Electric: EliteXC-Strikeforce, Shamrock-Le Deliver Memorable Night

March 30, 2008

The honest truth is that most MMA events, like most sporting events, are forgettable. The event is hyped, some better than others; fans are excited, sometimes more than others; anticipation builds; the event happens, some are more entertaining than others; fans are satisfied, sometimes more than others; and the process repeats itself with the last event forgotten, remembered only for its relevance to the hype of the next event. As the relentless expansion of MMA on television continues, this is phenomenon that will on increase. But occasionally an event, or at least a fight, transcends that pattern and becomes something special.

Only hours removed from the glow, last night’s EliteXC-Strikeforce co-promotion, or at the very least its main event, feels like one of those special nights that people remember. From top to bottom this was one of the strongest shows I can recall seeing, with conclusive finishes in every fight, but it was the main event that may transform this from a good show into a legendary show, an “instant classic” in MMA.

The tone for the night was actually set five minutes before the live broadcast began with a brilliant five minute Showtime short interview with Frank Shamrock. It was five of the most effective promotional minutes you will ever see. There was nothing fancy about it, just a get to know you rapid fire interview with Shamrock’s charisma turning it into something great. In case you didn’t believe he would be one of the biggest draws in the sport instantly with the right television platform, he proved it again later in the broadcast during another promotional piece.

The Shamrock-Le main event is a must see and a rematch is a no brainer. EXC’s second CBS date is reportedly set for July, giving Shamrock three months to heal. The politics of the EXC-Strikeforce arrangement have always been difficult and will undoubtedly become more difficult now that both have their own network TV deals, but Le-Shamrock II may be the best fight all of MMA (including the UFC) can offer on network TV right now.

Despite what was probably a disappointing finish for some, the fight is an early fight of the year candidate and one of the best fights I’ve ever seen. It was such a great fight for three rounds, enhanced by a hot crowd, that I was shocked at the finish (when Shamrock couldn’t come out for the fourth round with a broken arm), but not disappointed.

This was a star making turn for Le and perfect timing for Strikeforce as they go national on NBC with Le as the face of the promotion. If NBC representatives were in the building, or even watching at home, it is easy to imagine visions of the rematch live on NBC dancing in their heads. This was that kind of main event on that kind of show.

The weakest segment of the entire broadcast was a live interview with Kimbo Slice in the middle of the cage. He got a nice reaction, but nothing close to a super star reaction, at least not at the level of Shamrock or Le. Even though he’s become the face of the brand and is a legitimate phenomenon, EXC has to be careful about shoving him down people’s throats. Kimbo has a great look and persona to go with an exciting style, but the segment died when he started talking. In his defense, he was put in a position to fail with nothing to talk about (like who he will be facing on the CBS debut).

It will be interesting to see what kind of numbers the show does to see if there was any bump from the CBS publicity or the strength of the event itself. Speaking of CBS, it’s a shame that EliteXC can’t bottle tonight for its network television debut because it will be hard pressed to live up to this performance. This was the kind of show that gains traction for a brand, the kind of show that people point to as the turning point for a company. However, given than it was Strikeforce’s main event and live promotion, the case can be made that, if there is a turning point to be pointed to, it belongs to Scott Coker and company, not EliteXC.

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