Can I’ll Have Another become horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978?
How about Texas Rangers’ Josh Hamilton, can he win the first Triple Crown in baseball since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967?
Will the Miami Heat get the crown they were supposed to get last year even if big man Chris Bosh can’t return to the lineup?
These are hot topics at the water cooler– granted now mostly replaced by tweets and instant messages– that sports fans are talking about during work breaks and evening backyard cook outs.
What does this have to do with this space normally associated with mixed martial arts? Everything.
It stems from a conversation this week with a friend and colleague who asked me “If you could only cover one sport what would it be?” It is impossible to answer for any professional sportscaster. We all might have a sport or two that is our favorites but it doesn’t diminish the approach and research needed for every sport covered. And it is equally impossible to cover a sport we don’t enjoy for any length of time, to devote the energy necessary to it. I can’t think of a single network sportscaster who doesn’t cover a variety of sports annually. The exceptions are of course the analysts who played the specific sport and even a few of those have branched out to report on sports they previously weren’t associated with.
We are much like the fans of a sport, diversified. Following a variety, as with any fan, keeps it fresh and entertaining for everyone. If you are rooting for either the Spurs or Thunder, the Devils or Rangers right now, you might also be interested in Junior dos Santos making his first UFC heavyweight title defense against Frank Mir.
You can be cheering for the Tampa Bay Rays to keep going strong while star Evan Longoria’s hamstring heals and still discuss Urijah Faber taking on the relatively unknown talent Renan Barao for the interim UFC bantamweight belt while champ Dominick Cruz undergoes knee surgery.
The sports world, as with the world in general, is relatively small in this electronic age. There are no laws regarding the number of sports one can follow with passion and knowledge. Actually the more well-rounded, the better for any sports fan; it brings a perspective that those with tunnel vision will never have. There are correlations with almost every sport. MMA stories are mixed in with baseball, hockey, basketball and football on virtually every major sport news web site. It’s a compliment to MMA to be included as a sport that has a growing and diverse fan base.
The one thing that stands out from the time HDNet launched the first of its kind weekly show, Inside MMA, is the difference in the emails and correspondence we’ve received from viewers. It reflects how the sport is being acknowledged from people who weren’t sure this “cage fighting” was real or really a sport. Through our show we have recognized this audience who has learned from expert Bas Rutten and the many guests about nuances that make a fighter successful and about the personalities of fighters.
This is why I wrote a book about the major events and people in MMA in 2011 Not Hit Yet, to capture the essence of what makes this sport so captivating for many, so interesting for others. It is a sports book the way I describe it to friends, the sport in this case is MMA. The response from several is appreciated in the sense they – like me – can relate to understanding the comparisons to mainstream sports.
The “up close and personal” approach that legendary ABC producer Roone Arledge initiated to tell stories of Olympians few in the world knew about but learned and related to their trials and tribulations to reach success. NBC legend Dick Ebersol, who learned under Arledge, advanced the storytelling in Olympic and other sports reporting.
To know the athlete gives fans reason to appreciate the sport. MMA (or any other sport worthy of attention) isn’t some special secretive world hidden away from all but a few, it is easy to grasp in a single watching with some minor explanations. That’s why sports are popular in general, they can be comprehended fast and the intricacies can then been picked up with repeated viewing.
It was and remains the same approach award-winning HDNet Executive Sports Producer Darrell Ewalt brought to Inside MMA from its inception. Want sports diversity? HDNet owner Mark Cuban has an NBA championship with his Dallas Mavericks and is the reason there was a weekly MMA show in the first place.
As I have been covering the Triple Crown races for NBC in between hosting Inside MMA, dozens of people have asked me about Inside MMA. One of the production assistants working with me who will be going to London for the Olympics became a fan of MMA because she went to high school in Toms River, N.J with former UFC lightweight champ Frankie Edgar.
Five minutes after I finished interviewing winning trainer Doug O’Neill and was walking from the grassy winners circle at Pimlico Race Track in Baltimore, a well-dressed, athletically built gentleman approached me to say he watched Inside MMA each week and trained to stay in shape with pro fighter Vladimir Matyushenko in California. We talked briefly about upcoming UFC fights and about the chance of I’ll Have Another winning the Belmont Stakes in a few weeks. Two sports fans with more than one topic to relate to – perfect.
You might love a great steak, but some days you want fish or chicken. Sports offers bountiful portions daily, and more sports fans are taking a helping of MMA – which has not been lost on the leaders in the sport with more network TV deals than ever.
In the next few weeks I will call two boxing events for NBC Sports Network with Hall of Famer Freddie Roach and North American cruiserweight champ B.J. Flores; host an NFL banquet honoring the Manning family, Peyton, Eli and Archie; report on what could be history in the making at the Belmont Stakes; and of course host Inside MMA with Bas, one of the great assignments in my career.
It is the diversity that any sports fan can appreciate – I certainly do every day.
Watch Kenny Rice along with Bas Rutten LIVE every Monday night on Inside MMA, and check out Kenny’s new book “Not Hit Yet” an insider look at the MMA world in 2012, available at Amazon now
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