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IFL wants to be the NFL of MMA

Yesterday afternoon, International Fight League (IFL) held a conference call with the media to make a couple of announcements. You can read MMA Madness' Crystal Hudson's account of the conference call here.

According to Hudson, IFL commissioner Kurt Otto said at the conference call, "We're building the NFL of MMA."  And, with that statement, my faith in IFL went up.  Because, at a minimum for any league to succeed, its stated goal must be the right one.  And I believe -- especially as we head into week 4 of the NFL season -- that there is no better sports league in the United States than the NFL.

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The NFL is a machine that runs itself.  The sport itself creates drama.  There's drama during the games.  There's drama in the intervening weeks between games.  Even in the offseason, there is much to talk about, whether it's free agency, the combines, or the draft.

And the integrity of the league is hardly ever in question.  No one can ask why Team A picked first in the draft, or why Team B ended up with the schedule it did, or why Team C beat out Team D for the playoffs.  The rules governing all these critical situations are steadfast and transparent.

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The NFL has survived the loss of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, the loss of Walter Payton, and most recently the loss of Michael Vick from its ranks.  And yet it continues to march on, regenerating new stars such as LaDanian Tomlinson and Tom Brady, as well as new plot lines (especially this year) such as the Patriots' videotaping scandal.

So, while IFL is struggling to maintain footing in a tough MMA field, I'm glad to see that the executives at least have their hearts in the right place.  IFL is a league I think is worth having around both for its unique team format as well as for the caliber of many of its athletes, who have competed or could compete successfully in other leagues.  In addition, from what I understand, IFL does take good care of its fighters.

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Beyond having the proper long-term vision, IFL also announced a major breakthrough in its TV programming on the conference call.  The league's individual World Grand Prix semifinals will be held on live network television on MyNetworkTV.  This is huge for both the league as well as MMA in general.

What football has more of than any other sport is programming on network TV and basic cable.  MMA has its fair share of programming on basic cable and premium cable, but until this IFL announcement there has been nothing on network TV.

However, from Hudson's conference call recap,

IFL will have its first live television event on Saturday, November 3, 2007 when MyNetworkTV broadcasts a portion of the first round of the IFL Grand Prix tournament. MyNetworkTV will air a single hour of the event, which will take place at the Sears Center in Chicago, IL.

So, while the event won't be shown in its entirety and while this is a trial run, it is still a major step in the right direction for the sport.  And, IFL has tried to make its version of MMA more palatable to mainstream America. If any league can make a positive impression on network audiences, it's IFL.

The one thing I note, however, is that though IFL markets itself as a team league, they are choosing to use their first individual event as the launching point for their live network TV programming.  I find this quite interesting.

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Speaking of MMA on TV, TUF 6 episode two is tonight.  As many of you may recall, Joe Scarola was the first eliminated fighter last week, losing to Mac Danzig.  MMA Madness' Luke Thomas spoke to Scarola one-on-one here. Scarola had a number of interesting things to say about his stint on TUF, including some choice words for opposing coach Matt Hughes.  He also admits that his relationship with coach Matt Serra (who is Scarola's real-life coach as well) is a bit rocky.

But, a comment Scarola made about the daily schedule for a TUF fighter on the show really caught my eye:

You train four hours a day. So besides that, you're in the house the rest of the time.

Wow, twenty hours a day in a house with 15 other guys. No TV, no outside communication. For six weeks. That's the price you pay to make it to the big show...

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