Anytime you do a television for the first time, nothing is ever going to go perfect. It takes time to develop a rhythm between the talent and the crew. There also usually needs to be a few shows in the can before the producers can get a clear vision of what is working and what isn’t. But for a first time show that is currently being targeted towards a web-only audience, the debut of “MMA Live” was a strong one.
While I have issues at times with how ESPN covers sports, seeing MMA get covered by the Worldwide Leader in an extended format was very refreshing. That said, lke anything else pertaining to MMA on TV, I still see some areas for improvement.
Here’s my breakdown of my likes for the show and areas I think could use some improvement.
* The pacing and production - This show moved fast. It was in and out. I definitely like the half-hour format as opposed to one that is longer. I definitely enjoy listening to people talk about fighting, but there is a certain point where it becomes overkill. Overall, the editing and formatting of the show was clean and tight.
* UFC footage - This is really a coup. For reasons that I still do not understand to this day, the UFC will not allow HDNet to have any of its footage. Considering the likelihood that Mark Cuban will never do an independent HDNet Fights fight promotion again and is purely making a content play at this point, why wouldn’t you allow HDNet to promote your product on “Inside MMA”? While its due to no fault of their own, not having that footage hurts and that became more apparent to me than ever while watching “MMA Live.” I’m not sure how they did it, and maybe it’s simply because they are the Worldwide Leader, but ESPN managed to get permission to use UFC footage and still cover MMA like a sport.
But I really had a problem with a story that Adam Swift of MMAPayout.com reported earlier this week regarding the UFC’s initial demand that “MMA Live” be exclusive to covering the UFC. According to Swift, a compromise was worked out in that Kenny Florian will be hosting the shows initially. But just the idea that the UFC is in a position to make demands like that is a concern. It’s almost as if they can hold a show hostage because the quality of the program isn’t there if the UFC footage is not available.
* MMA for Dummies - This is a great way to educate fans. Florian is perfect for this. I took a seminar of his once and he really knows how to explain the application of holds. Not just that, but he makes it a point to explain the theory behind the hold so that you are better apt to being able to apply the hold in different situations. The segment reminded me of what Marc Laimon used to do on the UFC pay-per-views, something I’d love for them to bring back because there are still a lot of fans that are clueless about the ground. The more they are educated, the less likely they will be to boo when a fight hits the mat.
* The Tapout - I like what this feature could become. Getting the fast-pace talking points is great, I would just like to see more interplay between Florian and Franklin McNeil. I don’t need to see them engage in contrive debates like Woody Paige and Skip Bayless used to do on “1st and Ten,” but the more banter, the better. I’ll get into this a little more, but I like the concept of the segment and would like to see an MMA version of “Fact or Fiction.”
* Franklin McNeil’s comfort zone - People think talking on TV and on the radio is easy. Well, while it’s not rocket science, there is a lot more involved than a lot of people realize. The number one obstacle is adrenaline, which is something you typically don’t have to deal with when you’re just having random conversations with people. But shove a microphone in your face, and that changes everything. It’s not always easy to be concise when someone asks you a question and you’ve got 2-3 different answers popping into your head. He just needs to pick a direction and run that way. Once McNeil gets a few shows under his belt, he should be able to articulate his points better.
* The degree of interplay between hosts - Florian, McNeil, and John Anik haven’t worked together before. In those situations, it’s hard to press buttons with someone you don’t really know. Hopefully the trio will develop a rapport and take some liberties with each other. I wouldn’t mind seeing Florian and McNeil challenging each other on some of their opinions. Then again, does ESPN really need another show with two guys yelling back and forth with each other? Certainly not, but spirited debate never hurt anyone.
* Fighter interviews – It was the first episode and I understand the desire to play it close to the vest. Hopefully, the show’s format will open up a bit and they will incorporate some guests via satellite, assuming they have the budget for such a thing. But when they were talking about Affliction, it would have been great to see them cut to Josh Barnett or another fighter affiliated with the card to get their take.
* Exclusive news - The show does a great job of analyzing events that have already occurred. However, a missing element from the first show is something that is a hallmark on most of the ESPN studio shows: breaking news. Baseball Tonight has Peter Gammons and Buster Olney. NFL Live has Chris Mortensen and John Clayton. Their NBA coverage has… okay, I guess Stephen A. Smith really isn’t an “insider,” but hopefully you get my point about their baseball and football shows. I’d really like to see the show add an “MMA Insider” that can break some stories and make you feel like you need to watch the show each week.
While talking with Adam Morgan, he made the point that he’d love to see this show on ESPN or ESPN II. I couldn’t agree more. I think a Wednesday night time slot at 11 p.m. ET on ESPN II would be ideal, because people could watch “The Ultimate Fighter” and then tune right in to “MMA Live.” I know they are operated by different networks, but if its a true MMA news show, getting the eliminated fighter from TUF on for an exclusive interview might be a unique selling point to viewers.