Monday, June 02, 2008

Swing and a miss

By John Gottlieb
The Phanatic Magazine

After taking in the EliteXC event, featuring Internet sensation Kimbo Slice, live from The Rock in Newark, only one question comes to mine: did yesterday’s event, the first MMA fight featured live on network television, help the sport?

For some reason the mainstream media is more than willing to still cover boxing as if it is a sport that matters, while the UFC and other MMA organizations continue to struggle to gain the recognition that is rightly deserved.

Yes, is now lifting coverage from, and CNNSI and Fox Sports are both doing their due diligence, but is it for the right reason?

Sunday night’s World Extreme Cagefighting event, live on Versus, was much more a legitimate MMA event, but yet Slice is the dock that everyone wants to tie their ship to.

Unless you’re a true MMA fan, you wouldn’t even know that Uriah Faber, who is now 21-1 and the featherweight titleholder, squared off against Jen Pulver in an unbelievable battle. One that showed skill and two fighters that pounded each other with neither giving an inch.

However, almost any sports fan could’ve watched SportsCenter or picked up their Sunday morning paper and read about Kimbo Slice. Take a gander at the main press’ coverage of the Faber-Pulver duel and you will find very little coverage.

Kevin Ferguson, a.k.a. Slice, is a sideshow that has gained widespread appeal due to punching out bums in backyards. Yet he has been thrust upon the public and showed why he didn’t deserve MMA’s top-billing on Saturday’s prime time event.

Slice helps MMA get more fans because he is a monster of a man at just under 260 pounds with muscles on top of muscles, a black, scraggly beard and gold teeth, but if you watched his fight with James Thompson on CBS then you would know that he was barely good enough to hang on for the win.

Despite what it looks like here, Thompson did exactly what he needed to…he put Kimbo on the ground and tried to make him uncomfortable. Slice looked lost on the ground with almost no defense. By the second round Slice looked like he might drop from exhaustion at any second.

Couple that with the fact the Thompson had Slice locked in a guillotine choke, which Slice may or may not have tapped out from (and it certainly looked like he did), it was more circus that MMA event.

Slice got lucky to make it out of his third EliteXC fight. Thompson’s right ear was disgusting before Jimmy Lennon Jr. announced him before the fight started. Slice got lucky that the fight wasn’t stopped before the end of the second round, when Thompson had a side mount and was just landing punches to Slice.

Were there shenanigans that the fight was stopped when it was? I think so. It would’ve been horrible if a relative no-name like James Thompson beat up upon Kimbo Slice, who is the main attraction in EliteXC’s arsenal. I’m not a conspiracy theorist but Thompson was winning that fight come the final round when Slice caught him in his bulbous ear.

The fight before was also stopped early when Robbie Lawler, the middleweight titleholder, inadvertently poked Scott Smith in the eye in the third round. Fans in Newark were reigning down boos early in the fight as the fighters were timid before the action heated up. It looked like Smith could’ve continued fighting if he was allowed the allotted five minutes, but the ringside doctors stopped the bout.

The fight of the evening was the lone ladies fight on the card, as Gina Carano, who improved her record to 6-0, grabbed a victory over Kaitlin Young, whose left eye was battered to the point that the fight could not continue. However, Carano, a.k.a. "Crush" on American Gladiators, failed to make weight for the event, forfeiting 12.5 percent of her pay, and for the fourth time in her young career.
This was the main score for the card since it was the best fight (and it's not because she looks this good) and the UFC does not have women fighters in its organization.

While the UFC and Pride, to a lesser extent before they were bought out by the owners of the UFC, have paved the way for MMA, EliteXC reaped the benefits on Saturday.

Dana White and Zuffa, owners of the UFC, could’ve been the ones to make the splash as they were in deep negotiations last year with HBO to broadcast fights over the largely successful cable network. But, reportedly it was a deal breaker when the UFC could not name their own announcers for the fights carried by HBO.

The UFC, which has much better fighters, needs to make a bold move now to combat the press garnered by Kimbo Slice, who needs to do a lot more work with Bas Rutten to show that he is not a one-trick pony.

However, it could not have been good for mixed martial arts that subpar fighters in subpar fights were the ones to break ground into network television. Not only that but the UFC event in Newark in November, with a much weaker fight card, sold many more tickets than Saturday’s EliteXC card.

For some reason this sport still has a long way to go to ditch the niche status, even though it’s not scripted unlike wrestling and much more legit than boxing.

You only get one chance to make a first impression and EliteXC blew it on Saturday for all the fans that could’ve been gained by a national audience on CBS.

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