When the “Kimbo Slice” phenomenon swept the mixed martial arts world last year and garnered record ratings on Showtime and CBS, UFC President Dana White fielded questions everywhere he went about Kevin Ferguson, the backyard-boxer-turned-headliner. He dismissed Slice’s abilities and the sanity of those promoting his fights as must-see television. But shortly after EliteXC closed on the heels of Ferguson’s 14-second loss to Seth Petruzelli in October, White began to qualify his badmouthing of the Miami-bred brawler: he was not a real mixed martial artist, but he could try out for “The Ultimate Fighter” if he so desired.
At the time, it sounded like a sarcastic suggestion, but the remark ended up planting a seed that would, several months later, set the entire MMA world abuzz. The UFC announced June 2 that Ferguson, 34, will be a heavyweight contestant on Season 10 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show, which began taping this week in Las Vegas. Rivals Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Rashad Evans will serve as opposing coaches for the two teams of heavyweights. The series will premiere Sept. 16 on Spike TV.
With the move, the UFC seeks a piece of Slice’s yet-unmatched magnetism. His fight against James Thompson on CBS in May 2008 still ranks as the most-watched fight in U.S. MMA history. Meanwhile, his bout with David "Tank" Abbott in February 2008 remains the highest-rated MMA fight ever on Showtime. With only two professional fights under his belt, coverage of Slice’s exploits landed his distinctive mug on the cover ESPN The Magazine.
It’s clearly a more significant risk for Slice than it is for the UFC. Coming off such a deflating loss, the bearded brawler risks further undercutting his aura under the brightest spotlight in the sport, and he’s not guaranteed to make significant money. White said during a media day that Slice was eligible to earn as much as any other TUF competitor -- unless he wins, at which point he stands to collect “some real money,” White said without offering more specifics. Slice took home $500,000 for his last fight against Petruzellii, while the last set of “The Ultimate Fighter” finalists made $8,000 to show and $8,000 to win. The TUF 10 finale is set for Dec. 5.
The UFC has not announced any of the other TUF 10 participants, though MMAJunkie.com reported former NFL players Marcus Jones, Matt Mitrione, Brendan Schaub and Wes Shivers have been cast. In addition, Fightbomb.com reported Justin Wren, Darrill Schoonover and Abe Wagner will be on the show. The Vancouver Sun reported the season was originally going to feature light heavyweights and middleweights until the focus was changed to highlight Slice. Canadian fighters Nick Hinchliffe, Marcus Vinicios and Luke Harris all told the newspaper they had auditioned for the show and were expecting to be called out to Las Vegas.
Several recent reports indicated Slice was going to enter the professional boxing arena in late summer under noted promoter Gary Shaw.
Shaw, who was not involved in Slice’s negotiations with the UFC, told MMA Fanhouse he believed he could have made the brawler a boxing champion who would fill a gaping void in the sport. Slice was released from his contract with the mostly defunct Pro Elite MMA organization last month. Strikeforce, which gobbled up many of Pro Elite’s assets, passed on acquiring Slice’s contract because the sides were too far apart on money.
The addition of Slice, coupled with the star power of Jackson and Evans, could conceivably make TUF 10 the highest-rated season in the history of the show, which was the key vehicle in turning around the UFC’s fortunes in 2005. The ratings record currently belongs to Season 3, which was built around the lucrative Tito Ortiz-Ken Shamrock grudge and notched an average rating of 1.7 during its 13-week run. The current season, built around a team from the United States clashing with a squad from the United Kingdom, has scored in the 1.0 to 1.1 range.