MMA Live made its ESPN 2 debut on Saturday night, and for the most part I thought the shows were very good. The association of MMA with ESPN graphics is very beneficial to the sport. ESPN simply lends a certain legitimacy to MMA.
I found the post-show better than the pre-show. We typically only hear from fans and writers immediately after fights, and it was nice to hear Kenny Florian and Rashad Evans add their perspective on the action in the Octagon.
Kenny Florian has really turned into an excellent analyst for ESPN. When he started he was a talented public speaker with a rare ability (among fighters) to articulate his points effectively, but he was a little rough around the edges. He’s improved ten-fold since the beginning of his stint, and now comfortably makes concise and valuable points without worrying about going too far by insulting his fellow fighters.
Jon Anik has always been very good, but as a viewer it is easy to tell that he’s become more comfortable in his job over time. Every episode he exudes a little more personality on-air, but still hits the right balance as the lead anchor. The rapport between Anik and Florian may not be Olbermann-Patrick, but it’s pretty good.
This brings us to Franklin Mcneil. Like everyone who writes about him, I will preface this by saying I’m sure he’s a nice guy, and I have nothing against him. That being said, he needs to be replaced as soon as possible. He openly roots for his favorites, has worse sources than MMA Bay, and simply does not know the sport well enough to be an anchor on the most important show in the sport. It’s worth repeating that he complimented Junior Dos Santos’s ground game based on his submission win over Mirko CroCop, even though the submission was due to strikes.
Everyone makes mistakes, but certain mistakes, made on a regular basis, betray a fundamental lack of understanding about the sport. The argument that he adds quality reporting to the show simply doesn’t fly; his report on Shogun’s knee was clearly way off-base, and frankly without being 100% sure of it he should not have come forward with that kind of information the night of a major fight. I’ll be frank: I let out a huge sigh of relief when the pre-show came on and Rashad was sitting in the third seat rather than Franklin Mcneil.
The same can be said about Gareth Davies, who is now on the show for reasons simply beyond comprehension. I appreciate his efforts to support the sport in the UK, but on the totem pole of intelligent MMA analysts, well, he isn’t even on the list at all. I never give people grief over fight picks; god knows I’m not that good at picking fights. That being said, was anyone surprised when Davies picked Hardy over GSP, or Daley over Koscheck? Gareth Davies will probably pick Michael Bisping over Anderson Silva if they ever fight.
Who is the ideal third man? There are a lot of choices. The best pick would be Randy Couture, who steals the show whenever he is on MMA Live. He’s always been very good at play by play, and he’s a natural for a gig like this. His presence would lend authority to the show.
If not Randy, there are plenty of other analysts out there that could add something to the show. Ariel Helwani is a very good speaker with a deep knowledge of the sport. Luke Thomas of this website would be a great pick given his speaking ability and his knowledge of the sport. Dave Meltzer would be a great pick as well if they’re really looking for someone with an ability to add hard news to the broadcast.
Another great pick would be Joe Rogan. Joe is a fantastic MMA analyst outside of his role as a play-by-play guy. His podcasts deal with all kinds of crazy issues, but when Joe speaks about MMA as a fan and analyst, he is one of the most insightful guys in the entire sport. His appearances on Josh Gross's show are fantastic, and he really was the only guy who really called Machida-Shogun 2 correctly. Obviously Rogan cannot do pre-show specials due to his commentating job, but he would be a great regular host and post-show host.
Overall, the show has improved significantly since its inception, and I’m excited to see it on television. I think the post-show in particular could have a very strong future, especially if they can get the UFC to plug it on-air.