Horse racing is still basking in the bright glow of American Pharaoh becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. The sport was practically pleading for a new super horse to emerge for a giant jolt of interest, and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert delivered. Whether the horse runs again with the lucrative multi-million dollar breeding deal in place is to be seen. But from the cover of Sports Illustrated to countless talk shows and newspaper opinions, racing has the horse it has been longing for and it can ride the wave of renewed popularity for several months.
LeBron James is putting up triple-doubles and doing everything possible to reinforce he is the greatest since Michael Jordan, further solidifying his role as the magnetic force of the NBA. He remains the “now” for the sport bringing in TV ratings and attention.
From the fresh to the consistent is what most sports are hoping for and essentially needing to grow. You need to build with the new and retain with the proven.
Then there’s the curious case of Bellator jumping in the Delorean and going back to the future for headliners. It worked well in the maiden effort when Tito Ortiz and Stephan Bonnar brought in over a million viewers to Spike TV. So, holy Sherman and Peabody, they are doing it again next week with the probably not so long anticipated of Ken Shamrock versus Kimbo Slice.
Prime? No. But Primetime? Possible draws.
Two men who haven’t had a MMA fight in almost five years are being counted on to deliver another seven-figure audience. It could be a gamble, or it could be a brilliant marketing move as Bellator searches for their own superstar. Granted they have a handful of talented young fighters, but still not the cache’ names of the UFC so their strategy is to resurrect ex-UFC stars. They are 1 for 1 in ratings with this approach.
They were supposed to fight October 4, 2008, a date that will last in MMA infamy. Kimbo was touted by the then EliteXC group as the greatest thing the hit the sport and CBS was all in, complying with every promo aired featuring the Internet street fighting sensation. He was to fight a legend in the game, UFC Hall of Famer Ken Shamrock and ofttimes polarizing figure but always galvanizing in generating interest. “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” who had also built a love or really dislike following in the (as named then) WWF. The real stuff or the entertainment stuff? Shamrock had the stuff to pull of both successfully.
As fans know it didn’t happen and the result was the end of MMA on CBS and the fall of EliteXC as yet another number in a forgettable line who tried to take on the UFC. Shamrock was cut during a morning-of workout and Seth Petruzelli, a solid but unknown fighter, stepped in and on the largest free TV stage at that time. Petruzelli made quick work of Slice with a knockout and a KO for the moment of network TV deals. So certain was the general public that Kimbo was the slice bread; the first fire; the wheel; of the sport from all the hype that MMA was flattened momentarily. Except of course, for the UFC and Strikeforce at that time and all the knowledgable fans.
Old is the new for Bellator in the big events. Shamrock is still a name even since his last UFC fight (a loss in October ’06 to Ortiz) and his last appearance in a cage (November ’10 KOTC) and Kimbo had a brief fling at the UFC with losses to Roy Nelson in TUF and his last recognized MMA bout a loss to Matt Mitrione (UCF 113 in ’10). So those are the guys that Bellator and Spike are banking on and given there is instant recognition for both men, they could do a respectable number in ratings. Maybe another surprisingly large one. It’s on relatively “free” TV, part of most basic or slightly extended cable and satellite packages, that is paid for anyway, so why not watch?
What will be interesting is how many more fighters Bellator will try to pull out of retirement or try to revive, using this formula, that the familiar is what fans want to see? While others are focused on the current; the past is still the future for Bellator. Maybe there are a significant number of dials on the Way Back Machine to keep viewers dialed in.
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