Props: Yahoo Sports
LAS VEGAS – LeBron James stormed off the court and didn’t fulfill his responsibility to meet with the media after his Cleveland Cavaliers were eliminated by the Orlando Magic in Game 6 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals, a game in which James had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Imagine what James might have done had he performed as badly in his big moment as Kimbo Slice did in his.
Slice, the heavyweight mixed martial arts fighter, was knocked out in just 14 seconds by a jab thrown by middling light heavyweight Seth Petruzelli during a main event fight on CBS on Oct. 4, 2008.
But it’s a tribute to the much-maligned man’s character that he reacted the way he did to the adversity and, as some who don’t know better would say, the humiliation. The promotion behind the CBS card, Elite XC, went bankrupt not long after that fight, and Slice was exposed as not the brute he was portrayed to be but as a highly inexperienced fighter.
Slice, who had made his, ahem, reputation in bare-knuckle street fights that were posted on YouTube, never wavered in his desire to become a full-time – and legitimate – mixed martial artist.
And so he did the thing that stunned nearly everyone in the MMA community, including Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White, and accepted an opportunity to be on the cast of Season 10 of the UFC’s reality series, “The Ultimate Fighter” on Spike TV. The show, which begins its run in September, recently finished filming.
Slice’s appearance on the program means a significant reduction in pay and some potentially humiliating situations for a guy who clearly had become a star in 2008, but Slice never once thought of anything but the opportunity the show would bring him.
“I’m the only guy going in the house with a bull’s-eye on my back,” Slice said on the day top-secret filming began in June. “That’s cool. I’m always going to be the underdog, no matter who I fight. These guys have been doing it over 10 years, some of them all their lives. And in me, you got a guy coming right off the streets.”
It was that very reason that White mocked Slice unmercifully throughout last year. Slice headlined two of three cards Elite XC promoted on CBS and drew exceptional numbers of viewers.
It angered White that Slice, who had little MMA training, was put in the main event on the first card ever televised on a legacy broadcast network. White had spent years selling the notion that MMA fighters were great athletes who were highly trained in their disciplines. He feared that Slice could tear much of that down in one night fighting on CBS.
And so, he began an anti-Kimbo campaign in 2008 in which “Kimbo sucks” was about the kindest thing White said about him.
Slice, whose real name is Kevin Ferguson, was well aware of White’s stance, even though he didn’t respond. It wasn’t his choice to put himself into the main event. He didn’t ask to be made the face of the company.
He wasn’t trying to be a sideshow, though that’s what he became. He was trying to learn the sport from the ground up, but a combination of circumstances thrust him into the unlikely position as the public face of the company.
Hearing White’s taunts weren’t easy for him to accept.
“You had a guy from right off the streets and, yeah, it [expletive] with me a little bit, I ain’t going to lie,” Slice said. “It [expletive] with my head a little bit. But I’m here to prove myself, make him swallow those words.”
Slice tried to parlay his YouTube fame – his videos had more than 10 million views – into a career as a fighter. He was willing, though, to start from the bottom and enlisted the aid of former UFC heavyweight champion Bas Rutten as a trainer.
But Elite XC, which was founded in 2007, had a dearth of talent, particularly network TV-caliber talent. Slice resonated because of his intimidating visage and his YouTube fame.
He was quickly pushed into situations he wasn’t ready for and wound up paying the price.
After Elite XC’s demise, could have gone to Japan and fought carnival-type fights for big money, but he remained steadfast in his desire to become a complete, and legitimate, mixed martial artist. And so he accepted White’s offer to appear on TUF, saying all he wanted was a chance.
Whether he gets knocked out with the first punch in the first fight or whether he manages to win the show and earn a UFC contract, Slice has earned great respect for doing things the right way.
He is a straight-talking man who makes no excuses. If he can pull it off – and it’s a big if – he’s going to be one of the most recognizable faces in the world with the UFC’s marketing muscle pushing him.
This is a guy who didn’t have to take the fight with Petruzelli, who was a last minute replacement for veteran Ken Shamrock. Slice likely would have blown Shamrock away in a fight that wouldn’t prove anything.
But Shamrock had to pull out hours before the fight because of a cut he suffered when he was warming up and rolling on the ground with a training partner. Slice accepted Petruzelli because he understood he was the man everyone was tuning into CBS to see, even though he wasn’t nearly ready for anyone of Petruzelli’s skill.
Petruzelli himself is a former cast member on “The Ultimate Fighter.” And while he is never going to be a world champion, he’s a solid, professional fighter, exactly the opposite of the opponent a fledgling fighter needed to face on short notice.
“I have no idea what happened, but [switching opponents at the last minute] definitely [expletive] with me a little bit,” Slice said. “I kind of mentally beat myself, because I had just, well, let’s just say that [expletive] wasn’t right with me mentally. It was like being in a house with green and blue rooms and brown ceilings skeletons all over the walls.
“It’s a mind thing. You have to be pretty much 100 percent mental and 70 to 80 percent physical to fight, and I [wasn’t].”
But he was clearly 100 percent mentally when he made the choice to appear on the reality show. The worst thing that can happen is that he loses his first fight, but he’ll be a much bigger name for having been on the show and will be able to get plenty of experience fighting and learning the nuances of the business.
The best case scenario is that he wins the season and earns what White said is a much larger than normal contract for a TUF winner.
“Every fighter wants to fight in the UFC,” said Slice. “Not everyone gets this opportunity to be on this show like I did. What happens from this point is up to me. I don’t see how I could have passed it up. There might have been a little more money elsewhere in the short run, but I’m looking at the big picture, and this is the right move for me at the right time.”