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Postcard from the Couch: Sanchez vs. Stevenson

UFC 95: Sanchez vs. Stevenson was facing a couple of hurdles entering its telecast on Saturday night.

The first hurdle was subjective. While this writer was not bothered by the supposed lack of star power, there are those who came into the show viewing it as a potential subpar card.

Next was the challenge of producing a well-paced telecast on Spike TV. Despite the bug on the screen that said “Live From London,” this show was tape delayed. The challenges that a tape delayed show on Spike TV faces are a bit different than different live shows on Spike TV.

Both shows must certainly hit a specific number of commercial breaks. However, with a tape-delayed show such as this one, the production team does have the opportunity to tighten up the show in post-production before its airtime. There is also the opportunity to clean up certain kinds of mistakes, such as sloppy graphics and bad shots. This, of course, isn’t the case with a live telecast.

PACING -

Initially, the pacing of UFC 95: Sanchez vs. Stevenson was disappointing because of its slow start. Starting off the show with the Josh Koscheck vs. Paulo Thiago fight was a solid choice, if only for the reason that folks/fools like myself expected “Kos” to win in explosive fashion. Yet, we were 14 minutes into the show before the fight started. In addition, it was 32 minutes before the second fight of the night, Chael Sonnen versus Demien Maia, began.

However, the pace certainly picked up, with the Stefan Struve vs. Junior dos Santos fight starting at the 44 minute mark. Unfortunately for Struve, he was officially outclassed by the 45-minute mark. Thirteen minutes later, the Nate Marquardt vs. Wilson Gouveia fight began – and eventually ended with a spectacular finish by Marquardt.

By the time the show concluded, viewers were treated to a Spike TV-record nine televised fights. Six of those fights ended with a KO/TKO, two ended via submission and just one fight, the main event of Diego Sanchez vs. Joe Stevenson, went the distance. The only fight on the card not televised was Paul Kelly’s unanimous decision victory over Troy Mandaloniz.

It’s pretty hard to complain about getting that kind of value, whether you paid for it or not. Therefore, I will complain about a couple of other things.

The telecast went to break after the Marquardt vs. Gouveia pre-fight package, which was essentially lifted from the Countdown to UFC 95 show. However, if they chose to do this, was there a need to waste more time with Bruce Buffer’s introductions after coming back from commercial break? My apologies if you find it necessary for Buffer’s fighter introductions to be televised for each and every fight, but I don’t.

If a more in-depth package just ran that introduced both fighters, did we really need another introduction? I don’t think so. Since the UFC/Zuffa had time to tighten up this telecast before it aired in the United States, they should have come back from commercial to the referee asking both fighters if they were ready to fight. The purpose of the package was to build up the drama before the fight. Some might say showing the package before break was a good teaser to the fight. I disagree – the commercial break, plus the fighter introductions, took the air out of what was a short, but well-done package.

In past columns, I’ve mentioned my idea of starting off a show by going right to the octagon for the start of a televised show. The telecast would begin and you’d hear the referee asking the fighters if they were ready – and bam – we get right to the action.

I would have loved for this show to start off that way, especially since the production team had the opportunity to fine tune things because of the tape delay.

ANNOUNCING -

Joe Rogan is the best-mixed martial arts analyst in the business, hands down. Viewers who practice MMA would most likely agree with his technical assessments of what’s happening in the octagon during a fight. And for those such as myself who do not practice MMA, I have actually learned a few things from him. For example, his breakdown of Maia’s triangle choke submission over Sonnen was like an instructional video.

Rogan is also not afraid to put his analysis “on the line,” so to speak. For example, both Mike Goldberg and Rogan were extremely opinionated in pointing out Thiago’s habit of holding his left hand too low, which in turn left him exposed to Koscheck’s huge right hand.

“Paulo Thiago has some fundamental problems with his striking,” said Rogan. Which, at that point in the fight, was true.

But 15 seconds later, Thiago knocked out Koscheck with a fantastic right uppercut. This is a great example of why this sport is so great. Rogan was spot on in his analysis, yet wrong for one split second, and the result was a huge upset. I would imagine that because of the sport’s unpredictability, some analysts may hold back on exposing a fighter’s flaws, simply because they don’t want to look bad if they end up being wrong. Kudos to Rogan for not falling into that category.

Rogan’s explanation of any referee’s stoppage, but in particular, the Koscheck vs. Thiago fight, also deserves credit. Rogan immediately recognized two things: the disappointment the viewers may have had in the stoppage and the disappointment that Koscheck had. Rogan spoke about why the fight was quickly stopped from the referee’s perspective, saying that while Koscheck seemed okay several seconds after the stoppage, he could have taken severe punishment had the referee not stepped in when he did. That, said Rogan, could have resulted in Koscheck taking unnecessary strikes.

Without doing so in a preachy, obnoxious kind of way, Rogan relayed to the viewers at home how safety for the fighters always comes first.

OVERALL PRODUCTION VALUE -

After the end to the Koscheck vs. Thiago fight, director Anthony “Pasquale” Giordano did a really nice job in capturing a good balance of both Thiago celebrating after his shocking KO and Koscheck reacting in disbelief. It was a no-brainer to stay on the volatile Koscheck after what he thought was a quick stoppage.

On a negative note, you absolutely, positively need to have Rogan get Koscheck’s post-fight reaction. Koscheck is outspoken and a “bad boy” type of “character” in the UFC. If they couldn’t get him immediately after the fight, then you send a crew to the locker room to get it and roll it in later. Drama sells. If it didn’t, then why does the UFC bother to produce their pre-fight packages? The answer is because it sells a storyline for the upcoming fight. To decide against continuing the storyline for this particular fight was a huge whiff. Matter of fact, not hearing from Thiago, even with a translator, was another whiff. It almost makes you wonder if they shy away from these kinds of post-fight interviews in order to avoid controversy.

To be fair, “Kos” may have declined the chance to speak to Rogan because he was so upset. If this were the case, then tell the viewers at home that.

We may never know for certain why we didn’t hear from the fighters, but shame on the UFC/Zuffa for handling it this way and being lazy in this aspect of the production.

The “Inside The Numbers” full screen graphic put up before the Sanchez –  Stevenson fight was a nice touch. The graphic showed that (entering the fight) Sanchez lands 29% of his takedown attempts, while 50% of Stevenson’s wins in the UFC have come by guillotine choke. We also learned that Sanchez lands 56% of his ground strikes to 62% by Stevenson. Again, this begs the question (all together now): why doesn’t the UFC/Zuffa do this for every fight on every telecast? It literally takes about 10 seconds of time while setting up a fight, and, if done properly, can be a sponsored graphic, which means a company would pay money to have their logo attached to it. Again, the only answer I can come up with would be found somewhere in the uncreative and lazy sections of the Production 101 handbook.

THE FINAL WORD -

The bottom line is, we tune in to see good, entertaining fights, and UFC 95: Sanchez vs. Stevenson delivered with nine of them. How these fights are presented from the beginning of the broadcast until the end isn’t always perfect, but for entertainment purposes alone, this show was a big success.

The production team behind the show certainly doesn’t control the outcome of these fights, but they deserve credit where credit is due for cramming in nine of them – especially after a slow start to the telecast.

Goldberg did a very nice job with his blow-by-blow call, but it was Rogan who once again shined. Rogan is funny and knowledgeable, but most important, ego-free. He took a stance in pointing out Thiago’s flaws, yet didn’t make the story about himself when Thiago effectively told Rogan to “stick it” with his shocking KO. He sided with the referees at a time when the viewers – and even fans in attendance – may have disagreed with certain stoppages. But he did so not because he wanted to be the loudmouth, obnoxious analyst that certain people in other sports have become; but because he’s a fighter himself and understands how important safety is to both the fighters and the sport of mixed martial arts.

As UFC 100 continues to get closer and closer, I personally hope that the production team behind UFC telecasts takes a step back and assesses how they can work towards making that special card a special broadcast. In doing so, they can use it as a springboard to enhance all future televised shows.

There are simply too many missed opportunities taking place in their telecasts. The sport is growing in popularity, the UFC is growing in popularity and more people are watching their televised shows than ever before. And this is all great news. But now, the challenge is retaining those new viewers. And, with constant rumors of the UFC pairing up with such and such network, enhancing their broadcasts in any way possible is important, especially if Dana White and company insist on retaining creative control over their televised productions.

Following up with storylines such as Koscheck after his loss… providing viewers with just a wee bit more information via graphics… enhancing their pre-fight package angles to make them more personalized towards the fighters… these are just some of the improvements that the UFC and Zuffa can execute.

Is it an absolute necessity to do this right now? Maybe not. But we’re all in this for the long haul, and as the UFC continues to expand their horizons, the televised presentation of their shows needs to do so as well.