‘Slice’ Wants Rematch, Eyes Japan

By Loretta Hunt Oct 22, 2008
Mike Imber, Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson’s manager, got the unwelcome phone call Monday afternoon.

Confirming what most of the industry had heard as rumor over the last several weeks, Jeremy Lappen, Head of Fight Operations for EliteXC, told Imber the promotion’s 22-month joy ride had reached its end.

“He said CBS chose not to buy the company, and they had to file for bankruptcy,” said Imber, who notified his larger-than-life client shortly afterward.

Though EliteXC’s demise will affect 50 or more fighters left hanging with contracts likely not worth the paper on which they were written, Ferguson should not have nearly as hard a time as most. The 3-1 fighter enters the unemployment line with the likes of champions Robbie Lawler and Jake Shields, but he stands a better shot at landing his next gig than his record would indicate.

Slice, who rose from Internet brawling infamy to become one of two bona fide megastars for the sport’s latest promotional casualty, touts two of the top five most-watched live MMA fights in U.S. history, including his May 31 victory over James Thompson, which was watched by nearly 7.3 million people.

Truth be told, this athlete won’t be fighting for food anytime to soon, but where Slice will earn his green-back vittles next could be the $500,000 question.

Imber doesn’t seem in a rush to find out.

“We still have our contract with EliteXC,” he told Sherdog.com on Tuesday. “Just because they filed for bankruptcy Monday, we still all have to sit down together. We’ve been through a lot together. We all need to talk face to face and see where we’re at as soon as everybody can get together. We owe it to each other. We went on this journey with them, and they’ve been nothing but great to us.”

Regretful that the promotion had to cancel a planned Nov. 8 event in Reno, Nev., Lappen told Imber that both CBS and its pay cable subsidiary, Showtime, have interest in continuing some form of MMA programming.

“It’s not out of the question that CBS might do some fights in the future. Who knows? They’re might be some doors still open,” said Imber. “They liked their numbers. They like the sport itself, and they wanted to do it. Unfortunately, it’s just not going to be with the current organization. Maybe they don’t do anything in the future, but it wasn’t just completely ruled out.”

If early buzz that CBS plans to either run its own events from here on out or bring a new promotion into its coveted “Saturday Night Fights” slot holds true, the network hasn’t made any moves to hint at it yet.

The Kimbo Slice entourage has not been contacted by CBS, Showtime, Affliction, Strikeforce or even the UFC.

In an interview with USA Today four days after Slice’s 14-second loss to UFC castoff Seth Petruzelli, UFC President Dana White took a jab at Slice’s backyard brawling days and said he might be seen fighting next at a barbeque.

“I wasn't going to offer Kimbo Slice a chance to fight in the UFC -- but a chance to fight his way onto ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’” White told USA Today. “If you want to be in the UFC, go do the reality show.”

Imber, who has been a friend of Ferguson since their days together at Miami Palmetto High School, took the news in stride.

“Hey, it’s that guy’s organization. He can run it any way he wants,” he said. “He’s obviously done a great job doing his thing, and he’s entitled to his opinion. That’s cool. We have nothing against him or what he’s doing.”

Imber said he and Slice have met White on numerous occasions and liked him. If anything, Imber was surprisingly sympathetic toward the outspoken promoter.

“He’s obviously sick of hearing about Kimbo, and that’s how he reacts to it,” said Imber. “If he doesn’t want him in there, he’ll get what he wants.”

Luckily for Slice, not everyone shares White’s views, despite the novice fighter’s Oct. 4 loss to last-minute opponent Petruzelli in clear-cut fashion. That night, which saw EliteXC officials scrambling backstage to salvage their main event after Ken Shamrock was medically suspended for a cut, will go down as the one that sealed the fate of the now defunct promotion.

Imber and Slice’s piece of the bizarre puzzle put together that night began an hour before they left the house to head the arena. EliteXC officials alerted the team to Shamrock’s injury via phone call, but Imber didn’t want to believe it at first.

The shell-shocked team rode through a downpour to the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., a few miles from Slice’s home, in silence.

“We wanted to go in and talk to the doctors to see if this guy was really cut,” said Imber. “When we realized he was out, we weren’t even going to the arena with the intent that the fight was going to happen.”

Imber and Slice’s fears were confirmed, however, and the 34-year-old fighter was offered a choice of two new opponents.

“They didn’t offer Aaron Rosa at all,” Imber said, killing a rumor that Slice had originally turned down the light heavyweight. “It was Seth Petruzelli or it was Frank Shamrock.”

The younger Shamrock, who is Ken’s adopted brother and a former UFC middleweight champion, was assigned to commentating duties for the evening but volunteered to take the bout, even with a substantial weight difference between himself and Slice.

“When we all talked about it sitting all together in there, [Kimbo] was like, ‘Frank, I like Frank. I wanted to fight his brother, not him,’” said Imber. “I don’t even think he really understood what was happening. Neither of us could believe this guy was dropping out at the last minute.”

The show already under way, EliteXC officials pressed for an answer.

“It was confusing. Everything was moving pretty quick, and, at the same time, this guy Seth was supposed to be starting his undercard match,” recalled Imber. “They told us we had to decide quick. There was no real option. It was this guy or no other fight. It wasn’t like they were going to pull Tito [Ortiz] out of the audience.”

Imber called the team’s decision to go ahead with the bout a “conscious” one, down to the extra compensation they asked for to face a man Slice had never heard of or seen.

“We wanted to be financially compensated for having to have to fight some random person that, literally, if we won, we had nothing to gain from it,” said Imber. “No one knew who he was outside the MMA circle, but [Kimbo] had just finished all of this training and didn’t want to waste it.”

Imber noticed that Slice seemed affected by the circus playing out around him, and it followed him into the cage.

“He was really indifferent about [the decision],” Imber said. “I think the whole ordeal definitely took some mental toll on him. It was just such an awkward night. The fight isn’t what it should have been. To this day, I don’t know why what happened happened. He’s obviously taken stronger punches in training.”

Ferguson hardly had time to feel disappointment though, as Petruzelli’s comments the following Monday caused a nationwide uproar and launched a state commission investigation into the ethics surrounding the bout.

For the record, Imber said he and Ferguson were unaware of any suspect conduct from EliteXC or of their conversations with Petruzelli or any of Slice’s past opponents.

“Who knows who told him what or what they told him? He knew he was taking the main event spot, so he was obviously going to get more money,” said Imber, who hadn’t listened to the radio interview himself. “If they told him he was getting a bonus for a knockout, then s--t, the guy did what he was supposed to do. Who knew the guy would hit that hard? He looked scared when the fight started. I think he was shocked that Kimbo went down. It’s really unfortunate that whatever he said led people to believe what it did, because he had a great night. He won. He shocked the world and then goes and says whatever he says and ruined everything.”

Ferguson’s future is far from ruined though. Imber said the fighter has already returned to the gym, and that if talks with EliteXC deem so, Ferguson could go back on the open market where promotions like Affliction, Strikeforce and even the UFC might want to get their hands on him.

“Dana doesn’t want us anyway, so there’s that one,” Imber said with a laugh. “Who knows? I guess we can deal with that when it happens. I know Kimbo has wanted to go to Japan and fight. Maybe one day we can make that happen.”

Opponent and promotion are not the primary focus stateside or abroad, said Imber, though a rematch with Petruzelli would go a long way in clearing Oct. 4’s tainted air.

“That’s something we’d like to do if an organization wants to,” he said. “We’d like to do that before we fought somebody else, but the main thing is Kimbo does want to keep fighting and fight more. That was one of his biggest concerns. He wants to fight sooner then later, as soon as he can.”

Promoters, this star might be for hire.
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