WILL MAX KELLERMAN PLEASE GO AWAY?
AND TAKE TEDDY ATLAS AND ‘STEPHEN A’ WITH HIM?
MY PROFESSIONAL INVOLVEMENT WITH MMA NO LONGER has anything to do with current UFC bouts so when I fire up ESPN+ for a night of fights, like I intend to this Saturday night for the UFC 268 PPV, I’m watching purely for fun.
Yet the nature of UFC 268, a loaded card taking place in the media capital of the world, New York City, and at the place-to-be-seen Madison Square Garden to boot, gives me pause. A high-profile MSG card just a couple hours up the road from ESPN’s Bristol campus is exactly the sort of card the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” dispatches its brigade of boxing know-nothings to.
Having to listen to Max Kellerman, Teddy Atlas or Stephen A Smith™ talk about MMA is a near flawless example of how not to have a good time.
Twenty years ago I wrote a column defending Kellerman against the boxing old guard of that era. The old farts were, it was obvious to my twenty-something eyes, jealous of a young man’s quick rise to prominence within the sport.
“He’s only got book knowledge,” they whinged, as if Kellerman’s encyclopedic understanding was somehow counterfeit on the basis he’d failed to attend the Rumble in the Jungle as a toddler. But Max doesn’t have any knowledge - book learned or otherwise - about mixed martial arts.
He underlined this fact for us at July's UFC 264. During the event topped by the third fight between Dustin Poirier and one-man crime wave Conor McGregor, Kellerman subjected a captive and paying audience to a bombardment of gibberish hitherto unseen on a UFC broadcast since Tito Ortiz retired.
Kellerman began by stating more than once that McGregor had “defended the UFC title” (which one he didn’t say) vs Eddie Alvarez. In fact, that UFC 205 main event saw ‘Notorious’ challenge for and win the UFC lightweight title to become the first fighter to hold two UFC championships at once. We’re all prone to forgetfulness, but that’s the kind of historic achievement anyone portraying themselves as a MMA expert should recall on command.
Then he referenced over and over that grapplers have a huge edge over strikers as if a) more UFC fights in the last 5yrs had ended by via submission rather than strikes and b) “strikers” and “grapplers” were still two distinct and rival styles like it was still 1997.
Worse followed after Dustin defeated McGregor in two rounds. Searching for something “insightful/controversial” to throw out there Kellerman said the fight ending shattering of the Irishman’s tibia and fibula was “actually great for Conor McGregor”. (One imagines that’s the first “great” broken leg in the history of our species.)
Now hitting his stride, Kellerman claimed McGregor’s best results came against fighters who “for the most part” were shorter, and the former 145lbs champ was now struggling with the added height of the biggest divisions. As evidence of Conor’s additional effectiveness vs shorter opponents, Max cited McGregor’s earlier wins over Jose Aldo, Max Holloway and, honest to goodness he said this, Dustin Poirier.
Let’s skip over the fact Holloway is over two inches taller than the Irishman and give our brains the chance to process that Kellerman is either so excruciatingly inarticulate or unbearably ill-informed he was caught suggesting there are two Dustin Poiriers!
And one is, apparently, much taller than the other.
Perhaps sensing half the audience at home was groaning, Kellerman quickly hedged that Poirier has “developed a ground game and all that” since losing to McGregor in their first fight at UFC 178, September 2014.
That was the most insight Kellerman provided all evening; only it was about himself rather than MMA.
Not only does he get it wrong again - the Diamond began training in BJJ as a teenager; he tapped Max Holloway out as long ago as 2012 - the “and all that” flippancy yet again alerted us to Kellerman’s condescending disinterest in any aspect of MMA that doesn’t involve punching.
It appears the guy who thinks so little of MMA striking he went on the record that McGregor would not land a glove on Floyd Mayweather has learned to tolerate MMA by pretending it is merely a rough draft of boxing.
The “ground game and all that”? He just ignores it, along with the entirety of MMA history.
Somewhere in the US, there is at least one MMA fan who has pickled their liver taking shots of alcohol each time Kellerman compares a UFC star to a boxer.
When discussing whether or not Jon Jones is the greatest MMA fighter of all time, for example, surely the names one should bring to the conversation include Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre and maybe Fedor, Matt Hughes or Royce Gracie? Right? Well, not with Max. He always – always - reaches for boxers like Hector Camacho, Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali.
Kellerman must do this because he doesn’t know the names of many UFC legends. It is, putting it mildly, obvious Kellerman doesn’t watch, read about or even think about MMA unless he’s on the clock.
And neither does Stephen A Smith™.
NOT TO BE OUTDONE, STEPHEN A SMITH - sat at a table with UFC Hall of Famers - described the victorious Poirier as using “a leg kick to the arm”…
….aren’t ALL kicks done with a leg?
Or, does Smith believe there’s such a thing as “an arm kick to the arm?”
Twenty-eight years after the birth of mixed martial arts, there’s no reason to have this kinda ignorance beamed out of a UFC arena.
(Man risks wearing a sharp white suit to a giant bullshit session)
The “never said I was an expert” card is valid when they talking about and on their own general sports shows. As soon as they appear on official UFC post-fight broadcasts they, ESPN and – yes - the UFC are telling everyone at home Kellerman and Smith are authorities with opinions worth listening to.
Tenured MMA aficionados recognize these guys as impostors, sure, but is it really in the best interests of MMA for new fans to be taught basics from this gaggle of know-nothings? Guys who think Ken Shamrock, not Mark Coleman, popularized ground and pound? Who think Nick Diaz is the same person as his younger brother? That Jon Jones of all people has avoided competition? That every MMA fighter is a KO artist? Who literally don’t know the names of the biggest stars in the sport? Who make a virtue out of not even wanting to see any women’s fights?
Same questions phrased differently: was being a fan and a professional broadcaster sufficient for NFL fans to overlook the mistakes the UFC’s Mike Goldberg made when he got to call a game in 2014? Nope, they went nuts and Mike didn’t get a second chance.
To be fair to Smith, it is impossible for him not to be ignorant on MMA. Yes, talking about sport is his job, but there aren’t hours enough in the day for anyone to be well informed on MMA, boxing, football, college football, baseball, soccer, hockey and everything else ESPN require him to have a LIFE AND DEATH opinion about.
Which brings us to the real reason ESPN believes its UFC coverage benefits from these guys: Kellerman and Smith aren’t there to inform, they are there to enrage.
Pissing us off is the whole reason ESPN has them there.
SMITH IS A VERY SMART FELLA WHO RECOGNIZES CONTROVERSY pays as well as sells. His off the cuff outspokenness and Yeah-I-Said-It-ness are calculated with clicks and dollars in mind.
I mean, just listen to this interaction between him and Kellerman:
(Hey - we’re not prosecuting war criminals here, fellas. Calm the fuck down!)
These are two men who clearly don’t watch MMA unless thus assigned by their employer, but they are yelling like they each impregnated the other’s daughter. What sane person allows themselves to get this pissed off about so inconsequential a matter?
Or, let’s be real, pretends to get this pissed off?
Smith is a genius broadcaster, clearly, and there is value in having a no-fucks-to-give, impossible to fire gunslinger like him on deck (someone had to say that Cowboy Cerrone’s performance vs Conor McGregor was dire) but not at the cost of making fans less informed.
You can’t blame Smith for taking big bucks to do exactly what ESPN wants him to, and you can’t blame ESPN for asking Smith to give them the content fans engage the most with, and you can’t blame fans who have little choice but watch what ESPN provides. No-one and everyone is to blame for this carousel of horseshit but I, for one, just wanna get off.
Fox News, CNN and MSNBC et al have already made all our lives worse by transforming what used to be the solemn if unsexy responsibility of broadcasting the day’s news into an ALL-CAPS furious, finger-pointing fracas. Can ESPN, Fox Sports and the rest just let us enjoy the fights without subjecting us to more and more arguments about less and less? Is this really what UFC/ESPN broadcasts need? Fake fury, fake feuds and fake experts? What happened to As Real As It Gets?
Guys, this act doesn’t work in MMA. Just ask Colby “X-Pac Heat” Covington. Go away! And make sure you take Theodore A. Atlas Junior with you.
IN THE SUMMER OF 2009 THOSE OF US IN MMA sensed that our years of hard work were beginning to pay off. The excitement for the approaching UFC 100 event had leapt way beyond the MMA hardcore and the mainstream was beginning to take a second look at this “human cockfighting” stuff. But the sport’s future was not yet assured and there were those in boxing doing their level best to undo all our progress.
Teddy Atlas was one of them.
For years he served as a rent-a-quote for anyone who needed a ‘name’ from boxing to bash MMA in general or UFC specifically. Atlas used words like “brutal”, “primitive” and even “cavemen” to describe mixed martial artists – all of those terms were dog-whistles to those who wanted to drag our sport back to the days where it was virtually banned.
Many times I was in the room when mainstream media and even politicians cited the views of “respected boxing trainer/ESPN commentator Teddy Atlas” as evidence the UFC should not be allowed to stage events.
Yes, we all change our minds from time to time and maybe Atlas really does now enjoy MMA. And yes, usually, some credit is due when one admits they’d got it wrong. But Teddy Atlas went out of his way to hurt MMA back when it could be hurt. I haven’t forgot that nor his absurd comments like MMA fighters could not beat “even C-minus boxers” and that UFC 100 itself was “not a pimple on the ass” of boxing.
These were Atlas’s views of MMA until he realized there was coin to be made by saying the opposite. The guy has a talent for self-promotion, no doubt. He’s bored two generations of boxing writers with unprompted recitations of an incident, forty years old, where he pulled a gun on Mike Tyson. You may think discharging a pistol next to the ear of a 15-year-old child, whatever the provocation, isn’t something to brag about for decades on end, but this is a foundational myth of Teddy Atlas the badass, the no-holds-barred truth-teller.
Another one, as long-time boxing fans will remember, saw Atlas torching the reputation of his star fighter, world heavyweight champion Michael Moorer, to fuel his own ambition as a ‘media personality’. Working Moorer’s corner in some of the biggest fights of the mid-1990s, Atlas’s amateur dramatics included assorted screaming/browbeating, sitting cross-armed on Moorer’s stool between rounds and, infamously, pretending Moorer’s young son had called Atlas’s cell phone during the previous round.
“He’s crying Michael!” Atlas bellowed once the camera had his face in focus. “He wants to know why his dad (isn’t trying and) doesn’t want to be champ anymore!”
No wonder the man was so willing to serve as a rent-a-quote to any hack who wanted to bash MMA.
Atlas’s insights into the mentality of people who fight for a living are often enlightening but, for this UFC fan, it isn’t merely his convenient conversion to MMA that is disqualifying. Mr Atlas also has a history of plagiarism.
His habit during his early years as ringside analysis for ESPN boxing was to recite the week’s scoops from pioneering boxing websites like FightNews, House of Boxing and SecondsOut. Each time, Atlas breathlessly “revealed” the information without assigning any credit. As far as ESPN viewers knew, Theodore had been working his own sources all week, like boxing’s answer to Bernstein and Woodward.
Atlas did this so often and so brazenly that Charles Jay, the award winning boxing publicist and editor, pulled a hilarious troll job by changing the bylines on his popular website – dozens of them - to “By Teddy Atlas.”
Full disclosure: I was the editor of SecondsOut at the time and, on behalf of its staff writers, had previously brought Atlas’s plagiarism to ESPN’s attention to no avail.
So yeah, between his plagiarism, his history of bullying ESPN staff and trying to smother the sport I love the most in the cradle with the “caveman” and “pimple on the ass” stuff, perhaps you can understand why I never became a Teddy Atlas fan.
It is not that Atlas and Kellerman are late to the MMA party that irks me. It is that they tried to stop the party from happening in the first place – and, having failed – then showed up and are helping themselves to ribs and beers. Given their astounding hypocrisy, they shouldn’t be too surprised that those of us who helped the party get started in the first place tell them to get the fuck out.
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