Kimbo Slice is not having a bad 2015. His return to MMA has been a promotional success for his Bellator and on Spike TV. And while competitively his win over Ken Shamrock isn't particularly noteworthy, it's made the heavyweight relevant as an attraction years after his entrance and first exit from the sport.
"It felt good," Slice told Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour, regarding his return to the cage. "You kinda miss it. You know what to expect from it. You just build up a confidence level know because all those years you f--king learned to love the sport. What I took for granted back then, I kinda embrace now, which is the ground game.
"I added more into a workout rather than just standing up, f--king someone holding pads and going through that ritual," he explains. "I can do that with my eyes closed. I can do that in my sleep. What's still a little new is that ground. With everything, you still can learn different s--t from it. No matter how much you train in it, you still find yourself learning something different."
The admission is something of a curious one. Slice was nearly choked unconscious in the main event bout with Shamrock at Bellator 138 in June. He gutted it out and ultimately stopped the UFC legend, but showcased more of his characteristic punching power than any new jiu-jitsu skills.
Still, Slice says, what he did show was poise under pressure, which is what the difference in the end.
"You kinda know where you're at, so you don't tap," he notes. "It's like, worst case, you just wake the f--k up and that's it. No matter what happens, don't bring yourself to tap. Considering that was happening in the back of my mind, I was just listening to my corners scream and yell, remembering the ritual: go to your back, go from there.
"Just remembering those steps," he recalls, "I was able to pull that s--t off."
It's also a victory Slice says he counts as one of the more notable achievements of his athletic career.
"I ain't gonna lie. The s--t was alright," Slice says approvingly. "It's something to remember because we're talking about who the fighter is, who my opponent was. We talking about Ken Shamrock. To beat him, within a minute of the first round [ending], that's a story that goes down in history. That goes down in the books.
"Considering me, how I came into the sport, every fight is a moment. Every fight is record breaking. Every fight is something new. Because of that right there, I love it. I look forward to it. I have something that's going to follow me the years after I'm gone and I'm going to stay at it."
Slice is also relishing the success of the entire event. To date, Bellator 138 is the most-watch event in the brand's history, peaking with 2.4 million viewers on Spike TV. For the heavyweight brawler, it was comforting to see fans still respond to him despite a five-year absence from the sport.
"The s--t was awesome," he confesses. "I gotta a lot fans out there that love to see me fight. That's one thing you can't change, you can't stop. I'm going to put asses in seats. Those numbers are going to be there. I'm going to fight and they know when you're coming to watch a Kimbo Slice fight - no matter who the f--k his opponent is - that's gonna be a fight. Somebody's getting knocked the f--k out. Something's happening in that fight, in that match with Kimbo and whoever.
"That alone is going to stick with me until my days are done."
The enduring popularity of Slice has been something that doesn't rise to the level of mystery, but is nevertheless still exceedingly rare, even in a star-driven sport. Passions for box-office attractions die hard among the fan base. For a fighter who was never destined for elite-level greatness, the ability of his appeal to be this long lasting is a topic Slice himself has thought about. Why do people stick around for him? What is it about him that makes people so interested?
As far as he can tell, it's relatability.
"People relate to me. I relate to them," Slice says of his popularity. "Our come up is the same. I don't think that I'm a superstar celebrity you can't f--king touch. You see me on TV, so that's celebrity status. I'm fighting in professional sports and also celebrity status. But you also see me in your local stores, you see me on the streets, you see me doing the same s--t you're doing with your family and your kids.
"To see that alone is why they can relate to me, for that reason right there is why, I guess, a lot of fans and the average person can relate," he argues. "Because I'm a real motherf--ker just like them. I gotta grind just like they gotta grind. I get up and get my s--t going in the morning just like they do, put my pants on one leg at a time. I don't think I'm all that. I don't think I'm better than the next man. But if it's a one-on-one fight and we gotta fight, I'm bang your ass up, you can believe that."
Slice brushes aside talks post fight of the bout with Shamrock being fixed due to the unusually poor grappling featured between the two competitors. "I find it humorous, to be honest with you," he notes. Critics are a part of the experience of being popular just as fans are, Slice claims. As long as there's a balance of them, there's little to worry about.
In fact, as far as he's concerned, he's only worrying about the future. It's rumored he'll get the winner of James Thompson vs. Bobby Lashley from Bellator 145 in November. Whoever it ends up being, Slice says the fight will likely take place in February.
But really, the scope of things that's got Slice thinking. He says he wants to fight six additional times, maybe more. The only issue for the Miami-based fighter is whether or not his physical health will work.
"You're getting a little older in the sport and I want to be smart in what I'm doing," he claims. "I want to be able to leave the game and still be able to walk, chase my grand kids, chase my kids. Climb stairs, I want to be healthy leaving this game. I don't want to leave the game broked up, busted up and f--ked up. I want to still leave this game being able to maneuver."
Whatever happens next and for how long, Slice is confident fans will be along for the ride. For him, the move into MMA has been a journey and because he believes he's relatable, fans have been watching him the entire time. Those reasons, Slice says, are why they'll continue to support his career endeavors. In the end, he believes his struggles and journeys are representative of their own.
"I have spent the last ten years of my life on the big screen fighting in these professional sports. A lot of people over the years has grown with me from middle school to high school, from high school to college and from college to adulthood. A lot of people grew with me and grew watching me. So, for the last ten years, I definitely believe I've been an inspiration to a lot of people."