Kimbo Slice: The Exploitation of an Elite (XC) Fighter?

Mackenzie KraemerSenior Analyst IJune 2, 2008

I don't know what to think about Elite XC and CBS' contract.

That's probably not the best way to begin an article, but I'm really at a loss. Kimbo Slice and Elite XC as an organization both got their money. CBS got their Saturday night ratings boost, which obviously meant that enough fans are interested in Slice.

But while everyone got their money, the final product was sorely lacking, leading to the question: is exploiting Kimbo Slice going to help or hurt MMA as a whole?

First, let's get one thing out of the way. Sure, some viewers may have watched the fight because they were fight fans wanting to watch the event as a whole, but the vast majority of people wanted to see Kimbo Slice. That's what CBS, ESPN, and every other media outlet focused their entire attention on.

Be honest, had you ever heard of Robbie Lawler, Scott Smith, or Brett Rogers?

If the answer is yes, you're enough of an MMA fan that you would have watched anyway.

For the casual viewer, this was all about Kimbo—the scary, fierce, Internet bare-knuckled brawler who went from rags to riches, parlaying YouTube clips to getting on the cover of ESPN the Magazine and starring in the main event of CBS's "Saturday Night Fights."

There was one problem: Slice simply isn't that good.

He can punch and brawl with the best of them, but the fact is if Slice were a great fighter, he would be in a real league, not the MMA delinquent league that is Elite XC. He was set up to fight a tomato can in James Thompson and his cauliflower ear.

And Thompson almost (and perhaps should have) won.

I disagree with those who believe the fight was rigged, but it would have been a disaster if Slice had lost. Thompson had lost six of his last eight fights coming in, but he dominated Slice with his ground game—especially in the end of round 2, where the fight could have been stopped.

Kimbo was able to launch a haymaker on his ear, causing heavy bleeding, and the fight was stopped after he landed a few more unimpeded punches to the face. Thompson was so upset with the result that he shoved the referee.

I can't believe that the fight was rigged—but with the fireworks, drawn out introductions, and the end result of that fight and a few others made it as similar to WWE as possible. That's a comparison MMA needs to distance itself from as much as possible.

Don't blame Kimbo. He did win the fight, making him 3-0 in his career. One wonders how long he can last before the public demands him take on a real fighter, someone who would destroy him right now inside the ring (or octagon).

He has time to train and get better; after all, he is still only an MMA novice, but hype can only last so long. At some point, real results need to follow. Hawaii had an undefeated regular season with a hyped up offense, but when they played Georgia, they did not stand a chance.

Slice is striking while the iron is hot, and he should. CBS wants ratings, and they got them, and enough casual fans are watching where there must be some interest. He's marketing himself very well, even if it doesn't help the image many portray of MMA as a brutal sport.

In his own words, "I consider myself an up-and-coming, intelligent black businessman." And like any good businessman, he's taking advantage of his newfound fame as best he can.

But one wonders how long his fame will last, and how long people will keep watching. Early returns were very good, but the people likely will want more, and the jury is still out to see if Slice can help.

Either way, if you're a casual fan just being introduced to fighting, watch Wanderlei Silva, BJ Penn, or Georges St-Pierre. All have their own charisma with real well-rounded fighting ability.

Elite XC is second-rate fighting, and Kimbo Slice is no exception. But as long as Dana White wants total control, that's what we'll continue to see in primetime—Elite XC instead of elite fighters.

Don't get me wrong, Slice has some talent, and he will improve as he trains more and gets in better shape. But at 34 years old and little background in most mixed martial arts disciplines, it's hard to see Slice ever coming close to living up to his immense hype.

He's being set up to eventually fail, but even that will eventually be compelling TV in its own right, just as it is now watching him beat up tomato cans.

As long as fans recognize Elite XC and Kimbo Slice for what they are, the sport will continue to grow. But if Slice becomes the face of the sport among casual fans, MMA could see a major setback, something detractors believe might happen.

Either way, the fight made viewers want more. They will get more Slice, but will it be more of the same? Or will Slice win again, grow as a fighter, and build upon his fame and take steps to being a real fighter?

Elite XC put all its chips in his basket, and they desperately need him. If/when he fails or loses, Elite XC will go back to Showtime, and the best UFC fighters will hopefully get the recognition they deserve from casual fans.