Josh Gross
Tuesday June 3rd, 2008

One thing remains undeniable in the wake of the first live mixed martial arts card on major network television May 31: People are talking about the sport like they never have before.

Splashed across newspapers, Web sites, blogs and TV highlight reels Monday was Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson's lackluster performance against James Thompson, whose grotesque left ear earned as much stardom as the fight itself.

You couldn't tune into sports talk radio, including SI's Dan Patrick, without hearing, at least, a mention of what transpired in Newark, N.J. (Even NBA analyst Reggie Miller rightly dismissed Slice's performance in favor of female star Gina Carano when speaking to Patrick.)

For a sport that would have sold its soul for any kind of mainstream-media coverage five years ago, Monday provided a watershed moment. The reporting painted the EliteXC's fights in a negative light, which shouldn't surprise anyone considering the nature of the sport and the outcome of the overly hyped main event. But there were also plenty of pundits who knew not to judge a sport based on one event.

Largely because of the success of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, most major media outlets had invested some time covering MMA over the past year. Anyone with a basic understanding of the sport dismissed Slice as a second-rate fighter, yet, many columnists and commentators -- who hadn't paid attention previously -- were put off by Slice and his brand of MMA.

Despite the fears of hardcore fans, it's difficult to argue MMA will be irreparably harmed by Saturday's card. Ratings, once again, showed tremendous interest among young males, and CBS is said to be pleased. Advertisers and sponsors reached their projections, and it's a safe bet Miller Brewing Company and Burger King will line up again when EliteXC and CBS team up for a second card. However, according to EliteXC Live Events President Gary Shaw, Slice likely won't be on it.

Still, no matter if Round 2 offers a less sensational production or if it improves upon its inaugural showing, there's enough MMA interest to make the events worth keeping on the prime-time schedule.

While there weren't any fighters with pound-for-pound status on EliteXC's bill, two of the sport's best fought Sunday in the Versus' broadcast of World Extreme Cagefighting 34 in Sacramento, Calif. Both Miguel Torres and Urijah Faber put on excellent displays.

Fighting Japan's Yoshiro Maeda, Torres, a 135-pounder from the Chicago area, was forced into a war that brought out the best in both him and his opponent. Fast action on the feet gave way to an unbelievable submission exchange during the second round.

By the end of WEC's fights, some fans were left wondering why CBS and EliteXC couldn't provide the same type of action on their card. Would they have attracted the same audience?

The best fighters have considerable ground skills in addition to a strong striking game. In fact, some are better on the floor than they are on the feet. It would be nice if EliteXC had showcased well-rounded mixed martial artists to create interest among casual viewers.

Promoting Kimbo-Thompson as the main event had the opposite affect, though. By declining to put on fights similar to that of WEC's, EliteXC indirectly seemed to say its audience is too dumb to recognize skill when fighters tangle on the mat.

But then again, isn't that why Frank Shamrock was brought in as part of the CBS broadcast crew? If he can rightly point out that Slice is a rookie in the cage, couldn't he also highlight the brilliance of a guy such as Jake Shields?

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