HOUSTON -- The least surprised person in the room during Wednesday's Bellator 149 pre-fight press conference was also one of the men most responsible for the commotion.
Billy Corben, the scruffy director whose filmography includes Cocaine Cowboys and The U, has spent nearly eight years following the spectacle of Dada 5000 and Kimbo Slice. And as the latter heavyweight stood enraged, likening the former's manhood to that of a child, Corben couldn't help but think back to those who dismissed the rivalry as nothing more than a contrived bit of promoting.
"The beef is real," Corben said, laughing. "Honestly, and I'm not saying this to boast about it, God knows, but I think Dawg Fight exacerbated it. I think Dawg Fight picked at a scab until it bled right here at Bellator 149. Unquestionably.
"I've seen Dada 5000 the carnival barker. I've seen Dada 5000 the promoter. Dada 5000 the Don King of the backyard. Dada 5000 the P.T. Barnum. Yesterday I got chills watching them just kind of own the press conference. But then you get worried. I guess we're in Texas so I should make a Jeb Bush reference, what Jeb Bush said to Donald Trump -- you can't insult your way to the presidency. You can't talk your way into a knockout. You can't talk your way into a defeat in the ring. So I just hope he is preparing as hard as he is talking, and as much as he is talking."
Dawg Fight, the 2015 documentary self-released by Corben on Netflix, introduced the world to Dada 5000 and the often grisly scope of the Miami backyard brawling scene. The film follows Dada 5000, whose real name is Dhafir Harris, and the many fighters who play Mike Tyson to Harris' makeshift Don King.
Corben's work is undeniably tragic -- several characters are killed by neighborhood violence over the course of the film -- but it was Harris' harsh words against Slice, a former friend, that caught the attention of the Bellator officials. And now, five years after many of those statements were made, Harris is lined up to make his Bellator debut on what many believe will be the most-watched show in the promotion's history.
To call the whole situation improbable simply wouldn't do it justice.
"I knew that it was coming, I just knew that I had to continue to work at it," Harris said. "I kept knocking these projects out of the ballpark. Word of mouth travels faster than mail. ESPN tells NBC. CNN tells National Geographic. National Geographic tells Vice Media. And before you know it, it's out there. So right now I'm just focused on getting ahold of this guy. I'm going into deep thought, meditation, on how I'm winning. Because he's going to come. Ding, ding, he's coming straight at me. He's predictable, but that's vintage Kimbo.
"He's not that developed. Truth, he's been inside the game for 10 years. He stated that, right? But the majority of the legitimate, diehard, eat, sleep, breathe MMA (fans), no one respects his ground game. Right? You don't have no (jiu-jitsu) belt. The only belt you have is the belt that you use to hold up your pants. Not impressed. So me and him, literally, are in the same boat."
Harris may not be long on MMA experience, having fought professionally just twice before, but he brings with him an unmistakable story, and for whatever you say about the man, he can sell a dang fight. In Scott Coker's wild west Bellator world, that can sometimes be enough.
Even Corben was stunned by the scene on Wednesday though, as Harris and Slice turned a bizarro grudge match into a legitimate ‘this should not be this enjoyable' co-main event, with each man barely allowing the other to speak over the sound of slinging curses and ugly threats.
"Listen, when you look at ignorant people, he's at the top of my list," Harris said afterward. "I think he called me a p***y n***a or something like that when he first came on. I wanted to get up right then and there. I really did, because I told him, I'm not scared of you. That's just the difference between me and anybody that you've ever faced. I'm not scared of you. I'm going to test you from the crown of your head to the sole of your feet.
"He's struck fear inside of a lot of guys. He tried to look at me in St. Louis (at Bellator Dynamite 1) with those bedroom eyes. Stop it, Ferg. I got a two-year-old niece that makes a scarier face than that. I'm here, and I'm not here by accident. We're here to do damage. We're here to put in work, man."
As they have for much of the past eight years, Corben and his crew were there to shadow the madness, picking up all of escalation with oversized boom mics and Hollywood tact in preparation for Dawg Fight 2.
The situation is one that Corben never imagined would arrive when studio after studio turned down the first film for being too forthright with its violence. Yet somehow it all came together. And now Harris' closing words in Dawg Fight, when he challenged Slice to a fight years before Bellator came calling, have never felt more alive.
"It's a little surreal,' Corben admitted. "It's like art imitating life a little bit. The truth of the matter is that we make documentaries. We make pop docs, and that isn't just art. That is life. It's weird, you do all of this and then it's like, the last line of the movie basically says Dawg Fight 2 is Dada versus Kimbo. And here we are. There's something cool about that, but there's also something that, Dada gets very spiritual about it. That, sort of, the universe has responded to that.
"I don't know if I believe in that, per se, but it's definitely kind of like you get out of it what you put into it. Dada put that idea into the air, and then Dawg Fight brought that idea into the world, that people would like to see Kimbo fight Dada. And Bellator said, ‘s**t yeah, we want to see that fight!' And it's craziness. You have these legends of the game (Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie) here fighting, and they're like the most civil, gentlemen warriors. But everybody wants to know, ‘oh f**k, how can we press buttons,' wanting to ask questions (to Harris and Slice) that would create more friction and fireworks.
"So it was funny to watch that happen, and if nothing else, I think we can all agree that it's good television."