The contrasts couldn’t be clearer. Ken Shamrock (Pictures) is a grizzled veteran of mixed martial arts, a 44-year-old UFC Hall of Famer who has battled the most well-known fighters of the past 15 years in rings and cages across the world. Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson (Pictures) is a baby in the sport, a tough street fighter who banks on his heavy hands to get him toward a respect to match his box office appeal.
Shamrock (26-13-2) knows these differences. But heading into a fight with the bearded brawler on national network television Oct. 4 -- the main event of EliteXC “Saturday Night Fights” on CBS -- Shamrock is thinking just as much about what he and Slice (3-0) have in common.
“Where I’m at in this stage of my career, this is probably the biggest fight in my life since I started fighting,” Shamrock said. “This is the biggest, because, you know, I’m at the stage of my career where it’s put up or shut up. And you know, Kimbo’s at that same stage. Put up or shut up.”
Like Slice, Shamrock is coming off a less-than-stellar performance, which itself came after he’d lost four straight. In March, “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” fizzled against journeyman Robert “Buzz” Berry in London for the Cage Rage organization. Shamrock circled Berry tentatively, failed on a takedown attempt, and about three and a half minutes into the first round was hit with a right hook that felled him unceremoniously.
Slice also struggled in his last effort on May 31 against the cartoonish James Thompson (Pictures). Slice was hurt and exposed on the ground, and gassed so hard he had trouble talking after the fight, which he managed to win with flailing punches in the third.
There’s another similarity. Shamrock said he also won’t be the same fighter who stepped into Cage Rage in March. He said he was hit by an illness that intensified once he touched down in England and cut into his preparation. Experience alone wasn’t enough to get him through the fight, though he thought he could handle it.
“I don’t want to go into the symptoms,” Shamrock said about the ailment. “It was serious enough to where I lost 20 pounds and I was probably sick for about four weeks after I got back from England. I was hospitalized for about four days. It was a bad sickness. We got the right antibiotics and got everything cleared. I got myself back on the track again and going in the right direction and got my weigh back on. We started pursuing a fight, the Kimbo Slice thing came up and we said, ‘Wow, this is the perfect fight for me, man. You can’t gift wrap one better than this.’”
EliteXC managed to book a main event that is perfect for both Shamrock and Slice. Slice, 34, needs to face name opponents who present a threat, but not one dire enough to seriously damage his marketable aura. Shamrock, unquestionably in the twilight of his career, needs a high-profile opponent to maintain his relevance in the marketplace, preferably one with an experience deficit that could create openings.
The in-ring chemistry is right, and so is the potential to draw viewers to a broadcast that could keep the deeply indebted EliteXC above water. Slice and Shamrock have been in two of the three most-watched fights in the history of the sport stateside. The YouTube icon’s May 31 tilt with Thompson attracted 6.51 million viewers on CBS, while the third meeting between Shamrock and Tito Ortiz (Pictures) in October 2006 drew 5.7 million viewers during its initial live airing on Spike TV.
Shamrock, who has never met Slice, didn’t hesitate when asked to name the traits that make Slice a television draw.
“The way he looks, he’s very impressive looking,” Shamrock said. “He moves well for a big guy, before he gets tired, and talks well. He’s just got this image about him in the way he speaks. He’s a very, very intimidating person. He walks into the room, people look. When he talks, people listen. So he’s got that charisma. He’s got what it takes to be marketable. Now we’ll figure out whether he’s got what it takes to be a fighter.”
Shamrock is training at his Lion’s Den facility in Reno, Nev., and is looking to improve his punching power and his ability to cut angles on his feet. Shamrock first made his name using leg locks to submit boot-and-kickpad-wearing opponents in the Pancrase organization, but said he can handle Slice in all facets of the game.
“Honestly, I think I can test him anywhere,” he said. “He’s got big, heavy hands. Everyone says he punches hard and he probably does. But again, he doesn’t punch properly, in my opinion. He swings his hands, he moves his body back and forth trying to get as much power as he can, but there’s really no snap behind it. You can usually see the punches coming. I’m going to do what I need to do. If it goes to the ground, I’ll probably break his leg. I mean, no question. I will break his leg. If he gives it to me, I’m going to break it.”
One thing Shamrock said he needs to factor into his game plan is referees’ tendencies to stop his fights when he’s in deep waters. The stoppage in his second fight with Ortiz in 2006 touched off an audience backlash that compelled the UFC to put a rematch on free TV, and Shamrock feels he should have been given more time to regain his composure after being knocked down by “Buzz” Berry.
“I’m sure (referees) are concerned,” he said. “But they’ve got to keep in the back of their mind that I didn’t get to where I’m at by having people protect me.”