By Zach Arnold | March 12, 2007
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I want nothing more than to see a second promotion cement itself as a successful MMA operation in the United States. I have friends who work in the IFL. However, there comes a time where you have to call a spade a spade.
In a way, the show felt like MMAâ€™s version of TNA Impact. Personality pieces are fine, but give the viewers time to learn. At one point, three fights from the original IFL show aired within six minutes.
But on a two-hour program, not only were fights not shown in their entirety, most 4-minute rounds were edited down to 2 minutes and some change. The worst of it was that the rounds were edited in such a fashion that they appeared to be complete rounds, not highlights, and in my mind were presented as such.
My review of the show
After watching the debut of IFL Battleground on MyNetwork TV on Monday night, I was embarrassed to be an MMA fan. It was disheartening and comical at the same time to be an MMA fan watching this. This show was so ridiculous that I felt sorry for the fighters, coaches, and staff involved with the various IFL teams.
To set the stage as far as who was producing the IFL Battleground show, the producer is Jay Larkin of Showtime boxing fame. Dana White recently commented on Jay Larkin in a CBS Sportsline interview on March 9th:
DW: Not really, you know they’re just bad guys; they’re in it for the wrong reason. I mean, all these guys who are getting involved, they crack me up. You know you’ve got Gary Shaw and Jay Larkin now. You know Gary Shaw three years ago thought MMA was a joke. Jay Larkin is a guy I talked to five years ago that wouldn’t put it on Showtime; didn’t believe in it at all, now he’s getting a paycheck from one of the companies and now he’s all about it. These are all guys who didn’t have the passion for it, didn’t like it and didn’t see the future in it.
The show starts out with Frank Shamrock talking about how his fighters will fight to the death. Then a fighter is shown getting choked out while you hear flatlining sounds in the background as doctors rush into the ring. They focused on the ring girls throwing out gimmicks to the crowd, as they start off with a slick video opening package.
They immediately put over the team concept and then stated, “What you all tuned in for – the face pounding!” They focused heavily on the fact that they would be producing 9 ‘big bouts’ in the time span of 2 hours (or to be more specific, 85 minutes), claiming that these were the best 9 fights of the past IFL 2006 season. There were many video packages featuring fighters talking about how “I came to hurt somebody!” and another fighting stating calmly about “cracking the guy in the chin, watching his crippled carcass going face down to the mat, and showing him on the 40-foot screen — you got knocked out!” They pushed that this fighting is real and in a ring, and that they are not actors. They claimed to describe the rules of the IFL, but did a poor job of doing so. No real on-screen graphics that were simple and easy for the casual fan at home to understand.
The one clear highlight on the show (which is no surprise) are the promos from the coaches, with Don Frye once again being the stand-out star on the show. In a segment that is clearly out of boxing 101 marketing, they put over the fact that many IFL fighters were college dropouts and people who needed father figures because they had no dads. Put this in stark contrast to how UFC markets their fighters and their educational backgrounds (i.e. Chuck Liddell as the accountant graduate, Rich Franklin the math teacher, etc.) They showed a ton of fighters talking, but had absolutely no on-screen graphics or name labels for them whatsoever. Just a bunch of random guys talking. At the 10 minute mark of the show, they showed the following teaser:
And by the end of this show, someone’s going to leave… on a stretcher! (playing a black & white video of the stretcher job)
10 minutes into the show, and they were already doing a stretcher job teaser. We’ll keep count of the number of times they did this throughout the course of the show review.
They came back with fighters talking about how “someone’s going to get hurt,” “unchecked aggression,” and other fight game cliches. They started pushing Rory Markham on the TV show, with him talking about how he liked Arturo Gatti. Ben Rothwell came on and said that his last name meant “river of blood” and how he liked “to split opponents open and draw blood… knock them out cold.”
They aired a video message from Bas Rutten (which would be replayed again during the show) talking about how you should leave MMA to the professionals and a do-not-try-this-at-home message.
They promised to show three back-to-back-to-back fights and then they did stretcher job teaser #2:
“and the IFL world team championship, it ends in an ambulance!”
They spent time on the TV show pushing 18-year old ‘Polish hammer’ Chris Horodecki, marketed as the IFL’s youngest and most devastating fighter. Then, stretcher job teaser #3:
And we promise you, we will be calling 9-1-1… (video of the stretcher job) with “911, what’s your emergency?” voice from an operator.
They showed a quick ad for the Los Angeles Forum event coming up this week. They spent next-to-no time building or promoting this show at all.
They showed footage of Horodecki beating Erik Owings. Then the announcer says (stretcher job teaser #4):
After Owings lost, no champagne, no laps around the ring, because… it ended like this (video of the stretcher job).
They showed footage of Rory Markham’s illegal hit on Keith Wisniewski after the bell in a round of their fight, which forced Keith to quit the match. Don Frye comments and says, “They’re wearing a mouthpiece fighting in their underwear.”
The show pushed the Shamrock family feud, including a very quick profile about John Gunderson wanting to fight for Ken Shamrock’s team. The IFL TV show had a kneeslapper of a statement when profiling Frank Shamrock. “He told the UFC to call him when they found someone to beat him… he’s still waiting for the UFC to call!” They did a review of the other IFL teams, including the Tokyo Sabres (now with only one Japanese fighter in Kazuhiro Hamanaka). At the end, they did stretcher job teaser #5:
Coming up, the IFL world team championship… and the moment you’ve been waiting for (video of stretcher job).
Throughout the show, they spent air time building up Rory Markham as a star fighter. Then they proceeded to show him losing to fighter Chris Wilson at the Mohegan Sun Arena event. During a lot of the fights on the IFL show, they didn’t bother to label the fighters on-screen at all. It was very confusing and impossible for the casual fan to keep score. After Markham’s loss, they did stretcher job teaser #6:
…and this knockout! Someone’s not getting up! (siren blares)
They did a “we aren’t actors!” promo and then stretcher job teaser #7:
The fight to end all fights… this is how the IFL’s 2006 season ended (video of stretcher)… the IFL finals we’ll never forget!
They closed out the show with Bart “Bartimus” Palaszewski KO’ng Ryan Schultz and Schultz leaving out on a stretcher. They ended the show with Bas Rutten previewing next week’s fights while they showed backstage footage of Schultz being loaded into an ambulance.
Frustrating is not a strong enough word to describe my feelings about this IFL Battleground TV show. Every possible negative stereotype that MMA enthusiasts and backers have been trying to fight against for the past decade reared its ugly head on this show. Portraying fighters as uneducated college dropouts needing father figures, stretcher job teasers everywhere, mostly stand-up fighting and little ground work, it was the complete definition of dumbing down the way you present a sport.
Watching IFL Battleground is the MMA equivalent of watching TNA Impact, produced by a boxing guy who picked up a tape of UFC in 1993 and decided that this is how you market an MMA product on free-to-air television. Let me explain further.
If you’re a pro-wrestling fan, you know that consistently each week the worst wrestling show produced on a major scale is TNA Impact. It’s a pro-wrestling show booked by former WWE writer Vince Russo that features logic from the mid-to-late 1990s that has no application in today’s business. Storylines that are stupid and insulting to the intelligence of the viewers. Tons of matches crammed into 60 minutes that get absolutely no workers or concepts over. It’s the kind of show that you watch after 60 minutes and say to yourself, “I know I watched the show, but I have no idea what I just saw or who fought who.” It’s a ton of random guys thrown out to perform on TV without any sort of promotional build whatsoever to create individual characters or stars. When you watch the program, you sit there and hope that they give you a chance to take a breather and try to absorb what they are pitching to you on the show. TNA has argued over and over that if they only had two hours, they wouldn’t be cramming as much content as they do in 60 minutes. It’s an argument that few pro-wrestling fans buy into.
What we saw with IFL Battleground is exactly what TNA Impact would look like in 2-hour format. The IFL pushed 9 fights, most of them edited, in such a rush job that it was impossible to figure out and keep up with the names of the fighters. They made absolutely no real effort to individually label fighters during the fights outside of last-name graphics before the first round of each fight that lasted for about five seconds on camera. It was one fight after another, back to back to back, and it had zero character build. Outside of ineffective, edited video packages at the beginning of the show, a casual fan watching this show had no clue who the fighters were or what they were watching. You just had a feeling that you wanted to give up after seeing it. I wanted to scream SLOW THE PACE DOWN often at the TV during IFL Battleground.
There will be MMA fans who will try to claim that the IFL used pro-wrestling style marketing for this TV show. Speaking as an experienced pro-wrestling guy, the answer to that is no. The way IFL Battleground was marketed on Monday night is the same way that the early UFC events in 1993-1994 were marketed. In pro-wrestling booking, you build characters and storylines. You try to make sense in a logical manner with how you book fights. You pace things out so that fans can understand simple matchmaking and have a reason to want to see fights. The marketing style of the IFL Battleground show on Monday night was a throwback to the heyday of the early UFCs, where it was entirely focused on seeing someone get maimed, killed, crippled, or bloodied up. At least in the early UFCs, you had a tournament storyline and you had the storyline of a smaller fighter like Royce Gracie facing the giants. On IFL Battleground, you had no normal storylines. You just had a phony emphasis on pushing violence. There’s a difference between pro-wrestling style marketing and the old early UFC marketing, and it was clearly on display with the IFL Battleground show.
A major problem with IFL Battleground is that the drama and over-the-top intensity on the show is so manufactured and so fake. At no point do you get the sense that the promotion is really letting the fighters truly show all of their charisma. Don Frye stands out as a positive, but we only get to see 5-second snippets of him throughout a show. Either a fighter has charisma or he doesn’t, and you have to let the fighters and coaches produce their own heat. You can’t manufacture it. People like to rip on the Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz storyline from UFC last year, but those guys had the natural charisma to carry the storyline and build up their fights. They knew how to sell match-ups. At no point during the IFL Battleground show did the fighters (outside of terse comments from Rory Markham and Ben Rothwell) have a chance to show who their characters truly were. If it wasn’t about pushing the team concept, it was about doing seven teasers to put over a stretcher job on the show. It almost came off as a parody of an MMA show.
This was an embarrassingly produced show by Jay Larkin and associates. It did a real disservice to the progress of MMA in the United States. The fight quality displayed was not that great, mainly because we didn’t get the chance to see fights in the proper context or with any sort of build. Quantity does not equal quality. At the end of watching this program, I felt sad for the fighters, commentators, and staff members of the IFL for the product that was presented on IFL Battleground. They didn’t deserve this kind of Monday debut on free-to-air television.