by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com
“What has the guy done to deserve to be in the UFC? Nothing. I don’t consider him a real athlete or anything. He won’t win The Ultimate Fighter.” Such were the words of UFC president Dana White at the post-fight press conference following UFC 90 last October when asked about the sensationalism of Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson. “The offer is out there if he wants to take it and he won’t win it.”
Living up to his end of the bargain, White has welcomed Kimbo to The Ultimate Fighter, building season ten as a competition based solely on heavyweights, just as he had mentioned late that night in the Windy City.
The season, dubbed “The Ultimate Fighter: The Heavyweights” not “The Ultimate Fighter: Kimbo” as some might think, already generated plenty of general fan interest due to the heat between coaches Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rashad Evans. Jackson actually passed on a shot at regaining the UFC light heavyweight title from Lyoto Machida to accept the slot on The Ultimate Fighter with a promised grudge match with Evans waiting for him in December.
The addition of Kimbo, especially with White’s past criticisms of him, only serves to ratchet up the intensity of show, and fan interest, and thusly ratings… by say a factor of 10. It’s already being talked about as potentially the biggest ratings grabber in the reality series’ history.
“I don’t know if there’s anybody I’ve talked more smack about than this guy,” said White on a recent edition of the Carmichael Dave radio show, although Gary Shaw and “the t-shirt guys” might dispute that statement. “Basically what I said was, the only way this guy ever gets into the UFC is if he did The Ultimate Fighter.”
Regardless of the friction caused by the brash UFC president’s comments, or perhaps because of them, Kimbo has answered the call and agreed to run the gauntlet of The Ultimate Fighter to make it into the UFC.
“It’s an opportunity for me to prove myself, being a mixed martial artist. Coming from the backyard, coming from being a street fighter, it’s time to step my game up,” said the YouTube sensation in White’s video blog on Monday… on YouTube. “A lot of people out there have a lot of questions about if I could fight mixed martial arts style.
“It’s all good. DW can say whatever the (expletive) he want man, but as far as I’m concerned, the (expletive) he’s saying, the greatest revenge to my knowledge is success. That’s the only thing I got to say about that. The greatest revenge is success.”
If nothing else, that attitude has earned him some praise from the man who so often questioned his entry into the mixed martial arts world.
“Maybe he wins the (expletive) thing and I got egg on my face. It wouldn’t be the first (expletive) time,” said White on Tuesday. “I respect him for coming in and doing The Ultimate Fighter and I did talk a lot of (expletive) about him. He’s here to prove himself.”
Kimbo gets no extra perks for being on The Ultimate Fighter than do the other contestants, said White. “People don’t get paid on The Ultimate Fighter. People get paid, (but) not a lot of money, and then if they win they get the contract, they get into the UFC, obviously.
“He’s got a contract if he wins the show. He’s got a contract to fight in the UFC. It’s a good one. So, that’s his carrot.”
Of course, given Kimbo’s past and the drawing power that comes from his appearances on Showtime and CBS while fighting for EliteXC – coupled with his YouTube celebrity – the carrot being dangled in front of him is much more significant than for the other cast members.
“He has the same TUF deal. If he makes it into the UFC, his contract is different, a lot (explective) different,” admitted White. “But, yeah, he came here on the show to fight and win, just like everybody else.”
But that’s where it ends he says. They’re not trying to drag Kimbo along in the show to string out ratings or anything of that ilk, White assures. “Kimbo is getting ’0′ (expletive) special treatment. He’s not getting anything anybody else isn’t, and on the flip side, I’m not after Kimbo. I’m not in here, ‘Let’s make an example of this guy. Let’s get his ass kicked. Let’s show the world that this guy isn’t real.’ He’s a contestant like everybody else, coming on the show trying to win.”
With so much criticism leveled at Kimbo’s past, coming from the YouTube street fights, pushed immediately into the main event of EliteXC on nationwide television, resentment from other fighters would be expected. But, surprisingly, many of the UFC’s fighters support the move.
“I think that given Kimbo’s history and where he came from and his performance in the fights he’s had so far, I think that this is probably where he should be,” commented former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin. “It’s a smart move to put him on the show; it’s going to pull in ratings.”
“It’s a great business move with the UFC,” echoed Marcus Davis. “Definitely I think that he needs to go through something like this before he should be fighting in the UFC.”
Wanderlei Silva, who faces Franklin next week when the promotion lands in Germany for the first time, was even more enthused by the addition of Kimbo. “It’s good because he is exciting fighter. He’s aggressive in his fights. He’s a very good fighter for the UFC and he is so tough, he can put a lot of guys in the heavyweight (division) in trouble.”
Evans, who will either be coaching the former street fighter or leading the charge against him on TUF 10, had a rather interesting outlook on Kimbo that pretty well wraps up how many assess the fighter.
“You see somebody like Kimbo, and his following, and what he’s been through, and his journey, and his path of mixed martial arts has been one of its own and definitely a spectacle,” said Evans, himself the winner of season two of The Ultimate Fighter. “So you look at Kimbo and man, this is the guy everybody’s talking about. So you’re kind of anxious to see what he can really do.
“I think he’s a fighter. I just don’t think he’s a full mixed martial artist yet. (Him being on the show) gives people a chance to see what level he really is at.”
White echoed those sentiments, having changed his tone from one of contempt to some sense of admiration.
“The only thing I say is I respect the fact that he did it. The guy was getting offered money from other people, but I think that he really saw this as an opportunity,” said White.
“Is he a mixed martial artist? We’re gonna find out.”