NEWARK, N.J. – The closest Kimbo Slice came to providing the type of street beatdown that marked his rise to YouTube infamy came during Saturday nights's Elite XC post-fight press conference.
The hyped heavyweight street king from Miami struggled with James "Colussus" Thompson before putting him away in the third round of the main event of the first prime-time network mixed martial arts card.
And fellow fighter Brett Rogers wasn't impressed. "I gotta be real," said the unbeaten heavyweight. "I thought you tapped."
Kimbo shot up out of his seat and said "that sounds like a challenge," giving Rogers his trademark glare. A couple dozen people got in between the two fighters before the two could brawl backyard style.
Slice's posse spent the next several minutes staring at Rogers, but Rogers wasn't the only person raising questions after Slice took some time to beat his British opponent, who came into the night a loser in five of his seven previous fights.
In the end, Kimbo gave the announced crowd of 8,033 at the Prudential Center what it came to see, delivering an early third-round TKO that would have been a knockout had it gone on another 20 seconds.
"It was a tough-ass fight," said Slice. I never underesimtated James. He used his weight well, had a good little minute it on the ground. He had a good little ground and pound."
But how did it look to the viewers at home? Kimbo's buzz had largely been fueled by the clips of his YouTube fights, where he had mainly crushed unsuspecting rubes in a matter of seconds. Saturday night's promotion heavily leaned on Slice, leading viewers to believe another quick KO was on the way.
"We've put a tremendous burden on Kimbo Slice," said Elite XC promoter Gary Shaw. "We've set the bar so high that anything other than a tremendous performance is going to seem like a letdown."
The hardcore fan mixed martial arts fan might be able to appreciate some noticeable improvements in Slice's game. He demonstrated the basics of ground defense, such as the time he kicked Thompson off in order to scramble to his feet in the first round. And he also took the feet to the ground and went for a guillotine submission.
Near the end of the second round, Thompson got Slice in trouble on the ground. The Manchester, England native pinned his Slice on the ground, isolated his arms, and began raining down elbows, with Kimbo getting saved by the end of the round. But Rogers, and several readers chiming in on our MMA experts blog, felt Kimbo tapped, something he vigorously denied after the fact.
"Not one time did I tap," said Slice. "I didn't make any gesture of tapping. If he got me into a submission, he would have had to break something, because tapping isn't in my repertoire."
The judges weren’t sure how to take the fight, as one scored the second round 10-8 Thompson while another scored it 10-9 Slice.
If experts can't figure out what to make of what they're seeing, than the casual fan at home must have been wondering what the fuss was about.
"It's not about me," said Slice. "I can take a little ground and pounding, I won't be tapping out from that. I'm still a baby at the game, I've got a lot of room to grow. I won't be smoking as much, because I've got a lot of training to do."
The Kimbo show was the main event of a mixed bag of action in the network prime-time debut, which included Gina Carano's fantastic win over Kaitlin Young in the fight of the night.
But the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, which oversaw the event, had a lightning-quick trigger finger on fight stoppages, apparently not wanting to let unpalatable scenes play out on network TV.
Both Rogers' win over Jon Murphy and Joe Villasenor's TKO of Phil Baroni were stopped as soon as the fight hit the ground. Robbie Lawler's no contest against Scott Smith in the middleweight title fight was stopped right at the moment a methodical match was beginning to turn into a dramatic struggle.
"For TV, we had a bit of everything, we had blood, we had intrigue, we had some controversy," said Shaw, to the hoots and holler of EXC sycophants.. "We had a little bit of everything. … I never wanted this fight to end."
The pacing of the show suggest the promotion needs to work out the kinks before their second broadcast. CBS viewers got less than nine minutes of action over the first hour and a half of the broadcast. The show also ran more than 45 minutes over its allotted time, no doubt sending network station affiliate general managers into apoplectic fits as they waited to cut to their local news. Such an overage would be unheard of on an Ultimate Fighting Championship telecast.
The broadcast was well into overtime when Kimbo kicked his game up another gear. He clobbered Thompson with a big right hand in his first strike of the final round, opening a gusher on the Brit's right ear. Kimbo went in for the kill and rocked Thompson with his big fists. The referee stopped it before things got out of hand.
"I'm disappointed," said the affable Thompson (14-9). "I thought I had a great chance. I thought I deserved it. I don't blame people for asking why I was in here getting this fight. I just want to entertain, I'm an MMA fighter."
Was it entertaining enough for the casual viewer to turn in a second time? "That is up to the fans to answer," Slice said. "I think I did alright. They saw me go for a few things and succeed. They saw a good fight, that's what its about."
His promoter, however, didn't wait for the fans to answer. "Kimbo pulled it out," said Shaw. "He did what he had to do, I still believe he's a superstar, I haven't changed my opinion one bit."