Just not right now.
One day in the future, all the difficulties and hiccups in EliteXC’s first network broadcast – the first primetime network broadcast in history – will be forgotten.
Just not yet.
Way in the distance, all of it will be lessened by the magnitude of the night’s greater meaning: it was the night mixed martial arts went mainstream.
Now we just have to decide if that was a good or bad thing.
In fairness, that distinction can not be made today, or tomorrow, or even when the final ratings come in. The success – or failure – of the show, and its significance to the sport will be told down the line, and decided by one simple factor: growth.
There have always been speedbumps along the way for MMA, and the night certainly did not go as smoothly as EliteXC and its president Gary Shaw, would have liked. The company built the show up around former streetfighter Kimbo Slice, and gave him an opponent, James Thompson, that was tailored to his standup style.
Thompson, however, would not go quietly. After a close first round that went back and forth, Thompson took control of the fight in the second, putting Kimbo on his back and scoring with a barrage of elbows that had referee Dan Miragliotta looking closely at whether Kimbo could continue. He survived the round, but took at least 10 seconds to rise from the mat and wobbled back to his corner. When the scorecards were handed in at the end of the round, Slice was unknowingly behind in the fight.
Much to his credit, he recovered between rounds and came out firing in the third, hurting Thompson with a few shots. But then, inexplicably, with Thompson having eaten a few punches but still active, the fight was stopped with Thompson upright. Just a moment earlier, he had thrown a punch and Slice countered with a scoring right hand before Miragliotti stepped in and called a halt to the action, giving Slice the TKO win. Thompson was certainly shaken and in trouble, but still defending himself, and given the leeway Kimbo had on the ground eating elbows, it seemed only fair that Thompson should have a chance to work his way out of trouble as he had in the first round.
The stoppage sent the crowd of 8,033 at the Prudential Center into jeers as Slice was awarded the victory.
The controversy didn’t end backstage.
While EliteXC promoter Gary Shaw voiced his opinion that it was a good stoppage, saying Thompson was on “queer street,” he also noted Kimbo’s troubles had his heart rate and blood pressure racing; he makes no secret of Kimbo's value to the company.
"He's still a superstar," Shaw said at the post-fight press conference, but who knows if America will truly believe it. Even Slice, who carried the weight of the pre-fight marketing and promotion said later, "I'm just a baby in this game."
Kimbo was taken down repeatedly by a fighter who has never displayed much of a ground game, found himself in serious danger of being finished, and then got a controversial victory. On the other hand, he took a hellacious pounding in the second and rose to continue, and showed true grit in doing so. No referee helped him get to his corner and dig within for the courage he showed in fighting on.
“It was a tough-ass fight,” Kimbo said afterward. “I never underestimated him. He used his weight well and got some good little ground and pound against me. I just kept letting the ref know, I’m good, I’m good. It just took me a minute to get in gear.”
But another EliteXC fighter, Brett Rogers, who defeated Jon Murphy, called Kimbo’s performance “garbage” and said he believed Kimbo tapped out when Thompson held him in a guillotine in the first round. Replays were certainly open to interpretation. Still, Rogers knows what he saw at the end, and he didn't like it.
“That [eventual] stoppage was unacceptable for the fans,” Rogers said.
Later, when Slice joined the press conference, Rogers was asked to expound on his opinion, and when he again called Slice’s performance garbage, Slice stood up, saying, “that sounds like a challenge.”
Rogers stood up to face him and replied, “It is. In the cage.” The tension quickly built as Slice’s entourage soon joined him and both sides exchanged trash talk with Shaw trying to restore order. Finally after a few minutes, both sides calmed down, and Slice eventually left, not fielding any further questions.
“Look, we gave the fans a little bit of everything today,” Shaw said. “Knockouts, submissions, blood, intrigue, controversy. We had a little bit of it all.”
But for a fan watching for the first time – and there were likely many – they might leave wondering what the hype about Kimbo was about, and whether MMA really has its act together.
In the night’s co-main event, fans watched Robbie Lawler and Scott Smith put on a fine display of MMA, only to have their fight go to a no-decision when Lawler inadvertently poked Smith in the eye and the ringside doctor ruled him unable to continue.
Video: MMA from NBC Sports
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After losing his fight with Justin Gaethje due to a deep cut above his left eye, Gesias Cavalcante talks about the decision to stop the fight. Cavalcante says he was ready to continue the fight before the doctors made the call.
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