Kenny Rice: “TV CHOICES: NOTHING NEW IN SPORTS, BUT INTERESTING CHALLENGE IN MMA”

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The DVR and the remote are the wheel and fire to the sport fan.

Every weekend we make those split decision choices. Choosing what to record for later and avoiding all tweets and contacts, outside of those close friends who relate to the sacredness of not knowing the outcome. With that settled, it is then the dexterity challenge of flipping from game to game, timing it to see who made it to the red zone then, click, over to the punt from deep in their own end zone.

This is very basic at that, with picture-in-picture-in-picture and video walls offering indeed a brave new frontier for the staunchest fan who would never consider overload an option only a dream that is more and more reality.
Keeping track of Mississippi State, Oregon, Florida State, TCU in their bids for the playoffs and Marshall trying for an unbeaten season and respect, are all at the ready every week for football maniacs. They can even sneak a peak at an early NBA game and get right back to third-and-five in a nanosecond.

So the big deal about three MMA events happening on the same night, in different places, on different outlets won’t make a football maven flinch, not even a nod toward a possible quandary. You got your DVR, you got your remote, you got the picture-in-picture, what’s your point?

The point isn’t about deftly navigating between events, it’s that there are choices, period. That Bellator has moved to Saturday nights on Spike, in their re-imaging under former Strikeforce boss Scott Coker, is the most interesting strategy.

Going head-to-head with the UFC, perhaps hoping the basic cable fee you pay each month for channels like Spike, will trump a decision to sink cash solely into a pay-per-view buy. Well, it’s a theory at least. While the UFC hasn’t cornered the market on every good fighter, it is close; primarily because of acquiring Strikeforce from Coker a few years back.

The reach of the UFC is taken advantage of by Bellator. Their pre-fight gala included guests Randy Couture and Ken Shamrock, two UFC Hall of Famers and their main event features another pair in Tito Ortiz and Stephan Bonnar. Ortiz remains the popular love-or-hate draw and his name recognition is as strong as any on any other card. A pair of not in the UFC yet, but with potential, Michael Chandler and Will Brooks fight for the vacated lightweight title as the co-main event. Yet another interesting move that with all due respect, the two guys coming out of retirement who made their marks in the UFC are the pick for the headline spot.

Then there is the fledgling World Series of Fighting which got a boost this year with an infusion of NBC money. WSOF 15 offers for their Saturday show on NBCSN, lightweight champ Justin Gaethje who always brings excitement against ex-UFC vet Melvin Guillard. If Gaethje wins, as he is favored to do, the argument could be made that he is worthy of a shot with the UFC. David Branch and Yushin Okami, again here we go with the ex-UFC fighters, compete for the middleweight crown. Perhaps the one that will be must-DVR, if not seen live, is strawweight Jessica Aguilar defending her belt against Kalindra Faria. Aguilar is the best female fighter not named Cyborg who is not in the UFC.

Notice everyone that is competing against the UFC is using their former fighters, which begs the question, that only the ratings will eventually answer–Is this been-there-seen-them-already marketing enticing you to tune in? Of course there is the possibility of seeing a future UFC fighter in Gaethje, Brooks or Chandler. Maybe also a comeback mounted, as happened with Andrei Arlovski and Anthony Johnson who fought their way back to the UFC.

Oh, lest we forget Fabricio Werdum and Mark Hunt fight for the UFC interim heavyweight title. Certainly some of the PPV appeal was lost with the injured champ Cain Velasquez sidelined. Still, the positioning of the organizational brand remains so entrenched among sports fans, that many still refer to all MMA as the UFC and those three letters alone garner attention and if nothing else a draw of curiosity.

Last week after I finished calling heavyweight Amir Mansour‘s knockout of the year against Fred Kassi on NBCSN, I went over with friends to the lounge outside the arena and watched on HBO Sergey Kovalev unifying the light heavyweight titles with a dominating unanimous decision over the legendary Bernard Hopkins. On the TV to the left of the main screen, I watched Alabama rally to win in overtime at LSU, a must for the Tide to stay in the playoff hunt. Fights, football, it was all covered.

It’s the beauty of TV sports, a smorgasbord weekly for the fans. Rarely will anyone watch every play or every round, but they won’t miss the action thanks to the DVR and the remote, and maybe another TV set or two. MMA fans get a rare choice of three events in one night, the question is not will you be able to keep up with all because you can, it’s will there be more nights like this in the future? How much interest is out there beyond the UFC? How many PPV’s will come later after the live event? On the least watched TV night of the week how many will stop on Spike or NBCSN for a telling period of precious ratings time? How much DVR watching will take place after Saturday night?

More questions than events to discuss, or watch this weekend.

-Kenny

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