Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is becoming huge. Many young fans who grew up watching Tyson, Holyfield, and Lewis are now following Couture, St. Pierre, and Silva.
The debate between boxing and MMA is a fun one to have, but really they are two entirely separate sports. It would be as hard to determine which is the better sport as it would be to compare basketball and football. Everyone has an opinion, but no one can truly be right.
However, MMA has done a terrific job marketing itself and its stars, whereas boxing has fallen off the map outside of its hardcore fans. Boxing still has Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather, but how many casual fans can still tell you who holds any of the heavyweight championships, let alone who holds which ones?
While other organizations are beginning to challenge the UFC for some of the top fighters, MMA’s growth can be closely tied to the excellent job Dana White and the Fertitta brothers have done with the UFC. White took a brand that had almost no value, legitimized it by working with legislating bodies, added more safety elements, and made excellent marketing decisions.
The result was an organization North American fans looked to as the leader in the MMA world. Fans largely recognize the UFC champions as the best in the world.
While the now defunct Pride organization had arguably just as good or better fighters, it competed in a separate market from the UFC (Japan), and did not confuse North American MMA fans during the sport's rebirth.
While MMA and boxing fans love to argue about which is better, another controversial topic is the instant attention being paid to two new stars.
Kimbo Slice is EliteXC’s poster boy and a YouTube sensation. Kimbo (real name: Kevin Ferguson) made a name for himself through tapes of him brawling in backyards and parking lots in Florida and being the toughest guy in the neighborhood.
EliteXC wanted to capitalize on his YouTube popularity and put him in touch with MMA trainer and former UFC champion Bas Rutten. Kimbo holds a 2-0 professional MMA record, with wins over little-known Bo Cantrell (10-11) and fan favorite David “Tank” Abbott (9-14).
However, Abbott’s last professional win was over two and a half years before his fight with Kimbo, and his best days as a fighter are behind him. Fighters such as Chuck Liddell have gone on the record either expressing their disdain for the attention being heaped at Kimbo, or to say that if put in the octagon against them, Kimbo would be no match for them.
The UFC has its own version of Kimbo Slice in Brock Lesnar. Lesnar, the former WWE champion (not real fighting) was in the co-main event on his first UFC card for only his second professional MMA fight. Lesnar lost to Frank Mir, an expert in submissions and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
However, Lesnar’s collegiate athletic experience separates him from Kimbo. In 2000, Lesnar was the NCAA Heavyweight Division I champion in wrestling, one of the critical elements in MMA competition.
Lesnar is such a great athlete that the Minnesota Vikings welcomed him to try out for the team. While he did not make the team, the fact that an NFL team would welcome an athlete to try out for their team with limited football experience speaks to his raw athletic talent.
Kimbo Slice vs. Brock Lesnar is an interesting comparison. Round One, being a comparison of the way they have been managed to date, goes to Kimbo Slice. Kimbo has been matched up against opponents he can beat, who are willing to play to what we can only believe is his strength, his standup game and power.
The first televised MMA card on a major network is on May 31, and features Slice against James Thompson. This fight is set up to show what may be MMA’s largest-ever television audience a devastating Kimbo Slice knockout. Thompson has lost seven times by either knockout or technical knockout. Thompson usually likes to trade punches and definitely will be under pressure to do so here.
By contrast, the UFC matched Lesnar up with one of the worst possible opponents for him. If it was a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lesnar’s strength and take down abilities make him Rock.
However, the UFC put him up against a Jiu-Jitsu expert who was able to submit him. Frank Mir in this case is Paper. While the UFC is usually pretty great at matching and marketing fighters, this particular fight left many scratching their heads.
Possibly, the UFC was trying to recoup the large investment they made on Lesnar and figured a fight against someone as well-known and as talented as Mir would make him legitimate for a monster fight if he won. If he lost, he would be able to withstand it and remain a large box-office pull, while Mir would once again become a headliner. Round One goes to Kimbo.
Round Two, based on intimidation, goes to both fighters. If you put either of these guys into a bull-fighting arena, they would probably charge at the bull and the bull would be wise to run away. If either of them hit an average person, the average person would be lucky to ever get up.
Round Three is pure potential as a fighter. Both are insanely strong. Lesnar, though, is one of the greatest collegiate wrestlers of the past decade. Kimbo was a brawler before being a technical striker, but he has picked up the skill set quickly and looked much more pure than Abbott in his last fight.
However, Kimbo would want to stay on his feet and strike against Lesnar, while Lesnar would be able to use his wrestling to take the fight to the ground. Ultimately, Lesnar would be able to ground-and-pound Kimbo and win the fight. Lesnar is also a younger fighter who has more time to learn the complexities of the sport.
While Kimbo may have a great career, and Lesnar stumbled out of the gate, look for Lesnar to be a legitimate champion before Kimbo Slice.
Lesnar, Round Three, KO.