LAS VEGAS – The quality of the fights was as poor during Season 10 of the reality series, "The Ultimate Fighter," as they have ever been since the show's inception in 2005.
A show which produced world champions like Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans and Matt Serra has been an unmitigated disaster if the assessment is made on the quality of the fights. QVC offered more compelling programming than some of the fights during the current season, which features heavyweights.
It seemed that it was a weekly occurrence where one, or both, of the fighters would lose his conditioning after a few minutes. They'd then spend the remainder of the bout gasping for breath in the center of the ring, looking like they were in need of an oxygen tank, and quick.
It's hard to understand why professional athletes, with the biggest opportunity of their lives within their grasp, can't come prepared to fight two fast-paced rounds. The fights were weak on a weekly basis and there isn't one that anyone other than friends and family would willingly watch again.
Despite the bust in the cage, though, the current season stands as the highest-rated in the history of the series on Spike TV.
The reason for that is fairly obvious.
Kimbo Slice, the man Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White mocked mercilessly for more than year, brought the viewers out in massive numbers.
They didn't seem to care that he was coming off a 14-second, first-round knockout loss to a light heavyweight. They didn't seem to care that he landed precious few punches when he was stopped by Roy Nelson in the second round of a one-sided fight in Week 3.
Without Slice, televisions would have been changing from Spike after the second week and wouldn't have been switched back. The one-time street fighter attracted nearly 7 million viewers to Spike to watch his match with Nelson.
Slice was so critical to the season's success that White and the show's producers worked to death the angle of his possible return to competition after his loss. Despite the slew of hints, Slice never did fight again and won't until Saturday, when he meets power-punching Houston Alexander in The Pearl at the Palms Hotel & Casino as part of "The Ultimate Fighter Finale" card.
Yet, ratings were consistently large and were around or even above 3 million viewers on a weekly basis.
Slice, whose real name is Kevin Ferguson, showed himself to be a charismatic, captivating personality. He made you laugh. He made you think.
More than anything, he made you want to watch.
"I just did my thing and I don't get caught up in all the stuff going on," said Slice, who said he weighed 220 on Tuesday and appeared noticeably trimmer as he drops to the 215-pound contracted weight limit for Saturday's fight with Alexander. "I just went on there and I was me and I did what I do."
Slice has spent the last several months since taping ended training at the vaunted American Top Team camp in Coconut Grove, Fla.
After Elite XC folded, Slice had an opportunity to turn pro as a boxer but opted against it. He still wants to see if he can make it as a mixed martial arts fighter and has committed himself fully to it.
For all the celebrity he brought with him to the show, Slice was an honest worker each week and has remained that way since taping ended. White said Slice impressed everyone with his sincere desire to take advantage of his opportunity and try to get better.
He was hardly a diva.
Evans, who along with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson served as a coach, didn't like the idea of having Slice around at first, White said.
"Before the taping, Rashad wanted him out of there and wasn't happy about it," White said. "But his opinion changed after the Roy Nelson fight. And you know what? I think American opinion on the guy changed, too. He heard me talk all this [expletive] about him and he came in and he worked hard and he wanted to get better. He was kind of like the underdog and people were pulling for him.
"I've said this so many times, that guys go on this show and they don't understand it, but they're far better fighters when they come off. I'm expecting that with Kimbo, too." Slice would make no predictions and wouldn't go so far to say he's a better fighter.
He has been learning, he said, but whether he can apply what he has been taught is the only thing that matters Saturday.
"You could learn the slickest moves and the best submissions and the escapes and all that, Slice said. "But when they turn them lights on and lock that door and you get into that position, can you do it? That's really what it comes down to and we'll have to see."
Despite his drawing power – it's not a stretch to think that Saturday's finale could be the top-rated in series history – it's hard to imagine White keeping Slice around past Saturday should Slice not look good.
Slice, though, is a star and he'll sell tickets and put people in the seats. And being on the largest stage now, his celebrity is going to go to another level.
As he is with most things in his life, he's hardly worried. He is very much a now person and isn't the type to let his mind wander into the future.
His stint on the show simply cemented his celebrity and will put further demands on his time. He shrugs, though. He'll do what he can to promote the sport and his friends and when he needs time to himself, he'll get lost.
"I look at myself as a little billboard, or a walking advertisement, in a sense," Slice said. "If everyone around me can benefit and be blessed like I have been, that's cool. … The privacy shit, I can handle on my own. When I need my privacy, I know how to get in my car with my tinted windows and do thing and get missing if I need to get missing.
"If I have to step out and take a picture with a kid or his mom, that's cool, I can do that. If I need some time, I will let them know with no disrespect intended that the timing is just bad. Listen, I'm a street fighter. I come from the streets. I know how to handle the streets and I know how to handle myself in the streets. If I can handle that, I can handle this. I'm ready to do what I got to do."
He's ready, and several million Americans are going to be ready to see how he does it.
- Rashad Evans
- The Ultimate Fighter
- Kimbo Slice