The upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter is easily the show's most anticipated ever. The main reason is simple: Kimbo Slice.
Slice is the polarizing figure who garnered mass attention just two years ago, rocketing up YouTube's most popular list for his Internet street fights. Then he embarked on a main-event run with the ill-fated EliteXC.
Now Slice goes from CBS main-event performer to wannabe fighter on UFC's reality show. The question is, has Slice's MMA game developed enough to be a UFC-caliber fighter? Judging from his last appearance in the cage, Slice has a lot of work to do in order to prove he belongs. He has taken the first step though, and that is his surprising participation in UFC's training camp.
Slice's participation in the UFC reality series came as something of a surprise when it was announced this summer, since he has already been featured in MMA main events on national television, and since UFC president Dana White publicly made negative comments about Slice in the past.
During Slice's run with EliteXC, White repeatedly challenged the rookie fighter's credibility. In February 2008, while Slice's popularity was near its peak, White was asked at a news conference about Slice's chances if he were to compete in the UFC.
"He would get hurt bad -- real bad," White said.
But White also said the only way Slice would ever get a chance to fight in the UFC would be to make his way through The Ultimate Fighter competition. To the surprise of many MMA fans and White himself, Slice accepted the opportunity.
"I respect Kimbo," White said. "He took me up on the offer and came in. He took me up on the challenge."
However, Slice is not the typical entrant on TUF. He already has an established following, and he has earned more money in MMA than all of the show's prior entrants. Due to his large appeal, the UFC has given Slice some special considerations.
"He has a contract if he wins this season," White said when asked about the money Slice will earn, "and it's bigger than everybody else's."
As for Slice's earnings for actually participating in TUF, White stated he is in the same boat with everyone else.
"They do get paid on The Ultimate Fighter, but it's just a reality show stipend," said White.
Now that he has agreed to do the high-profile show, Slice has to have some success in order to give his MMA career some credibility. His standing as a fighter was destroyed when he fell to the mat in just 14 seconds from a Seth Petruzelli jab.
As a participant on the second season of TUF, Petruzelli had some interesting views on how Slice will fare in the Ultimate Fighter house.
"I think he's going to go crazy on the show," Petruzelli said. "I can't seem him staying in the house and doing what we did like that."
More than just fighting on the show, Slice could have some additional problems to deal with due to the reputation he brings with him. The former street fighter can be flashy, even though he has not yet backed it up in the cage.
"I don't think the guys are going to like him, either, on the show because of who he is and the aura he portrays," Petruzelli said.
Just appearing on the program will not be an instant ticket to success for Slice. He has to win at least one fight and show that he is fully willing to "pay his dues" in the sport. The two coaches who will judge Slice's dedication during this season are Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Rashad Evans.
Two seasons ago, the coaches were heavyweights, just like Slice. Frank Mir and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira were the UFC stars training the fighters. A former UFC interim heavyweight champion, Nogueira is not completely convinced that Slice will succeed.
"His ground game is not there yet," Nogueira said. "He does have good hands. For UFC level, let's see how he's going to do."
In order to get to the UFC, Slice first has to survive training and living in the Ultimate Fighter house. One of last season's coaches, Dan Henderson, admits that he has heard good things about Slice.
"It will be interesting to see if he actually takes the training seriously and tries to learn," Henderson said. "Which, from what I'm hearing, he is trying to do."
Should Slice have been on last season's show, Henderson would not have had any issues coaching someone with such a large persona.
"Yes, I think anybody can coach him," Henderson said. "It's not up to the coach. It's up to the individual."
With his quick loss to Petruzelli on the second-to-last EliteXC show, Slice was exposed as not being a main-event level fighter -- even though EliteXC pushed him in that role. With his current opportunity to make the UFC roster, he has to build himself back up.
"He hasn't become an MMA fighter yet," Henderson said. "He's not there. He's been thrust into that limelight without the skills."
Now that the new season of the show is about to debut, all eyes will once again be on Kimbo Slice. Due to the ratings bonanza that will accompany his first actual UFC octagon appearance, Slice is getting what many fighters in the sport have not -- a second chance. Plus, Slice will have the advantage of not having to win the Ultimate Fighter tournament to make it to the UFC. He only has to demonstrate he can be somewhat competitive with a lower-level UFC fighter.
The big problem is this -- Seth Petruzelli was a lower-level UFC fighter. Therefore, if Slice wants to be successful on MMA's biggest stage, he will have to prove that he can do a lot more than just be competitive.
Story from CBSsports.com at http://www.cbssports.com/mma/story/12175461