The debut broadcast of the World Series of Fighting Saturday night on NBC Sports was a smooth but rather ordinary fight broadcast.
There were no major production glitches, aside from the wrong graphic put under fighter Tyrone Spong in the opener and a moving camera during a ring entrance. The combination of a darkened crowd, and not a lot of crowd noise, made nobody come across like a superstar in a night that appeared to be built around former UFC fighters looking to prove they were still relevant, a term used several times.
Three of the four TV fights went quickly, and as expected, ending with first-round knockouts or TKO's, with all the winners looking impressive.
The much-anticipated MMA debut of kickboxer Tyrone Spong saw him blast an overmatched and out-of-shape appearing Travis Bartlett in the first round. Spong, after scoring a knockdown, instinctively walked away, as one would do in kickboxing, to go to his corner. As it turned out ref Steve Mazzagatti was waving it off at the same time, but against the wrong person, that could have been a significant mistake.
Anthony Johnson, fired by UFC for repeatedly failing to make weight as a welterweight, is now a light heavyweight. For a guy who fought for years at 170, making 205 should be a piece of cake. And he won a highlight-reel knockout over D.J. Linderman, and showed some personality in his post-match interview.
Headliner Andrei Arlovski, the former UFC heavyweight champion, also made short work of Devin Cole, the veteran wrestler from Oregon. Cole figured to be an opponent that Arlovski would look impressive against, because he's primarily a wrestler, and Arlovski has great takedown defense. He showed in this fight and had good movement and striking skills. His problem is when facing a good striker, his jaw often fails him, which didn't figure to be the case here.
The one surprise was Marlon Moraes, a Muay Thai champion from Brazil. Moraes was quicker and a crisper striker than former WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Angel Torres. Torres was a popular bantamweight in UFC, who was fired twice for disciplinary reasons, the first for Twitter stupidity, and the second time for apparently not learning anything from the first time after he pleaded for another chance. But this was a loss he could ill afford.
Moraes won a split decision. The three-round fight was filled with action, but the live crowd booed it at times. They also, when the decision was rendered, seemed to be booing the idea that Torres won on one of the cards.
The WSOF debut at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas was a time buy on television. The cost of putting together a show like this, combined with having to pay their way on television, makes the show a likely significant money loser.
There were a couple of sponsors that appeared to be lined up by the Blackzillians fight team of Boca Raton, Fla. It seemed like almost every commercial featured a fighter from the camp, including multiple commercials with team members Alistair Overeem, Michael Johnson, Anthony Johnson, as well as spots with Eddie Alvarez and Rashad Evans.
So the question becomes what is the goal and where do they go from here? Perhaps the goal is to buy their way onto television in an attempt to draw a rating that would make them attractive, whether that would be for NBC Sports or another station, that would be willing to pay for programming.
NBC Sports, when it was Versus, used MMA, both WEC and later UFC, as some of its highest rated programming from 2007 to 2011, drawing 300,000 to 1.44 million viewers, depending on who was on top. One would think as the station has tried to become more of a sports fan destination this year, that MMA is programming they would be considering, particularly since when negotiations between UFC and NBC were shot the station was on the verge of being UFC's cable home.
They are currently doing boxing on the station that draws in the neighborhood of 270,000 viewers. So if the show can get in that range, it would be considered a success.
NBC Sports has about the same level of clearances as MTV 2, so the viewership can be compared to Bellator. Bellator has never had as many former name fighters on a show, but it has also had time to develop its brand and a regular fan base. Currently it is averaging 163,000 viewers this season. .
The other possible destination could be an attempt to get on Showtime. With the Showtime contract with Strikeforce expiring early next year, and it's renewal in question, that could leave an opening. Strikeforce has drawn solid ratings this past year, and one would think Showtime would see MMA as valuable programming to attract sports fans as subscribers. Showtime also pays very well, and garnering that deal could make the WSOF into something financially viable.
The deal with NBC Sports was for a single show. A weakness of the broadcast was the lack of any significant building of the brand for the future. There was little talk of a next show other than announcer Bas Rutten, at the end, mentioning the idea of a second show in February, with no date or place mentioned. There were no name fighters who weren't on the show talked about as debuting on that show, nor was anyone interviewed about being part of the organization or the goals of the organization or why people should support the venture.
The only hints of something for the future was after Moraes beat Torres, they announced that Moraes would face Tyson Nam on the second show. But nothing was done to build that rivalry past the mention of Nam's name, or tell the audience who Nam was and why they should care. Nam is a bantamweight fighter with a 12-4 record who put himself on the map with a first-round knockout of Bellator champion Eduardo Dantas on Aug. 26 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The WSOF did prove they can put on a television show with no significant issues, and a number of name fighters. The question becomes what the next step is, and nothing was said on the broadcast that gave any hints to what it could be.