How Kimbo Slice and MMA challenge our notions of celebrity and humanity

Written in the wake of a dizzying weekend of MMA news, with one of the sport’s top journalists (Ariel Helwani) temporarily losing his UFC credentials and one of the sport’s most famous figures (Kimbo Slice) passing away suddenly.

Source: How Kimbo Slice and MMA challenge our notions of celebrity and humanity | Sport | The Guardian

June 7, 2016

MMA writing: 2008-2015

Selected pieces on mixed martial arts — all USA TODAY except as noted:

Issues

Preview, features, event coverage 

Monday Myriad: Tifo, Kimbo, figure skaters playing hoops!

OK – ready to face Kimbo?

We’re still in that lull between summer Olympic sports and winter Olympic sports, but we have plenty to report from the weekend. Names in the news include Landon Donovan, Chris Wondolowski, Brad Friedel, Kimbo Slice, Lance Armstrong, Lolo Jones, Dana White and Johnny Weir.

MLS

Nearly every game meant something …

Columbus 1-1 Kansas City: KC only leads the East by three, and Columbus stayed within a point of the fifth playoff seed in the East.

New York 0-2 Chicago: A massive hurt on the Red Bulls, who have just announced a front-office shakeup and dropped to fourth in the East, not yet assured of getting into the playoffs at all. Chicago‘s up to second and has clinched a berth.

Toronto 0-1 D.C. United: United stands third, one ahead of the Red Bulls.

Philadelphia 1-0 New England: The only game of the weekend with no playoff ramifications doomed the Revolution to ninth place in the East. The Union could still move up to seventh.

Houston 1-1 Montreal: A little controversy, with Brian Ching‘s late goal wiped away on a late offside call. Houston is clinging to the last playoff spot, and Brad Davis‘ absence didn’t help. Summing up the East (all contenders have two games left): KC 59 pts., Chicago 56, DC 54, New York 53, Houston 50 // Columbus 49.

Colorado 1-4 San Jose: A couple of months ago, I said Roy Lassiter‘s single-season scoring record was unbreakable. Chris Wondolowski is getting dangerously close to proving me wrong after netting a hat trick. The only other suspense for the Earthquakes is whether they’ll clinch the Supporters Shield next week — they have 64 points to KC’s 59.

Seattle 3-0 Portland: The Sounders drew 66,452 for the big rivalry game, and neither the home team nor the home fans disappointed. Check out the Sounders’ tifo:

– Chivas USA 1-1 Dallas: Huge disappointment for Dallas, now trailing by four points for the last playoff spot in the West.

Los Angeles 1-2 Salt Lake: From watching the first 30 minutes, you never would’ve guessed the night would end so badly for the Galaxy. But Real made a great comeback, and to make matters worse for the Galaxy (and possibly the USA), Landon Donovan is hurt.

(Highlights and so forth at The Kickoff.)

NASL

The top two seeds are in good shape after the first leg of the semifinals: San Antonio left Minnesota tied 0-0, and Tampa Bay won 2-1 at Carolina.

EUROPEAN SOCCER

Heard Barcelona-Real Madrid was terrific. Sorry to miss it.

And sorry to see the end of an era. After eight years of starting every Premier League game his club played, Brad Friedel finally surrendered the starting spot at Spurs to Hugo Lloris.

Goal of the weekend: Man U’s Tom Cleverley?

TRIATHLON

What? Lance Armstrong isn’t cleared for sanctioned races? Fine — we’ll go unsanctioned.

BOBSLED

Track and field Olympians Lolo Jones, Hyleas Fountain and Tianna Madison joined the fun at the annual U.S. push competition, with all three placing in the top 10 and Fountain barely missing the top three. Rookie Aja Evans took the win. Veteran Steve Langton won the men’s event.

CRICKET

Sri Lanka had West Indies baffled in the World Twenty20 final. The host country held the fierce West Indies batters to 32 runs in the first 10 overs, on pace to score an anemic 64. Then Marlon Samuels played the innings of a lifetime, scoring 78. West Indies scored 137 — still not a great total.

But while West Indies took a while to warm up, Sri Lanka never did. Samuels added a terrific bowling performance to his vital spell with the bat, and Sunil Narine simply mowed down Sri Lanka just as it tried to get going. With defeat all but mathematically certain, Sri Lanka gave up its 10th and final wicket, scoring just 36. West Indies took the championship.

The women’s final was considerably closer — Australia held on to beat England by four runs.

MMA

Big weekend, with cards in the UFC, Bellator, One FC and Invicta. A few of the highlights:

– The UFC’s free cards continue to be pretty good, though Travis Browne‘s injury spoiled a compelling matchup with Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. And John Dodson is ready for his UFC flyweight title shot.

– Dana White will take a bit of flak for thinking he could bail Jeremy Stephens out of jail in time for his fight with Yves Edwards. But the UFC clearly went above and beyond for Dennis Hallman, who is in the midst of a horrible child custody dispute.

– Remember when Brett Rogers was the man? He was 10-0, having just beat Andrei Arlovski, and he arguably took a round from Fedor Emelianenko? He looked horrible in Bellator against Alexander Volkov.

– All-female Invicta FC delivered another strong card from top to bottom. If you saw a better contest than Michelle Waterson‘s bout with Lacey Schuckman this weekend, please tell me.

The weekend highlights are on a comprehensive Bloody Elbow playlist, along with this …

BOXING

I like Kimbo Slice, having met him a couple of times. But it’s a little painful to see him go from the UFC to boxing matches against guys who fall down every time he hits them. I’m sure Kimbo hits hard, but seriously? The opponent in this case was one Howard Jones, and we have to say things can only get better.

FIGURE SKATING

And finally, from the intentional humor department, here’s a group of figure skaters putting away the glitter and showing us some hoops trickery. This is clearly a parody of something I haven’t seen, but it’s still amusing, and it features nearly every skater who’ll be in the upcoming Grand Prix season (preview forthcoming). Watch the video.

But winter is fast approaching, and several figure skaters tuned up for Grand Prix action at the Finlandia Trophy, with Richard Dornbush second in the men’s competition, Mirai Nagasu third in the women’s event, Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue third in ice dancing, and the returning Johnny Weir fourth in his first competition since the 2010 Olympics.

More Oly sports in the Team USA roundupVincent Hancock is still shooting well, Kim Rhode‘s a little distracted, and Janet Bawcom edged Kara Goucher in a 10-mile run.

UFC 113: Rua rules, Koscheck controversy and the case for Kimbo

UFC’s pay-per-views over the winter were held back by injuries and misfortune. UFC 111 (St. Pierre-Hardy, Carwin-Mir) had terrific talent but bogged down with some inconclusive wrestling in a couple of main-card bouts. UFC 112 ended with the borefest of Anderson Silva toying with Demian Maia.

UFC 113, on the other hand, was anything but boring, living up to just about everything it promised and more:

1. Rua rules: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua was the consensus winner of the last light heavyweight title fight among fans and media. Not among the judges. This time, Rua didn’t even let the judges settle into their seats, countering a Lyoto Machida attack to land by far the cleanest, hardest shot the once-unhittable champion has taken in his UFC career.

Rua seemed to be past his prime when he first came into the cage after a distinguished career in Pride. Now he seems to be peaking. He’ll need to stay there to keep his crown in a division littered with former champions still in good form (in reverse order: Machida, Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin, Rampage Jackson), another former Pride star (Antonio Rogerio Nogueira) and some rising stars (Jon Jones, Ryan Bader). He might even have to deal with Anderson Silva if Silva finishes clearing out the middleweight division and decides to make 205 a long-term home rather than an occasional vacation spot.

2. Koscheck controversy: Josh Koscheck had been changing his image. The brash prankster from the first season of The Ultimate Fighter had become the great UFC company man, taking the occasional risky fight on short notice and trying to stay busy. A couple of spectacular knockouts laid waste to his reputation as a “lay and pray” fighter who relied too heavily on his college wrestling background. Dana White quipped after his loss to Thiago Alves that the crowd was actually on Koscheck’s side. In interviews, he was calm and thoughtful, saying he had matured a bit since his reality-show days.

But if Koscheck is trying to avoid controversy, he’s failing. In his last fight against Anthony Johnson, he was accused of embellishing the effect of an illegal knee/eye poke and then responding with eye pokes of his own.  This time, he fell to the mat after Paul Daley threw an illegal knee.

Did the knee make contact? One replay angle shows it grazed, at most. Watching another angle, I was convinced Daley had poked Koscheck in the eye before the knee landed, but from that angle, I’m not so sure.

Koscheck won a convincing decision, and Daley killed his UFC career by sucker-punching Koscheck well after the horn, so the debate on whether Koscheck embellished the incident was just a minor academic point.

But then Koscheck taunted the Montreal crowd, saying the Pittsburgh Penguins were going to knock their beloved Canadiens out of the NHL playoffs.

The Montreal crowd, of course, was going to support Quebec’s own Georges St. Pierre in the coaching matchup of The Ultimate Fighter. But Koscheck seems happy to provide a stark contrast to St. Pierre, one of the nicest guys in the sport.

3. The case for Kimbo. Cutting Paul Daley was an easy call after the postfight shenanigans, though it’s hard to believe the word “never” in reference to a guy still in his 20s.

The tougher call Dana White announced Saturday night, first with some hesitation and then more emphatically: Kimbo Slice’s loss to Matt Mitrione would be his last UFC bout.

At Bloody Elbow, Luke Thomas has a typically well-stated post giving several reasons to applaud the move. In short: White is showing his determination to keep the UFC as the unequivocal home of top-flight competition, even if that means cutting a fighter who’s a ratings draw.

Valid point. Here’s the case for keeping Kimbo:

1. Exposure for more fighters on Fight Night cards. Kimbo won’t sell pay-per-views if he’s not winning, but if you put him on a free card on Spike or Versus, he might draw some of the millions of casual fans who tuned in to see him on CBS’ prime-time shows or The Ultimate Fighter. And then those viewers will be exposed to the talents of other UFC fighters.

2. He’s a great spokesman for the sport. One of the greatest surprises about a guy who came from backyard brawls staged for the benefit of a porn site is that he has a likable, easygoing personality. He did well in a comedy sketch with Jimmy Fallon. His journey to learn more about mixed martial arts tells us all about the sport.

3. He’s not the only UFC fighter with no hope of contending. Sure, Kimbo will never be the UFC heavyweight champion. He’s making a great effort to round out his skills and has a better ground game than quite a few heavyweights, but he’s still too far behind. His edge in athleticism will fade with advancing age, especially with the knee problems that surfaced on The Ultimate Fighter.  But other weight classes have plenty of guys past their contending prime, some of them actually headlining cards. (Chuck Liddell and Rich Franklin are both a good ways down the light heavyweight ladder these days.) Guys like Stephan Bonnar, James Irvin and Marcus Davis are in the organization because they push the action. Phil Baroni is in the UFC with a 13-12 record.

4. The heavyweight division still isn’t that strong. As Thomas is saying at this very moment on his radio show, the heavyweight class is the UFC’s weakest. And there aren’t a lot of prospects outside the UFC aside from the small collection at Strikeforce, many of whom White wouldn’t want back. This isn’t lightweight, where Japanese promotions are loaded. The 24th-ranked heavyweight in the USA TODAY/SB Nation consensus rankings is Ray Mercer, who was demolished a couple of years ago in an exhibition … by Kimbo Slice. BEFORE Slice took up serious study of the sport.

The heavyweight season of The Ultimate Fighter had a weak collection of fighters. Sadly, some of the better fighters from the show won’t have much of a career. Marcus Jones, who had a great aptitude for learning the sport and tremendous athleticism, may have suffered too much of a beating in his long NFL career. Mitrione told me two weeks ago he can’t always train all out because of the wear and tear from his football days. Roy Nelson and Brendan Schaub may be the only guys from that season who make an impact in the UFC.

Given all that, I can still see a place for Kimbo in the UFC. A limited one, perhaps. But enough of one that Dana White might want to reconsider letting Strikeforce or someone else get the ratings boost Kimbo will still bring for another couple of fights at least.

Update: Many thanks to Luke Thomas for talking with me a few minutes ago on his MMA Nation show. Luke raises the point that the UFC is trying to put its best foot forward while regulation efforts are still going in Ontario and elsewhere, and that Kimbo and the UFC may have already taken the best of what each has to offer the other. It’s a good discussion and not an easy call for Dana White to make either way.

Randy Couture, Kimbo Slice … and lacrosse? Closer than you think

The NLL (National Lacrosse League) is a lot like hockey with carpet instead of ice and a different type of stick. And like NHL players, NLL players occasionally drop the gloves and throw their fists in fights governed by codes both unofficial and official — in the NLL’s case, written in exquisite detail (see the rules in PDF). Sometimes, those fights get so out of hand that they migrate from the lacrosse blogosphere to Deadspin.

Everyone involved was punished, though the “game misconduct” penalties might not mean much with all of this happening so late in the game. The Boston Blazers-Philadelphia Wings box score duly notes it all.

Also noted in the box score – this approach seems to be working. Attendance for this game in Philly was 11,241.  That’s not an outlier — last year’s league average was a shade over 10K, squarely between indoor and outdoor soccer, not too far off arena football. The league survived a labor impasse a couple of years ago, maybe not too surprising since some of the players spend more time on airplanes than they do playing and practicing. (See my 2007 interview with goaltender/Ontario teacher Anthony Cosmo.)

In an era of media hand-wringing over anything and everything, it’s surprising no one has made a fuss over lacrosse fights. Hockey fighting rarely leads to injury — fighters can’t get much leverage on their punches while they’re standing on ice. Lacrosse fights are basically bare-knuckle brawls on an unforgiving surface. Listen to the commentary in this clip, and you’ll hear someone giving a shoutout to backyard brawler-turned-UFC fighter Kimbo Slice:

A “Kimbo Slice uppercut” would be something like what you’ll see at the 1:24 mark here:

Given all this, should we be surprised that UFC legend Randy Couture has taken an interest in lacrosse and had a few fighters, er, lacrosse players training at his gym?