On the eve of a big NFL football game, pre-event coverage will dominate the sport's landscape for a solid week. And that's no anomaly reserved for high profile playoff games or Bret Favre's return to Green Bay. Prior to kickoff every single NFL Sunday there are multiple pregame shows on a variety of cable and broadcast networks. College football gets the same treatment.That's what big time sports looks like in America. And it's something MMA fans have grown used to doing without.
Mixed martial arts has long been the red headed stepchild of the sports world. For years it was unheard of to even get on a sports network like ESPN. A single highlight, a scroll on the bottom of the screen, a five minute interview segment: these were moments to be treasured. For every other sport, coverage is an assumption. It's routine and expected. For MMA it was a novelty.
Things are changing at a furious pace. HDNet has Inside MMA weekly with former UFC champion Bas Rutten. MMA Live is slowly changing the culture at ESPN, taking coverage of the sport to the next level. Now the website Heavy.com wants to go one further with Fight Day Live. Instead of a weekly studio show, Heavy pitched a pre-game show for every UFC event. The UFC was happy to accept.
"There was an opening in the market for something like this. A show that can reach both the casual and the hardcore fan," Heavy MMA Editor in Chief Matt Brown said. "That's part of what we do at Heavy. We're much more than a MMA brand. We are bringing the sport to a wide audience and being able to work with an industry leader like the UFC is really huge for us. We're so glad the UFC was receptive to doing a show like this. They've been wonderful to work with and we're looking to deliver big time."
Dave Farra, linchpin of the most popular morning radio show in Las Vegas, will host the show alongside Heavy's Megan Olivi. Farra has been around the fight game for years, moving to Vegas from South Carolina and ending up studying martial arts with Forrest Griffin and the gang at the old Xyience Training Center. One of the first local media stars to give the UFC the time of day, Farra will be a familiar face to most of the old hands at the Mandalay Bay where the show will be filmed live. Most similar shows record live to tape to cover up any potential flubs, but Heavy and the UFC have decided to air the show live in real time across a variety of partner sites like MixedMartialArts.com and eventually mainstream sites like Maxim.
"That's the beauty of sacrificing your professional integrity years ago. It's out the window so it doesn't matter," Farra said with a laugh. "Live television is such an exciting thing. We'll have Tito Ortiz and Urijah Faber on the first show and the fans will be right there. It'll have the energy of a live event. That's the beauty of going live. There are risks. There could be mess ups, we don't know."
While Farra is the industry veteran, Olivi is the newcomer and fresh face. She's quickly gathered a following for her post-fight interview standups for Heavy and is excited to take this to the next level. Although she's only been working full time in the MMA industry for a few months, combat sports are in her blood.
"I grew up in the wrestling room. My brother was a champion in freestyle, folkstyle, and greco roman wrestling in high school. He did it all and he's nine years older than me," Olivi said. "I grew up around athletes like these guys. So acclimating to the sport isn't as hard for me as it might be for another female. Because I'm not really intimidated."
A graduate of Fordham with a Masters degree in public communications and mass media studies, Olivi worked as an intern at Fox throughout college. She was a contributor to Mike Straka's FOX Fight Game, where she first caught the MMA bug. Another mentor at Fox was an MMA pioneer. Fox and Friend's Brian Kilmeade was the lead announcer for the first three UFC events in 1993 and 1994.
"When I was working at Fox he knew I was helping out with Mike Straka's show. He was telling me how happy he was that the sport had evolved and the UFC had evolved as an organization. When he started they were advertised as having no rules, you know, the old UFC that some critics still picture in their head," Olivi said. "He laughed and said his agent asked him not to put that on his resume. It's awesome that the sport is where it is now."
Partnering so closely with the UFC will open the door to some criticism from media ethicists. But Brown and his crew are already working closely with the UFC and feel confident that the show can travel where it needs to go in pursuit of the story.
"I get accused of being a UFC nuthugger all the time. It doesn't matter. The UFC is the kingpin. They have 95 percent of the market," Farra said. "Some would say you can't be a journalist if you follow certain guidelines. I don't buy into it. There are plenty of questions to ask. You don't have to compromise your journalistic integrity by avoiding the tough questions. I've never heard anyone say they've asked a tough question and been banned for it."
The inaugural Fight Day will be shown live on Saturday February 5th at 4:30 p.m. ET/ 1:30 p.m. PT on www.heavy.com, www.
"I would say it's too early to tell, but not really. It's got the makings for a live show on television. Both myself and Megan Olivi have plenty of television experience. Putting this on live TV is certainly something that could happen down the road," Farra said. But the veteran broadcaster doesn't believe that you need television to be a serious product in today's market. "The media has changed so much over the last few years. You can do a show like this with a real budget and a bunch of producers for the web audience. They can monetize it now."