* in the grand scheme of things...
Ow! I think I strained something patting myself on the back. In my Episode Three Preview I predicted a cautious Roy "Big Country" Nelson would allow Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson to survive the first round but eventually catch him on the ground in the second for the victory. And sure enough that's just what happened.
I further predicted (as have others) that despite the loss Kimbo would come out of this positioned for more opportunities in The Ultimate Fighter and/or the UFC. That also certainly seems to be the case, based on UFC president Dana White's interview statements and the show's editorial foreshadowing.
What I couldn't have predicted was that Nelson would somehow find a way to come out a loser despite winning the fight with little difficulty. Nifty trick, that, but he pulled it off.
How this all came about is the result of a tangled formula full of apparent contradictions. White has spent years badmouthing the Internet fighting sensation Slice, whom he derided as "not a mixed martial artist" (Slice admits "I can't even spell jiu-jitsu.") Meanwhile Nelson has the résumé of an experienced MMA standout, with a Gracie black belt, retired heavyweight championship, and a nothing-to-sneeze-at professional record of 13-4.
As Nelson puts it (in typically self-aggrandizing fashion) "We've paid our dues. I've paid my dues a little more than he has..." So just how did Slice turn defeat into opportunity and Nelson turn triumph into a liability? Let's go to the tape...
Since coming on the show Slice has humanized his fierce streetfighter persona by revealing the flesh-and-blood Kevin Ferguson previously obscured beneath the outsize Kimbo beard (no, he didn't shave it off: just allowed viewers to see past it). He's been given plenty of opportunities to continue wooing the public in last night's episode as well.
Nelson by contrast is afforded much less pre-fight airtime. Could be he's just not as interesting a character for the cameras to hang on. Or perhaps there's a conscious decision being made in the editing room to push Kimbo Slice and downplay Big Country. Maybe it's a bit of both.
Slice talks about having time to reflect while at TUF house. "I hope it doesn't make me all nice and mushy," he grumbles jokingly. He also gets deep for the confessional cam, wondering whether "the enemy" has been "the inner me." Has someone been reading self help books? Well, I'm not sure if you are good enough or smart enough, Kimbo, but gosh darn it, people like you!
With all the glimpses of the 'man behind the beard' we get only a little more insight into the 'man behind the belly,' Roy Nelson. The truculent independence that was on display last episode is given a little more context when we learn that Nelson doesn't have a manager and handles his own bookings, sponsorships, etc. "He's just not used to trusting people," we're told. That does a bit to humanize the apparent egomaniac that put me, and many others, off last week. It would also help explain why no one's giving him better advice on how to manage his image on the show.
There's a cameo appearance by Rashad Evan's training partner, UFC light-heavyweight Keith Jardine, who looks befuddled without an opponent across the Octagon to glare at. Jardine's visit is without apparent purpose but does manage to spark yet another verbal sparring match between the perpetually bickering coaches.
Rashad once again shows himself to be level-headed and situationally aware. He intervenes when last week's lackluster victor, James McSweeney, attempts to stand up for himself after becoming a target of opportunity in Rampage's salvo of insults. Good call. Rampage seems to be angling to get someone to take a poke at him. Had McSweeney been shortsighted enough to oblige he'd get an ass-whupping from Rampage and his walking papers from Dana. And no, I don't have a moment's doubt the light-heavyweight would demolish the heavyweight in short order.
We also get to spend a little time with ginormous former NFL-er Marcus Jones, who, if he wasn't trying to jumpstart a career of hurting people in the Octagon, would certainly qualify as the cliched "gentle giant." He reveals himself as a (very) passionate gardener and comic book collector who's admittedly oversensitive. But we're led to wonder about his commitment when he's called out by Rampage over an on-again-off-again knee injury. Coming attractions at the end of the episode imply more drama may be forthcoming from Marcus next week as well.
After two episodes we finally get to witness a weigh in. Nelson edges under the limit at 264 pounds. When Dana comments that he doesn't look like 264, Big Country pulls up his oversized tee to reveal that he is apparently 8 months pregnant with twins. Dana quips "Roy Nelson looks like he just left every buffet in Las Vegas."
Come fight time, anyone unfamiliar with the combatants entering the Octagon might be excused for mistaking Nelson for the underdog. Not only is there nothing athletic about his appearance, he doesn't even give off the barroom badass vibe affected by other big, doughy fighters. Whereas the fearsomely muscled, piratically bearded Kimbo Slice would have a hard time looking like anything but a warrior.
I predicted that Nelson would be cautious going into this fight: he's focused on the big picture and doesn't want a careless injury now that will hamper his chances at winning the show later. I expected a little more aggression from Slice but he too must have been reluctant to make a costly mistake. Both fighters come into round one very tentatively and spend a good amount of time circling, jabbing, and otherwise feeling one another out.
Slice manages some good punches before Nelson's had enough and presses him up against the cage to work for the takedown. But the brawler shows decent balance and is able to frustrate the attempts...for a while. Eventually he goes down, and though he makes a nice escape attempt off the cage Slice is soon smothered under Nelson's black belt belly in a sort of sloppy crucifix position. Nelson is able to drop punches on his defenseless opponent's head, but they're so ineffectual that referee Herb Dean can't quite decide to call a stoppage before time runs out.
In round two Slice presses the action and gets in some good shots before attempting an ill-advised knee against his advancing opponent. Nelson's mass overbalances Slice and it's back to the bottom of the pigpile and into the gut-assisted crucifix for poor Kimbo. This time Nelson loudly counts out the undefended-yet-unimpressive blows he drops on Slice, giving the ref little option but to stop the fight.
I guess we're supposed to accept that if Nelson could deliver weak punches to a defenseless opponent he could just as well have served up truly fight-ending blows instead. Are we to take this as restraint on his part, then? Laziness? Lack of killer instinct? Caution—not wanting to needlessly risk injuring his hand or wrist?
Different refs have different tolerances for carnage. Herb Dean, in my experience, generally does a very good job of balancing the responsibility of protecting fighters with the desire to let them fight. He was there next to the fighters, so I don't want to second-guess the decision. But I can't help but wonder if that stoppage was really necessary.
The fighter is required to "intelligently defend himself"—but can you be said to not be intelligently defending when you're not being hurt? An unimpressed Dana White observed that he lets his little daughter punch him like that when they play-fight. Might Slice have been more urgently motivated to escape if Nelson's punches had been more than a nuisance? Did he even realize the fight was about to be stopped given that he wasn't absorbing significant damage?
Nelson's miscalculation was in doing the minimum necessary to win. I observed previously his failure to recognize the show as a job interview of sorts. Here he got the W, but he failed to impress anyone, most notably Dana White. His standup was tentative. His takedowns relied on bulk rather than technique. His ground control was sloppy (if effective) and again seemed to rely more on smothering his opponent with his belly than with using technique. And his ground and pound was insipid.
Big Country had a chance to be a hero: the mixed martial artist who upheld the honor of the sport against the barbarian brawler. Instead he phoned in a performance nobody will bother to rewatch. Fans are already eager to see Kimbo Slice fight again. Based on this go-round, there's little to be excited about at the prospect of another Big Country bout. And that's how Roy Nelson snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. In my opinion.