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Kimbo Slice wasn’t just an internet legend, he was MMA’s second greatest TV attraction

By Zach Arnold | June 7, 2016

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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

Topics: Bellator, Media, MMA, Pro Elite, UFC, Zach Arnold | 5 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

5 Responses to “Kimbo Slice wasn’t just an internet legend, he was MMA’s second greatest TV attraction”

  1. Safari_Punch says:

    Do you find it odd with the announcement of the Lesnar match that came out of nowhere on Monday – the biggest draw for the UFC – is made while at the same time the biggest draw for Zuffa’s competitor dies?

    This paralells the Ultimate Warrior coming back to be inducted into the WWE HOF JUST before he dies.

    Something does not smell right here. It is too much of a coincidence.

    • Muscle Hamster says:

      Your comment parallels a question from the NBA playoffs.

      “Game 3, no flood, you win.

      Game 4, flood, you lose.”

  2. jim allcorn says:

    While there’s no doubt that Kimbo was, indeed, a social media & pop culture sensation, his career cannot be legitimately discussed without questioning the veracity of his MMA career ( I won’t even get into his boxing career here, but there were some highly questionable results in that as well ).
    We have to begin with the Mercer “exhibition match”, I suppose. I’m not at all positive about this one, but to me, it looks like Mercer fought with “handcuffs” on. He didn’t throw anything back while Kimbo landed a bunch of cuffing, insignificant blows until getting the takedown & then, the quick submission.
    I think it was a work.

    Bo Cantrell? He was tapping in terror practically before he got hit. Dodgy IMO.

    Then came Kimbo’s blow out of Tank Abbott, which looks fairly legit. But, Tank sure didn’t try very hard, but because he wouldn’t or couldn’t?

    Thompson on the otherhand tried like an SOB, but in reality, he really shouldn’t have been allowed in the cage that night with that disgusting ear of his. He went in damaged goods.

    Shamrock/Petruzelli. Who really knows WTF happened that night? There are plenty I’m sure, but they’re not talking. Yet. Did Shamrock try to hold Shaw up for more cash? Did he suddenly decide not to “do the job”?
    Then, there’s the crazy limitations put on the techniques that Petruzelli could & couldn’t use… All of which wound up not mattering as Kimbo was finished with what amounted to a stiff jab & some follow up blows. Crazy.

    Nelson & Mitrione both legitimately kicked his ass, while sandwiched in between was that bizarre Alexander bout. Which, credit where it’s due, Kimbo won, fair & square. But, Alexander’s wonky fightplan certainly helped him Kimbo along.

    The Shamrock affair was an absolute work. No doubt, whatsoever in my mind.

    Harris? Who knows? Whatever it was, it was ugly as hell & it very nearly became the bout that could have irreparably hurt MMA in North America had one or both men dropped dead of coronaries mid-cage. The latter of which, now, re-watching it in retrospect, was likely VERY close to happening.

    • Cutch says:

      I doubt most of them were works, if anything fishy happened they probably paid a guy to take a dive, either the promoter or some gambling syndicate.

      Working to me means both guys are in on it.

      It just happened in Tennis as guys outside the top 20 let their opponent win, while making a lot of side money, it also happens in some lower league Football/Soccer matches.

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