Dada 5000 didn’t earn many rave reviews during this week’s open workouts.
The former street brawler and backyard fight promoter will make his major MMA debut on Friday against Kimbo Slice at Bellator 149. Their bout will serve as the co-main event alongside what might be Bellator’s most outlandish senior-circuit matchup yet, pitting 52-year-old Ken Shamrock against 49-year-old Royce Gracie.
Yet the comparatively soft-spoken Shamrock and the stoic Gracie have largely taken a back seat during the final push toward this event. Credit Slice and Dada for using a slew of last-minute media appearances to bring some excitement to their fight—even though we still don’t know exactly what we’re going to get once they step in the cage.
If the workouts are any indication, it’s going to be ugly. Maybe worryingly so.
Prior to this week, this fight just seemed like another of Bellator’s signature circus bouts. New head honcho Scott Coker has used the last year-and-a-half to prove the MMA stars of yesteryear can still be viable commodities. The promotion is doing everything it can to compete with the UFC, and if that means indulging in some unorthodox matchmaking in order to draw ratings to its free shows on Spike TV, so be it.
Conventional wisdom said it was probably best not to think too deeply about it. Just show up, watch and take the offhand chance you might be entertained.
But then the world saw Dada fail at the simple act of hitting pads, and the narrative shifted toward something a bit more sinister. He looked like a guy who had no idea what he was doing—like a guy who maybe had never done that before. It’s rare to see the MMA media publicly slice-and-dice a fighter’s skills quite so sharply before even seeing him compete, but Dada’s workout was just that bad:
Suddenly it seems as though a terrible fate awaits him this weekend against Slice, who is at least a halfway legitimate MMA fighter who seems to dislike him in a very personal way.
It all raises questions about how far Bellator can go with its off-the-wall circus fights before it crosses the line from fun to scary. This isn’t just a lark, after all; it’s a heavyweight prizefight where two men promise to do violent things to each other. What if it turns out only one of them is capable of actually following through on it?
“I’m the next man’s Super Bowl,” Slice declared during Wednesday’s largely NSFW press conference, when asked what he thought about Dada’s workout. “If you’re coming in to fight me looking like that? Dog, you’re going to get your ass smashed … I’ve never taken a fight [to] enjoy beating a person’s ass, but I really feel good about this one.”
For his part, Dada told MMAFighting.com’s Luke Thomas his workout was just a ruse. Apparently, he wants to sucker Slice into thinking he’ll be a pushover so it will be easier to spring the trap come Friday night.
“I showed them what I wanted them to see,” Dada said. “That’s why they call it the element of surprise.”
Could there be any truth to that? Is it possible Dada went out for the first and only major public workout of his life and decided to play possum? Maybe, but it would be a fairly audacious ploy from a man who comes into this bout as arguably MMA’s biggest enigma this side of CM Punk.
Dada—real name Dhafir Harris, who is 38—has next to no resume in legitimate fighting. He boasts a record of 2-0 in smaller independent organizations, but he hasn’t competed in MMA since 2011. The combined record of his previous opponents is 1-16, and that lone victory came by disqualification due to an illegal knee strike.
In other words, he’s showing all the warning signs of being a complete, unadulterated hype job.
By comparison, Slice looks like a serious and sober veteran of the sport. At least Slice—real name Kevin Ferguson, who is 42—has compiled his 5-2 overall MMA record against recognizable competition. At least he trains with the reputable American Top Team camp near his home in Florida.
At least Slice is a halfway proven commodity, even if the thing he’s proved is that he isn’t all that great.
The closer we get to this fight the more we start to wonder if it was a stunt from the start. The beef was built primarily through the independent documentary film Dawg Fight, which chronicled Dada’s attempts to promote bare-knuckle street fights in Miami. He was once a member of Slice’s entourage during the better-known fighter’s heyday, and to hear him tell it they parted ways amid some vaguely defined disrespect.
Now they will settle it with a professional MMA contest. At least, that’s what we hope it’s going to be.
Maybe when the time comes, Dada will prove he’s outsmarted us all. Maybe he’s a star in the making and just needs the chance to prove his worth on the big stage. Maybe he’ll finally serve Slice with the comeuppance he says the man has deserved for years.
But probably not. If Dada looks as bad as many expect him to, then Slice will easily dispatch him. It might be extremely brutal or it might be extremely underwhelming. Either way, we’ll be hard-pressed to say it was worth much besides a momentary distraction.
And maybe that’s all Bellator needs it to be. Maybe that’s all fans need it to be.
But if it goes the way we expect it to go, it’s possible this fight will feel like another small step toward the outskirts of what’s acceptable from a professional sport in 2016. We can dress it up as fun, meaningless entertainment, but the physical stakes will still be real.
There has to be a point where Bellator’s unconventional methods become unsound.
There has to be a point where these sorts of fights cease to be silly and start to be dangerous.
There has to be some line we’re unwilling to cross.
Is that line Dada 5000?
We’ll find out on Friday.