised because I thought Ludwig would be able to stand with Daley and as good of a striker as Ludwig was, Daley was a definitive level above him. The fight was a lot better than some gave it credit for because there was little energy in the Arena left after a main event that delivered the goods.
I think Strikeforce and EliteXC’s futures both look bright. Scott Coker has done a good job of bringing in strong fighters with a crowd pleasing style. Strikeforce owns San Jose and it has a lot to do with Coker’s vision. As for EliteXC, they have some strong prospects under contract now in Jake Shields Berto, Rua, Daley, and Carano. If they can bring Sokoudjou in, then they’ll really be in business. And don’t forget, Nick Diaz is signed to EliteXC and will start fighting for them when he comes off suspension. The talent roster needs to be expanded, but they already have a lot of impressive fighters on the roster. As a part of the Shamrock settlement I believe that Showtime will have to televise 2-3 Strikeforce shows on PPV. I actually think that’s a good thing because their talent roster is so strong. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see more of Cung Le?