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Bellator preview: Kimbo Slice vs. Ken Shamrock, the fight that killed EliteXC

Tonight, Kimbo Slice vs. Ken Shamrock finally happens. Get ready for the fight with a look back at the last time these two were scheduled to face off - a night that killed a promotion and more than one career.


Friday night, Bellator presents the spiritual successor to last year's Tito Ortiz vs. Stephan Bonnar mega-fight: Ken Shamrock vs. Kimbo Slice. Shamrock vs. Kimbo headlines Bellator 138, airing live this Friday June 19 at 9:00 p.m. ET on Spike TV. Bloody Elbow will have live fight night coverage.

This battle between the 41 year old Kimbo and the 51 (yes, 51) year old Shamrock is being built up quite a bit by Bellator, with the company emphasizing it as a grudge match years in the making. And while there is some truth to that line, their history is a complicated one, and one that newer fans may not be as familair with. Here then is a look back at the history behind Ken Shamrock vs. Kimbo Slice - a history that takes place almost entirely on a fall night nearly seven years ago.

October 4, 2008. That was the date of an event known as "Heat." Heat was an event staged by the fledgling EliteXC organization. Run by Gary Shaw, EliteXC opened in 2007. Over the years they have become something of a punchline, but EliteXC did a lot right. They partnered with Strikeforce, they got a deal with Showtime, they created a "Challengers Series" to feature young up and comers (included in that list: Eddie Alvarez, Alexander Shlemenko, Scott Jorgensen, KJ Noons, Chris Cariaso, Zach Makovsky... not a bad list at all), but most importantly, they landed a deal with CBS.

For those accustomed to the newer MMA landscape, it's hard to overemphasize the significance of this. In 2008, when EliteXC made its primetime debut on CBS, we were just three years into the Spike era for the UFC, three years removed from PPV being the lone distributor for MMA programming in the US (and more hardcore fans remembered a time not long before that when even PPV was not a reliable provider).

EliteXC made their CBS primetime debut on May 31, 2008. The man chosen to headline that show and be the face of EliteXC was the unlikely candidate of YouTube streetfight sensation Kimbo Slice. Kimbo was 2-0 at the time, both wins coming in EliteXC. His primetime win over James Thompson was not a master class in any way, but when Thompson's bulging cauliflowered ear burst on national television, it certainly created a buzz. That fight drew in 6.51 million viewers -  a TV record not broken by another MMA fight until Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos I on Fox, three years later.

To follow that up, EliteXC's 2nd primetime show featured a rematch of the superb Robbie Lawler vs. Scott Smith fight from the first show, plus fights from the not yet main event ready Nick Diaz and Cris Cyborg. The show tanked. Clearly, the ratings answer was Kimbo.

And so, for CBS show #3, Kimbo was brought back. This time, his opponent would be MMA legend Ken Shamrock - a wise choice, as he was a legit name, but one Kimbo could likely handle. And if he couldn't? Then a loss to Shamrock would not be a disaster. [Interesting side note here: this was the exact same role Shamrock played for the UFC when they held their first TUF finale on Spike, being brought in as the old guard to boost the younger future star - in that class Rich Franklin.] To build the show just a bit more, EliteXC added a pretty stacked and superb undercard, featuring Andrei Arlovski (against a largely unknown Roy Nelson), Jake Shields vs. Paul Daley, and the original face of women's MMA Gina Carano. Clearly, this would be THE big night for EliteXC.

In a way, they were right.

When fans tuned in to CBS they were greeted by an unfortunate announcement. Ken Shamrock, the man you had tuned in to see get wrecked by Kimbo Slice, would not be fighting tonight. While sparring backstage, he had suffered a cut and was now not medically cleared to fight. The superfight was off. EliteXC analyst Frank Shamrock offered to take the fight, going off on air about Ken's lack of professionalism, but Kimbo vs. (Frank) Shamrock was not to be, as the company tapped undercard fighter Seth Petruzelli to take the main event spot against Kimbo.

What happened then was legendary. Here it is, as seen through the lens of UFC color man Joe Rogan:

In retrospect, Petruzelli was clearly a terrible choice. At 9-4 at the time, he was experienced enough that he knew his way around the ring. He had some K-1 experience, so was able to strike (which obviously was Kimbo's area of "expertise"). And, perhaps most dangerously, he had recently been in the UFC where he lost on TUF season 2 and went 0-2 in the Octagon. He was the worst of all possible worlds - a guy with a decent chance of beating Kimbo, who any somewhat casual fan would see as a complete joke. [Hindsight is 20/20 and all, but Frank Shamrock would have been a much better option, as no one would have faulted Kimbo for losing to him, though I'm not sure that was even a legitimate option in terms of licensing.]

In case Kimbo's very public loss to a fighter perceived to be a UFC washout was not enough, Petruzelli one week later stated that the promoters encouraged him to keep the fight standing and that they would give him a bonus for not taking the ground-averse Kimbo down. Petruzelli later recanted these comments, but the damage was done. EliteXC would never run a show again.

Of note: they already had their next card scheduled and booked, and it would have featured Eddie Alvarez vs. Nick Diaz in what would have been an amazing fight, and now one we likely will never see.

So what is the ultimate legacy of Kimbo vs. Shamrock I? It completely killed EliteXC, the first MMA company to make their way onto primetime television. It effectively ended Kimbo's career, as he followed this up with a disapointing performance on TUF, a 1-1 UFC record (including an embarassing fight against Houston Alexander), and a 5 year retirement from the sport. And it pretty much tanked Shamrock's career as well - the former UFC champion has not had a single fight of note since, and is about to end his own 4+ year retirement.

Final casualty list from Kimbo Slice vs. Ken Shamrock I: EliteXC, Kimbo's career, Shamrock's career, Diaz vs. Alvarez.

Tonight, we get to see what happens with Kimbo vs. Shamrock II. Be excited folks!