With Max Kellerman exiting “First Take,” there are still plenty of avenues for him to keep his heightened profile.
About a month ago, rumors began to surface that seemed to signal the end of Max Kellerman’s run on ESPN’s flagship debate show First Take. Kellerman’s addition to the show was a controversial one, especially when you consider who he replaced: Skip Bayless. For years, Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless provided some of the greatest entertainment we have ever seen when it comes to sports talk television. The two had unmatchable chemistry, despite personalities that were like oil and water. Bayless was the hot take king and Smith was so easily rattled by Skip that it always made for viral clips, some of which are still discussed to this day. With that said, the deck was always going to be stacked against Kellerman, which ultimately made these rumors all the more unsurprising.
That is not to say that Kellerman didn’t put up a good fight during his five years on the show. In fact, Kellerman was quite good as he had a nuanced view when it came to both sport and societal issues, his takes were unique enough to at least start a conversation. Of course, his most infamous was saying that Andre Iguodala was a better clutch shooter than Steph Curry. Nonetheless, given Kellerman’s background as a boxing reporter, Smith felt that he lacked credibility when it came to their main topics; basketball and football. At first, the two had to work through the kinks, but eventually, they were great together. Kellerman triggered Smith’s fight or flight response with some truly bizarre basketball analysis, and it made for a fun show, even if it lacked the charm of First Take’s original cast.
When the rumors of Kellerman’s impending dismissal first arose, there were reports that the ousting was completely orchestrated by Smith, who no longer enjoyed doing the show with Kellerman. It’s easy to see where this idea came from, simply by watching the last few month’s worth of First Take episodes. Smith’s facial expressions and acknowledgments towards Max appeared quite cold, and there was this sense that the two just didn’t want to work together anymore. Smith eventually confirmed these rumors to HOT 97 noting that the two just didn’t work well together anymore and that the show needed a change. Stephen A. also made sure to say he respects Kellerman, regardless
“The rumor’s accurate in terms of me wanting him off the show. Let’s get that out the way — yes, I did,” Stephen A. said. “We don’t have a bad relationship. I think he’s a real good guy, I appreciate what he did for the show, we were number one for five years, we stayed number one, and I appreciate that. It wasn’t really about asking him to be off the show, it was about the fact that I knew that we, together — as far as I was concerned — was not a great partnership anymore and that was something that needed to change.”
Just two weeks ago, Kellerman’s final day at First Take came and went and all he got was a phone call from Smith, who couldn’t be bothered to be in the studio for his co-hosts final day. From there, it was announced that Kellerman would have an ESPN Radio show with Keyshawn Johnson and Jay Williams called KJM. He would also get a mid-afternoon debate show called This Just In which is supposed to replace Highly Questionable; a show that just got canceled.
While Kellerman has a natural ability when it comes to the radio, many have noticed that his new show is just a carbon copy of Get Up, which can be watched in the morning. Kellerman and his guests are using the exact same set and the format is eerily similar. With the show debuting this week, some aren’t convinced that this is going to be the show that cements Kellerman’s place amongst the other large talents at the network. It also begs the question: what’s next for Max Kellerman, and what is he going to do to keep his spot at one of the biggest networks in the world?
Well, the answer lies in his bread and butter…boxing. Kellerman cut his teeth working the boxing beat and it’s what he is the best at. Whenever First Take spoke about boxing, Kellerman would outclass Smith in every single debate, and it’s clearly what he was most passionate about. With boxing on the rise, new fans are looking for boxing-related content that could move the needle and keep people engaged whenever there is a lull in big fights. Kellerman would be the perfect person to host such an endeavor, and ESPN is hurting themselves by not getting that type of show off the ground. As the Jake Pauls of the world take off, there needs to be some kind of debate/variety show that brings some boxing content to a mainstream audience. Even if the show was just once a week, it would be well worth the effort for ESPN to at least try it out, and allow Kellerman to showcase the true scope of his talents.
As for all of the other sports that Kellerman has covered over the last five years, he is still a solid voice, although he needs a format and a co-host that will help complement his voice. Max is someone who is confident in what he says, regardless of how outlandish it might be. In order for Kellerman to thrive, he needs a person to keep him in check and challenge him on his beliefs. Otherwise, he would simply fall into the Colin Cowherd trap, where the show is just three hours of non-stop monologuing.
The sports media world can be a vicious one, as talent is chewed up and spat out on a frequent basis. At times, ESPN has been its own worst enemy as it puts its talents in bad situations, only to dispose of them once they inevitably fail in their given circumstances. Hopefully, for Kellerman, he is able to escape this cycle and find a proper lane for himself.