(“El Guapo” reminds you: don’t hate the player, hate the game.)
by Ben Fowlkes
Arguing over Kimbo Slice has been a favorite pastime of MMA fans, journalists, and even fighters, ever since the big man entered sanctioned competition. Well, Bas Rutten has heard all the criticism, and he has something to say.
“He’s good to the fans, and he treats the people good. He talks good about the other fighters. He never talks bad. They talk bad about him, but not the other way around.
“He trains hard. He’s a role model. The guy’s never been in jail, and (yet) they say he’s a thug. The guy is doing a really good job, but everyone is just asking about him all the time, and it drives the other fighters nuts.”
Now, far be it from me to disagree with “El Guapo”, but there might be more to it than that. Rutten has some good points, namely that jealousy could be playing a part in the acrimony that comes from other fighters. Not only are they probably sick of being asked about him, but the guy is making six figures a fight with Elite XC. Other guys who have been paying their dues since the nineties consider themselves lucky to make that in a year, so you can understand why that might irk them.
But something about the assertion that since Kimbo has never been to jail we shouldn’t call him a thug rings false to me. First of all, do we really want to start giving people credit for staying out of jail? And second, maybe the reason people accuse him of being a thug is because he used to participate in illegal underground fights for the pornographers that he did security for.
While I don’t begrudge Kimbo the opportunity to make a living (we all sell what we have, whether it’s business acumen or the ability to hurt people), I do tend to think that it’s this semi-public background that draws the thug criticism.
Then again, I think there’s another issue that we’re all reluctant to bring up: race. If Kimbo wasn’t black, if he was a white guy who went from being an internet bad-ass to being a pro fighter, would the attitude toward him be different?
I tend to think yes, but only somewhat.
Consider the example of Igor Zinoviev. He was a Russian fighter in the early days of MMA. He beat Mario Sperry and had his collarbone broken by Frank Shamrock. But before he fought in sanctioned MMA bouts he fought in illegal, underground fights in Brooklyn warehouses. Sure, they didn’t have sanctioned MMA at the time (or viral video), but that doesn’t make those fights any less illegal or the clientele any less likely to be sketchy gangsters.
The point is, their stories are similar, or as similar as they can be considering their different backgrounds (Zinoviev was a Soviet Army commando before the fall of communism, and afterwards did some “security” for the people who filled that power vacuum in St. Petersburg).
And yet, with Zinoviev people seem to think it’s cool. Like something out of ‘Street Fighter II’ or a Van Damme movie. With Kimbo they call it thuggish. Maybe it’s because of the cultural differences more than the racial ones, but it’s still worth thinking about.
In any regard, some wonder whether Elite XC’s decision to anchor their first ever network show with a card headlined by a former street brawler is the best way to help legitimize the sport. To the extent that the criticism stems from that concern, it’s mostly valid. To the extent that it stems from jealousy or racism, it’s not.