Media and the Combat Sports

By Tom Donelson
Updated: January 14, 2012

Here and Now

Here and Now

IOWA CITY, IOWA (BASN)—Howard Cosell use to rail against the jockacracy that he felt ruined sportscasting but in watching boxing and the Mixed Martial Arts, one can conclude that jockacracy definitely enhances the sports broadcasting. ESPN Ted Atlas is one of the premier analysts in any sports. Atlas is fearless in criticizing fighters if they don’t give full effort or local or state boxing commission if they don’t meet minimal standards, which in boxing is often. What is the best about Atlas is that he gives the viewer a boxing lesson as he explains the intricacies of the sweet science. The viewer comes out of the event better informed after each broadcast.

Two former or should I say still active boxers, Roy Jones and Antonio Tarver have shown to be great additions to the sport broadcasting team. Tarver has always been quick with the quip and quite loquacious before any big fight and his personality adds to his skills as he does what a good analyst should do, give us the match from the boxer point of view and Roy Jones is equally as good. Showtime may have the strongest team as they team Steve Farhood for SHOBOX and Al Bernstein, the recently crowned Hall of Fame broadcaster for championship events. Farhood and Bernstein have watched the sports for decade and know the history of the sports which adds depth to their broadcast. Both men came from the journalism ranks but they have taken the time to learn and know the sport they cover and they show the sport and the fighters the respect they deserve.

Showtime MMA Frank Shamrock biggest weakness is Tarver biggest strength. Tarver is good at educating the viewer on boxing, explaining why certain techniques work and others don’t whereas Shamrock does not do enough explaining the various techniques of the sport. (While Shamrock details the strategy of each participant, he does not explain the nuance of the sport as well as Tarver does.) In a sport that is relatively new and full of moves derived from the various combat sport, it is important to educate the audience. While many of the audience are hard core MMA fans who understand the intricacies of the sport, there are others who are new to the sport. Atlas, Jones and Tarver along with Farhood and Berstein are good at explaining boxing tactics and techniques and more importantly, they are good at explaining why it is important. Shamrock, who was one of the early MMA stars, does a good job of adding an element of coolness in contrast to the blow by blow announcers who view every punch as epic. Shamrock, who has been in enough of big matches, knows what is epic and what is not.

Which brings me to real weakness of sports journalism in general when it comes to combat sports, most sport writers really don’t like either boxing or MMA. Boxing has always been consider the red light district of sports and considering that it has and still is the most mismanaged professional sport, it is not hard to understand. As Al Bernstein noted, what is often missing is the heroism of the boxers in the ring. The fighters in the ring often make up for the politics outside the ring.

In the January 7th Strikeforce match between Luke Rockhold and Keith Jardine showed the appeal of the combat sports. In one brief moment, Rockhold knocked Jardine down before finishing him up. The late Nick Charles noted about boxing, it was the only sport that you could be down 10-0 in the final round and still win with just one blow. One blow and it is over, just like that. MMA is much like boxing in that regard, a fighter is never out of it and even with time running out, the knock out can win a fight. No lead is safe and nothing is certain.

For most sport writers, their expertise are concentrated in three major sports, baseball, basketball and football but beyond that, nothing. Much of the best coverage on MMA and boxing actually occurs on the internet or cable and much of the sports punditry bias against the combat sports is as much due to the lack of knowledge of the sports themselves as anything else. Let face it, is MMA or boxing any more violence than football? Hardly but Football is a politically correct sport and neither boxing or MMA are. At least for now but I suspect that may change as many cities are working to ban Big Mac and transfat, how long will football remain in the good gracious of much of the elites who have already long ago consider boxing or MMA beneath them?

This is why writers like Steve Farhood or analysts like Antonio Tarver or Frank Shamrock are important for they tell a story of two sports worthy of our intention. ‘