During a recent interview with Greg Savage of Sherdog.com, UFC President Dana White responded to a question about the promotion’s growing number of shows and whether they have enough marquee talent to headline the shows by saying he has plenty of headliners.
While the UFC has its fair share of stars that can carry a pay-per-view such as B.J. Penn, Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, Brock Lesnar, Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture, you can never have too many drawing cards in your deck.
One of the UFC’s biggest drawing cards over the years has been Chuck Liddell. However, with four losses in his last five fights, it is believed his ability to draw buyers to pay-per-view has diminished. However, that’s a perception that has yet to be verified, as we do not know the official amount of buys Liddell’s recent fights have drawn.
But let’s just say the “Iceman” isn’t the star he once was, the reality is that he still remains one of the most recognizable fighters in all of MMA. And now, thanks to his current stint on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, Liddell’s stardom continues to grow while he skills diminish.
While White has made it clear he would prefer that Liddell retire, the UFC Hall of Famer has one more fight left on his current UFC deal. Liddell has confirmed his hiatus from MMA, but has yet to officially announce his retirement from the sport.
Will Liddell ever challenge for the UFC light heavyweight title? Unlikely. But does he still have a few strong PPV buys left in him? If the matchup is right, absolutely.
And what’s the right matchup?
None other than Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson.
During the taping of the eleventh season of The Ultimate Fighter, rumors swirled that Slice had lost early on in the show to former IFL heavyweight champion Roy Nelson. Initially, the rumors didn’t appear logical because many — myself included — speculated that the UFC and Spike TV would manipulate the show so that Kimbo didn’t fight until the seventh or eighth episode.
The reality is that TUF is really reality — there was no TV magic of any kind performed. Kimbo not only fought early in the season, he fought the tournament’s unofficial number one seed.
Well, maybe I spoke too soon, as there was some magic performed during last night’s show. The magic I am speaking of is none other than Dana White’s marvelous spin job regarding the ending of last night’s fight and his closing comments on Kimbo.
Sorry to use a professional wrestling reference, but White’s 180 degree full fledged flip would have been like Bobby “The Brain” Heenan turning from heel to face and siding with Hulk Hogan — a scenario that never actually transpired.
If I didn’t know any better, it would seem that White has joined Team Kimbo. And why shouldn’t he? Dana is a businessman and Kimbo is a stone cold star. I had the opportunity to work with Kimbo while involved with several CBS and Showtime productions. Kimbo probably wouldn’t recognize me if he saw me, but he left a tremendous impression on me. Despite the playing the role of the thug to perfection in the public eye, the Kimbo I was exposed to behind the scenes was a nice, kind, and gentle soul. The producers of TUF did a marvelous job of showing that side of Kimbo last night.
Kimbo might have lost but the masterful marketing job performed by the UFC and Spike TV last night ensures that he has at least one big UFC fight in him. If Roy Nelson goes on to the finals and ends up winning, there might not be much shame in Kimbo having lost to the winner of TUF’s eleventh season.
Kimbo and Chuck still have some drawing power left in them but their respective shelf-lives could be close to expiration. Both fighters may only have one marketable performance left in them. Timing is everything in life and business and opportunity is knocking on the UFC’s door.
While rumors persist that Kimbo will get at least one official fight under the UFC banner (remember, Dana says a fighter is not a UFC fighter until they make it past TUF), possibly at the TUF finale or at UFC 107, I think the smartest move out there is to automatically pass go and go straight to a PPV headlined by Liddell vs. Kimbo.
That’s right, I want to see Liddell vs. Kimbo and I want to see it in the first quarter of 2010 (Super Bowl weekend anyone?) after Liddell has completed his stint on Dancing with the Stars and after we will know for sure whether Kimbo lost to the eventual winner of TUF 11.
I am sure the MMA purists and hardcores are going to react in unison to my cry for Liddell vs. Kimbo with a collective “Thanks, but no thanks” but Liddell and Kimbo as individual both possess undeniable charisma. Project them on a collision course towards each other and the potential and kinetic energy would provide off the charts measurements.
Remember, Chuck has a loyal fanbase that will continue to follow him despite the fact he’s lost four out of his last five fights. And Kimbo has a fanbase of his own that many MMA hardcores often forget transcends the typical MMA viewer.
MMA is a sport but like any other sport, it is a business. The UFC will be able to put on a lot of great fights in the next 12-14 months, but how many blockbusters do they currently have in the pipeline? Chuck vs. Kimbo is a blockbuster, whether you want to acknowledge that fact or not. Put the two together in the Octagon and people will pay in droves to see the spectacle. It would be the type of spectacle that even the bout’s harshest critics would likely still pay to see.
In the past, the UFC mocked EliteXC for what it considered freak show fight cards built around Kimbo. But the seal has been broken and for better or for worse, the UFC is officially in the Kimbo business. And now that the seal has been broken, you might as well make as much money with him while you can.
While I wouldn’t call Chuck vs. Kimbo a freak show fight, I would call is a sideshow special attraction. But does every fight have to have top ten implications? What’s wrong with out-of-the-box promoting every now and then and having a little fun? When Matt Hughes fought Royce Gracie, was that a bout with title implications? Was it a fight in which the top ten welterweight rankings were going to be impacted, since it was at a catchweight?
The answer to both questions are an obvious no but many of you reading this column bought that PPV. I know I did. And the crazy thing was that there wasn’t a shred of doubt in my mind about who was going to win that fight. Yet I can’t remember a time in which I’ve ever been so excited to see a fight in which I was already certain of the outcome.
I see Liddell vs. Kimbo possessing many of the same attributes that Hughes vs. Gracie fight brought: a fight that was pure fun and entertainment.
A year ago, Chuck vs. Kimbo would have been a tough sell — er, wait, no, it would have been an easy sell. But now, it becomes an even easier sell. Kimbo lost last night but he didn’t completely embarass himself and on some levels, is “UFC certified.” And having lost four out of his last five, Liddell is no longer viewed as the unbeatable force he once was. Believe it or not, because Kimbo has been built up as a big hitter and because many of Chuck’s recent losses have ended via brutal KO, there is going to be a segment of the population that believes Kimbo has a puncher’s chance to beat Chuck.
And if the bout was held at a catchweight of 220 lbs., that makes selling the drama that much easier as Chuck will have to come up in weight and give up a marginal size advantage against Kimbo.
Putting Kimbo on the TUF Finale would be a good move because if you picked the right opponent, you could draw ratings that could rival Tito vs. Ken III. Put him as an undercard attraction on a December PPV, and he will definitely enhance the buys. But the best business move for the UFC is to put Liddell and Kimbo in a headlining bout on PPV and give it the full UFC promotional push complete with commercials, a press tour, countdown shows, and maybe even another run of UFC Primetime.
I’m sure this column is going to generate a lot of response — both positive and negative — but the one question I want you to ask yourself is: would you pay to see Kimbo Slice vs. Chuck Liddell?