I have been to eight consecutive Super Bowls. I have been to The Masters and the U.S. Open of both golf and tennis. I've sat in the third row at the Final Four and watched a World Series and NBA Finals live and in person.
And despite all this, I have never experienced what I did on Saturday Night at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
That's because there's never really been a character in the history of sports like Kimbo Slice. He's the first athlete who rose to prominence from Internet videos--that have been downloaded more than 2 million times each--and has cashed in on his cult following this soon.
As soon as I saw videos of Kimbo Slice beating up people, I knew that he'd have to go pro and I'd have to see him. Kimbo is why I jumped at the chance to go to my first mixed martial arts fight.
Saturday wasn't only the first time I'd get to see Kimbo (Real name: Kevin Ferguson). It was, for the most part, the first time all those curious people who saw him on YouTube would get to see him.
The fight was broadcast on CBS--the first time a MMA fight card has hit network TV--and judging from talking to people (my brother Brian, my massage therapist Luz, among them) the NHL and NBC should be pleased that Game 4 of the NHL finals was done by the time the Kimbo fight started.
Seeing Kimbo--once homeless, once a porn star security guard--entering the ring was the total package. One of the scariest men you've ever seen--the name goes with the beard, goes with the gold teeth, goes with the ring of hair around his bald head.
I hadn't felt a concern for an opponent since the days before Mike Tyson was beaten by Buster Douglas.
But things didn't quite go as planned. Kimbo's opponent, James "the Colossus" Thompson knew that the street fighter in Slice wasn't used to the ground game and he took advantage of it. Through two rounds, Kimbo was losing. Something had to be done.
The day mixed martial arts went mainstream was almost exactly a year ago. At that time, ESPN did a feature on Chuck Liddell ahead of his fight against Quinton Jackson. For those that didn't follow UFC or MMA, the media was telling you he is the star. As I wrote at the time, Liddell therefore couldn't lose. He had to win many times so that his dominance could be built.
But Liddell didn't prevail and I think that was a major setback for UFC.
Yet, UFC goes on because it's the premiere mixed martial arts league. Elite XC, which Slice has a contract with, I believe does not survive without an absolute legend like Slice. You see, Elite XC lost $27 million last year and without Slice, that 8,033-person crowd at Saturday night's event would be closer to 3,000. And whatever rating CBS gets, it would have been half that without Slice.
Slice did win as the fight was stopped, in my opinion, way too early in the third round after a couple punches exploded the cauliflower ear of Thompson. To his credit, CBS' Gus Johnson immediately called the decision to stop the fight "terrible" and "horrendous."
For everything that Elite XC has to lose if Kimbo Slice doesn't win all his fights convincingly, I'm quite impressed that the fight was so fair. Of course, any provable fix could have landed Elite XC execs in jail for fraud. Now the organization knows that it has to arrange easier fights for Slice if it wants to build his fighting record up (now 3-0) to the record of his Internet brawls (supposedly 22-1 in street fights).
Two questions. How much easier does it get than the guy he fought--Thompson was 2-7 in his last nine fights--without it becoming a mockery? Will the appearance of the lack of quality opponents turn potential fans away from the man who might have brought them into the sport?
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