Josh Gross: When broadcasters fail to show the true picture - Sports Illustrated

When broadcasters fail to show the true picture

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Less than four hours earlier Damacio Page hammered the 27-year-old Brazilian bantamweight in 18 seconds with right hands, bringing a familiar roar from the crowd before a nervous hush took over the Bank America Center. Galvao lay grotesquely stiff on the canvas, his legs elevated in unison as if he was targeting his abs, his arms locked at the elbows. While concerned medical officials looked him over, Galvao suffered from seizures. He was strapped onto a stretcher and carried out by emergency medical personnel. Page took "Knockout of the Night" honors and a $7,500 bonus for the assault.

Not one mention of Galvao's condition made the broadcast produced by Versus, nor did any shots of him being attended to by EMTs. The only reason I saw it -- like most of you, I watched at home -- was thanks to an enterprising fan that shot the footage on what appeared to be a camera phone and put it on YouTube. (The video has since been taken down at the behest of the event's promoter, Zuffa LLC subsidiary World Extreme Cagefighting, due to claims of copyright protection.)

Unless you were in the building, and unless you were able enough to catch the video that circulated around mixed martial arts message boards, you'd have no idea that Galvao was under such dire straights.

This is hardly new. Far too many MMA broadcasts have glossed over the results of serious knockouts or just about anything else that would require a sense of journalism, newsgathering and reporting. Though the journalistic coverage of MMA has grown exponentially on the Web and in print, there remains a gaping hole when it comes to responsibly covering the sport on TV.

When Versus and the WEC decided air the Page-Galvao fight, they knew exactly what fans at home would see, as Page had already won by knockout on the under card. I'm not saying the network was out of bounds for doing so. It was an impressive finish from Page, who, in dropping down to 135 pounds, has clearly retained the power that made him dangerous at 145. The point is, Versus failed in its responsibility to the viewer. The network chose to air a sensational finish without bringing the broadcast to where it should have gone. It needed to follow the story with updates, and had the broadcast's producers done their job, fans at home would have known Galvao was recovering back in his hotel room.

This would be like FOX deciding to show multiple angles of the hit by Jets safety Eric Smith on Anquan Boldin that fractured the wide receiver's face, then cutting to commercials and returning for the next snap without one word on Boldin's condition. It's clearly unacceptable.

Veteran MMA broadcaster Stephen Quadros has covered fights all over the world under many conditions. During his time as the play-by-play man for the Pride Fighting Championship, Quadros was employed by the promoter, an example of what he called the "pro wrestling" broadcast model where production and control over what fans see at home is dictated by the same people promoting the event. This, sadly, is a far cry from what sports fans in the U.S. have come to rightly expect from broadcasters and commentators, though it's still predominantly what they get when the tune in to MMA.

In his most recent gig calling MMA on Showtime, Quadros served a far more traditional role as a journalist calling the fights. And while MMA broadcasts are beginning to trend this way, particularly thanks to the work done by Kenny Rice on HDNet and producers like David Dinkins Jr. at Showtime, there are still far too many events that have degraded to the point where the ugly results of vicious knockouts or other newsworthy events can be edited out, or completely ignored in favor of cheerleading commentators assigned to call the action.

Following the controversy surrounding Georges St. Pierre and B.J. Penn, I didn't wonder why the UFC broadcast team failed to mention the commotion in St. Pierre's corner with Nevada State Athletic Commission inspectors. I wasn't surprised when a post-fight interview with Penn was forsaken for a chance to hype up the UFC welterweight champ's next defense against Thiago Silva. This was simply status quo. Had there been a hand-wrap issue, as there was when HBO produced a fight recently between Antonio Margarito and ShaneMosely, I'm not so sure viewers would be informed.

Veteran broadcaster Todd Harris calls the WEC action for Versus. He's falling into the same trap that makes whatever UFC play-by-play man Mike Goldberg says irrelevant, and taints what his color man, Joe Rogan, brings as well. Harris asked Page three questions following the fight. None had to do with the fact that Galvao was struggling to regain consciousness. The closest he came was a query wondering when Page thought he had Galvao in trouble -- an odd question considering the fight was considerably shorter than the time it takes to microwave a slice of pizza.

Only when Page expressed hope that Galvao would recover, and followed with "please man, be alright" did anyone at home get a sense that something wasn't right. (Galvao remained in Texas on Monday, where he was asked to undergo another battery of tests by the state commission. According to his camp, the slender fighter appears to be fine, though he doesn't have any recollection of the fight or its aftermath.)

"It's important that the producers in charge know how to wing it if something goes awry, you have to follow the story," Quadros said. "Obviously we all want to protect and shield and guard the sport, but there are certain realities about the sport that occur. What used to be called safer than boxing, now guys know how to punch and are wearing 4-ounce gloves as opposed to boxing gloves, there's a propensity where people can actually get hurt. And if people do get hurt, you have to figure out a way to factor that in."

Moreover, networks covering MMA need to be acutely and accurately aware how they cover the sport: warts and all. Taking a page from Hall of Fame boxing broadcasters like Al Bernstein or Jim Lampley would be a good place to start, for as much as they trumpet the sport they cover, they're not cheerleaders.

We need much more of that kind of coverage in MMA.