I'm disparaging of the sports media. It's a world that I find full of wannabe athletes and rock throwers in glass houses, always brimming with a sense of entitlement. And then there's the MMA media, which has its own particular idiosyncrasies, including guys who write for the nation's sporting cable monolith with next-to-no knowledge of the action in front of them.
I found myself embedded among these folks at last night's Bellator show in Chicago. I was able to work with Bellator's media reps and finally ended up getting credentialed approximately 36 hours before the first bell was scheduled to ring.
In the meantime, I gathered whatever advice I could get for covering my first event. The two pieces that stick in my mind were 1) don't be afraid to talk to people and 2) dress the part. I'm a naturally shy person, so acting the part of an extrovert is a bit of a stretch for me. I do, however, know how to dress for an occasion.
I show up with a white dress shirt, black dress shoes, a tie, and slacks. Now to be fair, most people showed up in polo shirts, but press row was chock full of T-shirts, shorts, and sneakers. Guess how many other ties I saw on members of the media? I'll set the over/under at 0.5 and let you take a side.
Bellator, by my uninitiated standards, treated us well. We arrived with a big box of Subway sandwiches and a plate of cookies waiting for us. I'm doing some weight cutting of my own, so I passed on both. The press tables were angled to the cage well, and we had plenty of outlets for our various electronic devices.
Coming into the event, I wanted to focus on what it's like to score an event live and up close to the action. Judges rely on some sort of mysterious difference between scoring the fight from cageside versus watching from the comfort of one's home.
Fortunately for me, decisions filled up the entire televised card. My cards looked like this: 30-27 Frausto, 29-29 for Hornbuckle/Blackburn, 30-27 for Grabowski, and 30-27 for Konrad, with the two contentious scores coming in the middle.
Starting with the heavyweight bout, I was shocked to hear all three judges turn in a 30-27 Grabowski card. It is very rare for judges to award rounds to a fighter who spent the majority of time on his or her back. From the very first takedown, however, Damian Grabowski demonstrated how to stay active with punches and elbows from the bottom. Scott Barrett, even with Chael Sonnen's dominating UFC 117 performance fresh in everyone's mind, tried to pass the guard without striking, to the point where it looked like he thought we were operating under the RINGS ruleset. Hats off to the judges for recognizing Barrett's hesitance to inflict damage.
The Hornbuckle/Blackburn fight provided a couple of interesting talking points. In the first round, Brad Blackburn blasted Dan Hornbuckle with a shot that sent him stiff toward the canvas. Or, at least, that's how I saw it. (And I had a nice angle of Hornbuckle falling over.) One of our readers in the comments thought the knockdown looked pretty tame on the TV, and subsequently gave Hornbuckle the first round. I haven't had a chance to watch the TV broadcast, but Hornbuckle told us in the presser that Blackburn came very close to knocking him out.
Round two proved to be the decisive period for the rest of us. Well, everyone else but people who gave Hornbuckle round one and me, who handed out a 10-10. It's my general philosophy that if I can't make a clear and concise argument for one fighter over another, they're both getting tens. If you strapped me down for a waterboard, I would have given the round for Hornbuckle, and I wasn't shocked to hear he won the decision, though I think Blackburn won the fight as a whole.
With a tremendous sample size of four and without having watched the broadcast, I'm skeptical that being up close significantly changes how one scores the fight. My scores aligned fairly well with Chris Nelson and Jordan Breen, both of whom I generally find myself in agreement with on all things MMA. I'm not so arrogant (though I'm close) to definitively conclude that judges just don't understand what they're watching (and at least last night they seemed to), but it adds to my preconceived notions on the subject.