Dana White had 15 of the 16 heavyweight contenders line up on Wednesday’s premiere of Spike TV’s “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Then White, the Ultimate Fighting Championship president, introduced the 16th man, Kimbo Slice, who strolled through a side door and immediately drew scorn and laughter from his fellow competitors – and even the show's coaches.
“[Expletive] him,” said Brendan Schaub, a one-time college football player and contestant as other fighters nodded. “[Expletive] that guy.”
Kimbo Slice, welcome to the UFC’s entry-level show, where the hungriest of up-and-comers have been scrapping for their lives – and a six-figure UFC contract – for 10 seasons now.
The man made famous from YouTube videos of him beating people in boatyards and back alleys, only to flame out at the wrong end of a quick network-televised knock out, was immediately in the cross fire. Hyped by his former promotion and CBS television to absurd levels, Kimbo now has nowhere to hide, no one to turn to and no one to make excuses for him.
The UFC’s motto is “As Real As It Gets” and the pressure on Slice, a man despised and dismissed by so many hard core fans as a circus act and an insult to mixed martial arts, is about as intense as anything you’ll find on television.
It’s what makes the new TUF, the most anticipated, and expected to be the most watched, season yet.
“This is some of the best television we’ve ever done,” White said.
The season may hinge on the competition between a diverse group of fighters, which includes four former NFL players. The show's other spice is the real rivalry and incessant trash talk between coaches Rashad Evans and Rampage Jackson, both one-time light heavyweight champs who are contracted to fight next year.
It starts though with Slice, who all by himself brings myriad storylines. Can he really fight? Can he really dedicate himself? Is he really for real?
More than that though, there’s a human element to this. You can see it in Slice’s eyes on the first show that this is a hugely intimidating situation to walk into. He was singled out from the start, shown to be different by his entrance, and with all eyes and doubts on him, he looked understandably rattled.
“I think Kimbo Slice has a bounty over his head,” Schaub said. “When he walked in it was like the sheep entering the room with a lot of wolves.”
Adding to the drama is the presence of White, who through the years relentlessly mocked Kimbo as a “bum” and a “joke" and everything that was wrong with upstart MMA promotions that didn’t have the sports’ long-term interests at heart.
“I’ve talked more [expletive] about this guy than anyone ever, and coming from me, that’s saying a lot,” White said.
Now Slice is trying to win his approval, now he is serving at his favor?
Slice was so nervous he immediately addressed White as “DW.” It’s not like he hadn’t heard White’s endless bashing of him. And he’s not afraid to admit it hurt.
“Yeah, it [expletive] with me,” Kimbo said in an interview with Yahoo! Sports. “It [expletive] with me a little bit. I want him to eat those words.”
Everyone has been in Kimbo’s spot at some point of their life. This is the new kid walking into school on the first day. This is the co-worker everyone doubts trying to prove his or her merit in a career-making meeting. This is having the full knowledge that everyone else in the room doesn’t just want to see you fail; they want to make a name off it ensuring it.
And it’s all going to happen inside a caged octagon, a full on, man-to-man fight, not some backstabbing board room or tribal vote.
TUF has been a ratings boon for Spike and a huge promotional tool for the UFC. White credits the first season with saving the company, which was awash in debt in 2005 but now is valued by Forbes as worth over $1 billion.
Getting the chance to find out, once and for all, whether Kimbo was just a marketing creation or a real MMA fighter would normally be enough to drive the season.
The bonus is that all the fighters must live together in a house in suburban Las Vegas without any outside access – phones, Internet, managers, etc. So over the course of the show – or however long Kimbo lasts – there is the added opportunity to see the real guy. You can fake a personality for only so long.
Slice has remained somewhat a mystery since he broke into the public spotlight via those addictive videos. Many of the longer features written about him seemed saccharine and a little staged. Who knows though? We do know his real name is Kevin Ferguson, he's from South Florida and he's a working class guy who saw an opportunity to make some money for his family and took it.
And it’s worth reminding that Kimbo never declared himself one of the world’s best fighters. That was his promoters. It wasn’t Kimbo that compared himself to Tiger Woods. That was CBS. He seems a little embarrassed about everything but feeding his kids.
“I’m a squirrel in this big world trying to get a nut,” he told Yahoo! Sports.
“I shop in Winn-Dixie and Kmart like everyone else. I never thought of myself as a star. I still consider myself the same guy. I came from the streets. I still hang out on the block with my guys. I still do the regular [stuff]. I do things with my [kids].”
Either that or people love watching him pound guys in raw video footage. Or they want to see him get pounded back.
Either way, he has decided to risk his persona, risk his reputation and perhaps his chance at being a career celebrity by walking into a very difficult situation. No one wants him there. Everyone wants to knock him out. The stakes are high. The focus intense.
Kimbo Slice (“the toughest man at the barbeque” as White mocked him) looks alone on this show.
Stripped bare, he’s just a guy with two fists, fighting for his future.
- Kimbo Slice
- Dana White