Allegedly rehabilitated a-hole Mike Kyle notched his fourth straight win on Friday night after a pretty entertaining fight with Ron “Abongo” Humphrey at Strikeforce Challengers 9. The two light heavyweights kept an impressive pace for eight-plus minutes and Kyle displayed some fairly dynamic striking before offering the clearly exhausted Humphrey a way out via rear naked choke roughly 3:30 into the second round. When it was over, Strikeforce play-by-play shouter Mauro Ranallo made somewhat vague reference to the victory being “the resurrection of a career once thought ruined” and a legitimately humble-looking Kyle repeatedly thanked God, trainer “Crazy” Bob Cook and his AKA teammates for “sticking by me when a lot of people didn’t.”
What they were both getting at, of course, was that prior to this current resurgence Kyle had basically done everything he could to drum himself out of MMA, in the process becoming the standard-bearer for bad behavior both in and out of the cage. But with seven wins in his last nine fights and now seemingly on the doorstep of a title shot in Strikeforce’s puddle-shallow 205-pound division, are fans really ready to accept Kyle as a renewed human … or as a valid contender?
We do love a tale of redemption and Kyle looked improved in taking out Humphrey. He’s clearly been at least making an attempt to shore up the deficiencies in his takedown defense/ground game and his stand-up looked as good as ever. The grappling skills aren’t yet up to par – certainly not for a clash with a wrestler like King Mo Lawal – and it was troubling that Humphrey was able to take him down and threaten him with a couple of awkward submission attempts, but Kyle is certainly on the rise. It’s hard to believe that after such a long and checkered past, the dude only just turned 30 in March. As weird as it feels to say, his career could still have some legs.
But how deep does the reformation of Mike Kyle go? It’s pretty easy to look like a new man while you’re trouncing guys like Humphrey, Tony Lopez and John Murphy. What happens if and when he encounters some more adversity? Aren’t longtime fans just waiting for him to blow up and do something else crazy?
We’re talking about a pretty lengthy jacket of offenses here, remember. In Kyle’s first appearance on the national stage – his Octagon debut at UFC 47 in April, 2004 – he was accused of biting Wes Sims on the chest en route to a knockout victory. In his next fight at UFC 49, he repeatedly kneed Justin Eilers in the groin before Eilers got around to KOing him. Then there were the eye pokes against both Tsuyoshi Kosaka in Pancrase (Kyle actually won that one by “technical decision” … thanks, Japan) and Krzysztof Soszynski in his Strikeforce debut, which was a ruled “technical draw.”
The boorishness culminated with an 18-month suspension and the apparent “career ruining” Ranallo referenced after Kyle kicked downed opponent Brian Olsen in the face during a 2006 WEC event and then attacked Olsen with punches when referee Josh Rosenthal called it a DQ. Kyle had to be restrained by both Rosenthal and Herb Dean and – after he unrepentantly tried to schedule a fight in Idaho a month later – was deemed likely finished as a relevant fighter.
But over the last couple of years, Kyle has given every indication that he’s cleaned up his act. Granted, his current win-streak was interrupted by a loss to Fabricio Werdum last July and a no contest resulting when he knocked out Travis Wiuff with an uppercut that landed just after the final bell at a King of the Cage event in February (which looked legitimately unintentional). Nonetheless, he holds a victory over upcoming 205-pound title challenger Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante during this stretch and he’s looked good enough for Strikeforce, desperate as it is for light heavies, to grant him one more chance.
Oddly, according to a couple of Internet sources, Kyle is booked to fight Lucas “Big Daddy” Browne (he’s the Xtreme MMA Oceania Champion, you guys) at an XMMA event in Syndey, Australia next Saturday. Smart money says that fight doesn’t happen however, what with Kyle on the cusp of fighting for the SF belt.
The real questions are whether or not the reformed “bad boy” can keep it together long enough to make this thing work and whether or not fans are ready to forgive him for the past.