Going into the first EliteXC/CBS showing on May 31, 2008 the expectations were high as the Kimbo Slice multimedia extravaganza was chugging along with a full tank of gas.
The street-brawling sensation graced the cover of ESPN The Magazine going in to his tussle with James Thompson and he was making appearances on late night talk shows while fielding 20-plus interview requests from non-fringe publications a day. People were curious to see if Slice, who they saw looking savage and brutal on YouTube could utilize that street ferocity, combine that with some technique and turn himself into a legit MMA star.
It didn't go down quite like that.
If you recorded the fight on your DVR and didn't set it to run past the normal end time, you probably missed seeing Slice finish the fight and get a decision win. You also missed the shower of blood that flew when a punch ruptured Thompson's cauliflowered left ear.
No, the event didn't run as smoothly as it could've, but the news wasn't all bad. Over 6 million people watched the Slice bout, and the show drew well in the Male 18-34 demographic, rating 29 out of 497 CBS primetime telecasts thus far in 2008.
The suits in charge at CBS and Elite XC were left with a severe dilemma on what to deliver for the second installment, which unfolds on Saturday in Stockton, Calif. (CBS portion kicks off at 8 p.m. ET).
Slice was pushed to the limit in his scrap and wouldn't be available for a return appearance. If he had dispatched Thompson in the first round, he could've headlined the Saturday show as well. So, instead of a continuation of the Slice hypeathon, CBS will feature a rematch between Robbie Lawler and Scott Smith as their marquee melee in Stockton. And while those two are serviceable mixed martial artists, between them they hold a less-than-stellar 5-6 record inside rival promotion's UFC's Octagon. Also, their first bout ended as a no contest after Smith was poked in the eye midway through the second round.
Going in to this show, expectations have been tempered.
But that is not the same as saying the action will be lacking or that the card is a dud on paper.
In fact, the lower expectations could prove to be a disguised blessing. Instead of the focus being on Slice, more attention can be allotted to some of the other talent that is auditioning to become Elite XC's breakout talent.
The smart money is betting that the first scrapper to pull away from the pack will be Jake Shields, the 29-year-old Californian wrestling/jiu-jitsu specialist, who holds a 20-4 record and boasts a nine-fight winning streak.
Shields, who just earned his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt from Cesar Gracie last year, has closed out his last four tangles in the first round. He'll be battling Minnesotan Nick Thompson (36-9-1), who carries a 12-fight win streak into the cage.
Shields fielded a "low-leg kick" of a query right off the bat: Is he the best fighter in the world?
"I don't want to sound conceited," said the fighter who holds wins over Yushin Okami, Dave Menne, Hayoto Sakurai and Carlos Condit, "but I think I am the best, or one of the best."
The single father of a 7-year-old daughter is well aware that there is no Kimbo on the card to steal everyone's thunder, and thus this bout could be a shortcut route to heftier paydays and a smoother existence for himself and his daughter. Shields, who began his training at Chuck Liddell's kickboxing school in 1999, comprehends that MMA is part athletic competition and part exercise in entertainment.
"You're not going to make really good money if you're not entertaining the fans," he said. "I try to put people away, end it in the first round. I want to make any opponent look bad."
Will that fate await Thompson, who has not been matched to this point with foes as stiffly as Shields has?
"Nick is tough," said Shields, a vegetarian who lives in San Francisco. "He has a win streak, but I think I'll put him away within the first three rounds; hopefully the first round."
The recently installed EliteXC welterweight (170 pounds and under) title will be up for grabs in the match.
Fighter-turned-analyst Frank Shamrock, who has been called out by Shields in the past, thinks the title could get wrapped around either man's waist.
"It's a tricky fight to call," Shamrock said. "Shields has so much skill and I think he's just really underrated and underappreciated as a technician. I think that it is going to be a very intense technical battle, but I think it can go either way."
CBS senior VP Kelly Kahl, who has deftly been fielding critiques from the first event and promises many of the kinks will be ironed out in the second show, believes Shields could thrust himself toward the front of the Elite XC pack on Saturday.
"He could be our poster boy," Kahl said. "There is a perception among some that mixed martial artists are bar brawlers. Then Jake steps in, he's good looking, clean cut, with good technical skills."
Kahl acknowledged that his business is a numbers game. The advertisers, like Burger King and Miller Lite, who backed the first show, have returned for this event, so those numbers are points of pride for the executive. He realizes that without the Kimbo-mania push, the ratings will be lower than for the first card, but promises that overall, both the new fan and hardcore MMA junkie will be better served on Saturday.
And who knows; maybe instead of being recalled as "The DVR Fiasco," or as "The Night James Thompson's Ear Exploded," Saturday will be remembered as "The Night Jake Shields Became the EliteXC/CBS Poster Boy."
Michael Woods, the managing editor of TheSweetScience.com, has written for ESPN The Magazine, GQ and The New York Observer.