We all know at least part of this tale by now, but for those who do in fact live under a rock, let me provide an overview. Elite XC is an upstart MMA promotion that is struggling to find it’s footing against the MMA mogul, the UFC. While Elite certainly has some relatively talented fighters under contract, their roster mostly is made up of those who couldn’t hack it in the UFC and a few veterans who are past their prime sprinkled in. However, in a desire to expand their brand, Elite XC cut a well below market deal to bring their fights to network TV (something which the UFC has been waiting for the right deal to do for years). Additionally, they have 2 assets that are unique to their product – Gina Carano (the face of women’s MMA and an American Gladiator) and Internet fighting legend, Kimbo Slice.
Gina primarily brings one major asset to the primarily male viewing demographic…she’s hot. Surely, as wrestling fans, we can understand and appreciate the value that brings to the product. Hell, look no further than the Knockouts leading the way in TNA’s ratings week in and week out. Kimbo, however, has developed his enormous following the good old fashioned way – by brutally knocking out truckers, bar room brawlers, shoe cobblers, and any other scrub that was stupid enough to fight him. Although Kimbo turned pro, those overseeing his career continued to handle him with kiddy gloves and fed him 3 awful opponents. Bo Cantrell was actually afraid to fight him and tapped out after 20 seconds for no good reason. Perfect WWE booking here…Kimbo comes across looking like a scary monster in his debut. He then moved on to Tank Abbott – the perfect paper opponent for Kimbo. A big name and a known tough guy. Let’s forget the fact that Tank is also highly unskilled, in his 40’s, and 9-13 in his career, including 1-8 in his last 9 fights. Once again, great wrestling booking…Kimbo takes down the previous king of brawling in under a minute. The students are overtaking the teachers…make room for the new guard! Next was James Thompson…the human, walking “Glass Joe” from Mike Tyson’s Punchout. If Thompson had proven one thing in his career, it’s that he can’t take a good punch. As Kimbo’s third opponent, Thompson met all grounds for top notch wrestling booking criteria…he had a great look and for the first time Kimbo was put through the paces. Yet that fight ended with Thompson’s ear dangling off of his head…oooh, that Kimbo is one bad, bad man.
So that brings us to last Saturday night. Another excellent opponent is lined up for Kimbo…”The World’s No Longer Most Dangerous Man” Ken Shamrock. Big name. Check. Legend. Check. Easy to defeat? Check. Since returning to MMA from his WWE tenure, Shamrock is 3-8, including 0-5 in his most recent bouts. To say he’s past his prime is an understatement. To the average fan though, he also looked like a great test…after all, not only is he a Hall of Famer, but he’s also known for his deadly submission skills (which is allegedly Kimbo’s weakness). The thing is, Ken’s last MMA victory using one of his vaunted leg locks came in 1996! Unless we’re counting using the ankle lock on Val Venis on an episode of HEAT, then his last one came in 2000. So it seems like Shammy’s real life abilities are not quite once they once were. It was the perfect opponent…and promoters were doing as good a job as you can possibly do of “booking” and promoting a real life fighter. Unfortunately for Elite XC and Kimbo though, that is the difference between wrestling and real fighting…and things went south very quickly.
Shamrock got injured in his pre-fight training less than 24 hours before the fight. In wrestling, if a main event opponent went down to injury, the solutions could be easy…make a quickie new match with another superstar, add the remaining wrestler into another match and make it a triple threat, have the guy cut a promo, etc. But in the real world of fighting, the options were far more limited. Fighters need to have full training camps and be sanctioned to fight by the governing athletic committees. Hence, the only possible opponents are those already on the card. Since Kimbo is inexperienced and they are building him up as a superstar, they surely can’t expose him against a superior fighter….hence, putting him against one of the other top superstars on the card is out of the question. In turn, we get Seth Petruzelli being promoted from the shows untelevised undercard and into the main event.
Problem #1…the paying fans are furious. They came solely to see Kimbo vs Shamrock. Problem #2…the televised main event (on a card that is supposed to help thrust you into the MMA mainstream) is no more…viewers are going to tune out in droves and CBS is going to be majorly pissed. Problem #3…the new opponent, although lacking the name value of Shamrock, is in fact potentially more skilled than Shamrock and certainly far more experienced than Kimbo. Let’s imagine if this were to have happened last night in TNA. Samoa Joe gets hurt, the main event is ruined, everyone watching the show is disgusted, and now Sting will fight Curry Man in the main event. Wouldn’t you feel ripped off? Or at Cyber Sunday it’s no longer HHH vs Hardy vs Kozlov…it’s now HHH versus Biscuits & Gravy. We’d be dealing with very angry fans. But it only gets worse…because if it were wrestling and that happened, at least the superstar would squash his opponent. Elite XC would have no such luck.
Kimbo Slice was knocked out in 14 seconds. He wasn’t submitted…he didn’t lose by decision…the invincible, ultra tough Kimbo was knocked out. And, he was knocked out by an off balanced, short-armed jab. And in 14 seconds, the folklore of Kimbo Slice and his years of violent KO’s of scrubs on the street was no more. Sure, he can destroy an untrained, out of shape loser. But a trained, technical striker can KO him with one short jab. The push is dead. The aura is dead. And Elite XC may be in jeopardy. And that is the danger of building superstars in the manner that Elite was attempting to build Kimbo. Sure, they can line up tomato can after tomato can and pack them full of great storylines. But they can’t control the outcomes of the fights. The only way to successfully build a guy in a real fighting sport is to let them build themselves. Anderson Silva is case and point. He has viciously torn through his last several opponents and he’s become a star all on his own. In wrestling land, UFC would have never “booked” Anderson Silva as their biggest star…after all, he doesn’t even speak English…how can he be the face of the company? But the fans are buying into it based on his skill, not based on what promoters are trying to shovel down our throats. Elite XC needs to take that lesson from the UFC and let it come naturally, because they tried to force feed us Kimbo Slice and it blew up on them bigtime.
So what’s next for Kimbo? I’m hoping that MMA’s loss is pro wrestling gain. Kimbo’s biggest selling point is his natural charisma and his look, both of which would be perfect for TNA. We all know that the world of wrestling can happily sweep this little misstep under the rug and pretend like it never happened. Then, push Kimbo as that unbeatable, street-fightin’ monster. They could push him as a “fight any time”, legit tough guy. He can challenge guys in the parking lot, in the locker room, during interviews etc. At 34 years old, Kimbo would only have a small handful of good years left in the real fighting world. However, since TNA now had a 49 year old world champion who wears face paint, is Kimbo transitioned to wrestling now, he could have 15 years of work ahead of him. And most importantly, unlike in MMA…if he were a pro wrestler, they would book him to win.
Can’t you just imagine the segment? We would have found out that Shammy was out at the top of the PPV and the segment would have been pushed from the main event. An angry Kimbo would have been furious that Shamrock “faked” an injury to avoid having to fight him. “Shamrock, you’re lucky that you’re not fighting me tonight…now you will live to see another day. But I’m not leaving this ring until I get to fight somebody.” Jim Cornette then pushes out a nervous, unprepared Seth Petruzelli to been thrown to the wolves. And we all know, it would have been Seth Petruzelli who got KO’d in 14 seconds. Then Kimbo would have stood over his prone body and cut a promo on Ken, “Shamrock, this is going to be you.” And voila, crisis averted. Unfortunately for Kimbo, he chose MMA over pro wrestling and the legacy is now gone. For his sake and for our own, perhaps he’ll reconsider and join the ranks of the scripted fight world.