Week in MMA & Boxing #42
MMA & Boxing News From the week of
June 4th - June 10th, 2016
The Passing of Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali, who passed away at the age of 74 on 6/3 was a person who was so much larger-than-life, that the term pales in any explanation. There are literally no words that can do justice of his significance.
He was the most hated athlete in the United States during the 1960s who, years later, became the most popular. He divided white and black culture at one time, and united them at other times. His popularity at the end transcended all racial boundaries. He became a national symbol. His death, after years of suffering from Parkinson’s Syndrome which robbed him of the speaking abilities which had made him the biggest star in boxing history, was a moment that stunned the culture like few others.
We have a full tribute to Ali here, at Causioncreations.com.
The Passing of Kimbo Slice
Kevin Ferguson, who showed the power of YouTube with his backyard street fights as Kimbo Slice, and was the biggest television drawing card in MMA history, passed away on 6/6 at the age of 42.
His shocking death was attributed to heart failure. Even fewer questions are likely to be answered, because the Broward County Medical Examiner’s office has decided against either an autopsy or ordering toxicology reports.
While the news broke that he was seriously ill, he had been in the ICU unit since 6/3 at the Northwest Medical Center in Margate, FL. He was taken in complaining of severe abdominal pain, shortness of breath and nausea. He was diagnosed with a mass in his liver and congestive heart failure and was immediately placed on a ventilator in the intensive care unit.
Later, doctor’s informed Slice’s family that his heart was working at only ten percent of its capacity and he would need a heart transplant. A source inside the hospital stated that they believed he had a seizure when he was being fitted for a life vest, which monitors the heart rate to check for irregularities. He is believed to have died while they were fitting it, and they worked on him for a full hour trying to revive him, going through two crash carts.
He passed away at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time as doctors were going to transfer him to a hospital in Cleveland where he could be placed on the organ donor list. The hospital believed that neither illicit drug use nor trauma were causes of his illness.
Slice’s death was the single most talked about news story in the U.S. on the Internet of the past week with the obvious exception of the death of Muhammad Ali.
Slice became famous from his videos, but the raw and violent fights were a part of a marketing plan and not just crazy things that ended up on YouTube. Slice was a bodyguard who worked in the porn industry. A backyard fight in 2003 saw his opponent’s eye destroyed in such a graphic fashion, unlike what you would see in an MMA event or a boxing match, that the damage, combined with his great look, gave Kimbo Slice an aura. Originally he was just called Kimbo. The name Slice came because of how badly he messed up the eye of the foe in the first video that got widespread viewing.
Guys all over the world talked about Kimbo Slice, and figured he fit a stereotype with the muscles, the ethnicity and damage of a raw street fight. It didn’t matter that, in Kimbo’s most famous street fight with a Boston police officer named Sean Gannon, who had some Golden Gloves boxing and MMA experience, his side insisted on all kinds of rules against wrestling and submissions. Even then, Slice ended up being knocked out for a 30 count in an incredibly brutal fight.
Feeling that Slice’s name value was big, he was put in touch with Bas Rutten, who became his trainer. He choked out former WBO heavyweight boxing champion Ray Mercer, in a PPV fight under MMA rules promoted by Cage Fury Fighting Championships. The New Jersey commission would only sanction the June 23, 2007, event as a three round exhibition. An angle was shot on the show to build for a second PPV bout with Tank Abbott, but the first show did poorly and the second show fell apart.
When Elite XC formed as a publicly traded fight promotion trying to capitalize on the sudden popularity of UFC, headed by former boxing promoter Gary Shaw, Shaw was shown tapes of Slice from YouTube. Shaw claimed that Slice possessed the raw skill of a championship boxer and began promoting him, winning fights on Showtime against Bo Cantrell (a quick win that has always been subject to a lot of speculation because of how it looked and rumors in Sacramento where Cantrell was from) and a washed up Abbott, the latter show setting what was, at the time, a Showtime record for MMA.
This led to the first network MMA show, as CBS reached a deal with Elite XC for a show on May 31, 2008. UFC had already put up huge cable numbers and PPV numbers dating back to 2005. The first show was promoted around Slice fighting James Thompson. Thompson was beating Slice up on the ground in the second round, but at the start of the third round, Slice threw a punch and Thompson’s left ear exploded. While he was still on his feet, the fight was stopped. Most in the fight world felt that Slice was completely exposed. He was already 34, his boxing was way overblown and he had no takedown defense. Thompson, a big impressive guy who had been a star attraction for his wild style in Pride, was known to not be any kind of a top level fighter.
Ironically, Bellator was scheduled to rematch that fight on 7/19 at the O2 Arena in London in one of its biggest shows of the year. Slice vs. Thompson drew 7,281,000 viewers, which even to this day is still the second most watched televised fight in U.S. MMA history.
The Seth Petruzelli fight did 6,451,000 viewers in its 14 seconds. Had the fight gone a few minutes, the numbers would have surely grown to the level of the Thompson fight.
What Kimbo had going for him, past the YouTube videos, was a unique presence. When he was in a room, all eyes gravitated toward him. He wasn’t a great promo, but he was able to show tremendous intensity in his eyes which made people think something was up. Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie had a 22 year rivalry built up for the 2/19 show, and both were very good at promoting fights, but even they were standing there in awe watching Slice and Dada 5000 go back-and-forth at the press conference before the sad fight that ended up being Slice’s last hurrah.
He also possessed a unique warmth at the same time. Maybe it was the smile or shy, but pleasant demeanor. Clearly, he came from rough environment and spent his life around shady characters in a number of industries. Yet, whether he could fight or not, people wanted to see him fight. When he’d walk out, everyone would stand up and there would be a buzz in the air that is usually limited to only the biggest fights and greatest fighters.
Dana White had been heavily critical of Elite XC using Slice, who clearly was not a top fighter, as its biggest star and to headline its major shows. Yet in 2009, as an idea for The Ultimate Fighter, White and Spike TV came up with a concept: it would be an all-heavyweight season. The coaches would be Rashad Evans and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, who didn’t like each other and had personalities such that major conflicts throughout the season would be expected. The idea was that cast members were to bring in ex-NFL football players, Slice and Kurt Angle, figuring the combination would lead to record ratings. Angle claimed that he wasn’t given enough notice to get in shape for the show and turned it down. White said that Angle was given a physical, failed and thus ended up not on the show. Seeing Slice on the Ultimate Fighter was a ratings bonanza and was the highest rated season in the history of the show.
To show that even fighters, or at least Jackson, believed in the Kimbo myth, he had first pick and chose Slice, even though there was a ringer that season in Roy Nelson. As it turned out, Slice fought Nelson on the show. Even though it was a fight taped months earlier in the gym, with no commentary, Slice vs. Nelson drew 6,100,000 viewers. To this day, three of the five most-watched MMA fights in television history were Slice fights.
On January 16, 2015, the 40-year-old Slice signed with Bellator. He debuted six months later with a win in a weird fight with Ken Shamrock. Both looked horrible. Slice was taken down easily, but managed to escape a choke attempt and landed some hard punches that busted up and finished Shamrock. That fight drew 2.4 million viewers live, destroying all company records.
On February 29, 2016, Slice fought his last fight, an even worse fight against Dada 5000. It was a disaster in every way possible, although it did break his previous record with 2.5 million viewers for the fight live, and with a Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock match as the main event, it was by far the most successful television show Bellator ever did from a ratings standpoint.
Both men were exhausted quickly. Dada nearly died on more than one occasion. He collapsed in the third round, barely being hit to end the horrible spectacle of a fight. Dada said he was actually never hit, but suffered a heart attack and collapsed in the ring. Apparently his kidneys shut down while he was fighting, and that led to a heart attack. He later had a second heart attack. He flatlined twice in the hospital, but both times was able to be brought back. Even months later, he still needed dialysis.
Slice tested positive for both the steroid Nandrolone as well as testosterone. Slice’s win was over turned to a no contest, but the joke of a commission that Texas has, only suspended him for three months and Bellator booked him less than five months later for the 7/16 show in London.
Due to their age, Slice and Dada both underwent EKG and EEG tests to check for heart issues, as ordered by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations, which governs MMA in the state, prior to the fight. In both cases, the tests showed no heart issues.
The combination of the steroid positives and his heart failing a few months later led to the obvious speculation over whether there was a tie-in. Without an autopsy to examine if the heart damage was consistent with steroid use, usually a weakened left ventricle that was consistent in many of the pro wrestler and powerlifter deaths in the '80s and '90s, there could be no evidence past the speculation.
Spike TV announced they will be airing a one hour television special on Slice on 6/24 at 7 p.m.
Brock Lesnar at UFC 200
Lesnar will face Mark Hunt in what is being billed as the No. 2 fight, below Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier, and ahead of two championship fights at UFC 200 on 7/9 at the T Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Lesnar stated that he called Dana White three months ago and said he wanted to come back. On ESPN, Lesnar said that he couldn’t live with the decision he made just prior to WrestleMania 31, when he announced he had signed a new three-year deal with WWE and would not go back to UFC. While most expected that, Lesnar had an argument with Vince McMahon just weeks earlier and walked out on a TV taping. He then showed up ringside at a UFC show. He was negotiating with both WWE and UFC until the 11th hour, and while WWE made a sweet offer, UFC’s offer was bigger money.
Still, at his age, the pro wrestling decision was clearly the right one to make. There was more longevity involved, particularly given his lighter schedule. The question that hasn’t been answered is why WWE would risk the aura of the person who is either their biggest or second biggest star, and their second highest paid performer, in a realistic setting. Worse, how did they agree for Lesnar to face Hunt, who is the hardest hitting heavyweight on the UFC roster?
The Hunt question is a tough one. On the surface, as Lesnar approached his 39th birthday shortly after UFC 200, the reality is that he can double down, making as much or perhaps more, in one night than in an entire year working for WWE. UFC 200 is the right show to do the best numbers possible because the card is already loaded, and was only missing the special added attraction. So I can see him wanting to fight, because he may never have the chance to make that kind of money again.
If he was serious about what he said, that he’s been haunted by the fact that he wasn’t at his best during his UFC career due to diverticulitis, and that now he’s healthy, then one would have to ask why he’s not asking to leave WWE and signing full-time with UFC. UFC is not a part-time job. UFC is also a dangerous place for older wrestlers who haven’t evolved into good strikers.
There’s also a question of what he’ll mean. Certainly the fight will garner big-time attention. Lesnar was a huge draw in UFC, the biggest of his era. But after he dropped the title to Cain Velasquez, his drawing power did go down significantly for his fight with Overeem, even though it had been more than a year since he had previously fought. Granted, the UFC 200 name is going to draw and the show is absolutely loaded. Lesnar drew huge with pro wrestling fans in his first UFC run, and that was years after he had left pro wrestling. He’s a far bigger star in pro wrestling now than he was on his first run, and a significantly bigger figure in the world of sports.
Lesnar claimed that from the time he made the decision to sign his new WWE contract, immediately, he woke up every day thinking about that decision. He said he didn’t tell his wife, who wanted him to choose wrestling for obvious reasons and said his decision haunted him for a long time.
“It haunted me,” said Lesnar. “At the top of my career, I wasn’t at the top of my game.” He continued that he was cheated out of his career, saying his losses weren’t due to opponents, but due to thinking he could beat the disease, which at the time he couldn’t do.
“I’m sitting here today feeling 100 percent. I’m not a second guesser, but I’ve second guessed that decision. I’m in the best shape of my life. This is for real.”
Keep in mind, Lesnar said all those things before the Overeem fight, then lost and retired and he was 34 at the time, not almost 39. He’ll have been out of action for four-and-a-half years. The sport has evolved while he hasn’t. Lesnar’s success in UFC was because he could wrestle, was freaky strong and was very fast for his size. At 39, he will not have the speed. He’ll probably have most of the strength. The wrestling gets rusty, and 18 months out, the ring rust is real.
When asked about Hunt, he said, “Why not? It could be anybody. I don’t care. I didn’t have any say. I’ve never turned down a fight in UFC. Even when I was the champion, I never turned down a fight.”
Brock's Drug Testing
The UFC’s drug testing program calls for an athlete coming out of retirement to have to make himself available for testing for four months prior to his first fight. The policy does allow UFC to grant an exemption to the four-month rule in “exceptional circumstances.”
In this case, UFC made a statement that this fits that bill. They noted that Lesnar is now subject to their drug testing program. He will likely be tested regularly between now and fight time. At least, to not make a mockery of the program, he should be. They noted that he didn’t sign his bout agreement until 6/3. The announcement and the deal were held up by WWE not yet approving. The statement was that when Lesnar retired in 2011, this program wasn’t in place, so he didn’t retire to avoid drug testing. The program is in place with the idea that an active fighter could retire, get juiced up, not be subject to testing and then come out of retirement. UFC couldn’t test him prior to WWE signing off on the deal because he was under contract to WWE and had no written release allowing him to be on the UFC active roster. But it does create an interesting loophole and even though it got a lot of attention, in many ways it is not without regular precedence.
Jeff Novitzky, the UFC’s Senior Vice President for Athlete Health and Performance, flew to Saskatchewan, where Lesnar lives, over the weekend to personally meet with Lesnar and explain the company’s new drug testing procedures. Lesnar can be tested unannounced at any time by USADA now that his name is on the active roster.
It should also be noted that anyone who signs with UFC often fights in less than four months, so they are not subject to four months of drug testing before their first fight. The idea is to not allow people to retire to game the system. People who are debuting don’t have to go through months of drug testing prior to their first match. People coming in as late replacements are often fighting with a few weeks or less under contract. Many will, like Lesnar, have been in UFC before, cut, been out of drug testing and be called late to return. But the rules do specify retirement, and Lesnar, in both 2011 and 2015, said he was retired.
UFC Bans then reinstates Helwani
Ariel Helwani of MMAFighting.com, broke the "Lesnar returning to fight at UFC 200" story a few hours before UFC announced it and they were furious. UFC was so mad that at the show, they contacted Helwani and then escorted him, videographer Casey Leydon and photographer Esther Lin out of the building and said they were banned for life from being credentialed at UFC events.
While UFC has banned reporters in the past, each reason being different, Helwani is the most famous MMA reporter in the business and has the most contacts. The mainstream media jumped on the story and it left UFC with a huge public relations black eye, with the idea that they banned a reporter for getting a major scoop (actually two as Helwani also reported that Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor was likely on at UFC 202 a few hours before UFC was going to announce it as a surprise), the exact job of the reporter.
After talks between UFC and MMAFighting, the ban was rescinded. It was clear that keeping the ban would be a public relations nightmare for UFC. Yet, just hours before, Dana White told TMZ that as long as he was there, Helwani would never be given a credential.
Ariel Helwani Tells All
Helwani did a ton of media, as well as a two-hour session on his own show talking about the incident. It ended up very controversial, as he brought up an incident where he was roughed up by UFC security at another time. It also included him revealing that the checks he got for doing UFC Pre and Post game shows on FS 1, before he was fired from that job, were written by Zuffa, not Fox Sports. His checks for UFC Tonight came from Fox Sports. He noted that the money came from FS 1 to UFC for the shows, but the checks were cut by Zuffa.
Another issue that he revealed was that, when he was fired by FS 1 from UFC Tonight and doing the pre and post-game shows, it was the UFC calling FS 1 saying they wanted him gone. While FS 1 is in business with UFC, in theory there should be a separation to where, on an FS 1 news show, UFC shouldn’t have the ability to make a call and get a guy fired, unless he was bad at his job, not popular, or who had a track record of his news being wrong.
The whole show was filled with all kinds of questions on all sides. Some of this confused what was in the end a very simple issue. He was no longer with FS 1 and was working for MMA Fighting, and he was kicked out during a show because he broke a story that was accurate, and had continually broken stories that UFC wanted to break itself, or select who would break for them.
UFC’s comeback was that before breaking it, he should have asked them for comment. The argument on the other side is that the day before, ESPN had heard the same rumors, asked White, and he denied them. If Helwani knew the story was accurate, and clearly he did and it proved very quickly to be the case, the company already had made a comment on it that was inaccurate from the day before.
UFC’s other big announcement was that UFC 202, on 8/20 at the T Mobile Arena, will be headlined by the McGregor vs. Nate Diaz fight. The UFC and Diaz came to terms just before UFC 200. After the deal was made, White consented to letting Diaz give him the Stockton slap, as Diaz slapped White in the face while it was being filmed to put up on the Internet.
It is conceivable that UFC could do the two biggest PPV shows in its history over the next three months. It will, barring a key injury, do two of the biggest.
There was also a report of C.M. Punk vs. Mickey Gall on the 8/20 show. UFC has not announced it. I can’t confirm it, but what I can say is this: Gall has said he’s fighting Punk in the late summer. As of right now, FS 1 is planning on airing the reality show where Punk trains for his first fight in August. The time line would indicate 8/20 or the following show on 9/10 in Cleveland, since the plan was always to debut him on a PPV show.
UFC 199 Review
We have a full review of the show here, which includes highlights of the excellent show from the 6/4 at Forum in Los Angeles. There one of the biggest upsets in UFC title history took place when Michael Bisping captured the UFC middleweight title beating Luke Rockhold.
UFC 199 was a great show, among the best in company history. Bisping won the title, and in doing so, scored his 19th UFC career win, tying Georges St-Pierre’s all-time record. Rockhold came in too aggressive, left an opening and Bisping connected with a left hook. Rockhold got up right away instead of trying to tie him up on the ground, got hit again, and was knocked out. The two went back-and-forth after the fact at the press conference.
Dominick Cruz retained the bantamweight title winning an easy decision over Urijah Faber, who for the first time started talking about retirement while trying to push teammate Cody Garbrandt for a shot at Cruz.
The show featured one exciting fight after another. The opener with Polo Reyes beating the other Dong Hyun Kim was a candidate for fight of the year, a brawl with two guys swinging hard and doing almost nothing on defense which brought back memories of the Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung fight. When it was over, Joe Rogan said it was one of the greatest fights he’d ever seen.
Dan Henderson tore the house down, being knocked down in the first round as well as taken down, but landed an elbow to the side of the head that stunned Hector Lombard and knocked him out. Henderson also talked of retiring, as this was the last fight on his contract. He made it clear he was hoping UFC would give him a job, but he also noted that he couldn’t have had a better ending, as his kids came to see him fight for the first time and he got the biggest reaction of the night in his Southern California home.
UFC 199 Backstage Incidents
There were two backstage incidents at UFC 199. One involved Nate Diaz and Clay Guida. I’m not sure how it started, save that they were walking past each other, words were exchanged and it got physical in an instant. Jason Guida, Clay’s older brother, jumped in, followed by members of Diaz’s crew but it was quicky broken up.
There was also a shouting match that I don’t believe got physical, involving Dominick Cruz and Cody Garbrandt. During the press conference, when Urijah Faber started pushing for Garbrandt to get the next title shot, Cruz mocked it by saying he had never heard of Cody Garbrandt. Obviously Cruz knows everyone in the division and he says what he does to get under people’s skin. When Faber brought up that they had gone back-and-forth on Twitter, Cruz pretended like he thought Garbrandt was just a fan.
New UFC Hall of Fame Inductee
Don Frye, 50, who made up what he lacked in technical fighting skill with ridiculous heart and guts, was named over the weekend to the UFC Hall of Fame. So technically, this year there are two candidates from the pioneer era (described as making their pro debuts before 2001) with he and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. The only thing left would be to announce the participants in the fight added to the Hall of Fame, which would be a classic fight that took place before the summer of 2011.
Frye had been at odds with UFC because he says what he thinks so there had to be a smoothed over political situation for this to happen. Frye has done some acting, including in Japanese movies and American television commercials, He finished his career with a 20-9-1 record with one no contest. He was one of the great stars and names from the first decade of the sport and very legit Hall of Famer.
UFC 201's lineup for 7/30 in Atlanta at the Phillips Arena has Robbie Lawler vs. Tyron Woodley for the welterweight title, Demetrious Johnson vs. Wilson Reis for the flyweight title, Matt Brown vs. Jake Ellenberger, Rose Namajunas vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (who are ranked No. 3 and No. 6 contenders at strawweight and the winner has a good shot at getting the shot at the Joanna Jedrzejczyk winner, plus Francisco Rivera vs. Erik Perez, Nikita Krylov vs. Ed Herman, Anthony Hamilton vs. Damian Grabowski, Michael Graves vs. Bojan Velickovic, Claudio Silva vs. Siyar Bahadurzada and Cezar Arzamendia (a debuting lightweight from Paraguay) vs. Damien Brown.