Kimbo Slice lost Saturday night, knocked out in just 14 seconds by a fighter, Seth Petruzelli, who has been a part-time pro for much of his career.
It was a quick and decisive ending to a myth created on the street, glorified by a company desperate for attention and perpetrated by the media searching for a story with which to sell a still-growing sport.
The crazy thing is, nobody is truly guilty in this mess, and nobody is 100 percent innocent, either, which makes the glee with which some are celebrating Kimbo’s downfall downright ridiculous. Around the web, the feeling is that this is a victory for MMA, that Kimbo’s loss somehow helps the sport or brings credibility to the “real” fighters, whoever those are.
The real truth is that Kimbo’s fate affects the sport more than perhaps any other fighter alive, and losing in such decisive fashion will cause ripple effects that many will feel.
Kimbo might have gained his entry into the sport in a non-conventional way, but he has taken it seriously since turning pro. Is it a secret that he still has holes in his game after only two years of training? Of course not. There is not a fighter of that experience level anywhere without deficiencies. Those of us who know the game have known it all along, and we’ve been forced to repeatedly explain to new fans that Kimbo was not the best the sport had to offer, just the most notorious. And that clearly bred contempt for him among hardcore fans.
In reality, Kimbo didn’t do anything any of us wouldn’t. He was simply given a golden opportunity, and he took it, hoping to capitalize on a name that suddenly had some marquee value. EliteXC gave him a salary worthy of the biggest names in MMA and put him front and center as they moved onto network TV. He became a star of the show. For better or worse, his presence gave the organization a drawing card and a real chance to mainstream the sport in a way no one else had.
For a couple of years now, I’ve been asking UFC President Dana White, “Do you consider the UFC mainstream yet?”
And over and over, he has said no. He defines mainstream as having, say UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre walk down Main Street, USA, and be recognized the way Shaquille O'Neal or Derek Jeter would be recognized. His fighters, he says, are famous but not mainstream. The difference is subtle yet grand.
Mixed martial arts on network television brings that kind of elusive opportunity, a chance for millions to learn about a sport we love, a chance for more fighters to shine in the spotlight, a chance to continue to wash away the early stigma of the sport. It still remains, please remember. There’s a reason you don’t see fighters with Nike and adidas on their shorts. Part of it has to do with ignorance from people at the top of companies with marketing dollars to spend. Part of it has to do with their fear at a consumer backlash if they sponsor fighters.
Those eyeballs are vital to the growth of the sport. I have no doubt that eventually MMA will find its way to ESPN, leading to those elusive Nike and adidas sponsorships, but until then, this is the most exposure we’ve got. Kimbo’s loss can change the whole TV landscape, and not in a good way.
If CBS had any questions about the long-term viability of the sport on primetime TV, what must those suits be wondering right now with their biggest name just destroyed? It can’t be confidence in the next card. Gina Carano is a great fighter and an engaging personality, but she’s never once carried a card by herself. That doesn’t mean she can’t, only that she’s never had the opportunity, and CBS likely wouldn’t let it happen for the first time on national TV. CBS’s only non-Kimbo card drew 40 percent fewer fans than ones with his name attached. Tito Ortiz is reportedly on the way, but first will have surgery, the same type that cost Nate Quarry 15 months of action. By then, the company could be dead.
CBS has already stated they will go through with the fourth event on their four-fight contract, but what then? Does EliteXC go back to broadcasting only on Showtime? Does CBS re-open talks with the UFC? Does EliteXC go out of business?
Kimbo was the building block of the network’s promotion, and while many fans will be interested to see how he rebounds, others will no longer see him as the must-see attraction he was portrayed to be. And while Seth Petruzelli certainly deserves praise for his win, it's unlikely he will bring in the masses.
Once upon a time, MMA was a sport struggling for breath, an outlaw on the run trying to survive and gain legitimacy in the larger sports world. Its path was largely mirrored by the one Kimbo himself was trying to follow.
EliteXC miscast him as a world-beater, the media portrayed him as a superstar, and the fight world braced for what we all knew would eventually come.
Now that it’s happened, we should all realize that the consequences affect not just Kimbo, not just EliteXC, but the entire sport. MMA will rebound, of course. It always has, but don’t lose sight of the fact that we, as a sport, lost a golden opportunity, and that is no reason to celebrate.
MMA Fight Weekly: Kimbo down and out
Mike and Tiffany discuss the fallout from Kimbo Slice's quick loss. Click and watch all 14 seconds of the bout.
Video: MMA from NBC Sports
Highlights: Burkman shocks Fitch
Josh Burkman shocks Jon Fitch with a first round submission. Burkman knew Fitch was out cold before the referee did.
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