MEDIA & BUSNESS: Segment by segment breakdown of debate shows “First Take” & “Skip and Shannon” in the wake of the Mayweather-McGregor announcement

By Robert Vallejos, MMATorch contributorb

Official Mayweather vs. McGregor poster

The blockbuster announcement of Floyd Mayweather taking on Conor McGregor in a boxing match has everybody talking, but what are those who are paid to give their “Hot Takes” on cable television saying about the fight?

Aside from yielding a lot of money for all participants involved, this fight will also arise ill-informed opinions by those who do not regularly cover either MMA or boxing.

Both ESPN and FS1 have flagship morning shows based on debating relevant (and sometimes irrelevant) sports topics of the day.

These types of shows are among the most fertile ground for outlandish opinions.

To gain a sample of what we are in for over the next two months, here is a detailed recap and analysis of how “First Take” and “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed” discussed the fight on June 15. (The day after the fight was announced.)

First Take

Commentators: Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman

Topic # 1: Do you give McGregor a chance?

“First Take” is starting off with the premise that McGregor is automatically at a disadvantage. Max Kellerman is completely dismissive of McGregor’s chances in the fight. He cites the fact that boxers who have trained in the discipline their entire lives have not been able to defeat Mayweather, therefore someone with McGregor’s limited experience has no chance of victory.

Stephen A. Smith respectfully disagrees with Kellerman. Smith acknowledges that Mayweather is the overwhelming favorite, but McGregor has some level hope in the fight. Smith makes several analogies to past boxing matches that appeared to be odd pairings.

The segment follows this pattern for a few minutes.

The conversation changes when Kellerman explains that those who feel that McGregor has a chance do so because there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the artful science of both boxing and MMA.

Smith inquirers about the implications of using 10 oz. gloves, Kellerman explains that the size is compliant with the weight that they are fighting at.

Kellerman notes that McGregor is a “pure puncher,” citing instances where McGregor has knocked out opponents while falling backwards.

Kellerman also praises McGregor’s fighting spirt.

Kellerman ends the segment by proclaiming that McGregor will not land a single punch on Mayweather.

Analysis: While this segment offered nothing that was particularly insightful, it was also inoffensive to the viewer. It is clear that both men have a deeper knowledge of boxing, but they are not completely naïve at it pertains to MMA. With one exception, nothing said during this segment came out of left field. Kellerman’s position that McGregor has no chance and Smith’s assertion that McGregor has a very small chance are both acceptable forms of discourse on this topic. However, the notion that McGregor will not land a single punch might have went a tad too far. This might ultimately become true, but such knowledge is simply unknowable at this point.

Topic #2: What Does this fight mean for boxing?

The question was formed in the context of Oscar De La Hoya imploring boxing fans not to purchase Mayweather-McGregor.

Kellerman explains the popularity and appeal of combat sports.

Kellerman also explains that sports are ultimately an entertainment vehicle based on the narratives that they create. He implies that this type of drama is why boxing and MMA can have such an appeal.

However, Kellerman also emphasizes that boxing does not have a central authority figure like a Dana White. He goes on to note that people like to see fights between characters that people know; he emphasizes that to the casual observer Mayweather and McGregor are the only two characters that people know.

Kellerman posits that this fight is a result of both the demand for combat sports and the scarcity of visible boxers.

Smith explains that this fight is great for boxing because it brings an awareness and appreciation to the sport that has been lost. Smith elaborates that this was a fight that people wanted to see, and Dana White and others made it happen. He notes that this is in contrast to the norm of boxing. Smith argues that this fight shines a light on some of the flaws in the structure of boxing. He also raises the possibility that this fight will enlighten some of the boxing decision-makers.

Smith concedes that the De La Hoya promoted fight between Canelo Álvarez and Gennady Golovkin (GGG) will be better from a competitive standpoint, but that De La Hoya went too far in telling boxing fans not buy Mayweather-McGregor.

Kellerman notes that if De La Hoya had the chance, he would also promote this fight. However, Kellerman does not believe that De La Hoya is being completely disingenuous.

Analysis: This segment was basically a very expensive version the MMA vs. Boxing debate that has been going on for over a decade. The main talking point of a central authority being the difference in the two sports has been beaten to death over the years. Kellerman and Smith clearly feel that the UFC is advantaged by having such a substantial consolidation of power. They are oblivious to the downside that this has fighters. Nonetheless, both men do an excellent job of explaining shortcomings of boxing, without entertaining the convenient false narrative of boxing being dead.

Topic # 3: Will this be more fight or more hype?

Without hesitation, Kellerman answers with “hype!” He goes on the say that as a fan he would buy the hype. He admits that this is a great spectacle, but it is not necessarily a compelling athletic competition.

Kellerman explains that the true genius of this fight is that, in the current media landscape, pundits will find new angles to discuss for the next two months, thus increasing the hype.

Smith agrees that this fight is largely hype; however, even if it is one sided, it is still a fight. He is aware that Mayweather is a prohibitive favorite, but explains that the appeal of this fight is the aggression of McGregor.

Kellerman notes that the aggression and spirit of McGregor will fasten his demise during this fight.

They go back and forth on these points for a little bit. However, Kellerman finishes the segment by making an analogy to some lopsided Roy Jones Jr. fights. Kellerman notes that those fights were such mismatches that they were more exhibitions that true fights.

Analysis: This was the first moment of the show where the two commentators acknowledge the absurdity of this fight. This fight is the result of two fighters who exploited public interest based on premises put forth by media members who specialize in low hanging fruit. Now that the fight has become a reality, it is okay to dissect the fight, while also pointing out the ridiculousness of it all. The topic was refreshing for this type of format.

Topic # 4: Who do you think the public wants to see lose?

Smith definitively states that Mayweather is easily more reviled in the public sphere. He noted that the public has already experienced a McGregor loss. Additionally, he notes that certain people have a negative reaction to a successful African-American who does not answer to a superior.

Smith explains that as Americans we have an envy of Mayweather. He cites Mayweather as a disturbance to the system.

Smith and Kellerman agree that so much of Mayweather’s appeal is in the thirst to see him finally lose.

Kellerman concurs that the public wants to see Mayweather lose.

Kellerman brings up the dichotomy that boxing fans and media find themselves in. He explains that those within the boxing community want Mayweather to win in order to preserve the legitimacy of their sport, but they are not necessarily fond of the Mayweather persona.

Smith counters that even if McGregor were to pull off the upset, the profile of boxing would be raised, while the fighter pool might also grow, opening the door more cross-sport fights.

Kellerman gives the argument that the upside for UFC is large, while the downside for boxing is huge.

Kellerman goes on to explain that Dana White can look out for the best interest of his sport in a way that boxing cannot.

Smith argues that a McGregor victory would bring unpredictability back to boxing. However, Kellerman retorted by explaining that a McGregor win would result in fighting being more synonymous with MMA.

Analysis: That was all over the place. Too many points were stuffed into a short segment. Nothing was really fleshed out enough to be impactful. Furthermore, Smith’s comment regarding Mayweather deserve some additional scrutiny. Nothing Smith said about why Mayweather is disliked is inaccurate, it is just incomplete. Smith omits that (1) Mayweather fights with very effective but boring style, (2) many people have an issue with the timing of Mayweather’s opponent selection, (3) and perhaps most overlooked is Mayweather’s history of domestic violence. Add those three factors to the attributes that Smith listed and you have a more complete picture as to why Mayweather is reviled by a large segment of the public.

Topic # 4: What impact does Dana White have in the fight game?

Kellerman calls White’s contribution “immeasurable.” He goes on to praise White’s ability think in terms of the future instead of the immediate. Kellerman notes how boxing operated as “independent contractors” while the UFC was solitary unit.

Kellerman recalls his interaction with White from 15 years ago, and recounts how at the time White’s goals for the UFC seemed unreachable, but have been achieved in a short amount of time.

Smith praises White for taking the opposite approach to boxing by giving the fans the fights they want.

Smith goes on to emphatically state that UFC fighters fight when Dana White tells them to. He then uses Ronda Rousey as example, claiming that Rousey was forced to fight Amanda Nunes when she returned to the UFC.

Analysis: This was by far the most egregious segment on this show. The entire segment was filled half-truths or inaccuracies. Regardless if Kellerman realized it, it seems rather ignorant to refer to the UFC as the opposite of a collection of independent contractors. Secondly, Kellerman’s assessment that Dana White operates with the future always in mind is becoming an antiquated argument. Simply observing the career path Conor McGregor over the last year-and-a-half would indicate otherwise. Moreover, Smith seems to be rewriting history at it pertains to Ronda Rousey. Apparently, he has forgotten that Rousey was given every possible concession before returning to the Octagon. Ultimately, these arguments suggest that absolute power is infallible. This premise only gives the audience a piece of the overall puzzle.

Skip and Shannon: Undisputed

Commentators: Skip Bayless, Shannon Sharpe

Topic # 1: Surprised that it’s really happening?

Skip Bayless admits that he is shocked that the fight was actually happening. He refers to Mayweather as “Floyd May-or-May Not Weather.” He expresses that he thought Mayweather was smarter than this. He criticizes Mayweather for letting McGregor trick him in to taking this fight. Bayless also expresses that this is a major risk for Mayweather. Bayless is surprised that those within Mayweather’s inner circle convinced him to take a fight.

Shannon Sharpe interrupts and refers to McGregor as a “stiff” in the boxing ring.

Bayless expresses his gratitude for Sharpe calling McGregor a stiff. Bayless go on to reveal that many of Mayweather’s “yes-men” watch “Undisputed,” therefore, Bayless admits that he has been trying to taunt Mayweather into taking the fight.

Bayless expressed his excitement about the fight happening. He gives McGregor a very good chance in the fight.

Bayless ponders if we should refer to Mayweather as “Senior” instead of “Junior.” He goes on to state that he believes that Mayweather has not fought in three years. He does not consider Andre Berto a real opponent, and he does not view Manny Pacquiao as a legitimate opponent, due to Pacquiao’s shoulder injury.

Bayless expresses his concern over the possibility of the fight being rigged due to it happening in Nevada. Bayless cites the Nevada Athletic Commission’s refusing to allow Manny Pacquiao to use a pain killing injection before his fight with Mayweather as evidence of a rigged system.

Bayless proclaims that the only fear he has is a fight that that rigged in favor of Mayweather.

Putting his concerns aside, Bayless once again gives the age of each fighter and expresses his belief that Mayweather has never experienced anything quite like McGregor.

Bayless praises McGregor’s intangible skills. He cites aggression as an intangible skill.

Now Bayless refers to his only concern as the size of gloves that will be used.

Sharpe interjects, and explains the size of gloves are consistent with the weight limit.

Bayless retorts that “Floyd wants a pillow fight.”

Bayless inquirers about when was the last time Mayweather knocked out an opponent. Bayless explains that it was in 1999. Bayless does not consider Victor Ortiz, due to the nature of the knock out.

Shape presents his own question regarding the last time Mayweather was defeated in a boxing ring.

Bayless responds that “49-1 has a nice ring to it, don’t it?” Shape says it “ain’t happening.”

Sharpe gives a breakdown of what gloves each fighter will likely use.

Sharpe explains that McGregor’s fighting style will play right into Mayweather’s game plan.

Sharpe states that this will be the easiest $400,000,000 that Mayweather ever made.

Bayless laments that Mayweather is as protected by the media as Lebron James.

Bayless explains that the fighters that Mayweather has struggled with were left handed, therefore McGregor will have an advantage.

They banter on about punching power and volume of punches.

Sharpe cites McGregor’s initial fight with Nate Diaz as an example of McGregor’s boxing shortcomings. Bayless rationalizes this by citing the weight disparity between Diaz and McGregor. Furthermore, Bayless cites the additional dynamics of an MMA fight.

Sharpe lists many of Mayweather’s previous opponents who have been unsuccessful in defeating Mayweather; therefore, he gives McGregor no chance in defeating Mayweather.

Bayless responds by claiming that Sharpe is disrespecting MMA. Sharpe rebuts that McGregor is disrespecting boxing, but trying to get a payday.

Bayless once again criticizes Sharpe for not appreciating the art of MMA. Bayless also chimes in that McGregor is more “sweet science than judo or wrestling”

Bayless explains that he was taught that the aggressor should always win the round in boxing. Bayless proclaims that Pacquiao actually won his fight with Mayweather.

After more of the same, Sharpe bluntly proclaims that if Mayweather felt he any chance of losing, he would not have taken this fight.

Bayless responds by citing biblical teachings about money being to root of all evil.

Analysis: Well what can you say, that was a complete jumbled mess. Aside from Sharpe’s brief description of the gloves that will be used, nothing was gained from watching the segment. The goal of this segment was not to inform an audience, but rather to make stars out of Bayless and Sharpe. Moreover, while conspiracy theories in sports are not entirely unfounded, Bayless just casually throwing one out is very irresponsible.

Topic # 2: Who will win the fight?

Bayless picks McGregor, citing McGregor’s aggressiveness and unorthodox style. Bayless does, however, concede that if the fight goes the distance, McGregor has no chance. Bayless’s reasoning is that boxing judges will give McGregor no breaks, and Nevada will look to preserve the value of Mayweather.

Sharpe picks Mayweather. He cites McGregor’s stance and slow punching style. Sharpe believes the fight will go the distance because Mayweather wants it to be definitive.

Sharpe also notes that it will be very difficult for McGregor to return to MMA after receiving such a large payday.

Both men reiterate their positions from the earlier segment.

Sharpe brings up the notion that Mayweather has likely been sparring with MMA fighters in preparation for this fight.

Analysis: That was slightly more palatable that the first segment, but it was largely a rehash of the same clown-show. Bayless once again alleging fight fixing without a shred of evidence is deplorable. Bayless is essentially accusing a government agency of committing federal crimes. It should be noted, however, that Sharpe does possess some valuable insight. When Sharpe is not playing the character of “Shannon Sharpe,” he does bring of some legitimate talking points. There is simply too much histrionics between the two men to yield any meaningful discourse.

Final Analysis

Well, at the risk of losing all credibility as a media critic, I will recommend watching “First Take.” Now of course this comes with a giant caveat that their direct competition is “Undisputed.” Ultimately, neither of these shows will be a valuable source for in-depth analysis on this fight.

With that said, the presence of Max Kellerman on “First Take” adds someone with combat sports credibility. That does not mean that the show will not go off the rails, but at least there will be an opportunity to discuss valid aspects of the fight.

Conversely, the FS1 programming structure is designed to highlight these “Hot Take” artists. Lest we forget that Jason Whitlock and Colin Cowherd are regularly given a platform.

Given the normal parameters of the sports media landscape, it is difficult to get meaningful analysis of major sporting events. However, this fight presents a whole new set of challenges.

The cross-sports nature of this fight means that so few will in mainstream sports media will have insightful perspective on both Boxing and MMA.

Who will cover this fight?

While a lot of discussion has been focused on who will call this fight on pay-per-view, little attention has been paid to who will be permitted to cover the fight. Both Mayweather and the UFC have a history of banning journalists from covering their fights in-person.

A year ago, Ariel Helwani has his UFC press credentials pulled, before being reinstated. Conversely, Johnathan Snowden, Loretta Hunt, and Josh Gross remain on the UFC’s media blacklist.

Similarly, ESPN’s Rachel Nichols and Michelle Beadle had their credentials revoked by Mayweather prior to his fight with Manny Pacquiao. (Nichols was with CNN at the time.)

Will both entities be unified in their convictions against certain media members?

When I asked Snowden (who regularly covers boxing as well as MMA) via Twitter, he expressed some uncertainty.

Speaking of Journalist rights, the MMAJA forms

On the same day, the Mayweather-McGregor was announced, the Mixed Martial Arts Journalist Association was formed.

According to their website,

“The purposes of this Association are:
A. To promote and foster high professional and ethical standards among journalists focused on the sport of mixed martial arts (“MMA”).
B. To advocate for professional working press rooms, facilities, processes, and conditions that facilitate members’ effective media coverage of MMA events.
C. To represent the interests of members generally and in matters of professional code of conduct standards established between journalists and event promoters, fighters, managers, gyms, coaches, sponsors, and other parties with a vested interest in the business of MMA.
D. To acknowledge and reward exceptional work in both the field of mixed martial arts journalism as well as the sport of MMA.
E. To educate industry professionals to increase their knowledge and understanding of how to conduct themselves in journalism.
F. To stimulate and sustain a fellowship among members based upon journalistic integrity.”

This is certainly a major step in legitimizing MMA media in the same vein as other mainstream sports. An association like this can help cultivate higher standards and better treatment for MMA journalists However, questions about the viability of such an organization are valid.

Will this be a vehicle that is only utilized by the most visible MMA media members? If the association only serves those who work for major sites, a giant divide will surely form?

Furthermore, will MMA media members unite? Like fighters, in order to organize, members must put the interests of the whole over the individual. Will MMA media members risk long-term progress in the name of immediate access or profits?

Only time will tell.

NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: MEDIA & BUSINESS: Four ideas to revitalize UFC as a television product including reintroducing a sense of independent journalism, better pacing

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