200 Great Moments From A Chance Meeting
Warning: This contains some self indulgence and may embarrass my true friends and colleagues.
I had the fortuitous opportunity to sit beside Darrell Ewalt at the NBC production dinner meeting before the 2003 Kentucky Derby, it was the start of a great friendship and the beginning of this wildly wonderful ride that is HDNet.
Darrell is the executive producer of HDNet Sports. As with many of us in this business, sometimes we do other things for other networks, and with his deep, rich national TV background, he was coordinating the high definition side of the Triple Crown that year. Within two months I was working for him and HDNet, doing horse racing, college football and basketball games and boxing.
I am not a proponent of fate, though considering how this has turned into my most rewarding professional experience after thirty years of TV from local to regional, ESPN to NBC, that evening I just happened to sit beside Darrell has made me think about twists in life more often.
Sometimes you meet a person that is so genuine an instant bond is created, until Darrell and HDNet it had happened twice in my life. It’s rare but long before Inside MMA began, I next crossed paths with Ron Kruck doing a boxing event in Denver and viola another instant connection. Like Darrell a thorough professional who gets it, TV is a fascinating career but there are other important things, you know it’s called life.
Within a few months I was brought in to do my first MMA broadcast in San Bernardino, California of a WEC event, working with Darrell and Ron. My boxing background was an asset, and covering a few college wrestling events was a plus, but for the complete MMA package I relied on these two guys and basically approached it as the sporting show it is, letting the action speak for itself and letting the analyst and reporter Ron fill in the gaps as needed.
A few months later as if all the stars were aligning, I met the incomparable Bas Rutten during a new gig I had with Fox Sports Network calling the International Fight League. Bas was not my broadcast partner initially, he was coaching the Los Angeles Anacondas. He was incredibly gracious with his time in assisting me with the nuances of MMA. Later the IFL realized how valuable Bas was as the face and voice of the fledgling operation and wisely put him on the broadcast team where each night out was a clinic for me in listening to him dissect a fight.
Then the ultimate sports maverick had a new idea in 2007. Mark Cuban is one of the brightest sports visionaries of our time. I have always appreciated the freedom he gives to his announcers, his passion and drive are on another planet. He is the smartest guy in any room. Under his leadership HDNet was already showing more fights outside of the UFC than any other network. He now planned a weekly show devoted to the fasting growing sport and Darrell would execute the plan.
What Inside MMA was intended to do from its genesis was to be an all encompassing show about the sport, guests to discuss the issues of the week, features to reveal the personal side few had ever seen of the fighters. My take was to make it an MMA version of “Meet The Press,” combined with “Sports Center” highlights. There would be, and there has been news each week coming from the panelist themselves. Not always earth shattering but details about their life, an upcoming fight that no one has heard. And more often than not things said have shaken up the MMA globe.
My job was to guide this through the uncharted waters, there had never been a weekly national TV show like this, not just a highlight/recap show but an expansion into news, entertainment, personality. I entered this with confidence with a sports journalist background for one thing, but an assuredness from having Bas beside me and Ron reporting to go along with Mark’s blessing and Darrell’s leadership. I was surrounded with the perfect storm of talent and expertise, all I had to do was turn the wheel every now and then.
As HDNet grew in its fighting scope, enter Andrew Simon, our CEO of fights, yet another friendship and professional relationship gathered in this solid, thoroughly focused, fun team. More highlights from more regional and international shows started coming in and with pride I said then and still do, no show has ever come close to Inside MMA in supporting the events outside of the obvious big one. Which to much delight the UFC relationship slowly but surely unfolded with highlights as well over the past two years.
I told Bas I had only one rule, I would never say anything on air I would not say to the person’s face. Outside of that, I just let it roll and he is the perfect compliment for that. While it has been a taped show, we have always treated it as live. I would guess less than a dozen times have we had to shut down for a technical problem and a couple of guests who froze, literally, when trying to complete a thought.
Many but not all, got what we were trying to do from that inaugural show September 2007. I understood fans were accustomed to lengthy thirty minute web interviews when they would write that I was interrupting guests. I knew as the late Charles “Mask” Lewis and I laughed about occasionally, we both had “uniforms” his very much different obviously but it was funny the early emails received about why I had to wear a coat and tie for an MMA show. Charles told me I was just another rebel. Interesting though, I do see more ties and coats than ever on announce teams.
Our medium was at the start a total departure from the norm that had been offered to fans. Questions would be asked that might not always coddle favor with the fighter or his fans. Controversies would be covered as they would with any sport. The standard was changing, it was an exuberant feeling to be a part of something this groundbreaking. With everything else becoming cookie cutter, from NFL pre game to NBA recap shows, we were given with Inside MMA a chance to build a template of our own. It just doesn’t happen in TV sports or news anymore, but then they aren’t HDNet.
When people ask my favorite moments, it’s simple. Each week sitting beside Bas. Without his instant recognition and credibility he brought to the show I don’t believe we would have celebrated our 200th episode. Without Ron being everywhere at everything, without Darrell’s constant guidance, Andrew’s growing fight partnerships and Mark’s determination to get out of the box, kick it around and see what happens, four years would have never happened.
The people always make it special. Ever sit at home alone watching a big game or big fight? Not the same as being in a room with friends, cheering, debating, enjoying.
Such as been my trip through 200 great moments that have been Inside MMA. With even bigger plans entering year five including going live on Monday nights beginning October 17, I am constantly thankful I sat beside Darrell eight years ago at what would’ve been another mundane TV production meeting, one of thousands I’ve sat in on over the years. Instead it was a– okay yes–a moment of fate launching a remarkable, unforgettable experience with lasting friendships and an innovative working atmosphere.
Above all to you the viewers, especially those who have become fans of the sport through our show, thanks and the best is yet to come.
The 200th episode of Inside MMA airs tonight at 9pm ET.
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