A lot gets said about MMA fighter Kimbo Slice. Mostly it revolves around him being a former internet street brawler for porn sites. But now Kimbo is on a quest to become a serious professional and he seems to have all the pieces in place to make it happen.
The question a lot of fans are wondering is, how should we deal with the stigma of his past?
Kimbo supposedly became a streetfighting star while working as a bodyguard for internet pornographers in Miami, Fla. The pornographers, one assumes, quickly figured out that they could make some money by combining Kimbo’s fighting skills with their knowledge of computers and questionable moral codes, so they started posting his fights on the internet.
It’s clear from the videos that Kimbo has obvious skills. His opponents are usually fairly tough-looking guys who end up as timid as door mice within a couple of minutes. But, much like with internet porn, there’s something about watching them that makes you feel a little bit bad about yourself.
Now Kimbo is really making a go at being a serious MMA fighter, which is probably the best life decision you can imagine for him. Not long ago I talked to MMA legend Bas Rutten and trainer Shawn Tompkins. They’ve both worked with Kimbo since he turned his focus toward MMA and had nothing but great things to say about him.
They said he was humble and eager to learn, and Tompkins even referred to him as “one of the best students I’ve ever had.” That’s a ringing endorsement, and it’s one that makes me think the criticism for Kimbo is out of line.
Sure, Elite XC might take some heat from mainstream media outlets for hiring a fighter who can this very minute be seen turning a guy’s eye into pounded veal in somebody else’s backyard. But Kimbo is really more unique because of the time period he lives in rather than for what he’s done in his life.
Consider the case of Igor Zinoviev. He was a former Soviet commando who came to this country to participate in underground fights after the fall of the USSR.
He went on to become one of the legends of the early days of MMA, defeating Mario Sperry and Enson Inoue before suffering a career-ending injury against Frank Shamrock in the UFC.
When I first read about Zinoviev’s past in preparation for an interview with him last year, it sounded like a great story. I couldn’t help but picture scenes from Van Damme movies or Streetfighter II. I imagined dapper gangsters waving wads of cash and hard-drinking longshoremen cheering him on inside an empty warehouse down by the docks.
But odds are that’s not how it was at all. It was probably closer to what Kimbo’s fights were like. Essentially, the difference between them is really more about technology.
Having not seen Zinoviev’s fights, it’s easy to idealize or romanticize them. But we’ve all seen Kimbo’s fights, and once we’ve seen them it becomes impossible to imagine them any other way. There aren’t any slick gangsters. It’s just a bunch of jerks standing around screaming.
Who knows if Zinoviev’s fights were any different. They didn’t happen in the age of viral video, or else we’d probably have seen them by now.
But because we haven’t seem them, we also don’t have to see the brutal reality of bare-knuckled brawling or hear the sickening sound of skull on concrete. That makes it less sinister in our minds, even if it isn’t any different to the people involved.
If Kimbo wants to become a serious professional fighter, I hope he’s successful at it. He seems to have found the right people to mentor him, and Elite XC is much better than the fly-by-night promotions that were trying to enlist his services before.
But in order for him to do it in this era, he has to assure people that he’s done with any connection to the kind of fighting that MMA fans fear could bring trouble to their beloved sport. There are enough sanctioning battles to fight as it is without drawing the wrong kind of attention.
Ultimately it will depend on what Elite XC does with Kimbo, now that they’ve signed him, and whether they use him as a sportsman or a spectacle.