Why Kimbo Slice Matters to the Future of Sports

Oct 7, 2008 at 9:47 am

You know, I'm not ordinarily a big fan of the whole mixed martial arts scene. Not for any real reason, to be honest, I just never managed to get into it much. I did, however, have a friend, a guy I've known since second grade, who was a huge MMA fan, and one of his favorite fighters was Mr. Ken Shamrock. He was also so in love with the whole Gracie clan -- a family of Brazilian martial artists who all practice Ju-jitsu- that he actually took up martial arts for a period, practicing submission holds on pretty much anyone and anything that would hold still for more than two or three seconds around him.

Anyhow, the reason that I bring this up is because Mr. Shamrock, a legend in the MMA world, was supposed to fight Kimbo Slice, who is becoming an entirely different kind of legend, this past Saturday evening. Seeing as how I actually knew who both of these people were, I was at least mildly interested in the outcome.

Unfortunately, Shamrock was unable to fight. He received a cut over his eye in practice, and the fight promoters had to scramble to try and find a replacement. They found Seth Petruzelli.

Alright, admit it. If you aren't a big fan of this stuff, you have no idea who Seth Petruzelli is. Hey, don't worry. Neither do I. What I do know, though, is that Kimbo Slice is:

a) one of the most frightening looking individuals I've ever seen in my life. b) has the name of a character out of the Soul Calibur games.

Seth Petruzelli, on the other hand, sounds like it should be immediately followed by the letters CPA.

Seriously. The guy is just terrifying.
Seriously. The guy is just terrifying.

Seriously. The guy is just terrifying.
So we have Kimbo Slice, a deposed Nigerian prince who has been scientifically enhanced with a cybernetic arm, swinging a kriss (one of those cool swords with the wavy blades), over in one corner. In the other, we have Ken Shamrock, all bandaged up, trying to convince his accountant, Mr. Petruzelli, that this is going to be totally cool. All he has to do is go in there and not get cut in half by the big crazy black guy in the other corner.

I don't know if any of you have seen the video of this thing, but you can find it on Youtube. Kimbo Slice gets, to use the vernacular of the day, knocked the fuck out.

Seriously. You've never seen anything quite like it. I know it wasn't at all what I was expecting. You should really watch the clip. Don't tell me you don't have time. You can spare 20 seconds of your life, can't you?

The thing is, the MMA scene really needs Slice to be a big star. He's already got a bunch of exposure, being a former Internet sensation. If you're not familiar with his story, Slice got his start fighting in amateur backyard fighting and the videos got huge on various Web sites that carry videos of that sort of thing. And he's charismatic, too, in a crazy, Beyond Thunderdome sort of way. Don't get me wrong, mixed martial arts has already made a definite impact on the sporting landscape. It isn't looking for simple legitimacy anymore. But a personality like Kimbo Slice could really take the sport to that next level. With his back-story, terrifying physical presence, and video game name, he's a promoter's dream.

After the fight, Slice's trainer tried to put a good face on it, but it's pretty tough to put a good face on getting beaten in fourteen seconds. There were questions already from some analysts in the MMA world about whether or not Slice was a real fighter or simply a brawler who can kick the living crap out of a drunken, in-over-his-head frat guy at a house party, but doesn't stand a chance against a professional fighter who actually knows what he's doing. I'm sure those questions are going to get a whole lot louder now.

I must say, even if you aren't a fan of UFC and its ilk, this is really kind of an interesting story to watch unfold. To me, Kimbo Slice represents a very particular sort of modern celebrity, the sort that only exists in the Internet age. We've seen all the various Youtube superstars and things like that; this is just the next logical step. We basically have a reality show right there in the ring. What happens when you take an untrained, amateur tough guy, and pit him against professional fighters, many of whom have been training at this literally since they were children?

And really, what better sport to see this in than mixed martial arts? The rise of MMA has been, in many ways, very similar to that of the Slice. Beginning as an underground sport, with video tapes of events being sold by mail order and then spreading virally on the Internet, the culture of mixed martial arts is one that values its place on the fringes of the sporting landscape. Even now, with the sport moving closer and closer to mainstream acceptance, gradually pushing boxing away from its traditional post as the modern embodiment of the gladiatorial ideal, there remains a strong segment of the MMA world completely devoted to the extreme, to the underground, to the backyard, as it were. Kimbo Slice represents something very special to that particular breed of fan.

Round one didn't work out so well for the Everyman Superhero. Let's see if the bell rings for round two, shall we?

- Aaron Schafer