Cuban Critiques Inaugural HDNet Fights

By Scott Holmes Oct 16, 2007
Anyone eager to start promoting in the ever-expanding world of mixed martial arts will certainly run into obstacles. In fact, separating yourself from the already saturated field of promotions is next to impossible unless your organization has deep pockets and a television deal.

HDNet Fights entered the game on Saturday, and unlike your average organization, it had some aces up its sleeve.

Is a television deal in the works? Nah, HDNet Fights just has its own network backed by a billionaire owner who, thanks to his antics in the NBA and current stint on ABC's smash show "Dancing With The Stars," is recognizable in more households than Dana White could ever dream to be.

"I'm a fan, and I think that it's time for MMA athletes to be treated with the same level of respect as any other professional athlete," Mark Cuban, HDNet founder and Dallas Mavericks owner, told after his inaugural MMA event. "By doing so, the sport can grow to be even bigger than it is today. Basically I want to take the same principles I have learned from the NBA and apply them to MMA."

Cuban doesn't plan on arguing with MMA refs anytime soon. Even if he did, he certainly won't be fining himself. Keeping the attention of fickle fight fans will be the challenge for HDNet, and the first HDNet Fights card -- comprised of mostly good local prospects, along with UFC veterans Drew Fickett (Pictures) and Pete Spratt (Pictures) -- wouldn't exactly qualify for lineup of the year.

The headliner of Jeff Ford versus Erik Paulson didn't fill the seats to the rafters either. It had been seven years since Paulson entered a ring, and the last time anyone saw Ford someone from "Charles in Charge" was yelling at him on VH1's "Celebrity Fit Club."

In terms of production value, the event was very good. The promotion had the fighters come out together a la PRIDE and then kept the pace of the show moving quickly. However, there was also a heavy emphasis on the broadcast production's needs as opposed to "Joe Fan" sitting in the third row, and Cuban admitted as much.

"It's part of the learning process," Cuban said. "We were too focused on making this perfect for broadcast on HDNet in coming weeks. We need to make it more focused for fans in the arena. We aren't in a rush. It doesn't have to happen overnight. I think people forget that unlike other promoters, I control the entire value and business chain. From the arena to the TV network, to DVD sales and even broadcasting to theaters. Each fight provides programming for the entire chain. Unlike others I'm not dependent on a TV deal or TV ratings for our future. I can take my time and do it right."

Doing it right will be the key for HDNet if it is to make a splash with future events. A common theme on Saturday was respect. From the hotel that housed the fighters to the after-fight gourmet buffet, the athletes appreciated the way they were treated by Cuban's organization.

"They treated me well and treated me very professionally," Pete Spratt (Pictures) said.

Drew Fickett (Pictures), another veteran of numerous organizations, said he would never be a millionaire in MMA and therefore respect means everything to him.

"They keep treating us like that," Fickett said, "they'll have my respect every time."

Even though fighters and fans left happy, Cuban said his event would improve.

"I'm happy that the feedback from fans was that they had a great time," he said. "I'm happy that the fighters and their crews all came up to me to thank me for how they were treated and how different it was from other shows. That said, my focus is on making it the best entertainment event it can be. It was far from it. There is a ton of room for improvement. … I spent most of the fights taking notes and talking to people for ideas. This was our beta test event. Next one in December will be better, and the one after that will be even better."

Leave it to an Internet pioneer to call an MMA event a "beta test."

The pieces do seem to be in place for HDNet Fights with the world heading toward a high-def future. The missing piece of the puzzle, at this point, is a card filled with talent from beyond the Dallas city limits.
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