Before I get into my pre-broadcast thoughts on tonight’s event, I want to quickly express my feelings about the UFC‘s recent “Fight For The Troops” show on Spike TV.
Because of the nature of the event, I thought a PCFTC critiquing it would have been inappropriate. However, I want to commend the UFC and Spike TV for their efforts. Right off the bat, the goal of the broadcast was made clear: this night was about the troops, first and foremost. The packages on the soldiers were riveting. Produced features don’t always need to be flashy from a visual perspective, especially if the stories being told are compelling. These stories fell into that category.
Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan also did a tremendous job – not because of their commentary – but because they showed everyone that they’re just like the rest of us: human. They were clearly moved by what they saw, and, assuming you watched and have a heart, so were you.
Kudos to the UFC, Spike and the fighters who participated on the card. Most of all, kudos to those who serve this country. Please continue to support this important cause by going to http://fallenheroesfund.ufc.com.
This is The Ultimate Fighter finale, so three of the five fights slated to be broadcast tonight feature fighters from season 8: Ryan Bader vs. Vinny Magalhaes, Phillipe Nover vs. Efrain Escudero and Junie Browning vs. Dave Kaplan. Therefore, I fully expect Spike TV to show the usual flashback sequences, which gives the viewers at home a reminder of what transpired during the season.
If you’re like me and watched the entire season, these sequences may simply serve as a good time to shotgun a beer or ignore phone calls from your girlfriend who wants you to watch the Sex and The City movie with her instead. (NOTE: this is not a real-life issue with me. It’s simply a recurring nightmare that I’ve had every night for the past week.
Now, for those viewers who’ve never tuned into The Ultimate Fighter – and there will be those watching tonight who’ve haven’t – this is a tremendous opportunity to suck them in for next season, which is tentatively scheduled to premiere in early-April on Spike TV.
I’m also particularly interested at how Goldberg and Rogan set up the Browning vs. Kaplan fight. Browning, as viewers of this season well know, was hardly the ultimate fighter. He was an underachiever inside of the octagon and a train wreck. He was, however, the ultimate reality show star.
So, is this simply a one and done for Browning? Is Dana White looking to use Browning for ratings purposes and then cut him from the UFC, regardless of tonight’s outcome? Personally, I hope so – but not because I want the worst for him. Browning, who has tremendous potential, simply didn’t deserve to be on this card in the first place. Giving him the camera time he desired on TUF was his reward. But TUF cameras stopped rolling weeks ago, so I’d rather see a more deserving fighter in his place tonight.
Throwing hissy fits makes for great reality television, but if Browning wins and continues to fight in the UFC, a “hissy fit” could result in negative publicity for not only the UFC, but for the sport of mixed martial arts. Is Junie Browning worth taking that risk on? We’ll find out soon enough.
We’ll also find out if Rogan takes advantage of his opportunity to read Browning the riot act. Rogan trains in MMA, has an idea of the dedication it takes to partake in the sport and is respected by the fighters. If there’s anyone who will criticize Browning’s behavior on TUF 8, it’s Rogan.
Of course, this is only what I expected to see. The following is what I actually saw…
Goldberg and Rogan were calling the action as usual, and right away, the focus of the telecast turned to Browning.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that a decent percentage of viewers were tuning in to see Browning not only fight, but get his behind handed to him by Kaplan. Personally, I was one of them. Would it happen? And would Rogan tear into him as well?
The answer to both of these questions was a resounding NO.
Goldberg and Rogan certainly didn’t play down Browning’s controversial stint on TUF. Goldberg, before hitting a commercial break, purposely used it to sell the telecast by teasing that “the most controversial fighter in the history of The Ultimate Fighter show” was coming up next. Which, on a side note, is a tremendous way to sell the show to TUF newbies that were watching.
However, the criticism that I was looking for on Browning’s behavior never materialized once they came back from break. It was wishful thinking on my part, but hardly unrealistic to expect. And honestly, I have no problem with the direction Goldberg and Rogan went, only because they did such a fine job in going with a sympathetic angle instead.
Goldberg and Rogan explained that Browning has turned his life around, both in and out of the octagon, since TUF cameras stopped rolling. And, at least Rogan was truthful when saying, “Well let’s be realistic, those antics are what got him here right now. That’s why he’s on the main card. That’s why he’s not on the undercard. And people like controversy.”
Again, not the direction I was hoping for, but they did a fine job of selling the angle they went with. Which, if Browning were to win, would help offset some of the criticism Dana White and the UFC may take if they chose to keep him on their roster.
As it turned out, Browning arguably executed the most complete performance of the telecast. I think it’s safe to say that Junie “The Lunatic” Browning will be back in the UFC.
While Goldberg did a solid job as usual, Rogan continued to show why he’s so top-notch. As someone who is attempting to learn the sport by watching, as opposed to participating, I truly felt as if Rogan was teaching me something tonight. Rogan truly shines when analyzing a submission attempt, and he did so several times in this telecast. He’s not only adept at describing what he is seeing at the moment, but he’s even more affective when adjusting his commentary to the change in action. For MMA novices like myself – and the many others who were watching – this is just a pleasure to watch. Does it mean that I can now execute a rear-naked choke on my mother when she comes to visit for brunch? No. But it educates me and makes my viewing experience that much better.
Rogan did have one rare misstep though. Before the Nover/Escudero fight, Goldberg set up Rogan into talking about Escudero, to which Rogan responded by saying, “…Dana White has said that he looks like Anderson Silva at 155 pounds.” Of course, Rogan had meant to say this about Nover. Goldberg, however, smoothly corrected Rogan without making him look bad. A minor slip indeed – but hey, I’m a perfectionist, alright?
OVERALL PRODUCTION VALUE:
From a production perspective, there was nothing extraordinarily different that Spike TV did in this particular telecast.
But, I did like the Playstation 3 sponsored “Corner Cams” that were sporadically utilized in-between rounds. In a smaller facility like The Pearl at The Palms, the smaller (and very quiet) crowd allowed the viewer to be able to hear the corners more effectively than they would at a bigger, louder venue such as the MGM Grand. Nothing earth-shattering came out of it audio-wise, but remember, this isn’t a scripted event, so it’s worth going to in case a fighter claims to be hurt, wants to quit, or in rare instances, decides to reveal on national television that his opponent’s body blow forced him to crap in his pants. We can only hope. Someday.
PACING & PACKAGES:
My thoughts about pacing are often based on the following question: is the broadcast taking advantage of its airtime in the best possible way?
Viewers tuning in should realize that those producing the telecast are responsible for hitting a specific number of commercial breaks, so while it’s not always ideal to go to break at certain times, it’s often necessary.
My point is, it’s easy to complain about the pacing of a live MMA event, but there are so many variables that go into it. Having said that, I liked the pre-fight package/commercial break/fighter intros/fight starts flow that Spike/Zuffa executed for several of the fights. Meaning, fighter walks to the octagon were cut out for some fights. Personally, I can live without fighter walks in the following situations: 1) when the event is taking place at a small arena like The Pearl and 2) if it is a non-main event fight.
On the other hand, a couple of decisions negatively affected the pacing.
Going to actor Kevin James after the Browning/Kaplan fight just so he could plug his latest movie and make his predictions on the card was an absolute waste of time. Yes, I understand that some genius out there bought that “advertising” time, hence the reasoning for the segment. It just comes of as WWE-ish. There has to be a more creative way to do that segment.
Rather than have Rogan sit with James and have him bumble his way through his predictions, they should have rolled in a pre-produced one-minute package on James going to train at a gym with a UFC fighter. While he’s certainly not in shape, James is funny, so comedy would ensue, and it would be a more entertaining and creative option, if we are indeed forced to deal with these spots.
The idea of Joe Rogan doing interviews with Forrest Griffin and Frank Mir in the crowd is a great one since they’re two of the more charismatic fighters in the UFC AND they’re fighting in separate fights on the next pay per view card. Spending the first part of it having them talk about being part of The 2008 Video Game Awards? Shameless plug? Sure. Boring? Absolutely.
I also believe that they missed an opportunity to take advantage of a couple of potential features that could have been produced.
Getting back to Junie Browning… the creativity level could have been turned up a notch had Spike/Zuffa produced a pre-fight package on the history of TUF bad boys, such as Chris Leben and Josh Koscheck. With Junie being the latest bad boy, the piece could have looked back at some of the greatest bad boy moments, concluding with the question of whether Browning would turn his life and take advantage of the opportunity he had tonight. Remember, this was on “free” television, so it would have also served as another selling point for The Ultimate Fighter reality show.
Another missed opportunity was the chance to show clips from some of the greatest TUF Finale fights from past seasons. They could have done a “Top 5 Finale Fights” for this show and rolled in the clips throughout the telecast, with the #1 fight (Forrest Griffin-Stephan Bonnar from TUF 1 finale) being rolled in right before the last fight of the night. Again, another selling tool.
On a positive note, the flashback packages on all four finalists fighting tonight were simple, but effective. If I were watching tonight and hadn’t watched this season, I got a clear vision of each fighter’s path to their fights tonight.
David Kaplan walking to the Octagon and dancing to “Tenderness” by General Public in sunglasses and bling was fantastic.
Anthony Johnson’s head kick KO of Kevin Burns: wow.
THE FINAL WORD:
This was hardly a bad telecast by Spike TV/Zuffa. The fights were entertaining, and the call by Goldberg and Rogan was good.
Aspects of the production such as visuals, audio, lighting and graphics were up to par with other broadcasts we’ve seen from the UFC. But my biggest critique has to do with creativity. There’s essentially no competition for them to be concerned about on television, so it’s not as if the folks at Zuffa are constantly worrying about changing what they do.
Having said that, my suggestions about doing other packages have nothing to do with being concerned about competition. It’s about being creative and not content on doing the same thing every time. The Ultimate Fighter is a gigantic part of the well-oiled machine known as the UFC. And it relies on storylines, as well as the fighting, to attract and sustain its viewers. I believe that just a bit more could have been done tonight to showcase what the series is about for those who may not know.
One has to think that the UFC, Spike TV and Zuffa still want to attract new fans. Sometimes, after watching them execute the same approach over and over, I have to wonder if they’re almost daring you not to watch if you don’t like it.
Thankfully, I absolutely love it. I just wish they’d be open to some minor change, little by little.
Overall, a solid B effort.
Thanks for reading. And by the way – my after party is going to be at Sam Caplan’s house. Everyone’s invited!