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Grappling with Issues: The Slice is Right

It’s been a while since I’ve dusted off the old opinion-and-insight hat so please forgive any cobwebs you might stumble across but June’s cup of Mixed Martial Arts has runneth over and enticed me into firing up my keyboard for a go at the sport’s current landscape.

Before dipping your toes into this column’s proverbial pool you may be asking yourself who is this guy and why isn’t there a scantily clad Bulgarian webcam girl staring back at me instead? In short, we ran into some Visa issues, and in lieu of my credit card being declined I felt the least I could do was contribute a little more to the cause. I’ve been writing about Mixed Martial Arts in one capacity or another for a little over two years. That being said, I’ve been a fan of MMA since coming across a taped UFC event as a freshman in college. Yes, I’m that old – 32 – and people used to record things on something called a “VCR”. However, even before I turned into a wide-eyed geek at the sight of Royce Gracie calm and collectedly snapping limbs, I suppose I was a fan of the concept dating back to my childhood and adulation for movies like “Bloodsport”, “Kickboxer”, various old WuShu flicks, and even stuff like “Big Trouble in Little China”. My reaction has always been one of fierce enjoyment when you toss a little hand-to-hand combat in with a nod to the spirituality, history, and wisdom involved in martial arts and a solid dose of entertaining presentation. It’s all in the reflexes, right?

Since taking up the narcissistic position of “keyboard warrior” a couple of years ago I’ve been afforded opportunities to meet and speak with individuals I have great respect for and witness events I never would have imagined possible. I’ve had the pleasure of attending the first Affliction event while seated alongside Aleks Emelianenko (when he wasn’t standing to cheer on his brother), seeing Kimbo Slice’s professional MMA debut, dropping my jaw at Yahir Reyes’ epic spinning backfist against Estevan Payan in Bellator, and took a few pieces of candy to the dome when Jason “Mayhem” Miller kicked a piñata in half while dressed as a luchadore before putting on a great performance against the always-tough Tim Kennedy. Other semi-surreal things I’ve witnessed include sitting shoulder to shoulder with Dan Severn while sharing a folding chair as he acted in the capacity of “Team USA” coach, exchanging emails with Mark Cuban, and scoring a few seats for a very polite Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez while they waited for the elder Diaz brother to compete later in the evening at an EliteXC event. Whether any of my experiences qualify me as someone you should listen to or will enjoy is a question you’ll answer for yourself over time if you haven’t already, but rest assured I sincerely appreciate your presence here and the opportunities my fellow MMA fans have afforded me.

I firmly believe any fan of Mixed Martial Arts reading these lines who is as passionate about the sport as they are about writing should find an online format to deliver their thoughts post-haste. No matter the success you achieve you will not regret the path it takes you down if you give it some time. But you aren’t here for life messages or background on a little fish like me, are you? You want your gooey MMA deliciousness, don’t you? Then to take from former on-screen capoeira espousing teacher Mark Dacascos, a.k.a. “chairman” of Iron Chef America….

”Allez cuisine!!!”

Recently it was announced former EliteXC posterboy Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson was competing on the still-taping tenth season of the Ultimate Fighter reality series. Yes, at this very moment Rashad Evans and Quinton Jackson could be in each other’s faces! Dana White could be driving the Spike TV censors insane! Slice could be minutes away from being knocked out or…wait for it…even sitting on the couch while listening to music! Regardless of the ongoing action or lack thereof, the one thing this story screams out to me with certainty is “win/win situation”.

I cannot see any negative at all to the newly developed partnership between Kimbo and the UFC. Furthermore, I think Evans and Jackson could not have been better choices as the season’s coaches. Both fighters are among the best light heavyweights in the world, possess the rare skill to sell a fight inside AND outside of the ring, and appear to actually dislike each other based on the face-to-face confrontation that took place after “Rampage” defeated Keith Jardine at UFC 96. Toss in a subsequent run-in since then and those factors alone should make for compelling television. Add the obvious spotlight on Slice and you have a mixture on TUF 10 that should help shatter previous seasons’ ratings.

Not only will Spike TV benefit from the casting but ultimately the UFC will too. Kimbo doesn’t necessarily add any depth to the promotion’s heavyweight talent but he does bring a certain star-quality into the division that is lacking outside of Brock Lesnar. You’re more likely to see Cain Velasquez, Frank Mir, Shane Carwin, or any other UFC heavyweight as champion of the world than on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The opposite can be said about Kimbo and therein lies the rub – he doesn’t need to win in the cage to be a successful investment. Regardless of how well he performs, Slice will bring more mainstream attention to TUF and the UFC in general than would be the case when considering nearly every one of his peers. Increased awareness and interest brings in additional PPV/gate money from new fans, as well as people who are purely invested in seeing Kimbo win/lose, plus creates additional revenue streams where ad-time is concerned. Savvy businessman that he is, a part of me truly believes the UFC President had already put the deal in motion to bring Kimbo to the Ultimate Fighter when he made a comment about Slice needing to compete on the reality show if he ever wanted to step foot in the Octagon. White’s words back then planted a seed of interest in the public that continues to grow to this day and which will eventually culminate in the growth of an ever-elusive “money tree” come Fall 2009 when the season debuts.

The other winning party in this newly announced relationship between the bee-bearded brawler from Florida and the premier MMA organization in the world is of course Kimbo Slice. Some might say he has a lot to prove after being dropped by Seth Petruzelli in his last fight but I actually feel the contrary is true. If the former Bas Rutten student wins the show, let alone a single fight, I’ll find myself extremely surprised and I’d wager quite a few other people who follow Mixed Martial Arts would agree with that statement. He’ll be competing against other semi-accomplished fighters who have been training longer and harder and who are hungry for the limelight he’s already found. If he’s only expected to win one fight at best, how can Kimbo do anything BUT impress viewers save for possibly acting like a cross between Junie Browning and Spencer Pratt (which is highly unlikely given Slice’s soft-spoken demeanor and
general humility)?

Whether the big man from Miami takes training seriously and shows the world he’s more than a scary looking dude from the street or cracks under the pressure and knocks out someone’s eyeball out of its socket, I suspect viewers will be compelled to keep watching throughout the season and carry their interest over for at least as long as he’s in the UFC. The exposure on the show (and basic cable TV) will keep his image in the public eye. Such a thing can only benefit the Kimbo Slice “brand” when it comes to future financial opportunities. “A Slice of Love” on VH1, anybody?!?

Moving on, Kimbo will probably make his live debut at the Ultimate Fighter Finale, as is usually the case when it comes to contestants and the season-ending event, but the reality of the situation leads me to believe the UFC braintrust may decide to wait for a PPV before debuting him in front of a live crowd. I don’t think a 35-year old whose shown a suspect chin and virtually no ground game has more than a puncher’s chance, if that, at lasting more than a few fights before calling it quits or getting released from his contract so capitalizing on his appearances is crucial.

The marriage between Slice and the UFC will definitely create a significant short-term buzz on both sides – it has already – and that can only be a good thing for both parties. I’m looking forward to what will no doubt be classic interactions between featuring Slice, Evans, Jackson, and Dana White. I’m interested in seeing how Mr. Ferguson is treated by his housemates; seeing whether or not his pop culture status will lead to reverence or contempt. I want to know how he’ll react to being cooped up in a house with them for weeks and weeks. And, in full disclosure, I’m intrigued to see what exactly happens the first time he locks up with someone and who will be separated from their consciousness when it goes down. Most of all, I’m just plain interested, and isn’t that ultimately the point when it comes to what makes for good television?

Those above comments are things I’ve never said about an Ultimate Fighter season prior to this one and it hasn’t even wrapped production yet. I, like so many other people, haven’t been as excited about a particular TUF’s results since the first two chapters of the reality show hit the airwaves. Whether you love Kimbo’s signing or hate it, chances are you’ll be tuning in, and that in itself proves exactly why inking Slice to appear on the Ultimate Fighter was a brilliant move that will pay dividends to everyone involved (including the viewer).

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