Kimbo not the face of MMA
Kimbo Slice, a one-time homeless man, one-time strip club bouncer, one-time backyard, back-alley brawler turned Internet sensation/big money mixed martial artist isn't a problem. Only in America, right?
He's said to be a great guy, a boot-strap success story who deserves everything coming to him. I've watched him maul "Adryan" a half dozen times alone. You have, or will, too.
Kimbo Slice being a street fighter, rather than a Brazilian jiu-jitsu or Muay Thai master, isn't a problem either.
No, he isn't the best and brightest in MMA. He'd probably get whipped in a second by the sport's elite, as Tito Ortiz predicted. The beauty of the MMA, though, is you bring what you've got to the cage. Kimbo has those iron fists. Maybe it's enough. Maybe it isn't. We'd all like to find out. The day an old-school scrapper doesn't have a place here will be a sad one.
And CBS choosing to broadcast an MMA card in prime time Saturday, a historic moment for this once fledgling sport, isn't a problem.
The sport has taken off in a way few others have – fueled purely by fan interest. It stands in stark contrast to all the network airtime spent on sports propped up on political correctness or obligation. MMA long ago deserved network attention.
Individually, nothing is wrong with a shooting star such as Kimbo Slice fighting on Saturday's EliteXC card on CBS.
Together, plenty is. In fact, practically everything is.
EliteXC is a desperate promotion that's hemorrhaging money. It's willing to sell anything, even a false portrait of its sport, to succeed.
Kimbo is a guy with unexpected and most likely fleeting earning potential; understandably he's willing to cash in even if it means tomato-can opponents and an image so unfortunately stereotypical.
CBS is so focused on quick television ratings, it will present a cheap trick, lowest common denominator show. This, rather than an introduction to a sport that if treated with respect and patience could grow into a powerful property.
Everyone is using. Everyone is getting used. In the end, what will be left from this experiment?
Will MMA on CBS just be a short-run, freak show discarded by all, left to return to its true roots and better promotions after the circus has left town?
If this is, indeed, the most important card in the history of the sport, wouldn't it be nice if it actually had some of the best fighters and best representatives of mixed martial arts?
Anderson Silva, B.J. Penn and Georges St. Pierre display what MMA is all about. Not menacing scowls and WWE-like personas, but unreal athletic ability, disciplined training and tremendous intelligence from fighters as multi-skilled as they are fearless.
If one of them were on CBS, it would force America to realize what MMA really is. Kimbo, who taps into our primal instincts, plays to what many think the sport is. Let Kimbo cash every check he can – good for him – but he plays to MMA's difficult-to-shake reputation as "human cockfighting," as Sen. John McCain once branded it.
Those days are, or should be, done, of course. Even McCain gives MMA his approval now. That's mostly because of the work of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), far and away the major league of the sport.
CBS is about to show a minor league event with fancy production values. On the day the sport supposedly goes mainstream, it's the big network – not the smaller committed outlets – that are playing to the sport's worst instincts.
The fact the lowly Versus cable network will broadcast a far superior, double main event World Extreme Cagefighting card on Sunday, tells you what CBS thinks of the sport. Quality doesn't matter. It doesn't even have the best event of the weekend.
Here's the troubling difference between rival organizations UFC and EliteXC.
UFC has run the sport understanding that its popularity could be greater than the sum of its parts. EliteXC, especially with its biggest star, appears to be eschewing investment in the long term.
Earlier this year the UFC welcomed former WWE and amateur wrestling star Brock Lesnar, who, in some ways, could be called its Kimbo. Lesnar, a former NCAA wrestling champ, is far more skilled, that isn't the comparison here. The similarity is that Lesnar arrived with great fanfare and curiosity. Everyone wanted to see what he could really do.
The old way of thinking, the boxing way, would be to match him up against an overwhelmed opponent and cash in on some easy victories as he was brought along slowly.
UFC president Dana White, however, stuck to his league's core belief that you either prove yourself or you go home. There are no padded records or kid glove scheduling in the UFC. If Lesnar was for real, he would have to prove it. If not, see ya. It's what fight fans covet. It's why the UFC has thrived.
In February, White matched Lesnar up against the kind of fighter that could beat him, Frank Mir, an experienced former heavy weight champion and submission expert. The fight was thrilling, Lesnar almost knocked out Mir until Mir's superior skill earned him a submission.
Lesnar lost. His second fight, against dangerous Heath Herring in August, could leave him 0-2 in the UFC and facing an unsure future. That's the deal with the UFC. It's real. So real, White is willing to run one of his biggest stars right out of the game.
Kimbo hasn't fought anyone nearly as good as Mir or Herring. Who knows if he ever will? EliteXC and CBS are running his career like a boxer, even if trumped up records and mismatch fights have severely damaged that sports' popularity.
Based on that mentality, you can understand why White was willing to walk away from the CBS exposure that, done properly, would have shot his league into the stratosphere. Obviously, he didn't feel it was going to be done properly.
Saturday's card is not set up to show the best of mixed martial arts and introduce America to a sport it would likely embrace.
If CBS was trying to build serious interest in football, it wouldn't trot out an unproven pro team against a doomed high school squad and call the ensuing blowout the best the game offers.
It'd get the New England Patriots and the New York Giants and let people see the real deal.
But neither the network nor EliteXC are treating the sport or Kimbo Slice as anything but disposable programming. And that's the problem here.