By MMA standards, Kimbo Slice was not a great fighter. He was a one-dimensional fighter. He either knocked you out or got knocked out.
But he didn't need to be Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones, Ronda Rousey or Conor McGregor to become MMA's most recognized star. Think about this for a moment: Kimbo Slice appeared in two of the top five most-watched fights in MMA history, and three out of the top 10.
Slice's battle with James Thompson live on CBS in 2008 peaked at 7.3 million viewers. That fight was only surpassed in the history of television by UFC on FOX's first show, featuring Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos, which drew 8.8 million viewers. Slice's battles with Seth Petruzelli and Houston Alexander round out his three fights among MMA's top 10 most watched battles.
How could a guy who was lightly regarded as an MMA fighter do this? Simple: he was a scary dude. He had charisma. Most importantly, he was authentic.
Slice drew an audience against Thompson and Petruzelli without the help of the UFC marketing machine. Think about that. Slice was MMA's first and only viral superstar. He was the Justin Bieber of MMA, rising to fame thanks to YouTube, not a push by a corporation.
Slice looked like a badass in those YouTube fights.
Slice appealed to our natural fight instincts. Let's face it, most guys watching MMA aren't that into Brazilian jiu-jitsu. They aren't Muay Thai experts. They are never going to tap anyone out with a rear-naked choke. But here's what they will do: they will fight.
Everyone, from the casual fan to the celebrity, knows how to swing their fists, or thinks they know how to throw some blows. We could relate to Slice a lot more than we could relate to St-Pierre, who was a well-produced cyborg (not literally, but you get it).
Slice was the toughest guy at the bar; that's what most MMA fans believe they can be. Slice wasn't going to pull a Jake Shields and grind his opponent into a submission. He wasn't go to pull a Floyd Mayweather Jr. and win the fight defensively and through counter-punching. He certainly wasn't going to win the fight by decision.
Slice had a bit of Mike Tyson-like appeal to him. He was a big, scary man who was going to take your head off. And no matter how advanced MMA gets, no matter how sophisticated the fighting gets, your mainstream fans, the ones who take a UFC pay-per-view from 350,000 buys to 850,000 buys, want to see people fight.
Ronda Rousey destroyed everyone of her opponents until she got destroyed. That's why she is still one of the most popular MMA stars in the world. Brock Lesnar, after losing his final two fights, and not having fought inside the Octagon in five years, is still a top draw because he knocks people out or gets knocked out.
Slice was not refined. He wasn't the prototype for what an MMA fighter should be. He was, however, an authentic tough guy, who used his backyard fight skills to take he and his family out of poverty, and become a professional athlete. He was a role model for so many young people who believed that if Slice could fight his way out of poverty, so could they. That's the legacy of Slice.
Everyone one of us dreams that when we throw a football in the backyard that we could have thrown the same pass for a touchdown in the NFL. Every time we sink a free throw in our rec league, we think we could have made the same shot in the NBA. And most fans believe/dream/wish that they could knock out Luke Rockhold too, if they just hit him once on the chin.
Slice was that guy. He did it. He was the walk-on who became a household name. He also drew the mainstream media. They liked him. They were mesmerized by him. They recognized that his story was special.
There will never be another guy like Kimbo.
It's too bad that he died so young. And it's also too bad that promoters were still trying to get fights out of him, even past the point where everyone knew he was done as a professional fighter.
Give UFC President Dana White credit for cutting Slice when the time was right.