Real Steel Cage Match

Local radio host calls the robo-shots for SyFy's Robot Combat League

When, inevitably, Skynet comes online and the robot apocalypse begins, you’ll be able to trace it back—as you can with so many terrible decisions—to Las Vegas.

Not only do we have the drones being controlled out of Nellis (and how long will it be before they’re knocking on your door, wearing Groucho glasses and pretending to be a helpful repairman to gain access into your home?) but now the Robot Combat League is tearing up the SyFy network Tuesdays at 10 p.m., with running fight commentary by KXTE-FM 107.5 morning host Dave Farra.

The show is, essentially, everything you expect it to be. It’s Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots come to life, with big-budget automatons pummeling the ever-loving solenoids out of each other for the sick amusement of their human overlords.

So, like a more humane version of UFC, then.

“Automaton” isn’t entirely accurate—the robots in question are attached to T-bars that pump in hydraulic fluid and relay instructions from a team of two jockeys, typically a robotics expert using a pair of joysticks to control legs and movement, and an athlete strapped to an exoskeleton that controls the arms and torso.

And then two teams square off in a cage match to have their robots beat each other up until one of them doesn’t work, or time runs out—all in pursuit of the show’s ultimate $100,000 prize.

Farra, meanwhile, draws on his experience as an MMA commentator to describe the action from ringside.

“There was a bit of a learning curve, because you’re trying to figure out, do you call it a liver shot or a kidney shot, or just a body shot? But it was over-the-top and crazy. There’s sparks flying everywhere, and smoke and hydraulic fluid,” he says. “The comparison they gave me was it’s almost like that movie Real Steel, but it’s real life. The amount of engineering that went into these robots is unbelievable. I found myself kind of getting attached to the robots like a real fighter. You see them out there, and you’re rooting for them. When they get sliced in half, you’re kind of sad.”

The show debuted to 1.3 million total viewers with 748,000 in the 18-49 demographic, making it the best unscripted debut for a SyFy show in two years. It’s been drawing a million even in its Friday night rerun slot, following fresh WWE airings. (Convenient, as wrestler Chris Jericho is the host of RCL). Clearly, there’s been a punching-robot-shaped hole in America’s collective heart since the disappearance of BattleBots (largely filmed in Las Vegas) in 2002, which was the last fighting-bot series to grace cable networks.

The timing of the show is solid—giant-robots vs. giant-monsters flick Pacific Rim comes out in July, and an endless litany of Transformers movies every summer should keep public interest in robot punching as stoked as could reasonably be expected.

The show fits into Farra’s plans to build himself up as the Ryan Seacrest of guy stuff—like robots and MMA and rock music. Which, with Spike TV entrenched and the dude-leaning FX spinning off a new network, seems entirely attainable.

“There’s been a lot of meetings and things like that, but it’s a slow process. That’s something I’ve learned to appreciate over the years,” Farra says. “If you get too excited about something and push too much, you’re going to annoy people or screw up the process. Until [producers] are ready, you’re working on their timetable. I’m very jaded about the whole process. So many things can fall through. I get excited about a show when the show is done, the network has picked it up, the check is in the bank and it’s cleared.”

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