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Live Coverage Focus of HDNet Fights in 2011

When I was a young MMA fan in the early 2000s, the only way for me to watch Japanese MMA was to trade tapes or wait sometimes years for official tapes or DVDs to be released. Later with the advent of streaming video, I was able to finally catch my MMA live via temperamental, pirated Korean streams. I was greedy though and even with my treasured Korean video, I wanted more and so I moved to Japan. These days, thanks largely to HDNet Fights CEO Andrew Simon, MMA fans need not take such desperate measures to get their JMMA fix.

After being given a clean slate by HDNet owner Mark Cuban in 2007, Simon and the team at HDNet Fights initially attempted to create a new promotion but after two events, they instead focused solely on broadcasting.

"We experimented with our own events in Dallas, but our strength is to be the leading TV network in the field of Mixed Martial Arts. We made it a goal to have more live MMA than any network in the world," Simon explains.

"We spanned the globe, not just the US for events That year, Fedor [Emelianenko] was planning his return at Yarennoka in Japan on New Year's Eve. We were able to make a deal for that event, and it let the world know HDNet was going to broadcast the world's greatest fighters regardless of promotional alliance.

Following the one-off Yarennoka event on December 31, 2007, Simon was approached by FEG USA Director Mike Kogan about broadcasting K-1 Hero's. As FEG's MMA promotion evolved into DREAM, HDNet became aggressive in the Japanese MMA scene and signed on as the broadcasting partner for every major MMA and kickboxing event and currently shows K-1, K-1-MAX, Sengoku Raiden Championship and DREAM. The deals that HDNet forged finally made Japanese MMA readily available to mainstream audiences in North America after years of forced piracy and pay per view events.

"I also take pride in that HDNet has helped bring attention to many fighters in the US that might not otherwise be recognized for their efforts overseas. HDNet's broadcasts of Yarrenoka, Dynamite!!, DREAM, K1 and Sengoku introduced many fans or gave greater exposure to Overeem, Aoki, Hornbuckle, Jacare, Santiago, King Mo, Hioki, Sandro, Mousasi, Fedor, Warren, Kawajiri and Omigawa among MANY others," Simon notes. "Sengoku Raiden Championship gave us some of the greatest fights in 2010 – Misaki v Santiago was "Fight of the Year" in my mind and Hioki v Sandro showed that Aldo has serious competition for claim of the best featherweight. As for K-1 & K-1 MMAX, they have been great differentiators for HDNet in the US. These are the best strikers in the world. Too often in the US, many fans start booing or get restless when fighters spend too much time on the ground. K-1 on HDNet offers these fans another option to enjoy combat sports with superior striking to many MMA fighters."

HDNet broadcasts have not been without problems though. The Pride FC and DREAM experience have been largely defined by the work of one man – Daisuke Sato. Sato's VTRs, the videos that introduce fighters and start events, are an essential part of the Japanese MMA experience but when DREAM initially aired on HDNet, the videos in question were nowhere to be seen. Simon was as disappointed as the rest of North America when the videos did not play.

"I was surprised at one of the early DREAM shows when instead of the great Daisuke Sato fighter introduction videos, we were given a feed shooting the top of the arena throughout the broadcast," Simon says. "Fans (rightly so), were upset, and emailed me as if somehow I didn't understand Japanese MMA and the history of the videos. Of course I want to show the fighter intros. This was a challenge we worked out."

With directional issues largely ironed out, one of the largest criticisms of HDNet Fights today is the delay in broadcasting some events. This is currently highlighted by the three week delay of Sengoku's end-of-year Soul of Fight event. Simon is well aware of the the issue.

"I try to bring as much MMA from Japan live as I can. Emailing me letting me know that you would rather see an event live rather than delay is pretty obvious. But what if the question is contractually you can only see it on delay or not at all? Sometimes we are not the only network in the world broadcasting these events and bigger issues come into play," Simon explains. "I don't think there are too many US TV networks that are investing money bringing MMA fans live sporting events at 4AM eastern...HDNet is that network that really loves MMA...and I promise you if I don't bring it live there is a much bigger reason than you think behind it."

Aside from the obvious language barriers, broadcasting Japanese MMA has it's challenges. Most notably, the fact that Japanese promoters generally announce bouts incredibly late, leaving almost no time for any specific advertising..

"From a promotional standpoint, of course we would love to build 24/7 style shows for DREAM and K-1. That said, I knew what I was getting coming in. Sometimes I know before the press the proposed match-ups...sometimes I will wake up in the US and be surprised like everyone else," Simon comments. "For weeks I saw Overeem's proposed opponent change..."

As HDNet is a private entity, they do not share ratings but Simon does say that he is happy with their MMA programming's performance. As always, fans (and journalists) want more and Japanese regional promotions Shooto, Pancrase and Deep are high on the wish list. With 15-20 Japanese events per year already on the HDNet calendar, the current focus for the broadcaster however is on making HDNet available on all cable providers and making it's content live and unmissable.

"When I grew up you had to watch NBC on Thursday night (Cosby, Cheers, Friends, Seinfeld, etc). Friday night means MMA on HDNet - plain and simple. At a minimum, you get Fighting Words, Inside MMA and a fight every Friday night. I would like to see some major sponsors get more exposure through what we do or help brands build through our platform. You will see more live MMA on HDNet. You will see Inside MMA live from major events. More video, blogs and exclusive footage on and you will see us advertise the network more aggressively in 2011."

HDNet Fights CEO Andrew Simon encourages your questions and comments on twitter. You can reach him at @andrewhdnet.

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