MIXED MARTIAL ARTS' much-ballyhooed debut on a prime-time, over-the-air television network proved a case of too much and too little.

Those inequities will have to be addressed, and quickly, if CBS is to fulfill its contract with EliteXC to televise three more Saturday night specials this year - or even to come back for a second show.

Frankly, something that supposedly was of such importance to MMA should have been planned and executed much better.

Although the first two of the five scheduled TV bouts ended in the first round, with a combined elapsed time of 2 minutes, 12 seconds, the telecast - live from the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. - ran an incomprehensible 45 minutes beyond its 2-hour time slot. That sound you heard as midnight approached was officials of local affiliates wailing in frustration at the delay to their newscasts.

So much time was wasted on sound and fury signifying nothing - scantily clad cheerleaders shaking their booties, fireworks, loud and awful entrance music and interminable introductions - that the gaps between fights would have turned off many viewers, even if the action had been spectacularly entertaining.

It wasn't.

The overhyped media creation known as Kimbo Slice did win his bout, which began at 11:27, but his evolution from street-fighting "legend" to legitimate martial artist proved to be not nearly as far along as he, trainer Bas Rutten and promoter Gary Shaw would have people believe.

Kimbo (real name: Kevin Ferguson), with a fuller beard than Santa Claus, struggled mightily with British behemoth James "The Colossus" Thompson until he landed a right hand to Thompson's grotesquely deformed left ear in the third round. The ear - described by CBS blow-by-blow announcer Gus Johnson as "an alien life form," all but exploded upon impact, opening the door for a gassed Kimbo to land enough follow-up punches that referee Dan Miragliotta stepped in and stopped the bizarre bout 38 seconds into the third and final 5-minute round.

Considering that Thompson had lost five of his seven previous matches, what the 34-year-old Kimbo mostly proved is that his incredible YouTube popularity, developed through a series of quick, emphatic back-yard knockouts of stevedores, truck drivers and bar bouncers, is more of an illusion than a portent of wonderful things to come.

"I know I'm still a baby in the game. I've got a lot of room to grow," said a gasping Kimbo, who vowed to improve his conditioning by smoking less.

Perhaps it is to Kimbo's advantage that many of the curious who tuned in initially had fallen asleep or switched channels before he and Thompson engaged in a scrap more suitable for viewing by dozens in a parking lot rather than millions on network TV or the 8,033 paying patrons.

Shaw accepted some of the blame for Kimbo's flawed escape.

"We've set the bar so high that anything other than a tremendous performance is going to seem like a letdown," said Shaw, adding that "[Kimbo] did what he had to do. I still believe he's a superstar."

But if the production needed lots of trimming, even more restraint was exercised by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, whose referees apparently were instructed to stop bouts at the first sign of physical damage, lest people believe MMA is, you know, violent.

Brett Rogers' one-punch technical knockout of Philadelphia's Jon Murphy, and Joe Villasenor's similarly swift stoppage of Phil Baroni, were terminated before the losers had any chance to signal to the referee whether they could or could not continue.

Another dubious ending came when a ring physician determined that Scott "Hands of Steel" Smith should not be granted the full 5 minutes' recovery time after he was inadvertently poked in the eye during the third round of his title bout with EliteXC middleweight champion Robbie Lawler.

Only one bout - the female matchup of Gina Carano and Kaitlin Young - lived up to its billing, but even Carano's end-of-the-second-round victory over the battered Young came with a caveat. Carano, daughter of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Glenn Carano, came in at 144 1/2 pounds, 4 1/2 more than the contract limit, and was obligated to turn over 12 percent of her purse to the loser. *

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