« The Ariel Helwani dilemma: Lawsuits & informants, not protests or unions, is how to fight UFC media policy | Home | California rejects enforcing Nevada’s suspension of fight promoter Roy Englebrecht »
By Zach Arnold | June 7, 2016
Royce Gracie. Ken Shamrock. Brock Lesnar. Chuck Liddell. Kimbo Slice. That’s my top five list of fighters in the modern era who really excelled as influential business aces that advanced Mixed Martial Arts into mainstream North American sports & popular culture.
It’s a horribly difficult list to formulate. Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Georges St. Pierre, Ronda Rousey, Gina Carano, Rampage Jackson, and many others could easily be argued as a top five modern day MMA fighting pioneer.
It’s easy to be prisoner-of-the-moment while everyone is eulogizing Kimbo Slice after his death Monday night in South Florida at the age of 42. ESPN called him an internet sensation. The television network treated his death as the top headline Monday evening. Footage of his infamous backyard brawls aired on a television loop. Over 50,000 RTs for ESPN’s online announcement of Kimbo’s death. A non-stop flow of tributes from fighters, writers, managers, and promoters in Mixed Martial Arts about what a great guy Kimbo Slice was outside of the cage.
Kimbo Slice deserves to be called a legendary figure in Mixed Martial Arts for all the right and wrong reasons. There are very few fighters where fans genuinely care to watch their every single fight, regardless of skill level or opponent.
Take a step back and look at the last decade as Mixed Martial Arts transitioned into broadcast television in North America. Kimbo Slice was the ace of UFC’s rival promotion. Had Gary Shaw played his cards right and not burned through tens of millions of Pro Elite dollars, Elite XC could have seriously been a major long-term player. Kimbo Slice was delivering unbelievable numbers on CBS. He and Gina Carano were an amazing tag team. Shaw, in his own imitable way, understood how to market larger-than-life personalities.
For goodness sakes, Bellator was trying to promote an old Elite XC grudge match between Kimbo Slice and James Thompson next month in London.
The numbers Kimbo Slice drew on network television versus what UFC has (not) accomplished on Fox is a testament to his staying power and an indictment of what UFC & business partner Fox failed to capitalize on after Kimbo and Gina brought MMA to network television. Kimbo Slice was good for at least five million viewers on broadcast TV. By comparison, the Junior dos Santos fight with Cain Velasquez turned out to be a “disaster” because of how short it was. It drew six million viewers but spooked some powerful people and UFC’s foray into broadcast television has been lackluster since.
Even after the debacle involving the canceled fight between Kimbo Slice & Ken Shamrock giving us Smoothie King Seth Petruzelli, Kimbo Slice remained a big time lucrative name. UFC relied on him, Rashad Evans, and Rampage Jackson to refresh The Ultimate Fighter. Who could forget Houston Alexander? 3.7 million viewers! And when Kimbo Slice finally fought Ken Shamrock in Bellator in 2015, they still drew 2 million viewers.
For a backyard brawler without technical skill, fans sure cared a lot about the guy. They really cared. A modern day humble Mr. T come to life.
I’ll never forget his exhibition fight in Atlantic City. That was one of the rawest, most animalistic fight crowds ever to watch a fight. From the beginning of his professional career until his death, Kimbo Slice was the most beloved North American heavyweight ever in modern day Mixed Martial Arts. It’s absurd but true! To write that sentence 24 hours after the king of modern day MMA PPV, Brock Lesnar, returned to UFC is amazing.
Of the nine other potential names that could be in the proposed Top 5 modern day MMA fighting pioneers list, all of them were decorated & skilled fighters in one discipline or another. Kimbo Slice was a prize fighter who came to someone’s backyard and knocked them out. How much simpler can it get to market that circus?
Long before Dana White promised no women would be fighting in the Octagon, Dana White was promising that Kimbo Slice wouldn’t be able to last two minutes in UFC. Kimbo kept their reality TV show afloat and gave them two fights.
Kimbo’s career was a circus until the end. His last fight featured an opponent (Dada 5000) who nearly died afterwards. The overall Bellator event drew 2.2 millions and Kimbo’s fight drew 2.9 million viewers. Kimbo got busted for steroids and died shortly thereafter. It was a train wreck fight for Bellator but Viacom got exactly what they wanted. Kimbo delivered ratings all the way until the end.
Kimbo Slice’s staying power is historical in the North American MMA scene. Nobody else came close to the television ratings Kazushi Sakuraba drew in Japan, often in the 15-to-20 million viewership range. As a consistent television attraction, Kimbo Slice ranks first in North America and second globally as a ratings king in modern day MMA. He made himself, his promoters, and undercard fighters on his events a lot of money.
What a surreal scene it was on ESPN TV Monday night with the top two stories involving Kimbo Slice’s death and Ariel Helwani’s media pass fight with UFC management.
“Miami to the bone, fighter to the end. The first viral sports person.” — Dan LeBatard