Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

The rise of mixed martial arts has been among the biggest athletics success stories of the millennium, but MMA has lacked what every modern sport and league seems to need, or at least want: its own TV channel.

As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, problem solved. Sort of. It will share a station with other "combat sports,'' such as boxing, amateur wrestling and assorted martial arts disciplines.

But make no mistake: MMA is an essential element of "Fight Now TV,'' the first 24/7 service of its kind in the United States, initially available only on Cablevision's iO Sports & Entertainment Pak, which costs $6.95 per month. (Cablevision owns Newsday.)

"There is tons of programming out there, and this is a great outlet,'' said Randy Couture, a partner in the channel, who retired from competitive fighting after losing in UFC 129 April 30.

And it is not lost on anyone in the mixed martial arts community that launching on Cablevision gives it a showcase in the heart of a state in which the sport cannot legally be contested. "It is a huge platform to get mixed martial arts sanctioned in the state of New York,'' Couture said.

That remains to be seen. So does the extent to which Fight Now will be a factor as a media entity. It already is in talks with other providers to expand its reach. And it eventually hopes to have a deal with UFC to give it top-tier content. For now, it will cover UFC events journalistically but will not carry its events.

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(President Dana White has bandied about the notion of UFC, which recently added Strikeforce to its stable, starting a channel of its own.)

"We're not asking for a ton,'' Couture said of UFC. "We'd love to promote their pay per views and promote them as a brand.''

MMA is not for everyone. But in the 21st century, television aims to provide everyone with what he or she wants. The station hopes to expand with the sport itself, assuming it has not already peaked after a meteoric rise. "I don't think it's going anywhere now,'' Couture said. "It just continues to grow exponentially.''


Live from Sochi . . . ESPN?


The resignation last week of NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, the Olympic Games' most powerful, influential American, was a jolt to the IOC's bidding for 2014 and '16, scheduled for early June.

Comcast, NBC's new parent company, insists it remains interested, but it is widely assumed there is a better chance than before that ESPN or Fox will land the event. The good news for traditional sports fans is that ESPN is adamant it will overturn one of the pillars of Ebersol's approach: his insistence on packaging major, ratings-friendly events for delayed, prime-time viewing.

"We would present everything live,'' said John Skipper, ESPN's highest-ranking executive for content. The network could (and probably would) provide a repackaged, storytelling-driven show for viewers who prefer that sort of thing.

But nothing will be held back. What if there is an important hockey game at 3 a.m. Sochi, Russia, time? "We're putting it on at 3 a.m.,'' Skipper said flatly.

Big Apple is a small town

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The intersecting lines of local media loyalty get more complicated by the year, but here's a new one: During Sunday's Mets-Yankees game, Gary Cohen found himself reading a promo for the WPIX newscast, anchored by Jodi Applegate.

Hey, isn't she married to . . . Yankees play-by-play man Michael Kay, Cohen's counterpart? Yup. "First-timer at [age] 50?'' Cohen said after analyst Ron Darling brought up the Kay connection. "That's rare these days. Good for him.''

The ratings were good for Kay, too. Friday, the Yanks telecast on Channel 9 beat the Mets on SNY, 6.1 percent of area homes to 2.6. Sunday, YES beat Channel 11, 4.5 to 4.2. (Ratings tend to be higher on broadcast channels than on cable outlets.) Saturday's game on Fox averaged a 9.1 rating in New York, more than the combined local ratings for Games 1 and 3.