In the main event of an entertaining Bellator 138 card, a 41-year-old Kimbo Slice lumbered into the cage for a scrap with the 51-year-old Ken Shamrock. Together, the two fighters—who rode to the prominence of their younger years on entirely different tracks—represented the weakest talent on the card. Yet somehow, they still managed to come together for a fun, if brief, battle. After barely escaping a deep rear-naked choke attempt from his aging opponent, Kimbo escaped to land a comet of a punch a moment later. Shamrock was down for good.
So, now Bellator has a triumphant Kimbo Slice on their hands; a man who once broke television viewership records and now, once again, has the propulsive glory of victory behind him. The question is, what does the organization do with Kimbo now?
Kimbo is an enigma, through and through. While he was the king of south Florida’s back yards, and later, the king of the Internet, when it comes to MMA, he’s just really not that good. He’s got heart, and he certainly hits hard, but his striking technique is ragged with holes. Then of course, there’s his ground game—if you can even call it that. The fact that he was taken down on multiple occasions by a stumbling, geriatric Ken Shamrock is all the proof you need that despite his years of training, Kimbo has never quite gotten a hang of the grappling portion of mixed martial arts. Yet he remains, to this day, one of the biggest draws in the sport. When he straps on the 4 oz. gloves, TV sets turn on.
Given that, it’s unlikely that last night was the last time we’ll see Kimbo Slice in the Bellator cage. The organization will probably seek to give him another big name fight in the future. But here’s the catch: the fight has to be at least marginally winnable for the brick-fisted brawler. So, who among Bellator’s fighters might be Kimbo’s next opponent?
If Bellator didn’t care whether Kimbo won or lost, and was simply concerned with viewership numbers, the answer would be simple: Bobby Lashley. In that fight, we’d have a former Internet sensation against a former pro wrestler in a circus of a fight that would steal gazes like a Kim Jong Un and Barrack Obama having pancakes together. The problem is that Kimbo is only valuable to Bellator while he’s winning, and against Bobby Lashley, a talented wrestler with solid submissions and ground and pound—Kimbo would almost certainly lose.
So, who else might make a good dance partner for the resurgent slice? Certainly not Cheick Kongo or Alexander Volkov, who fight on Bellator’s next card—either man would thrash the beloved brawler. Then there are fighters like Dan Charles and Nick Rossborough who, though talented, would make surmountable challenges for Slice. The problem with them, however, is that they lack the name value required of a Kimbo opponent. Yes, Kimbo is a massive draw on his own, but if his opponents aren’t recognizable to fans, then the already flagging legitimacy of his fights takes an additional hit. To that end, here are some opponents who might make sense.
First, there’s James Thompson, who Kimbo has defeated in the past. Thompson is already signed to the Bellator roster and has slowed down quite a bit himself. Furthermore, the rematch sells itself as the first bout between the two fighters ended with a nasty injury to Thompson’s cauliflower ear. A second bout would provide some closure; a more concrete result.
Then, there’s Lavar Johnson. Johnson who, like Kimbo, relies solely on his hands, was released from the UFC, then picked up by Bellator, then released by Bellator. That said, Bellator might be wise to bring him back as he’s just the kind of fighter who’d be willing to bang it out with Kimbo, and his own shortcomings in the chin department give Kimbo a real shot at victory.
And then, of course, there’s the money fight. In September, Tito Ortiz will fight Liam McGeary for the Bellator light heavyweight title. As the odds are sure to suggest, Ortiz, who despite a modest win streak is a shadow of his former self, will probably lose that fight. If he does fall short, Bellator will find themselves struggling to find match-ups for him as well. So, why not pair him with Kimbo? Much like last night’s main event, an Ortiz vs. Slice fight would sell itself as a legend vs. brawler bout. Can Kimbo add another legend to his list of victims? Can Tito defend the credibility of MMA by tapping out the brutish puncher? Bellator could take any number of angles in promoting this fight, and it’s the kind of marquee battle both men would likely agree to. Furthermore, Kimbo has now taken several catchweight fights with smaller men (Shamrock and Houston Alexander), and as a large light heavyweight, Tito could probably be convinced to pack on some size for a plus-205 foray. Would it be a circus fight? Absolutely. Would people tune in? Undoubtedly–and as a business, that’s Bellator’s bottom line.
At this stage, any fight Kimbo Slice gets will be more spectacle than legitimate contest, but his larger-than-life persona, toaster-sized heart, and absurd punching power guarantee that we’ll tune in to see him fight just about anybody. I for one can’t wait to see who Bellator pairs him up with next.