Mixed-martial arts blogger Jake Rossen over at ESPN.com asks a legit question: Does Strikeforce's Nashville debut in April at the Bridgestone Arena have a card with enough starpower to light up a primetime slot on CBS?
I'm a casual MMA fan myself. If my girlfriend isn't in the room and I stumble across a good fight, more often than not I'll watch it. But the only fighter on the card I recognize is Dan Henderson -- an aging veteran of Pride and Ultimate Fighting Championships, as well as a former Olympic wrestler with cauliflower ears and a face with enough scar tissue to resemble a topographical map. After losing the feared Russian Fedor Emelianenko to the Strikeforce event slated for May, the utterly unproven but fascinating entry -- Heisman Trophy winner and celebrated NFL running back Herschel Walker -- bowed out because he hadn't had time to prepare for the fight.
Because I live here, I'll probably end up tuning in. But what about the rest of the country? Are the other entries -- Shinya Aoki, Gilbert Melendez and Gegard Mousasi -- enough of a draw to net the kind of ratings a primetime slot demands?
As Rossen points out, UFC has a brand that draws viewers -- even to bouts between relative unknowns. Strikeforce, with Nashville as its sophomore event, does not. And, of course, let's not forget the noxious CBS debacle that was EliteXC, whose headliner was a hulking, back-alley brawler and YouTube sensation named Kimbo Slice. (Apparently back-alley brawling doesn't translate well into multiple-round professional fights where conditioning and stamina are kind of essential.)
I watched that fight. The hype was high, the talent level low. MMA fans I know considered it an affront to the sport. Thankfully, EliteXC went the way of the dodo.
I really do hope CBS's second stab at breaking into MMA fandom isn't so ill-fated. The serious, dedicated fans -- the fans who'll keep coming back -- prefer skill over name recognition and hype. But when you're pushing novelty names like Herschel Walker and celebrated but overly seasoned fighters like Henderson, it worries me.