Phoenix Rising: The Rebirth of Kimbo Slice


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MMA Payout contrasts the UFC's promotion of Kimbo Slice with that of EliteXC:

UFC put together terrific television last night, as the organization turned what many were predicting to be a disaster (i.e., Kimbo’s presumed loss to Nelson) into, well, perhaps not quite gold, but something that’s likely to keep a strong level of viewer interest through the remainder of the season, even if Kimbo does not (as was hinted in the preview of next week’s episode) immediately receive a second chance in the tournament.

UFC took the exact opposite tack as that taken by EliteXC, which promoted Kimbo as an almost unbeatable freak (recall announcer Gus Johnson’s excitement at having seen the greatest "upset" in MMA history when Seth Petruzelli KO’d Kimbo). 

Last night’s Kimbo was likable and intelligent, and even turned introspective towards the camera discussing his need to defeat his "enemy," his "enemy," his "inner me."  Truly great stuff.

There's a truism in the world of professional wrestling: for a character to become a huge draw, the performer must be able to tap into some aspect of his own personality.  Steve Austin went nowhere as "Stunning" Steve or the Ringmaster.  Fans booed Dwayne Johnson mercilessly when he played the happy-go-lucky babyface Rocky Maivia.  Shawn Michaels (real name: Michael Hickenbottom) toiled on the mid-card in an 80's hair metal tag team gimmick.

Those guys' popularity exploded when they became "Stone Cold", "the Rock", and "the Heartbreak Kid".

The difference with Kimbo should be obvious - he already draws in eyeballs.  But that draw came with a tremendous amount of backlash.  Many MMA fans (your's truly not among them) felt Kimbo received too much, too soon.  They felt it unfair for him to headline network MMA shows while a title fight between Robbie Lawler and Scott Smith filled the "lowly" co-main slot.

The argument about whether this Kimbo-hate was really misdirected animosity for EliteXC and that promotion's business dealings is a discussion for another article.  The fact of the matter is that a significant portion of the MMA fanbase rejected Kimbo as a legitimate mixed martial artist.

Enter the UFC and the Ultimate Fighter.  It's clear from last night's show that Kimbo still has holes in his MMA game as glaringly obvious as a Joan Rivers facelift.  But the pulse from the MMA community seems to converge on a new view: we want to see Kimbo succeed.

Even during his infamous EliteXC run, Kimbo never portrayed himself as anything but humble.  He understood MMA was a far cry from knocking out tough guys in back yards and loading docks.  Now, without the pretense of being a world-beater bestowed about him, it seems as if the man's true colors can shine through.

We saw numerous examples of this just last night.  From his pseudo-philosophical enemy/inner me ramblings to his "yes, sir"/"no, sir" demeanor in practice, Kimbo has begun to erode the reputation he picked up in 2007 and 2008.

While the latest incarnation of the UFC's reality show looked to improve on the level of talent of previous seasons, it wasn't until the UFC confirmed Kimbo's participation that the show became must watch television.  It's no stretch to say the ratings will see a huge drop off from last night's mega-event, but Zuffa deftly latched on to a new hook: Kimbo as the underdog, begging and clawing his way back into the tournament.  And if there's anything America loves more than tearing down its celebrities, it's watching them return to glory.

Go get that bread, Kimbo Slice.

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