Ask BET's Reginald Hudlin why mixed martial arts is the newest muse among BET's reality television offerings, and he will take you back to tales of rooting for the greatest fighters to ever step into a ring.
"You know when we were kids, the question of whether Muhummad Ali or Bruce Lee would win in a fight? Well, mixed martial arts can answer that today," said Hudlin, 46, president of entertainment for BET. "I have followed the Ultimate Fighting Championship since my brother [Warrington] introduced it to me during the days when UFC had no gloves and few rules.
[a Brazilian combination of martial arts and dance] for many years and have a respect and admiration for martial arts myself. Everywhere I go, people are now asking me about
Since March 18, BET has been offering weekly half-hour episodes of
a series featuring team owners who include rappers and personalities such as Ludacris, Nelly, T.I., and Lil Jon and the best pound-for-pound pugilist, Floyd Mayweather. The last original installment will be televised May 20.
The owners and coaches host camps inviting fighters from the region to try out for their three-man teams. The fighters go from presenting their skills in the form of conditioning, sprinkled with a lot of macho banter, to fighting for places on teams that consist of a heavyweight, middleweight and lightweight. They compete for a grand prize of $100,000.
MMA fans and athletes - and I'm both - have mixed feelings about the Tuesday night show. The format looks as if the producers went back to a time of less-refined competition - more like a brawl. Even the ring used for the competitions is outside the proven designs of the UFC's cages or the International Fight League's traditional ring, arenas that afford fighters good angles of attack and defense with safety measures in place.
During a recent episode, team owner T.I. shouted out to a competitor from ringside: "Get offa yo' back, you can't win a fight on your back!" Obviously, T.I. has never heard of Brazilian jujitsu, which allows many victories from that position.
The lack of knowledge, the fighters' skill (or lack of it), and the quality of the coaching can be sore spots for long-time fans.
Philly MMA fighter Lamont "Badass" Lister, 29, (5-3), who was not chosen after tryouts for the show, said, "In the end, I'm glad I wasn't chosen to be on the team. Since there were no doctors present to look out for the fighters to determine the damage, we were at risk, and none of the referees were as familiar with the sport as I would have liked."
Chosen for the show was Deep South competitor and father of three, Primus Moore, 29, (1-0), a middleweight at 185 pounds. A former standout high school wrestler from Georgia, he is his own strength and conditioning coach, working to expand his training to get some boxing within his arsenal.
Martial-arts legend Abdul Mutakabbir, 56, who has spent 45 years studying combat, was the coach for Ludacris' team.
"This first season lacked the spiritual core of a bushido warrior. It was too much emphasis on the celebrities, not enough focus on training the fighters or on the actual fight," Mutakabbir said. "We needed more emphasis on the interaction and mind states of the fighters. I really want the show to be a success, but we need to take the circus act out."
He's offered the show's executives insights to improve the format and make the show "more polished" for next season.
Followers of Mixed Martial Arts through the decades might find entertainment from
but they should not expect to see an orchestra of beautiful techniques, a grand chess game of anatomy and skill.
The heavily padded ring doesn't lend a fighter much of a chance to use angles for attack and retreat. It's too small and it's not safe if the fighters happen to fall out of the ring. It creates more of a back alley brawl than a match between two skilled fighters.
The contenders seem unevenly matched, in skill and conditioning. Funny thing, though, you may keep watching, believing the show has the potential to get better.
My 17-year-old brother loves it for the hip-hop representation and all the gab that comes with the fighters' bravado. I'm a hardcore fan and I just rattle off five or six opponents who could destroy the opponents he's rooting for. He doesn't recognize the names. It dawns on me, though, that his demographic is the viewership for this show. These are his great fighters.
has been rated in the top 25 prime-time cable shows watched by African Americans, according to Nielsen. Not surprisingly, 50 percent of the
audience is female compared with about 30 percent for most top cable sports shows, according to BET, and the it averages 813,000 viewers per week. It is among BET's top programs this year, according to the network.
There's no question that as the audience for fighting and combat shows increases, so will the fan's understanding of this fighting art. The show needs to be seen by all fight fans, and that will be part of the effort to bring
into overall acceptance as legitimate MMA programming.
Part of the charm was chuckling at the ignorance of coaches and owners wanting to see bloodsport. They mean well, but there simply weren't enough people with MMA experience involved in the show to gain the loyalty of hardcore fans seeking good mixed martial arts fighting. But we can't help but watch a fight.