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HDNet Fights: Moving MMA Forward

By Jeff Comstock | October 9, 2007

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By Jeff Comstock

Sports Illustrated recently interviewed Mark Cuban about his new HDNet Fights league.

HDNetHDNet has been a television destination for mixed-martial arts for some time now. They were the original broadcast partner for the WEC, before that promotion was purchased by Zuffa LLC. and relocated to both Las Vegas and the Versus Network. Having enjoyed ratings success with the MMA programming on the channel and not wanting to lose a demographic they coveted, HDNet maneuvered to keep itself as a destination channel for MMA fans.

With it’s first self-promoted card happening this weekend I thought it would be a good time to take a look at what HDNet has accomplished thus far and where they’re headed in the world of MMA, as well as preview this weekend’s HDNet fight card.

In need of programming for their Friday Fight Night prime-time series, which features both MMA and boxing, HDNet signed a series of television contracts with mid-tier promoters. The consortium of promoters signed under HDNet’s TV deal included promising upstarts such as Dallas based SUN Sports & Entertainment’s new Art OF War promotion and retired boxing referee, Richard Steele’s Steele Cage Promotion’s International Fighting Organization, based out of Las Vegas.

Also signed were the NABC’s Extreme Fighting promotion as well as Sven Bean’s, Colorado based Ring Of Fire organization to provide content for the Fight Night Series. MMA events are taped and generally shown in two parts on the Friday series.

Friday Fight Night continued to be a ratings hit for the specialty channel and impressed HDNet owner Marc Cuban enough to take a harder look at the sport’s potential. Dallas based billionaire Mark Cuban, who already owns the city’s NBA team, the Dallas Mavericks, saw the potential of MMA and the synergies that he could create with his existing distribution outlets.

The plan they’ve developed is to offer 24 MMA event telecasts in the upcoming year. Additionally, a new magazine-style program called “Inside MMA” that airs every Friday as a lead in to Fight Night, hosted by Kenny Rice and Bas Rutten.

Cuban hired Dallas MMA legend Guy Mezger as MMA operations manager for HDNet. A large part of that position would include running the newly created HDNet Fights.

HDNet Fights will continue working with other promotions such as the IFO and Art of War, however, Cuban’s new group will promote cards of its own. The first Cuban-promoted card is scheduled for October 13 from the American Airlines Arena in Dallas, TX.

HDNet Fight Night: October 13, 2007 in Dallas, Texas

hdnet fights

Erik Paulson vs. Jeff Ford
Anthony Lapsley vs. Drew Fickett
Chris Bowles vs. David Roberts
Jason House vs. Freddy Espiricueta
Pete Spratt vs. TJ Waldburger
Justin Eilers vs. Matt Thompson
Jay McCown vs. Justin Howard
Sunia Filikitonga vs. Joel Traves
David Morris vs. Liam McCarty
Hans Marrero vs. CB Dollaway

Erik Paulson vs. Jeff Ford

This is something of a head scratching main event that has been booked here. This fight will be Erik Paulson’s first in seven years. Paulson is an MMA pioneer who has remained relevant in the current scene as a coach and trainer.

“The Man of a Thousand Holds” has a 11-4-2 record professional record, having fought several times in Shooto and is maybe best remembered by old school fans for his World Combat Championship appearance in which his semi-final opponent, boxer James Warring employed the then legal hair pulling technique to acheive a 20 minute hard fought victory. The tournament was eventually won by Renzo Gracie.

Jeff “Big Diesel” Ford is a 37 year old journeyman, kickboxer who was TKO’ed by Steve Steinbeiss in his most recent bout on a BodogFight card in St. Pertersburg, Russia.

Drew Fickett vs. Anthony Lapsley

This will be Fickett’s first fight outside of the UFC in two years, where he enjoyed a 4-2 run, including victories over Josh Koscheck, Kurt Pellegrino and Keita Nakamura. “The Master” should be considered the heavy favorite against relatively inexperienced opponent Anthony Lapsley.

Lapsley is a talented newcomer who has yet to distinguish himself against elite competition. This will be Lapsley’s tenth fight in 2007, so ring rust won’t be a problem but Fickett’s skill and big time fight experience advantage may prove to be too much to overcome.

Chris Bowles vs. Davis Roberts

A showcase fight for Lion’s Den fighter Chris Bowles. Expect the Dallas native to push his record to 7-1 versus his unhearlded opponent.

Jason House vs. Freddie Espiricueta

Both of these Texas based middleweights are coming off losses. I expect a good fight as both fighters are talented and in need of a win to regain their career momentum. Desperate fighters often make for good fights.

Pete Spratt vs. TJ Waldburger

Waldburger submitted Spratt on September 7th at a King of Kombat show. The rematch between the two Texans is a classic striker vs. grappler showdown. Waldburger is a talented young fighter with a promising future. Spratt needs this win to keep his status as a marketable, gatekeeper fighter.

Justin Eilers vs. Matt Thompson

Eilers brings his experience and power to bare against an opponent that should oblige Eilers in a stand-up fight. Thompson has failed when pitted against high level opposition but is not without skills however. If he can employ his reach advantage over Eilers it could be a competative bout.

Justin Howard vs. Jay McCown

Another fight featuring two Texans. Both are relatively unknown, with Justin Howard being considered the prospect I’d expect him to be favoured.

Sunia Filikitonga vs. Joel Traves

These Super-Heavyweights look to provide the cliche that “everything is bigger and Texas” and hopefully an entertaining fight in the bargain.

Liam McCarty vs. Davis Morris

Both fighters are unknown to me. McCarty plays the role of hometown favorite, while Dave Morris hopes to bring some Hammer House ground and pound.

Hans Moreno vs. CB Dolloway

CB Dollaway is the young prospect looking to remain undefeated against a rugged Hans Moreno trying to prevent a third straight loss. Dollaway is an exciting fighter, who should improve to 8-0.

Overall thoughts

This card is heavy with local Texas talent and includes some interesting prospects. The main event and overall lack of big name talent is a little underwhelming after it had been announced that Mark Cuban’s HDNet would be promoting their own events. Especially in light of the recent, high profile, fighter signings made by promotion Hardcore Championship Fighting. A Canadian promotion with a similar sized television reach.

inside-mma The Inside MMA television program has been a great addition to the sport, covering MMA in a newsdesk/roundtable format with great guests and topics. HDNet has done a good job in producing the taped event shows as well, in all their hi-def glory.

Hopefully the network will eventually air live events, which is what every fight fan wants to see. As it stands HDNet has become a prime destination channel for fight fans and it will be interesting to see how the product evolves on the channel.

Topics: HDNet, Jeff Comstock | 9 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

9 Responses to “HDNet Fights: Moving MMA Forward”

  1. Dave says:

    I have to say that for the most part, what I’ve seen so far on HDnet is pretty good. It’s infinately more watchable than either the IFL or Bodog and the fights have been pretty decent as well.

  2. IceMuncher says:

    This card holds zero interest for me. It’d be interesting to see if HDNet Fights can grow, but I honestly don’t think it will.

    Cuban may be a billionaire, but he’s not an MMA fan. The only thing he’s a fan of is his own fame. This is merely the newest fad he can join to get back into the spotlight, like the attention whore he is. That’s why he started his “The Benefactor” reality show, and his current stint on Dancing with the Stars. He’s not going to dump millions into his MMA company, because he honestly doesn’t care much about it. He’ll dabble, but he’s not going to dump millions into it to make it grow.

  3. Jeff says:

    I tend to agree with both of the above comments. I’ve seen a number of bush league MMA shows. I’d guess I’ve seen about 30 fights, total. I can count on 1 hand the number of fights that went past the first round (two). I’d bet not even a third of the fights went past the first 2 minutes. The fights I’ve seen on HD Net are cut above that. Once in a while, you’ll see a horrible mismatch like the usual bush leaguer’s I’ve witnessed, but usually, they are better than that.

    As far as Cuban goes, I don’t trust his motivations either. It seems to me that its an excuse to get his fact shown on TV some more. However, if it makes money, he’ll keep at it. Billionaire or not, like anybody else, if doing this will make money, he’ll do it. Once the luster is gone, if it isn’t making him money, he’ll stop.

  4. David says:

    I like what IceMuncher said about Cuban and I agree; Although Erik Paulson has some sick submissions and I am tuning in for sure!

  5. Diamond Dave Williams says:

    I will agree, with the above comments about Mark Cuban entering the MMA cage to make money.The difference between what Cuban wants to do and what the UFC is currently doing is, that Mark Cuban will spend money as his organization grows in order to attract better talent and thus having better fighting cards which in turn will make more money. Mark Cuban has his own television station and therefore will be able to develop his fighters images in such a way that any organization could only wish for….by constant television exposure.
    ICEMUNCHER either did not read or he does not understand that MMA is gathering the largest numbers on HDNET. Mark Cuban has proved in the past that he is not afraid of bringing in foreign talent to bolster is sporting interests. I think that it is totally plausable for Cuban to sign Fedor as well as the entire RED DEVIL club to bring in instant credability, not to mention, there are a number of heavyweights out there that do not belong to the UFC that could make for some instantly high viewer fights.
    With the emergence of EliteXC, Mark Cuban and anything that Frank Shamrock gets involved in, I would say by early 2009, the UFC is going to have to find a way to stop its own internal bleeding.

  6. Zack says:

    Can’t blame them for not putting on a blockbuster card for their first show, especially when its on a week tape delay on TV.

  7. Jeremy (not that Jeremy) says:

    Dave, I think you’re overstating Cuban’s financial commitment to MMA.

    This deal is about content. As long as he was able to get a consistent string of reliable content for HDNet out of the other promotions, he was happy to do it. However, I think that it’s becoming apparent to most people that a lot of the smaller MMA organizations are quickly being gobbled up by either ProElite or UFC. The ones that haven’t been gobbled up are on some pretty shaky financial ground in a lot of cases, or are solid financially, but operating on a very local level.

    Therefore, he needs to put some money into some promotions somewhere in order to keep that stream of content coming.

    HDNet has always had a problem of having not quite enough content to fill out it’s schedule, so they show a lot of repeats. That tends to limit the attractiveness of the channel to distributors. The channel, along with HDNet Movies, is reliant on distributor license fees for it’s revenues, and to meet it’s targets, needs to expand it’s national footprint.

    MMA, like MLS, NHL, NASCAR, etc, gives HDNet a convenient way to fill out that schedule for little money. The alternative is endless reruns of Bikini Destinations (not necessarily a bad thing).

  8. [...] “HDNet: Moving MMA Forward” [...]

  9. MMANinja says:

    Didn’t get a chance to see the first show but after watching the second one, it definitely showed a lot of promise and potential to put together some great MMA shows with just enough name fighters and good up and comers.

    Plus, they’re giving the fans what UFC isn’t willing for whatever reason, to watch Fedor. And possibly Randy vs Fedor in Oct and Ken Shamrock vs Frank Shamrock.

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