Stephen A. Smith thrives on bombast.
It cashes his paychecks and earns him regular attention outside of his appearances as an ESPN employee.
He brought that bombast to coverage of UFC 246 last weekend when discussing Conor McGregor’s 40-second knockout of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. He did so while standing alongside veteran UFC commentator Joe Rogan as a part of the melding of MMA coverage that’s come with ESPN taking over UFC’s pay-per-view rights.
Rogan has since taken issue with Smith’s post-fight commentary, and a soap opera now involving McGregor has ensued.
What started the drama?
While standing alongside Rogan, who had just praised McGregor’s performance, Smith put his “First Take” hat on and disagreed.
“This is tough for me,” Smith said while touching Rogan’s shoulder (3:40 above). “Far be it for me to refute anything that Joe Rogan says. We haven’t learned a damn thing about Conor McGregor based on this fight. ... Because ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone just didn’t show up. I could have ran for 40 seconds.”
Rogan not having it
Rogan immediately disagreed and carried his thoughts with him to the Friday episode of his podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience,” where he discussed the interaction with Bellator analyst and former UFC fighter Josh Thomson.
“This guy should not be allowed to talk about fighting,” Rogan said before declaring the coverage would have been better with current UFC fighter and commentator Daniel Cormier standing alongside him.
“There’s no positive in downplaying the career of Donald Cerrone and what he can do as a fighter,” Rogan continued, per an MMA Junkie transcript. “What that showed to me is how phenomenal Conor performed. That’s what it showed to me. If either you or I was talking about cricket, and we were on TV doing commentary on cricket, we would look out of place. It would be f---ed up, and real cricket fans would be upset at us.
“You’ve got to have some respect for that man, and this sport demands a different perspective. It’s not the same thing as a ball going into a hoop.”
Smith heard Rogan’s comments. As should be expected, Smith responded in kind.
He wasn’t happy.
And in the best demonstration yet of the philosophical differences between these two men, Smith responded to Rogan’s implication that his comments were ignorant and harmful to fighters and the MMA by immediately touting ratings.
“You’re wrong on this one, my man,” Smith started. “ ... First of all as it pertains to ESPN, check the numbers, the subscribers to ESPN+, the level of attention that it got, the traffic that it generated in the digital and beyond. ...
“Not good for the sport? I think that’s good for the sport.”
Smith then went on to tout his credentials as a journalist and rehash his take that Cerrone “folded like a cheap tent.”
Rogan flexed his expert muscle, and Smith — who made his name in the business as a respected journalist — took issue. Even though he’s long left that part of his résumé behind to focus on a career as a professional, loud-mouthed instigator.
McGregor chimes in
As if Rogan and Smith feuding weren’t enough, McGregor took the opportunity to get his name in on the action. He responded to Smith’s tweet, demanding that Smith apologize to Cerrone, who deserves “full respect.”
The call you discuss here is A+. I didn’t show enough. I’m not paid by the hour though. Joe’s comments however, come from you saying the opposition fighter quit. Broken nose/orbital bone say different. Fighting is vicious. Those who make the walk deserve full respect!— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) January 26, 2020
While there are some genuine clashing philosophies on display here, there is a common thread among everyone involved in this beef.
All three men thrive on generating attention, content, clicks and views. And they are all very good at their jobs.
That this blog entry exists is a testament to their collective and individual aptitude.
More from Yahoo Sports: