For the mixed martial arts fan, it had always been difficult, especially in the beginning of this sport to find a place to consistently watch mixed martial arts fights on television. Many networks whether regular broadcast television or cable was not interested in putting these incredible athletes on television, they felt this sport was too violent and didn’t really have a shelf life.
When approached by promoters who were trying to get their product on the air, most network executives said no. Mark Cuban, however, was no ordinary network executive. Brash and ballsy, and never one to shy away from a little edginess or controversy, Cuban and his network HDnet decided to give the people what they wanted and started putting fights on their network. Cuban saw the value in the sport and knew that it would sell.
2007 the brand HDNet fights was born, and the rest, as they say, is history. During their time on the air, they featured some great fights from some of the top regional promotions in the country. Legacy, XFC and so many other promotions were staples on this network every Friday night for years.
Nick Newell, Ovince St Preux, Scott Holtzman, Felice Herrig, Carla Esparza, Chris Barnett and John Salter are just a few names of the countless thousands of fighters that fought on the network, and began their careers as professional mixed martial artists and were introduced to the mixed martial arts community via the AXS/HDNet network.
We watched a dream come true when “Notorious” Nick Newell defied the odds and became the XFC Lightweight Champion of the World when he defeated Eric Reynolds live on AXS. Newell, who was born as a congenital amputee had only developed part of his left arm at birth, but that never stopped him from chasing his dream of being a world champion. The night he became a champion, he became America’s MMA sweetheart and that happened live before our very eyes on AXStv fights!
Ron Kruck, Guy Mezger, Kenny Rice Bas Rutten and Michael Schiavello were the voices and personalities that brought us the fights on Friday nights. They worked together in various combinations doing commentary or interviews.
Each one of these gentlemen had different life experience to bring to the broadcast and with their vast knowledge of the sport even during its infancy, we were given entertaining and educational commentary that truly enhanced the experience of watching, and along the way they continually informed and educated their viewers, some who knew the sport, but more importantly those fans that were watching for the first time whether intentionally, or because they landed on the network during a channel surfing surge, were immediately captivated by the action they were watching, and the people that were calling the fights.
Who remembers the 1st time they heard “The Voice” Michael Schiavello say goodnight Irene or one of his other off the cuff, and sometimes off the wall catchphrases? When Schiavello came on board with his bold voice, years of commentary experience and his larger than life personality and was teamed with UFC Hall Of Famer Pat Miletich on the play-by-play desk, the broadcasts were elevated to a different level. It was world-class commentary at it’s finest, and that was what the network needed to compliment the product.
Ron Kruck while he ends his tenure with the network as a play by play man, he truly shined as a post-fight interviewer and journalist. Traveling the country and putting together segments on the athletes that the network was showcasing was something he did better than anybody else. He wasn’t full of fluff and bravado, and while he was very important in the process of putting together these segments, he never tried to outshine the fighters he was covering as some interviewers do. He understood his job, and executed it for lack of a better term, perfectly! I personally will always be grateful to him for some of the valuable lessons he taught me on how to interview a fighter or any athlete.
Bad Rutten and Kenny Rice also did time as commentators, but where they really caught fire was when they were hosting Inside MMA. To this day it is still the most successful all mixed martial arts interview show to ever hit the airwaves.
For me, this network will always have a special place in my heart. I made my national television ring announcing debut here and did a ton of shows on this network. While being on television is cool, what I will always take from that experience is the education it provided me and the friendships that were born because of my time with XFC on this network. Crew dinners, crazy conversations, history-making moments were made with the AXS/HDnet fights family, and I will always treasure that.
Alas, all good things come to an end. Anthem Sports is now the majority owner of AXS and will be ending the tenure of the fight business on the network. 40 people involved in the fight business conducted by AXS were let go before the ink dried on the paperwork of the sale.
Tonight’s LFA76 is the last MMA event to be aired on the network, it’s the end of an era that nobody wants to happen. Even though tonight we say goodbye, we should remember to thank everyone and that means the fighters, promoters, cameraman, boom operators, the guy that ran the jib for the overhead shots, production assistants, directors, producers, of course Mark Cuban, and everybody involved for doing their part to put on great fights and help this sport become mainstream and accepted and accessible to the world.
Thanks for the memories!
Christopher James has been in the MMA industry for 15 years, Working as a ring announcer for promotions like the XFC, Island Fights, Combat Night and Fight Nights Global during his career. Chris’ love for the sport and the athletes that partake in it led him to writing and doing face to face interviews with the athletes he admired and respected. Chris isn’t conventional by any stretch of the imagination, he has his own style, and takes pride in not being a “cookie-cutter” member of the media. Unique and sometimes controversial takes are what he brings to the table, forcing folks to think a little differently about the world of MMA. He also has a love for music as he has been a dj for 25 years and his love for music gets brought to the MMA world when he gets his guests to sing on his weekly show Cage Side with Christopher James which can be seen Wednesday nights on FACEBOOK LIVE, and soon via podcast.