Kimbo's ultimate risk deserves nod of respect

Dan Wetzel

Kimbo Slice got famous beating people up in boatyards and back alleys, video footage eventually making its way to YouTube where millions addictively watched.

It was enough for a fledgling mixed martial arts organization to toss him into the cage and for CBS to breathlessly hype him as an elite fighter. Of course, he wasn't, a fact painfully exposed when in just his fourth fight he was knocked cold in 14 seconds by a pink-haired dude who was giving up 30 pounds.

Now, humbled by the results and abandoned by fraudulent promoters, he's going to try to legitimize himself.

As Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports first reported, Kimbo Slice will join the cast of "The Ultimate Fighter," the popular Spike TV reality show that will begin filming its 10th season on Wednesday and air in September.

In the season long tournament, there will be no hand-picked tomato cans for Kimbo. There will be no mismatched weight classes. There will be no protection from the promoters whose business rides on his reputation.

Perception will not be reality.

Reality will be reality.

If Slice can't compete with the other heavyweights desperate for a big league contract in the Ultimate Fighting Championship then he'll be off the show quickly. He could easily get bludgeoned again in his first fight and have no career to fall back on. Conversely, if he can survive then his career will skyrocket, a dose of credibility to match his charisma.

For all the outrageous hyperbole and insulting antics that surrounded Kimbo's brief MMA career – it says something when you give a black eye to cage fighting – there remained something endearing about the guy.

He wasn't the one claiming to be some great fighter, it was everyone around him. He's blue collar with a colorful background – briefly homeless, a one-time porn company bodyguard and, of course, violent Internet sensation.

He looked and acted like someone thrust into sudden fame trying to make an only-in-America buck the best way he knew how.

In this case, fighting for his (and his six kids') dinner.

If someone wanted to pay him six figures to prop him up as a star, why would he complain that he hadn't paid his dues?

That he's now willing to give "The Ultimate Fighter" a shot, willing to put himself out there, willing to gamble whatever is left of his drawing power says plenty about the man. Perhaps his options were limited, but he deserves credit for manning up and taking on what appear to be long odds for success.

"The Ultimate Fighter" is an entry-level opportunity to the UFC. Yet, while the opponents are all still relatively new to the sport, the talent is there. You can't just walk through this thing. It's produced future champions in a number of weight classes and year by year the quality of the contestants has improved.

There's also no doubt everyone else on the show will be gunning for the guy with the biggest name. They'll beg for a shot at him, knowing his fight(s) will draw huge viewership.

All this while having his real personality exposed as he lives in a communal house that's filmed 24/7. No more marketing, no more hand-picked interviews, no more fluff from CBS.

There's just nowhere to hide, in or out of the octagon.

Kimbo will be an underdog from Day 1. Odds are he won't last long.

And he's fine with it.

All Kimbo's critics ever asked was that he earn his oversized hype – not by knocking out bums at backyard barbeques, but taking on legitimate opponents.

It drove hardcore fans crazy that he was the headliner for the most watched MMA fight of all-time and remains exponentially more famous than any number of world class athletes who could drop him in seconds.

The last thing a sport fighting for mainstream credibility needed was the circus of exploding ears and overmatched opponents live on network television that Kimbo's EliteXC provided.

No one was more troubled at the farce than UFC president Dana White, who painstakingly built up the sport from its dark ages and saw Kimbo as an affront to his life's work. He called Slice every name in the book. He claimed he'd lose to some of the lightweights in the UFC. He celebrated when he finally got KO'd.

Now after being mocked and knocked Kimbo Slice will stand up and fight for his future, nowhere to run he'll go right into White's world fists swinging.

Even his harshest critics have to respect him for that.

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