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***Spoiler alert: Results from the 9/1 episode of American Ninja Warrior, in which Kacy Catanzaro attempted the first stage of the Las Vegas Finals, course are referenced at the bottom of this post.

By now you’ve probably heard about Kacy Catanzaro, the 5-foot, 100-pound former NCAA gymnast who conquered the first two rounds of NBC’s American Ninja Warrior to become the first female competitor in the show’s history to reach the finals in Las Vegas. If you read my blog or follow me on Twitter (or live with me) it would have been pretty hard not to hear about Kacy Catanzaro.

 

 

Fans of American Ninja Warrior may have already been somewhat familiar with Catanzaro, who competed last season but failed to finish the first stage. Back then we mostly knew her as the girlfriend and training partner of ANW great Brent Steffensen.

RELATED: American Ninja Warrior Showcases the Best Athletes You’ve Never Heard Of

I don’t think you can bet on American Ninja Warrior (at least not easily or legally) but I wish I could have seen the (theoretical) Vegas odds for Kacy and Brent each making it to the finals here in Season 6. Steffensen is what bettors would have considered a heavy favorite, having already reached the final course, Mount Midoriyama, the last two seasons. Meanwhile Catanzaro would have been a huge underdog considering no woman had ever even completed the first round of American Ninja Warrior, no less the first two to reach the finals. And surely our hypothetical bookies would have factored in Catanzaro’s diminutive stature, making her odds that much longer.

But, as the sports trope goes, that’s why they play the games. Improbably, Kacy Catanzaro did advance to Vegas while this time Brent Steffensen failed to complete the first stage, signifying the end of his season.

 

 

While NBC might have been sad to see Steffensen eliminated—American Ninja Warrior’s version of a LeBron James-led NBA team losing in the first round of the playoffs—I’m guessing they were happy to trade their biggest male star for an up-and-coming female one like “Might Kacy” (or #mightykacy on Twitter). And that’s what they now have: Kacy Catanzaro’s historic run is easily the most important narrative of American Ninja Warrior Season 6—maybe the most important narrative the show has ever had.

(Two other women, Michelle Warnky and Meagan Martin, actually finished the first stage with faster times than Catanzaro–but neither completed their respective regional finals courses to advance to the finals.)

In the days after Catanzaro’s landmark run, the media slowly started to take notice. People were interested, including those who had never heard of American Ninja Warrior. Heck, even my mom sent me an email with the subject line #mightykacy: “I can see what you were getting all worked up about! She’s amazing!”

NBC knew* what it had in Kacy. On the July 14 episode of American Ninja Warrior, in which Catanzaro completed the second stage, her run wasn’t aired until the last fifteen minutes of the two-hour broadcast, with the announcers teasing the audiences going into each commercial: And coming up later, Kacy Catanzaro looks to become the first woman to reach the American Ninja Warrior finals in Las Vegas!

*NBC also knew the results in advance of the 7/14 episode. Like the World Series of Poker on ESPN, American Ninja Warrior is not broadcast live. I wouldn’t be surprised if NBC moved to a live format in future seasons. I’m actually quite surprised Kacy Catanzaro’s results weren’t spoiled online by any of the people who were in the crowd for either of the first two stages in Dallas where she competed.

But if you’re an NBC Sports executive who oversees American Ninja Warrior, what are you rooting for? (This question is posed while fully acknowledging that NBC already knows the results of this season.) Part of the show’s appeal is that no American has ever stood atop Mount Midoriyama. If Kacy Catanzaro completes the finals course in Las Vegas in just her second season on American Ninja Warrior, it’ll bring even more short-term attention to the nascent sport–but is it good for the long-term success of the ANW brand? Or would it feel like a magician revealing the secret behind their best trick, in that once you see how it’s done, it suddenly seems a lot less impressive?

UFC star Rhonda Rousey. (www.mmaoddsbreaker.com)

UFC star Rhonda Rousey. mmaoddsbreaker.com

I recently came across an article at Slate.com about the female Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) star Rhonda Rousey who, like Kacy Catanzaro, has been a marketer’s dream for her sport. A personable, attractive Olympic judo medalist turned mixed martial arts fighter, Rousey quickly rose to the top of the UFC world. The only problem was no one rose with her. Rousey has remained undefeated in 10 fights since her debut in 2011. Per the Slate article, her trash-talking style along with her perfect record has now made her the sport’s villain on the female side. The article goes on to suggest that maybe, just maybe, Rhonda Rousey losing a match would be the best thing for the sport.

Regardless of which result at Mount Midoriyama would propel American Ninja Warrior’s long-term popularity the most, I’m rooting for Kacy to go all the way. Hey, if ANW doesn’t like it, they can build a tougher course.

RELATED: “‘American Ninja Warrior’ Producer: How Kacy Catanzaro Changed Our Show Forever” (via Entertainment Weekly)

***Update: Unfortunately Kacy Catanzaro did not complete the first stage of the Las Vegas Finals course, falling victim to the Spider Wall. While her size had not hampered her progress up to that point, Catanzaro appeared to have had a tough time reaching either side of the Spider Wall with her arms.

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