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Kimbo earns his keep in the UFC

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

LAS VEGAS – I swear hell must have just frozen over.

Kimbo Slice is in the UFC. More shockingly, perhaps, is that he actually won in the UFC.

Seriously.

The one-time street brawler, who was mocked incessantly for more than a year by Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White, won a unanimous decision over Houston Alexander on Saturday at The Palms.

The elite fighters in the heavyweight division, men like champion Brock Lesnar and contenders Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Frank Mir, among many others, have nothing to worry about.

Truth is, without denigrating Slice, there are more fighters in the UFC's heavyweight (and light heavyweight) division that he can't beat than there are that he can.

If he never wins another fight, though, it won't matter.

Slice has made his point.

He was classy as White mocked him – "What," White asked at a UFC 90 news conference in 2008, "has Kimbo Slice done other than get 10 million hits on YouTube to be in the UFC?" – and responded only by trying to become a better fighter.

White had snidely said that the only way Slice would ever find his way into the UFC was by going onto, and winning, "The Ultimate Fighter."

Slice took him up on that offer and agreed to appear on the show, turning down an opportunity to box and another to fight K-1 kickboxing in Japan. And while he lost his first bout on the reality show to eventual champion Roy Nelson, who knocked out Brendan Schaub on Saturday, he hardly was out of place and by far was not the worst fighter in the house.

White wasn't about to apologize for tweaking Slice so often, but he gave Slice his props.

"I don't know what Houston Alexander's corner was doing, but that was the worst game plan they could have ever come up with," White, who was not at Saturday night's postfight press conference, said in a phone interview. "I am not sure if Kalib Starnes was training him or what, but that wasn't the Houston Alexander I had seen fight before.

"I don't think I have to apologize to Kimbo. I helped him. I said what I did and he did the thing athletes do: He went out there and he worked and he made himself better. He deserves credit. He took me up on the offer I made, did what he had to do and went out and beat a legitimate UFC fighter."

True to the way he's been ever since he started in mixed martial arts, Slice went to the American Top Team in Coconut Grove, Fla., after filming ended in July in a bid to improve his game.

Slice (4-1) was clearly better than he had been when he left Elite XC after getting knocked out just 14 seconds into an Oct. 4, 2008, fight with light heavyweight Seth Petruzelli.

He was satisfied with the victory, though he wasn't gloating. Asked if he felt he proved a point to the legion of skeptics who doubted he could make the transition, Slice nodded his head.

"I hope I did," Slice said. "The goal was to come in and fight and to get the best training I could possibly get to be prepared for the standup or a ground game. Like I said, whether the fight goes to the ground or stands up, I wanted to come in and fight, but be smart about it."

The fight on Saturday was ugly and what had seemed to be a slam-dunk slugfest degenerated into a boo-fest as fans in The Pearl became angry at the lack of action.

Alexander (9-5, 1 no-contest) spent the first round circling in the cage, rarely threatening a punch. He landed a few kicks as Slice simply held the center of the cage. Clearly, though, Alexander was wary of Slice's power and was not eager to engage.

This is a guy who knocked out light heavyweight contender Keith Jardine, after all, but Alexander was exceptionally cautious of Slice. Slice, though, didn't show his inexperience and didn't take an unnecessary risk by rushing at Alexander.

"If I would have run in there foolishly, I would have gotten knocked out," Slice said. "It wasn't difficult to stay patient, but I was going, 'Come on, man.' A few times, I just called him out. I called him by his name and I said some things in the ring, like, 'Let's do this.' I reverted back to the streets a little bit, verbally. He didn't engage. He stuck to his plan, so I said to myself, 'I'm not going to be foolish and run up on him.' I wanted to be a smart fighter as well."

He was a smart fighter on Saturday, but he was a better draw. Not counting Saturday, the season was by far the highest rated in the history of "The Ultimate Fighter." The show averaged 3.4 million viewers per episode compared to an average of 2 million over the first nine seasons.

Ratings will come out on Tuesday for Saturday's finale, and they should be equally large.

Whether Slice can maintain as that type of attraction is debatable because sooner or later it will come down to performance, and Slice has a long way to go before he can compete with the majority of the men in the UFC.

But this night wasn't about the future. It was about a man who believed in himself despite massive ridicule from all corners, about ignoring the thousands of skeptics and chasing a dream.

Kimbo Slice may never become a superstar but he's in the UFC, and that's better than 99.9 percent of the men in the world.

"It's hard," Slice said of making the transition to MMA. "It's not an easy thing. I first was a street fighter. Being a street fighter, there was no training in my style of fighting. I just went in there based on my instincts, watching the guy's movement and countering him.

"But at this level of the game, as a professional fighter in the UFC, you have to be almost genius-like smart because you have all these dimensions to battle. You have to know when to counter and when to not hit and when to engage and when to try to wait it out.

"There's a lot you have to go through. (I hope) this shows my maturity as a mixed martial artist."

He has a lot of maturing left as an MMA fighter, but on this night, Kimbo Slice finally left the streets behind.

He's in the UFC and the spot wasn't given to him.

He earned it.

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