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Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Kimbo Slice blues

Posted by on Thu, Oct 9, 2008 at 11:47 AM

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If you don't follow mixed martial arts fighting, you probably haven't heard of Kevin Ferguson, aka Kimbo Slice.

According the hype, Ferguson-or Slice, if you prefer-was going to rule the MMA (mixed martial arts) circuit for years to come.  The buzz was enough that I noticed it, and I watch MMA only in the rare case that I have nothing better to do and there's not a thing else worth watching.

But Kimbo? I noticed him.

First of all, the guy is 6' 2", 240 pounds, insanely ripped and has a huge black beard.  He looks great on a poster, bad in a dark alley.

Kimbo got his "rep" from a series of YouTube videos that showed him, among other things, beating up bums and full-tilt tackling people for money.  No, I'm not making this up. 

Kimbo Slice videos were the sorts of schlock your brother-in-law e-mailed you on his lunch break.  Everyone agreed the guy looked mean, and videos of big guys beating each other up are nothing if not entertaining.  But nobody mistook Slice for a real, trained fighter.

That is, nobody mistook him for a real fighter until EliteXC, a promotional company, tried to make Kimbo Slice into the George Foreman of MMA.  I guess it was worth a shot.  MMA is tiny business compared to most pro sports, and it desperately needed a bankable, recognizable star to put it on the map.  Kimbo Slice looked intimidating, talked a big game, and already had a big following from his YouTube videos.

So EliteXC put all their eggs in the Slice basket.  They put him up for some MMA fights in 2007 and 2008, all against exceptionally weak fighters whom Slice easily beat.

But this past weekend was supposed to be proof positive that Slice was for real. Slice was slated to fight aging MMA titan Ken Shamrock on primetime CBS.  Endorsements flowed in.  Money rained down from the sky.  MMA finally had its star.

Slice had a somewhat dramatic life story.  He was a talented high school football player, but wasn't recruited for college.  Slice blames a hurricane that shortened his season on the setback.  He bounced around before finally being handed a golden opportunity to cash in.  And, like I imagine most of us would, he took it.

Alas, Slice's 15 minutes were short.

Ken Shamrock hurt himself in training shortly before the scheduled bout.  A replacement was disqualified for having a previous injury, and on the very day of the fight, a no-name, undercard fighter named Seth Petruzelli was informed he'd be taking on Kimbo Slice in the main event.

Petruzelli has since alleged that EliteXC offered him money to trade punches with Slice instead of taking him to the ground.  As a largely unschooled fighter, Slice's weakness-or so it was believed-was grappling.

As it turned out, Petruzelli probably could have beaten Slice with one hand tied behind his back.  The fight lasted all of 14 seconds, most of them with Kimbo Slice on the ground, being pounded in the face by a guy two inches shorter and 25 or so pounds lighter than him.

Everything about the fight was a sham, except for Kimbo himself.  In the post-fight press conference, he joked with Petruzelli.  Despite his penchant for making videos of himself beating people up, he seems more like a hard-luck guy than a nasty brute.  He actually comes across as a pretty personable fellow. 

But people tried to make money off him, and they almost certainly didn't have his best interest in mind. Good MMA fighters are heavily trained.  They aren't street brawlers - they're karate-chopping, kung-fu fighting badasses who are a whole lot tougher than they look (and a lot of them don't exactly look like weenies). Kimbo Slice, as big and mean as he looks, just wasn't a match for even an average MMA fighter like Petruzelli.  He's lucky he wasn't hurt.

This may not be last we see of Kimbo Slice.  EliteXC, according to industry rumors, has banked its existence on Slice.  He draws huge numbers (for MMA) in the TV ratings war.  Somebody, somewhere, may yet find another way to squeeze another dime out of this man.

But I hope they don't, for his sake.

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