Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Bad News for Kimbo

I'm not ready to touch anything that occurred over the weekend so this seems like the perfect opportunity for my virgin MMA-post. I'll jump right in with Kimbo Slice since he hand-delivered The Ultimate Fighter its highest rated show ever last week. When it was announced earlier in the year that Kimbo had accepted Dana White's invitation to appear on the 10th season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), record ratings were merely a formality for Spike TV. It's not that people were going to tune in because they thought that Kimbo was for real, they were going to tune in to find out if he was for real. And tune in they did.

Even though Kimbo's appearance on TUF was guaranteed to give White and the UFC a ratings bonanza, Slice had no such guarantees. In fact, he had everything to lose. His entire reputation had been built on annihilating helpless hacks on the streets of Miami. His many shortcomings as a multidisciplinary fighter might have been ignored by internet-gawkers who were enthralled by his YouTube beatdowns and maybe a few novice MMA fans but they certainly weren't ignored by savvy fans and even Dana White himself. White ripped into both EliteXC and Slice for making a mockery of the sport which ended up leading to White offering a chance for Kimbo to prove himself on TUF 10. Appearing on a show as widely seen as TUF would leave Kimbo no room to hide. Every nuance of his repertoire would be exposed. If he embarrassed himself, his career would be over.

As it turns out, Kimbo didn't embarrass himself. In fact, even in defeat, his opponent--Roy Nelson--was the object of most of the post-fight criticism including a few jabs from White. There is no question that Kimbo is a superb athlete. He looks like he's built out of granite. He is clearly in great physical condition. He is an avid learner. In fact, he comes across on the show as an incredibly likable person and a lot of that has to do with his work ethic. Kimbo had everything to lose last week and, other than the match, he didn't lose anything. He deserves a lot of credit for that.

Unfortunately, his match against Nelson revealed a glaring hole in his arsenal; a hole that will keep him from ever becoming an elite MMA figther. Roy Nelson is an out-of-shape journeyman. He would be quickly destroyed by Brock Lesnar yet he was never in serious trouble against Kimbo. It's commendable that Kimbo was able to get in a few shots against him but Nelson exposed him for lacking two mandatory skillsets for fighters in the heavyweight division: takedown ability and takedown defense. I am convinced that it is impossible for a "striker" to succeed in the heavyweight division. Maybe it was possible five years ago when Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski were the only guys in town but those days ended when Randy Couture pummelled Sylvia for the heavyweight championship. Couture won because he was a master wrestler who could strike with the ability to takedown his opponent and exhibit takedown defense. Couture was a curious heavyweight champion because his svelte frame made him much more appropriate for the light-heavyweight division. He won by taking advantage of a division plagued with one-dimensional fighters. Considering what Lesnar did to Couture, it's safe to say that there isn't a loophole in the heavyweight division anymore.

With the emergence of Lesnar and, to a lesser extent, Shane Carwin and Frank Mir, the UFC heavyweight division has undergone a total makeover. The path to victory is now on the ground. Roy Nelson isn't an MMA powerhouse but he has multidisciplinary skills and the ability to take his opponent to the ground which he did easily to Kimbo. Kimbo had no defense for the fat-footed Nelson's takedown attempts which doesn't bode well for potential matchups with Lesnar, Carwin and Mir. Kimbo would get sent to the hospital by all three of them. I don't even want to think about what Fedor Emelianenko would do to him. Those are the toughest cats on the block but if Kimbo is going to be taken seriously, those are the guys he'll have to fight.

As for his future in the UFC and MMA, the fact that he didn't get killed by a seasoned-fighter will go along way. Kimbo has powerful name recognition right now and he'll be able to ride that for a few more fights. As for longterm success, don't look for any. Nelson is fat. The fact that he was able to manhandle Kimbo is the real story from their fight. Yes, he didn't get himself killed. Yes, he didn't embarrass himself. However, just like you can't teach a 35-year old strikeout machine plate discipline, you can't teach a 35-year old "ground and pound." Kimbo doesn't have the skills to compete. He missed his window of opportunity four or five years ago when the heavyweight division was a striker's division. Word to the wise: anybody who cares even a small amount about Kimbo will not let him get in the right with Lesnar, ever.

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