On Monday afternoon, John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal reported the new cast of Undisputed was official-- Richard Sherman, Keyshawn Johnson, and Michael Irvin will be across from Skip Bayless starting on August 28. Sherman and Johnson had been linked previously, while Irvin was a rumor that didn't make a ton of sense due to his ongoing legal issues but apparently things got worked out. Bayless confirmed the new lineup a few hours after the report.
While there's a clear shift in going from one-on-one debates to a rotating cast of characters across from Bayless (or perhaps panel-style debate), it's obvious that Fox Sports is not forging a new path here. The higher-ups are perfectly happy following the path that led to the debut of Undisputed-- get Bayless in a room with a former NFL player and let it rip.
Shannon Sharpe was tremendous in that role for the network and his ability to wield his personal experience in debates with Bayless is part of what made the show pop. Clearly FOX is hoping to recreate that magic with one of Sherman, Johnson, or Irvin. Ideally all three. It also makes sense to lean as far as possible into football content because that's what drives the viewership numbers.
But what made Undisputed into a sports show and not just a football show was Sharpe's ability to branch out into other sports without missing much of a step. NFL talk was definitely his strength but he could fire back at Bayless on NBA and miscellaneous takes well enough to make good television. And that is ultimately the goal for the network. Capitalizing on football season is all well and good but if Undisputed is to remain on the regular rotation it needs to have staying power for the half of the year when the NFL isn't the biggest sports story worth discussing. Fox Sports could always sideline Bayless and the show from March to August, but that seems very unlikely to happen unless Bayless is ready to work part-time. Which is even more unlikely.
So it seems clear, then, that FOX is hoping at leaset one of the three new signees will be able to expand outside football discussion. Who could it be?
Johnson is the most obvious candidate; his work on Keyshawn, JWill, & Max in his final year at ESPN required him to talk basketball nearly as often as football. He did an... alright job. He was prepared when called upon but was rarely a discussion-driver. That isn't necessarily the job of the guy who sits across Bayless, the discussion-driver to end all discussion-drivers, but Undisputed was at its best when Bayless and Sharpe could switch between being proactive and reactive. Johnson has a ways to go before he can do that for non-NFL content.
Sherman and Irvin do not have Johnson's experience outside the NFL debate realm. Of the two, Sherman seems most likely to follow after Sharpe. Irvin feels like a finished product as a media personality at this point. He's insanely high-energy, will argue anything, and loves to talk about the Dallas Cowboys above all. Fox Sports will not need him to provide anything more.
Sherman, though? He feels like the potential heir apparent to Sharpe's Undisputed throne. He's done enough media that we know he's a decent enough analyst, as evidenced by his time at Amazon. But he has yet to establish what kind of debate personality he is, his infamous First Take appearance aside. He's significantly younger than Irvin and Johnson so it feels like he has more potential as a media personality. If he can hold his own against Bayless then Fox Sports might have something.
But we will not know until the lights come on next week. It takes a particular type of person to be able to spar with Skip Bayless while delivering quality, informed takes of their own. Sharpe did not always do this but he did it often enough that Undisputed became the hit that it is. If Fox Sports cannot find someone like him in the three personalities they've tapped, they'll have to keep looking. Otherwise things might look dire for Undisputed once NFL season is over.