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Kimbo continues work on his game

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

You can follow Kevin Iole on Twitter at @KevinI

MONTREAL – Kimbo Slice is never going to win a world jiu-jitsu championship. He's no threat to make an Olympic wrestling team.

He makes his living with his fists and that's probably never going to change.

It would be a mistake, though, to continue to regard the one-time street brawler and YouTube legend as a one-dimensional fighter. He's arguably the most improved athlete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship thanks to the hours of work he's put in with the American Top Team and coach Ricardo Liborio in Florida.

He's the first to admit he's got a long way to go, but he looks more like a fighter even watching him go though a light workout.

Slice, who fights Matt Mitrione, a former cast mate on Season 10 of "The Ultimate Fighter," on Saturday at the Bell Centre on the main card of UFC 113, is getting the kind of coaching now that he'd never received previously.

When he was paired with Houston Alexander in "The Ultimate Fighter" finale in December, it was reasonable to assume the fight would become a toe-to-toe slugfest.

Alexander's plan wasn't to stand and trade, however. What was telling, though, was that Slice adjusted enough so that he won. It was hardly a memorable fight, but it was an indication of the growth he'd made from the days when he became part of the Internet mythology by engaging in street fights in back yards and later posting them on YouTube.

"It showed patience and it showed that I had a good training camp, a smart training camp," Slice said of the adjustments he made against Alexander. "I didn't run in there like I would have done in my street fighting days."

With good reason. Alexander is a powerful puncher whose right hand can knock anyone out if he lands it square.

Slice, whose real name is Kevin Ferguson, was a limited fighter in his street fighting days who won by intimidation and the power in his fists.

Had he tried to rush Alexander, odds are good things wouldn't have happened.

"I'd probably have made a mistake and I would have gotten hit with something I wouldn't have been expecting," Slice said.

The fight between Slice and Mitrione is fascinating on multiple levels, but not the least of which is the growth of the two. Mitrione is a former NFL lineman who earned the dubious nickname "Meathead" on the show.

He claimed he was hearing voices and thought he injured his brain, among other antics.

But throughout all of his nuttiness, he showed great potential, particularly as a striker.

He's been working with Duke Roufus and sparring with Pat Barry. And while Slice may expect Mitrione to stand toe-to-toe and match power shots, Mitrione has other ideas.

He's not averse to slugging, but he believes he's developed greatly, too, albeit far from the spotlight that surrounds Slice.

"I really doubt that the both of us plan to stand in front of each other and punch each other in the face," Mitrione said. "I think there will be more variables in there. The important part is that we both acknowledge that neither one of us is scared to trade them off. It could turn into that, but I think there will be a lot more strategy. There will be a lot of clinch work and, on Kimbo's attempt, a lot of dirty boxing."

Mitrione had never fought professionally before joining the TUF 10 cast. And while he became known for his zany behavior, there is a serious fighter inside.

He split his two fights on TUF, defeating Scott Junk and losing to James McSweeney, but knocked out Marcus Jones at the finale in what was officially his pro debut.

He's joined Roufus' camp and said he is amazed by how much he's learned about techniques and the psychology of fighting. Yet, he knows he's a long way from being his best.

"I'm probably a three, or something like that," on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of development," Mitrione said. "There's so much game I have to develop. Really, think about it, this is just my fourth fight ever. I don't know how often it happens that (someone makes his) pro debut in the UFC.

"I have a lot to learn, I know that. I'm somewhat young. I'm 31, but heavyweights in this sport develop later, it seems. A lot of it is up to me, what I allow myself to do. I think there is a lot of talent in there and I just have to develop it."

Slice said much the same thing. He conceded that in quiet moments, he's bitten by self-doubt.

But even when he was being universally ripped for his lack of skills – and no one was louder or harsher than UFC president Dana White – Slice insisted he wanted to develop his full MMA game and make his mark in the sport as a complete fighter, not a street brawler.

The best move he ever made was joining ATT.

"I'm still like that," he said of having self-doubt. "It's an ongoing process. American Top Team, let me tell you, that's not a gym. It's a learning facility. If you go there, you're going to learn. You almost have no choice but to learn. The trainers there, I call them professors. They have professors there and you have no choice but to learn.

"I have six kids and the distractions are going to be there. But I've had to isolate myself and make some sacrifices. When I'm at ATT, I put on my thinking cap and try to absorb everything. With learning, the key is repetition and Coach Libo, he drills me with that."

Slice is one of the world's most famous fighters. He may not be that recognizable on Saturday, at least in terms of his style.

Nor, for that matter, will Mitrione.

"You want to develop and you want to get better or you should go do something else," Mitrione said. "The guys in this sport are too good. The days of coming in there with just a lot of toughness and winning fights are long over. You have to learn the sport from the ground up.

"Kimbo's evolving, I'm evolving. It's a process and it's going to be fun to see where we are along the road."

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