The same week that UFC President Dana White's glowering, slightly
pouty mug was inexplicably splayed across copies of Men's
-- a magazine with a last-reported circulation of
700,000 -- rough-knuckled Kimbo Slice
took up residence
on the cover of ESPN: The Magazine
(cir: 1.95 million) and
was featured in a one-page spread in Entertainment Weekly
(cir: 1.725 million).
It is conceivable that his pending destruction of James Thompson (Pictures) on Saturday's premiere EliteXC
telecast on CBS will be the most-watched fight in mixed martial
arts history. CBS routinely draws a minimum three to four million
viewers in that timeslot -- as much as 13 million for a big NCAA
sporting event. Household familiarity with the network and recent
media ogling could help Elite best the roughly five million couch
occupants who watched the UFC's Quinton Jackson (Pictures) outpoint Dan Henderson (Pictures) on Spike last September.
Ratings, circulation, carry the one, blah, blah. To the point: for
better or worse, Slice is poised to become the most notable (some
might say notorious) freestyle fighting athlete in North America,
the bearded face of a burgeoning sport that has long struggled for
public acceptance and respect. For many, the impression of this
complex, neurally and physically demanding activity will be
distilled to Slice's haymakers robbing Thompson of consciousness in
a pithy scrap that seems predestined to last less than 90
This is not, as President Roosevelt may have said to Robert
Oppenheimer, an idea that fills me with relief.
It's not Slice's alley cat vibe that concerns, or the inked
physique that seems straight out of Folsom. On the contrary: all
reports point to the man being gracious with admirers,
hard-working, and eager to treat his new profession with respect.
The dichotomy between his features and his humility is a nice media
hook. Nor is his fighting style -- Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Fu -- poised
to put any people off. As compelling as the ground game is, most
people watch prizefights to see neurons leak out of ears.
The issue with Slice as MMA's prodigal son is this: he's had only
two professional fights, both of which were against ridiculously
mediocre opposition. There are a lot of journeyman sluggers who
would look like supermen against the questionable mettle of
Bo Cantrell (Pictures) and a rapidly-aging "Tank"
Abbott. Slice just happened to the one who got the opportunity.
What EliteXC is ostensibly banking on is a man who is attempting to
enter a grueling profession at the disconcerting age of 34. And
worse: aside from some high school football, he has virtually no
background in organized athletics.
The banner of mainstream MMA, in short, is being pinned on a guy
with exactly 62 seconds logged in the ring. Arena entrances take
This is not to accuse Elite of any misguided promotional decisions.
An organization can hype talent, but fandom makes the ultimate
decision on their value to the bottom line. Slice has resonated
with people in such a way that using him as a pillar for a fledging
business is an obvious proposition in an industry that has very few
So what becomes of Slice the neophyte? Will Elite continue to
schedule quarterly appointments with glass-jawed sluggers in much
the same way Tyson built his reputation on a traveling tour of
monthly beatings? Will mainstream media recognize his limited
skillset? What will happen when promoters match him against a
relevant heavyweight? (Does Elite even have any relevant
With less than two years logged on the mats, it's not unreasonable
to expect that any credible wrestler with some submission acumen
who can get Slice to the ground will devour a limb. Even in his
outsized condition, I'd wager Ricco Rodriguez (Pictures) and his decade-plus of grappling
would be too much for a reformed street fighter. Promoters would
sooner book Slice against Wesley Correira (Pictures), a striker of questionable ring
age who is unlikely to take a shot at anyone's legs.
His saving grace? The fact that the heavyweights are routinely the
least technically proficient demographic in the sport. (Imagine a
34 year old with no collegiate wrestling, striking, or grappling
background debuting in the lightweight division.) If Elite is so
inclined, Slice could stay busy pretty much indefinitely fighting
opponents of suspect ability.
Whether viewers will tolerate that indefinitely is another
Stripped to his bones, Slice is really just the latest lightning
rod for the same kind of morbid curiosity that the earliest, most
violently-contested UFC events attracted. Now that mixed bouts are
sanctioned and usually attract individuals of significant athletic
competency, they've lost a bit of their mystique.
That Christians/lions motif was resurrected when Slice began mowing
down foes in Miami backyard bare knucklers. It gave us the same
sensation we had when we first saw Scott Morris reduced to fleshy
ribbons under the fists of Pat Smith -- that anything could happen
and it was likely to be something sudden, violent, and definitive.
That feeling is bound to end the moment Slice gets entangled in a
competent grappler's game.
There's nothing wrong with a good firefight, and Slice is certainly
capable of igniting them. But until he's neck-deep in a ground
attack, there's no reason to believe he's anything more than a
curiosity, a right-place and right-time bruiser who was selling
what fight fans were buying.
Or maybe Charles Bronson, a bare-knuckle ringer in Hard
Times, had it right: "Hey, there's no reason about it. Just
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