The Weekly Wrap: Oct. 24 - Oct. 30

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By Jack Encarnacao Nov 6, 2009
The Weekly Wrap walks readers through the last seven days in MMA, recapping and putting into context the week's top story, important news and notable quotes.

Top Story

It has been more than a year since mixed martial arts was showcased on network television in primetime. Back then, the effort was built around Kevin Ferguson and Gina Carano, two MMA neophytes whose over-the-top charisma helped CBS draw the biggest audiences for televised fights ever in North America. This time, the network will bank on the relatively uncharismatic Fedor Emelianenko, hoping the stoic Russian and top MMA heavyweight can capture imaginations the same way.

It will be the true litmus test for Emelianenko and, in some ways, for the sport. The television ratings will signal whether simply featuring the man many consider the planet’s best MMA fighter was enough to draw appreciable attention. CBS wants to expand its viewership among young men and improve on its primetime average on Saturday nights, two marks the EliteXC shows easily hit.

Strikeforce/M-1 Global “Fedor vs. Rogers” on Saturday represents not only the sport’s return to CBS but also Strikeforce’s first foray into live network television production -- a significant test considering the considerable pressure the task put on the now-defunct EliteXC organization. November will rank as the busiest month in the history of the San Jose, Calif.-based promotion, with three live television cards in the span of 30 days.

The CBS debut takes place at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill., west of Chicago. Strikeforce promoter Scott Coker predicted a sellout of the 10,686 tickets available for the show; 9,815 had been sold by Thursday. To help pump the event locally, Strikeforce brought in World Extreme Cagefighting veteran Jeff Curran, who has promoted and fought in the area for years, to fight on the undercard against Dustin Neace. Curran told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show that part of his Strikeforce contract included a percentage of the thousands of tickets he and his associates sold.

Strikeforce teamed with M-1 Global and Showtime to promote the show. M-1, partly owned by Emelianenko, handled international marketing of the event, landed the broadcast on the Bravo Channel in the United Kingdom and scored TV deals in Korea and Japan. The Emelianenko fight will air live on satellite television in his native Russia and the next night on Channel One, a high-profile network in the country.

All parties involved sought to get the two main event principals as much exposure as possible during the final week leading into the bout. Emelianenko and his opponent, Brett Rogers, appeared at Soldier Field during Sunday’s Chicago Bears NFL football game on CBS. Barker ads that aired during the broadcast promised their meeting will be the “most explosive” heavyweight fight in history and tagged Emelianenko the Michael Jordan of his sport. CBS had planned interviews with Emelianenko and Rogers during last Sunday’s halftime show, but they did not happen due to time constraints, according to the Wrestling Observer.

Rogers did a pair of interviews on ESPN2 programming Wednesday and appeared on the “Last Call with Carson Daly” late night show on NBC. The subtitle beneath Rogers’ interview on SportsNation was “from changing tires to a title fight.” A story on Emelianenko received prominent play in the sports pages of the Chicago Sun-Times.

CBS executives claimed ad time sold out quickly for the broadcast and at a better pace than during the EliteXC era. CBS draws an average of 12.4 million primetime viewers, best among the networks. Not all viewers will have access to the show live. Some local CBS affiliates are postponing the broadcast until the early morning Sunday to make way for local sports programming. A plan to preempt the show in the Orlando, Fla., market was reversed after fans began calling the station.

A good percentage of CBS affiliates nationwide opted to broadcast a “Fight Camp 360” documentary series on the main event, which was produced by and premiered on Showtime. The special went inside the Emelianenko and Rogers camps, using a more understated tone than the UFC’s loud and strident “Countdown” specials.

Cameras visited Rogers in the barber shop -- where he assured his grandmother via phone that he was going to handle Emelianenko -- and at the Sam’s Club where he worked as he started in MMA. A camera crew also visited the suburban house Rogers will buy with the fight money. Emelianenko’s isolated Stary Oskol, Russia, camp was also highlighted, including footage of his being brushed with oak tree twigs as he recovered in a sauna, as well as shots of him at church and his modest apartment. Both fighters promised to hunt for the opponent’s chin on Saturday. The special was hurt a bit by the complete absence of any fight footage of Emelianenko, much of which Zuffa owns through its purchase of Pride and certain assets from the shuttered Affliction promotion.

Another promotional partner in the effort was Electronic Arts, which partnered with Strikeforce to promote its upcoming “MMA” game. Scenes from the game were unveiled on Friday as part of promotional festivities.

Nineteen of the 20 fighters on the card made weight at Friday’s official weigh-in. Only featherweight Dustin Neace, scheduled to face World Extreme Cagefighting veteran Jeff Curran, failed to meet his requirement. Their bout will be held at a catchweight of 149.6 pounds, and Curran will be awarded 20 percent of Neace’s purse.
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