Whether you love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Kimbo Slice is huge. From his days as a YouTube sensation, feeding massive fists to characters dubbed “Big Mac” and “Afro Puff”, to his star turn as headliner on two of the CBS network’s three forays into the realm of live mixed martial arts, to his current stint on SpikeTV’s “The Ultimate Fighter”, Kimbo (real name: Kevin Ferguson) has proven to be a bona fide eyeball magnet. Can the 35-year-old MMA late-comer grapple? Can he stop an opponent from taking him down and holding him there like a petulant child? Can he do anything other than throw punches with mean intentions? No, he cannot. Not even remotely. But the man is immune to the effects losing usually has on a fighter’s fanbase, and the aspiring mixed martial artist has got the kind of charisma that translates into ticket sales and ratings. At the end of the day, those are the numbers that matter and they don’t lie.
EliteXC’s May 31, 2008 show, which featured Kimbo taking on Brit slugger James Thompson at the Prudential Center in Newark, holds the record as the most-attended non-UFC MMA event in New Jersey history. Over 8,000 fans came out to see Kimbo brawl in person.
Kimbo’s first MMA bout, an exhibition contest against former boxing champ Ray Mercer at the Cage Fury Fighting Championships 5, was the second most-attended non-UFC MMA event in New Jersey. Over 7,300 people packed into the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on June 23, 2007, to watch “The Bearded One” choke Mercer into submission.
Kimbo’s bout against Thompson was broadcast live on CBS the marquee match-up of the first MMA event to make it to primetime television and it remains the most-watched US MMA bout ever. According to ratings estimates, 7.2 million viewers tuned in.
Though Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock have the honor of being the second most-watched match-up in US history (6.5 million viewers for their October 10, 2006 SpikeTV fisticuff), the number three spot is owned by Kimbo. He suffered an embarrassing 14-second TKO loss at the hands of Seth Petruzelli at the event, but ultimately Kimbo’s second CBS outing attracted 6.4 million pairs of eyes.
Who took part in the fourth most-watched bout? If you guessed Kimbo Slice, you guessed correctly. Despite the fight being taped months earlier, the outcome was kept a closely-guarded secret, so 6.1 million fans turned on SpikeTV to watch their hero lose to Roy Nelson on the SpikeTV show “The Ultimate Fighter”. Yes, the fourth biggest MMA fight was a pre-recorded bout, and for his participation on this, the tenth season of TUF, Kimbo is currently helping SpikeTV garner record ratings.
His head movement may be poor, his chin may be suspect and he can’t do half the things a professional MMA fighter should be able to do, but as pre-packaged backyard brawlers and Internet superstars go, Kimbo’s massive, top-heavy 235-pound frame is worth its weight in gold to his employers. Whether you love him or hate him, thanks to the numbers, Kimbo Slice is here to stay.