Don't believe me? Quick, think of your favorite Kimbo fight. Now be honest, does it take place in a backyard or a boat salvage lot? That's what I thought.
It's not all his fault. His first fights were against the kind of hand-picked palookas that made a certain level of ugliness unavoidable. And certainly he did his part to try and make his clash with Houston Alexander worth watching. If Alexander hadn't come in with a game plan that relied so heavily upon making Slice dizzy, we might have actually gotten the fireworks we were promised.
This time the UFC is taking a different route. Instead of matching Slice up against a smaller fighter whose resume features a lot of standing and banging, at UFC 113 Slice faces a bigger, stronger opponent who's even less experienced in MMA than he is.
Coincidentally, in what little action we've seen from fellow "Ultimate Fighter" competitor Matt Mitrione, he's also seemed less concerned with protecting his face. If you're looking for the kind of fight where two guys punch each other until someone falls down, this sure looks like it. At least on paper.
It's hard to take issue with this fight without resorting to nitpicking or bringing up the same tired arguments we've heard over and over. Is it a little bit odd for a 4-1 fighter and 1-0 fighter to square off on the televised portion of a UFC pay-per-view? Yes, but you know why it's happening, just like you know why you're at least a little bit excited to see it.
All things considered, the UFC has done an excellent job of promoting Slice without putting undue pressure on him. He's not a main event fighter, like EliteXC pretended he was, but he is the kind of guy who makes a card with a title fight and a number one contender bout just a little bit more interesting.
The hardcore MMA fans may be more pumped about the Lyoto Machida-"Shogun" Rua rematch, but odds are they all have a friend who will only come over and chip in on the pay-per-view because he heard that Kimbo guy would be fighting some NFL dude, and there's just no way he's going to miss that.
My question in all this is, say the Slice-Mitrione fight turns out to be the haymaker showcase it has the potential to be. Say it's Rock-Em, Sock-Em Robots in the middle of the cage until someone goes to sleep. If the fight delivers on its most intriguing possibilities in that sense, will it even matter whether Slice is on the winning or the losing end?
Don't get me wrong, obviously it's better to be the guy who doesn't have to ask the referee in order to find out how the fight ended. Winning is always better than losing, if only for the sake of doubling your paycheck.
But a loss to Mitrione won't be enough to make the UFC cut a cash cow like Slice, just like a victory won't land him on the fast track to the top. The man is thirty-six years old and a relative novice in MMA. He's not here to work his way to a title shot. He's here to put fists on chins and butts in seats.
Slice could afford a knockout loss in an exciting slugfest much more than he could afford a decision win in a plodding effort. The promise of Kimbo has never been that he might someday become the world's best heavyweight. Even the backyard brawl enthusiasts who once thought differently have surely abandoned those notions after seeing his performances against Seth Petruzelli and Roy Nelson.
No, Slice's schtick is that he's big, scary, and oddly charismatic. He's a sort of alternate universe everyman. He came from the internet, not the pro sports world, so it's as if he doesn't quite belong here. It's almost like his participation in MMA is some grand experiment. Think about it, who else gets praised just for making a serious effort to train at an actual MMA camp?
This fight is brilliant matchmaking in a way, simply because of the high probability that it will result in the kind of action Kimbo was hired to produce. And that's okay. There's probably a place for that in MMA, and a little ways down the lineup on a pay-per-view card is probably that place.
Just as long as we can be honest with ourselves about what we're paying for and what we should expect to get for our money, there's nothing wrong with the pugilistic version of a demolition derby every now and then. Let's just not get too used to it.
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