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May 30, 2008

Kimbo Slice good for the sport

I was on a radio show in Cincinnati and the host asked me about Kimbo Slice and the open contempt that many true fans of mixed martial arts have for Slice. I have to admit, I don’t see Slice the same way many do. Kimbo Slice should be celebrated Saturday night, as it will be a great night for mixed martial arts (if you missed my interview with CBS announcer Gus Johnson, who's broadcasting the EliteXC event, click here).

Could MMA's prime-time debut on network television showcase a better fighter? Yes. But, there’s still a way to make the entire Slice situation more tolerable, and I will expound more on this next week. For now, and this is what I told the host, people need to grudgingly accept Slice because he’s going to be bringing a whole lot of people to this sport. Yes, it sucks that the winner of American Idol is being treated like the greatest musician of all time, but MMA still comes out a winner Saturday night.

And, at least EliteXC is handling Slice the right way. They aren’t trying to make him someone he’s not and putting him up against the top competition in the sport, because he would get destroyed. Kimbo is getting a push in mainstream media like Chuck Liddell got before he fought Rampage Jackson. Liddell lost steam because of his loss to a real fighter. Slice will only grow from this event as he knocks out this big guy, who is proficient at only one thing related to fighting -- getting himself knocked out. He’s a real star in that category.

I will say this -- Kimbo certainly does not set the sport back two years, as a commenter to an early post suggested. Slice will bring new eyes to the sport and he won’t embarrass it. He’s not going to be showboating or dancing around the ring. He’s not going to be gauging eyes or going for groin shots. He’s simply going to destroy James Thompson. That’s not bad for the sport. It may mislead people, who think that either of the two fighters in the main event is relatively close to the top of their field, but it won’t cause any long-term damage.

No one will be tuning in to see a technical exchange of muay thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and turn off the TV in disgust when they see nothing but a brawl. It’s like having a guy in a giant Uncle Sam costume stand in front of a store with a sign -- it will draw some eyes and get people in the door. Maybe they will give the real products in the store a chance, and if that happens, then the ridiculous Uncle Sam costume wasn’t a bad idea after all.

For a more in-depth breakdown of an otherwise mediocre card, check out the good people at FiveOuncesofPain.com, as my guy Adam Morgan and the others over there tell you everything you need to know.

A few quick things: Next week, the gloves will officially be off for this blog. It’s been hectic with UFC 84, then this event, and we have UFC 85 around the corner. So things will be hectic, but you will get a much better feel for how this blog will work next week. While it’s still in a fluid stage, e-mail me any suggestions you have (suggestions for guest bloggers? More Q&As? More X's and O's? More sarcastic comments made from the safety of my mom’s basement, home for all bloggers? More sexy pictures ... of me?). Whatever ideas you have or things you want to see from this blog, send them my way now.

On deck in the coming days/week: Fallout from Saturday Night Fights and from Faber-Pulver in the WEC Sunday. The complete and utter evisceration of one of the most ignorant MMA “takes” I’ve seen from a mainstream media member in my life. A look ahead at UFC 85 and, hopefully, a sit-down with Kimbo Slice.
Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 5:06 PM | | Comments (4)
        

May 28, 2008

Q&A with CBS announcer Gus Johnson

I was surprised to hear that CBS tabbed Gus Johnson to call the action Saturday for their debut EliteXC event, mainly because Johnson has built his reputation in college basketball. Johnson is a great announcer, and maybe more importantly for EliteXC and the sport, he’s a mainstream announcer. I think he’s a great fit and should be a blast to listen to on Saturday night. I'm also impressed with the way he's embraced the sport and his new assignment.

Johnson recently took some time out of his schedule to talk with baltimoresun.com about mixed martial arts and Saturday's EliteXC: Primetime broadcast on CBS (9 p.m. EST), which will be the first live, prime-time MMA event on network television.

How did you get involved in the event?

CBS decided they wanted to get into the MMA business and they looked down their stable of announcers and thought I’d be a good fit. I got a call from the bosses and here I am.
 
Do you have any background in MMA?

I do have a background in martial arts. I study kung-fu, I’ve been a boxer for a number of years. I also recently started jiu-jitsu, so I have an opportunity to bring some of that [to] our broadcast.

When you saw CBS was picking up MMA, was it something you wanted to be a part of?

Are you looking forward to the event? Yeah, I’m really excited. I’ve always been a casual fan of MMA but now that I’ve had an opportunity to delve into it more seriously, I think it’s a wonderful sport. I love the competition, the honor and code the sport presents. It’s the sport of the future. I think this is what the kids like and I think MMA will be a mainstream event and it all starts on the 31st and I’m tickled pink to be a part of it.

Do you think MMA can become mainstream?

Yeah, if you look at what they are doing in the UFC and EliteXC has a big deal with Showtime, I think that its growing and the challenge will be to educate people that are watching it for the first time. We have to give them an idea of what they are seeing, especially if the fight hits the ground and with the jiu-jitsu aspect. Once we can make terms like “triangle choke” and “rear-naked choke” and “arm-bar” household words like a jab or a cross or an uppercut, that’s when MMA will really, really hit a point that will allow it to become one of the big sports in the country.

What type of prep work goes into a broadcast like this?

Well, I’m sitting here going over stuff right now. All kinds of info sent to me, I’m looking at James “Colossus” Thompson. I’ve got tons of research material and the challenge is to condense it and to put it in a good framework for myself. I’ve been watching a lot of film of different fights and I’ve been studying jiu-jitsu, so I’ve been rolling on a mat to know what moves feel like. I was telling someone the other day that I’ve only been doing jiu-jitsu for a month and I’ve been choked out more in that month than in my entire life and I like it, it’s fun.

What do you think about Kimbo Slice?

Kimbo Slice is such an interesting story. A former top linebacker [at] a Miami high school and he was on his way to major D-I scholarship before Hurricane Andrew hit and wiped out his senior season and changed his life. Those are the kind of stories you want to present as the night is going on so I’m trying to make sure I’m familiar with them and can speak fluidly on them when they hit the ring.

Editor's note: Click here for photos of Kimbo Slice and here for a column on Slice by The Sun's Bill Ordine.

What do you think is the biggest misconception the casual sports fan has about MMA?

Well, my father asked me a question about it when I told him I was getting ready to call this and he said, “Son, is that real?” My father is 75 years old so he’s thinking of professional wrestling I guess but I said, “Yeah, dad. It’s real.” He said, “Oh my goodness, if that’s real, it’s brutal” and I said, “Yeah, it’s brutal but there’s also a genius to it.” I think the biggest misconception for people who haven’t watched it before is “Is it real? Or is it wrestling?”

What do you think of Slice’s quick rise to fame?

Kimbo Slice is America. Especially in these tough times, everyone needs to have a little Kimbo Slice in them. Meaning, this guy has literally fought his way out of homelessness, fought his way out of poverty, fought his way into American consciousness and fought his way onto prime-time television. I think he’s truly an American success story and a story that should be celebrated, and come May 31, I think we’ll have an opportunity for the whole world to get to really know this man -- he’s a man worth knowing.

What would you say to a casual fan who is on the fence about tuning in Saturday?

Check it out. These guys are hard workers. There’s not a whole lot of money in this. They train their bodies to take all sorts of punishment. They are artists and athletes. Open your mind and grit your teeth a little bit because it’s primal, it’s violent but it’s something worth watching and appreciating.

What’s one thing you would want people to know about yourself?

That I’m just like them. I’m just a regular guy that likes sports and was blessed enough to be guided into the best business in the world for a sports fan, broadcasting.

What advice would you give students who want to be the next Gus Johnson?

Do it, do it. Map it out, plan it, eat it, live it, figure it out and work on it. Knock down doors. Don’t take no for an answer. Do everything you can to live your dream.

You know what, I’d give them the same advice my mom gave me a long time ago. Whatever you do, make sure you jump out of bed in the morning to do it even if it only pays you enough to meet your bills.

Photo courtesy of CBSSports.com

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 11:52 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Q&As
        

Ramblings on UFC 84, Kimbo Slice, Tito Ortiz and more

Ramblings will be a semi-regular feature. Short quips, quick links, news tidbits, shameless self-promotion for an interview coming Thursday: it's all here. There's just a lot to get to this week with UFC 84 fallout and the biggest event in MMA history this Saturday.

UFC 84: The biggest thing I took away from UFC 84 was Wanderlei Silva holding Keith Jardine down by the throat and destroying him with right hands. That was eerily reminiscent of a fighter I used to follow who, incidentally, also went by the name Wanderlei Silva ... hmmm. I’d love to see him take down UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson again. That will take some time, though.

Wanderlei Silva: The Silva fight was the biggest thing to take away from Saturday's event because we all already knew B.J. Penn was a better fighter than Sean Sherk and that Machida was “elusive” enough to decision Ortiz.

Tito vs. the UFC: The weirdest thing to come from UFC 84 was the brouhaha in the news conference. Tito shows up, claims he is banned. UFC PR-types kick him out. Jenna Jameson makes him stay. Ortiz is allowed to talk for a few minutes before the news conference. That is immediately stopped. Media gets angry. Four uniformed cops come into the room. Ortiz is then allowed to stay for the news conference. I’ll have more on this next week, but definitely a weird situation. Even without being there myself, I have to say it’s completely ridiculous to involve the police officers like this. Maybe there’s more to it.

UFC 87: More news on UFC 87. UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre will be defending his title against Jon Fitch in the main event now, which should be a decent fight. Brock Lesnar will be facing Heath Herring, which is a much more compelling matchup than Mark Coleman.

EliteXC: EliteXC’s moment of truth comes this Saturday. If people don’t tune in, it could pretty much mean the end of the company. The entire MMA-world has a lot riding on this event as it will be the first exposure to MMA for a lot of casual sports fans. Kimbo Slice is getting a push in the mainstream media similar to Chuck Liddell’s before he lost to Rampage at UFC 71. The main difference is Kimbo’s wave of popularity will continue and he'll win because he’s fighting a member of the Washington Generals (well, actually James Thompson), whereas Liddell fought one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in mixed martial arts. More on this later in the week. In the meantime, an interesting article from Sherdog on whether or not Slice is ready for the spotlight.  

Gus Johnson: Speaking of EliteXC’s big event Saturday, we will have an exclusive interview with CBS broadcaster Gus Johnson coming later this week. Some interesting stuff here, including what his dad said to him when he found out he was calling the event and his preparations for broadcasting the action.

Kimbo's opponent: Hey, that guy Kimbo Slice is fighting actually has opinions and stuff. I just hope he can get his glass jaw fixed in time for the fight.

The WEC: The WEC has a huge fight on Sunday night on Versus at 9 p.m., as Urijah Faber takes on Jens Pulver. That will be a tremendous fight. There’s nothing more that needs to be said on the event, so here’s a tremendous feature on Jens Pulver from CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 12:16 AM | | Comments (7)
        

May 23, 2008

Getting started ahead of UFC 84

My name is Mark Chalifoux and I have been covering fighting since its inception (Adam vs. Eve, Battle of the Sexes 1. Adam won by TKO strikes at :34 in the first round). OK, so I just lied in my first sentence on this blog.

Instead of lame jokes, I will try to give you the bare essentials. The first mixed martial arts fight I actually covered was UFC 68 in Columbus, Ohio (I’m based in Cincinnati). I had some experience in MMA before that night but it was that event that got me hooked. I’ve been in the sports media business for a number of years and have written for The Athens News, ESPN.com, SI.com, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and the Chalifoux Family Christmas Newsletter.

My goal for this blog is to keep you updated on the world of mixed martial arts through a variety of different features, many of which will be works in progress. In addition to staying on top of MMA news, I hope to have a number of colorful and entertaining Q&As and cover some of the more unique aspects of the sport, all without being overly pretentious (and scaring away the newer fans to the sport). If there are any stories you want me to look into or fighters you want me to add to the interview queue, drop me an email at mark_chalifoux@hotmail.com.

We will get rolling more in-depth next week, but in the meantime, a few things to keep an eye on.

UFC 84 is this Saturday. It’s a stacked card with three huge fights: B.J. Penn vs. Sean Sherk, Tito Ortiz vs. Lyoto Machida, and Wanderlei Silva vs. Keith Jardine. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a nice panel discussion on the three big fights.

For the money (I think they give out money for random fight predictions, right?), go with Penn, Machida and Silva. The story lines in a nutshell are as follows:

  • Penn and Sherk hate each other and Sherk is overcoming his steroids controversy.

  • Ortiz is in his last fight for the UFC, which makes him an attractive free agent to one of the other organizations. Ortiz hasn’t done much in the Octagon in awhile, so we’ll get to see how much he has left against Machida.

  • Silva is on a pretty considerable losing streak and desperately needs a win. Jardine is a solid opponent, coming off a split-decision win against Chuck Liddell in UFC 76. This fight will be a lot better than people are giving it credit for.

    Mark Coleman is out of UFC 87. He was slated to fight Brock Lesnar but a knee injury forced the UFC to find Lesnar a new opponent. The card was upgraded with a main event title fight though, as UFC welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre will take on Jon Fitch. Read more here from UFC.com.

    EliteXC is scrambling to keep the spotlight this weekend. The UFC has a stacked card so any real MMA fan will be fully focused on UFC 84 but EliteXC is doing a fine job of keeping its May 31 event in the headlines. We’ll get to some of the comments made at the news conference next week, but for now, check out Dan LeBatard’s profile of Kimbo Slice.

    Affliction is on the scene with a big fight coming up July 19, with former Pride heavyweight champ Fedor Emelianenko and former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia headlining its debut show.

    People have tried to tell me Emelianenko is the best fighter in the world. He used to be but isn’t anymore. Fedor hasn’t fought a worthy opponent in a long time and Sylvia will beat him in July.

    Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 2:42 PM | | Comments (1)
            
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    Kevin Richardson has been a fan of mixed martial arts competition ever since UFC 3, when 600-pound sumo wrestler Emmanuel Yarborough was beaten by Keith Hackney. Kevin will cover the world of MMA — in Baltimore, nationally and internationally. He plans to take readers into the locker rooms and MMA schools, where they'll hear from local fighters and trainers. If you have a news tip or suggestions for the blog, please e-mail him.

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