CORRECTED: "Cage fighting" slugs its way on to prime-time TV

Fri Feb 29, 2008 2:26pm EST
 
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(Corrects 9th paragraph to clarify CBS will be first major Broadcast network to air MMA events, rather than first of any commercial network)

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - CBS is bringing mixed martial arts, the bone-crunching combat sport popularly known as "cage fighting," to prime-time television this spring, the U.S. network said on Thursday.

Branded as barbaric by critics in the 1990s for its lack of rules, mixed martial arts, or MMA, has evolved into a more mainstream sport that bars biting, eye-gouging, head-butting and strikes to the groin.

But fierce punching, kicking, karate, judo and wrestling moves -- with no protective gear -- are still very much a part of the sport.

One of its biggest stars, the bald, bearded Kimbo Slice, has become a YouTube.com sensation for video clips showing him punching his adversaries into submission within 30 seconds. The sport remains unsanctioned in more than a dozen states.

Beginning in April or May, CBS plans to broadcast four MMA events each year as two-hour live specials airing on Saturday nights, a time period once reserved for such family fare as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "The Bob Newhart" and "The Carol Burnett Show."

Saturday nights have become a virtual dead zone for broadcast networks generally due to drastically changing viewer habits. CBS now devotes much of its Saturday prime-time lineup to movies, the news magazine "48 Hours Mystery" and reruns of its hit crime dramas.

But CBS executives are seizing on the growing popularity of mixed martial arts, especially among the young men most prized by TV advertisers, as an opportunity to build a lucrative franchise where none exists.   Continued...

 
<p>Andrei Semenov of Russia (L) fights with Jorge Santiago of the U.S. during a BoDog Fight mixed martial arts event in St Petersburg April 14, 2007. CBS is bringing mixed martial arts, the bone-crunching combat sport popularly known as "cage fighting," to prime-time television this spring, the U.S. network said on Thursday. REUTERS/ITAR-TASS/PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE</p>