You've got to hand it to the producers of The Ultimate Fighter. They managed to take a guy who was the scorn of the MMA world and make him a babyface in the span of one episode, even in defeat.
On Wednesday's mucho-anticipated show featuring Kimbo Slice vs. Roy Nelson, TUF delivered in every aspect, building to a somewhat disappointing crescendo as Nelson wanted no part of Slice's punching and used takedowns and a weight-inflicted crucifix to earn a 2nd round T/KO win.
Damn it. I really, really, really wanted Slice to win. They got me.
What made Slice so likable was they simply portrayed him as a normal guy honestly trying to learn and absorb everything he can about the sport. What EliteXC and CBS/Showtime failed to really hit home, TUF got over in 45 minutes. Perhaps Slice has changed since then, but it's amazing what compassion can come out of people when they just start being real.
There was definitely plenty of Sliceisms throughout (the eneME/inner me monologue was quite something), but the production crew did a fantastic job at hitting all of the small things that compile the Slice persona: the bald head, the beard, the drive.
As for Nelson, he was essentially a prop; a giant white trucker looking dude that is so independent he books his own fights, gets his own sponsors and overall does things his way. Normally, he's the type of guy that Middle America roots for. Not tonight.
The fight itself wasn't anything special. Slice's punching power is undeniable, but this isn't boxing and Nelson knew exactly what to do when he got in trouble: take it to the ground. Brilliantly alluded to earlier in the episode, Slice did not want to get Nelson on top of him as his size and girth were going to likely prove to be too much.
Slice looked down and out at the end of the 1st round as Nelson was laying on him in the crucifix position, hitting the top of his head with light blows. He was upset as he expected a stoppage, but as UFC Prez Dana White mentioned later, it was like a daughter play fighting with his dad. There wasn't real bad intentions behind them or if they were, Nelson isn't a real angry guy.
The second round was nearly exactly the same: Slice connecting early and Nelson taking him down. Eventually, ref Herb Dean couldn't let it go on as Slice's head was engulfed by Nelson's midsection and wasn't getting out of it. Sadly, the fight was over and our surprising anti-hero was out of the competition.
What happened next was interesting. White said that Nelson was acting like he had done something great but had simply done just enough to get by. Suddenly, Nelson became somewhat portrayed as a braggart that was boasting of some great accomplishment. He did enough to win, but for a guy that once was an IFL champion and has more experience than Slice will ever get, Roy Nelson didn't impress anyone.
Suddenly, I want to see Nelson get beat really badly. He ruined the story and our moment and did so in a way that was irritating. If I know anything about the UFC, it's that they don't want Roy Nelson to win the competition. He's simply not TV friendly and for the mainstream fans, his physical appearance is just too much to overcome his accomplishments.
What next for Slice? Like White said, simply get experience while he's in the house and that everyone leaves the show a better fighter. There was even some teasing of a potential Slice return if someone else has to leave because of injury. You get the feeling that something big is still down the pike for this season and that Slice is going to be a part of it.
I really hope so. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I want to see Kimbo Slice fight again...and win.
Josh Nason has published MMA, wrestling and boxing blog Ropes, Ring and Cage.com since 2007. He is a contributor to Fight Magazine, has contributed to Bleacher Report since 2008 and appears regularly on Fight Network Radio. Follow him on Twitter.