As mixed martial arts gears up for a hectic November, here are five questions worth asking before Thanksgiving rolls around.
Led by perennial No. 1,
Emelianenko's cage debut Nov. 7 on CBS will reveal plenty regarding the state of a weight class. For 33-year-old Russian to retain the top spot, he'll be expected to walk through 6-foot-5, 265-pound
This is it for Emelianenko and his crew of promoters, media managers and marketers. After pining to get him in front of American audiences under their terms, Emelianenko will fight on network television, meaning the scope of his worth as a sellable mixed martial artist should finally be determined.
Will a non-English-speaking European athlete captivate an American audience? It hasn't happened in boxing, though few foreign pugilists have appeared on American soil with the kind of support Emelianenko boasts among ardent MMA watchers. The expectation from network executives is for hardcore fans to watch in droves on Saturday. This we know. But what about casual fans who committed themselves in record numbers to viewing ratings king
Without "media lightning rods" like Slice or
Slice raked in 7.28 million viewers when MMA debuted on CBS in May 2008, and he scored again with 6.45 million in October 2008. For Emelianenko, anything less than a peak rating of 5.5 million will be considered a major disappointment. I think the Russian will come in north of that, but not enough to eclipse the YouTube sensation.
I'm no fortune-teller, and the options in November are numerous. Based on matchups, styles and history, we can pare down the list of potentially memorable fights to a handful.
In no particular order:
November will test even the truest MMA fan. By my count, between Nov. 6 and Nov. 21 there are seven cards worthy of attention, including four major events.
Some have speculated that too much MMA is a bad thing, for the sport cannot continue on its current pace without burning out fans. Overexposure will lead to waning interest, and fights deserving hype and media coverage will fall by the wayside simply as a matter of circumstance.
Cards like Sengoku 11 in Japan on Nov. 7 don't stand a chance. The bright lights of major events the following evening will drown out prospect-driven Strikeforce Challengers events on Showtime. Maybe that's how it should be. But to this point, promoters put fights on because fans demand it.
Can that continue?
November will tell us. Something positive to take away from it all is the number of quality cards available away from pay television. The UFC's decision to run one of its two November events on SpikeTV was the way to go. And the return of MMA to network television can't be viewed as a negative.
At the start of 2009, I felt the year would render a verdict about the state of MMA's promotional landscape in North America. Zuffa clearly isn't going anywhere. It has established the UFC brand as delivering must-see events, and while it's been a struggle, those efforts have extended to the WEC and lighter-weight divisions.
But what of a competitor? Strikeforce, along with its television partners Showtime and CBS, have done their part to provide fighters and fans with additional options. And November provides a wonderful example of that.
Zuffa and Strikeforce are each responsible for three events this month. While the promotional companies won't go head to head, comparisons in ratings and quality of MMA produced will undoubtedly make it feel as if they have.