Faulty Comparison Alert: Elite XC’s Use of Kimbo Slice ≠ UFC’s Use of Kimbo Slice
If you were surprised how quickly Dana White changed his attitude about Kimbo Slice once the opportunity for the UFC to make money off the internet-brawler-turned-bread-getter presented itself, then congratulations, you have only just now discovered the sport of MMA, the UFC, and the business of fight promotion. Welcome, we're glad to have you. Those of us who have been following this stuff in general, and Dana White specifically, saw this change of heart coming.
But over at Yahoo! Sports, Kevin Iole seems blown away by what he refers to as a “double standard” in the way the UFC is hyping Kimbo Slice. Iole criticizes the UFC’s use of Slice for “exhibiting much the same behavior that Elite XC and promoter Gary Shaw were so roundly criticized for,” and also calls out White for giving Kimbo at least one more fight in the UFC after the show concludes, “regardless of the outcome of the show.”
On the surface, this seems like a valid criticism. White used to say that the only way Kimbo would get in the UFC was to win a season of TUF. Now it seems like it was enough just to show up. But there’s still no comparison between how EliteXC pushed Slice and how the UFC is doing it.
What EliteXC caught hell for was taking a novice fighter with a peculiar type of internet notoriety and pretending that he was a main event caliber fighter on a network TV event. Both financially and otherwise, they valued a guy with only a handful of fights against handpicked opponents over solid veterans like Robbie Lawler and genuinely talented draws like Gina Carano. It was a short-sighted strategy, and one that was doomed to fail sooner or later, which is exactly what happened.
But the UFC didn’t scoop up Slice and put him into a pay-per-view main event against someone they knew he could beat. They put him on their Spike TV reality show. It’s the same show that has frequently featured guys with 0-0 records, or guys who got to spend the night in the house because they were the crazy brother of a crazy former cast member. What I’m saying is, TUF is the perfect place for Kimbo, and you can’t blame the UFC or Spike TV for a media push designed to get the most out of the fan interest in Ferg.
What the UFC isn’t doing, however, is telling us that Kimbo is something he clearly is not. They also aren’t trying to protect him, otherwise some intrepid producer would have gotten in Rashad Evans’ ear before he could match Slice up against the favorite to win the whole thing. That the UFC is giving Slice at least one more fight after the show is over isn’t necessarily damning evidence of some double standard. For one, White already knows how Kimbo does on the show, so he may not be basing that decision purely off of Kimbo’s ability to draw ratings (only mostly).
But beyond that, look at some of the other TUF non-winners who have wound up getting at least one or two UFC fights. Guys like War Machine and Dave Kaplan didn’t dazzle anyone with their performances on the show, but they got a shot in the Octagon anyway. Odds are Dana White knew they were going to get their shot before the show had finished airing. One of the reasons he didn’t say anything might be because few people were asking.
With Slice, the question is unavoidable. Instead of being pointlessly cagey and telling people they’ll have to wait and see, Dana White just confirmed what we were already expecting. That’s not at all the same thing as putting him in the main event of a CBS show and calling him the best striker in MMA’s heavyweight division. It’s not even in the same area code.
Sure, the UFC is pushing tonight’s show much harder than most TUF episodes. That only proves that they aren’t idiots. There’s a reason the ratings for this season are through the roof, and as much as we’d like to think otherwise, it isn’t because America has fallen in love with Greg Jackson.
Is it convenient that White changed his perspective on Kimbo as soon as he put on a "Team Rampage" jersey? Sure, but it's not any more hypocritical than calling Wanderlei Silva an overrated, washed-up brawler for being knocked out by "Cro Cop," and then changing that tune immediately after signing both men to UFC contracts. That's the way this works. Of all the aspects of fight promotion that you can complain about, giving Kimbo the opportunity to prove himself against someone who matters is the least objectionable. Hyping it hard to get the best ratings possible, that's just smart.