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The Third Act of Kimbo Slice

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“What has the guy done to deserve to be in the UFC? Nothing. I don’t consider him a real athlete or anything. He won’t win The Ultimate Fighter.”Dana White, October 26, 2008

“And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span…” — 1 Samuel 17

Kimbo Slice is a golem.

Most fighters are forged, but Kevin Ferguson is different. He was created from parts, a stiff punch and a thick beard, an attitude and an era. Unhoned, lumped together, closer to clay than steel. Even his name isn’t real; who calls him “Kevin” these days? He’s Slice, a trophy for the particularly vicious cuts he caused on video (note: NSFW; language and graphic violence).

Everything is video these days. Used to be, you had to line up that perfect photograph and pray you’d get one in your career. A pinnacle shot like the leering Ali, bicep curled, Liston down. Now it’s all on tape. Pick your screencap from a million cameras. Would you like that in high-def?

We don’t have video on Goliath. Maybe David had great aim, or maybe we had Goliath a cubit too tall, a length too wide on the Tale of the Tape. Maybe this was all the first run of the Great Hype Machine, building our fighters up until it’s necessary to destroy them. Until it’s time for a newer, fresher King. Don’t know. Don’t have video.

Who was Kimbo destroyed for, in his second act? Do you see a crown on Seth Petruzelli’s head? The last time I saw Seth he was on a leash, being used as a prop. Where’s his throne? If not Petruzelli, it might have been Ken Shamrock. Shamrock didn’t need that win, but he may well have gotten it anyway. EliteXC had one huge name and they dangled him too far and he fell apart, and then they paid for it with their company.

Kimbo Slice had to fall. We demand it of every name we build. But why so soon?

Kimbo Slice is a pariah.

Watch the name “Kimbo Slice” float past the ear of a hardcore MMA fan. Watch their eyes roll, their distaste, that look of “I’m-so-PAST-that”.

“Kimbo Slice is what’s wrong with fighting today.”
“He’s a pro wrestler wannabe.”
“He’s a joke,”
“…one-dimensional…”
“…a thug…”
“…a bum.”

We can blame B.J. Penn when he protests, too loudly, for weeks. We can revile Brock Lesnar when he does his rodeo dance, when he hollers at a beaten man, when he drinks Coors Light.

But all Kimbo’s ever done is… fight. He’s been on the radar for years, but we’re no closer to understanding his personality; even a cypher like Fedor has showed us more, simply through exposure. Kimbo has four professional fights. He has a 3-1 record. He weighs 234 pounds. Everything we know about Kimbo Slice can be reduced to a series of numbers.

We have awfully strong opinions about a series of numbers.

Kimbo Slice is viral.

Here are some more numbers: 1,173,158. 1,856,551. 5,515,839. As of Sunday night, those were the pageviews on the first couple videos that pop up when you search “Kimbo Slice” on YouTube. They’re all up about 100,000 views since a week ago. The results are freckled with million-plus viewed videos. They star a man in an undercovered sport in a series of street brawls and footage from a now-dead second-rate promotion. The Slice/Abbott fight, 1.8 million views. Slice/Thompson, 2.5 million. “The Best of Kimbo,” 3.4 million.

In a perfect sporting world, the only number that should matter is the one on your record. Sports are a business, though, and in business numbers are God. And these numbers, these millions and millions, they are good. Don’t think White doesn’t know it. Of the things Dana White is frequently accused of, poor business sense is rarely on the list. After ripping on Kimbo for years, White now has a told-you-so if Kimbo fails and a staggering windfall if Kimbo doesn’t. Joe Silva usually handles UFC’s matchmaking, but Dana White trumped him with the best match of all: one where he can’t lose.

If you need to trace the source of the bile flowing towards Kimbo Slice, open up YouTube again and search “Royce Gracie”: one lone million-viewed video and a great number more in the 5-figure range. Kimbo Slice is mainstream. The jiujitsu legend of the UFC? Barely a blip on the public’s radar. For the MMA disciples, that’s not just a negative thought. It’s a threatening one.

Kimbo Slice is desperate.

Slice has been relatively mum on his TUF appearance so far; what he’s said has been mostly by way of promotion. I’d love to hear how he really feels about this, because I believe how the MMA fans feel about Kimbo’s career is nothing compared to what Kimbo’s feeling about his place in the world right now. How else can you explain his decision to go from MMA headliner to reality show cast member?

This is not how Kimbo had to pick up a paycheck, exposing himself so severely. He could have spent his time in Japan, where style has always been able to go toe-to-toe with substance in the fight game, where even respectable promotions like DREAM have been known to engage in the sort of silliness that can produce something like a Super Hulk Tournament. Maybe he felt better closer to home – he wouldn’t have been the first to do so – but even then there are opportunities. He’s got acting and commercials. Plus, I’d slap the contents of my wallet on the table in an instant to bet you that Vince McMahon has dialed Kimbo’s number and made him an offer, maybe on multiple occasions.

The money is out there for a guy like Slice, but he’s competing for a contract on a show Roy Nelson described as “the sucky route to the UFC”. Keep that in mind.

Kimbo Slice is a target.

Nelson, in an interview with FanHouse, also noted that it made business sense to be on TUF because of the fanbase. Sixteen fighters will compete for a UFC contract, but fifteen will compete to be The Man That Beat Kimbo (Again). Beat a name, make a name, after all, and that name may just have a bigger built-in fan base than “yet another winner of yet another season of yet another reality show”. Fighter after fighter has professed their desire to not just win this season of TUF but win one specific fight. They will ask for him, lobby for him. They will treat him like a golden ticket with fists.

So this is the cage Kimbo walks into: A fanbase he can’t win over. A house that’s cramped, uncomfortable, demonstrably rife with temptation for men with short tempers (and open bottles). A tournament that makes you win four times just to get a job. A field of fifteen men, some bigger, some quicker, many more accomplished, that all want to make him a victim.

Kimbo may have gotten famous on layaway. But here he is, voluntarily walking back into the store, to pay what he owes.

Kimbo Slice is a fighter.

For all these reasons, I’ll be watching Kimbo Wednesday night; maybe for the last time in a UFC cage, maybe for the first of many. And I’ll be hoping he does well.

I’m not doing it to be contrarian; I’m doing it because I think he’s one of the most interesting stories in mixed martial arts. The glory of this sport is that all these takes get edited in the ring. You can push a fighter into any match you want – but then it’s his to win or lose. Sometimes you demolish Frank Mir. Sometimes Seth Petruzelli demolishes you. Either way, the results speak for themselves, and that’s why Brock Lesnar’s a UFC champion and Kimbo Slice is a contestant on a reality show. There are plenty of easy ways to get and stay famous, but only so many roads to become a serious fighter. All of them are hard.

In 2009, you can spend years in obscurity, get on a reality show for anything, become famous, and ride it to riches. But this is all so strange to us because Kimbo’s doing it in reverse. Some people go on Survivor for a 1 in 16 shot to win a million dollars. Kimbo Slice is going on The Ultimate Fighter with a 15 in 16 shot he’ll lose any marketable mystique he has left. Fifteen fighters are out there for something more than a contract, but Kimbo is too: he’s fighting for legitimacy. And he’s willing to take a very big gamble on it.

Blame YouTube for building him, blame the Internet for watching him, blame EliteXC for deifying him, blame Dana White for giving him a third act.

But don’t blame Kimbo Slice. He’s just a fighter.

Image from mmafight.com.

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About Matt DeTura

  • JJ

    very well written piece. i completely agree wit u

  • http://carolinehagood.typepad.com/ Caroline Hagood

    You know, not only am I not a self-identified sports nut as you are, but I have little or no interaction with the fight world, but I will say that your article was so well written, so intriguing, that I read the whole thing with much enjoyment. Now that’s the mark of a good writer.

  • http://bit.ly/SBTMMA MDT

    Thank you both!

  • Dex

    That was a really good article, very well written.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Great Article…

    The sad thing is that Kimbo is going about it the right way. Unfortunately, Hard work & Talent doesn’t guarantee the type of success that these “one hit wonders” are looking for. Kimbo has to shed that mystique because,imho, there is nothing behind it. Unlike Fedor who not only has 32 wins & is undefeated but is a 12 time Gold Medal Sambo Champion in Russia. The only mystique Fedor ever had was toughness,endurance & an intelligent mind that keeps him from getting caught up in Mr. White’s Circus. It’s pretty sad that people think that training like your going to war is so mysterious.

    BUT, part of me hopes that Kimbo wins TUF. He seems to understand that he needs to become well rounded though it might be too late.