Josh Gross
Tuesday May 20th, 2008

A decade after teaming up to cover the Nagano Winter Olympics for CBS, commentator Gus Johnson and Showtime boxing and mixed martial arts producer David Dinkins Jr. are together again.

Monday CBS announced the lineup for its first prime-time MMA telecast of the EliteXC event May 31.

In the commentator's booth, alongside Dinkins and blow-by-blow analyst Johnson, will be veteran fighter Frank Shamrock, and Showtime's Mauro Ranallo and Karyn Bryant.

Johnson, who is best known for his energetic calls of the NCAA men's basketball tournament and NFL games, said it's his intention to "not only highlight what these great athletes are doing in the ring, but also make it a story-driven broadcast."

And the storylines come in abundance. From the improbable, and controversial, saga of Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson, to the rise of woman's MMA through Gina Carano, producers won't have to look hard to find stories that resonate with, what CBS and EliteXC are hoping for, is a captivated audience.

Dinkins is familiar with the card's cast of characters from his time producing boxing (and roughly eight months with MMA) for Showtime. Last September, the premium cable network tasked Dinkins with building the new EliteXC and ShoXC programs. And now he's ready to display his work.

"[With] the [Mike] Tyson experiences we had, we learned to expect the unexpected," he said. "In a sport like this, we have sudden violence, quick stoppages. You can have an event end in 30 seconds or a championship fight go 29 minutes bell-to-bell. You have to be ready for all the possibilities and permutations you can think of."

According to ProElite Executive Chairman Doug DeLuca, CBS plans on courting three distinct audiences -- the hardcore fans, casual viewers and new viewers -- among the young, male demographic that's embraced MMA. But the main target of the three is the last. Getting new fans to take notice of MMA and subsequent broadcasts is a priority for CBS, as acknowledged by its Primetime President Kelly Kahl. Kahl called the event a hybrid between entertainment and sport, with emphasis on the latter, and both Johnson and Ranolla are determined to reveal just that -- even if it requires training at Renzo Gracie's jiu-jitsu academy to understand the action as much as possible.

"We want to be true to the sport, and true to what it is," said Gary Shaw, president of Live Events for EliteXC, said. "This is no joke when they get in that cage. People get hurt."

Other than preparing to provide the most real and raw production possible, little remains for the first Saturday Night Fight except for the bouts and subsequent examination of ratings.

While DeLuca set the bar low with the hope of achieving a 3.0 rating or above, Primetime is enacting a west-coast tape delay to boost ratings and help eclipse the 4.7 million viewers who watched UFC 75.

"This thing is going to be on network television," DeLuca said. "There's a lot of pressure not only for us but for the sport. If it doesn't do well on network television, what does that mean for the sport?"

After Nick Diaz and Jake Shields put on a short demonstration for the media on the CBS lot, Diaz told SI.com he's not sure if he'll have an opportunity to fight in Dream before fulfilling his commitment to EliteXC. Shields, meanwhile, said his lower back is feeling healthy for the first time since injuring it in March. His next fight for EliteXC is set for September, leaving open the chance he could fight in Dream.

Wearing a brace around his right forearm, Frank Shamrock said he is on pace to return to the cage by the end of the year.

The undercard of May 31's EliteXC event will be streamed live on Proelite.com. Former NFL lineman and collegiate wrestler Carlton Haselrig spices up the card for local fans. EliteXC planned to book a New York Jets-New York Giants battle by pitting Haselrig against former Michigan fullback Jarrod Bunch. However terms were never agreed upon.

Nathan Diaz accompanied his brother Nick to Los Angeles after joining him in Tokyo on May 11. Nate said nothing is officially lined up for his next UFC bout, but he hopes to get back in the cage as soon as possible. Rumors have swirled about a Nathan Diaz-Josh Neer clash at lightweight, but Diaz did not confirm.

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