Urban Legends

By Jake Rossen Nov 5, 2007
When Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson advances on Bo Cantrell (Pictures) Saturday night in EliteXC, it'll be his first authentic, sanctioned prizefight recorded in his 33 years -- the exhibition bout with Ray Mercer notwithstanding.

Yet a substantial number of people in the arena and at home will be familiar with Slice, both with his menacing, bearded mug and his 235-pound frame capable of rendering those in close proximity concussed and ego-bruised.

That's because the Florida native has engaged observers with the time-honored Myth of the Street Fighter (MOSF©), a self-explanatory aura that never fails to fascinate fight fans. Slice is the latest in a long line of pugilists who sell tickets and capture attention based almost exclusively on their reputations as parking lot warriors.

No discussion of this phenomenon would be complete without a mention of David "Tank" Abbott, a man who has held court in the industry for more than a decade by sole virtue of being a Huntington Beach street fighting legend. Stories of his peripheral scuffles with Pat Smith, Wallid Ismail and Allan Goes (Pictures) have been circulating in fandom for years, inexhaustible anecdotes for people who never tire hearing of Abbott's ungloved melees.

Not even Abbott's record -- a dismal 9-13 -- has dampened business, which he parlayed into a lucrative pro wrestling stint. Most telling was an incident in 2003; en route to losing seven of his last eight fights, Abbott limped out of the ring after Frank Mir (Pictures) mauled his ankle in a definitive loss. The nonplussed brawler got on the mic and assured fans he might confront Mir in a bar later. They cheered.

Such is the Myth of the Etc.

One could even argue that the foundation of the formal sport we see today was laid by Helio Gracie and his family, who, bereft of any organized outlet to express jiu-jitsu, took to provoking fights in streets, with the results making Brazilian papers.

Boxing, alleged to be the more noble of the combat sports, has never been exempt from men who brought little to the game beyond their reputations as curbside athletes. Lenny McLean became U.K. royalty for a lifestyle in which he professed to have engaged in thousands of street fights. His stature as a cobblestone tough led to Britain turning a blind eye toward unlicensed boxing, a bloody and sloppily executed alternative to sanctioned mayhem.

Stateside, Chuck Zito, former "bodyguard to the stars," remains cultural currency because he once knocked the accent from an indignant Jean-Claude Van Damme in a New York strip club. The publicity led Zito to write a book in which he documented countless altercations in his private life.

And now there's Slice, who is not only the latest in a line of hypothetical hard asses, but the most contemporary. Unlike his predecessors, whose fans have to rely on personal recollections that probably benefit from some embellishment, Slice's backyard career has been documented on the Internet -- more specifically, his inanimate agent, YouTube.

Cut through the stream of copyright infringement that is the viral video site, and you'll find footage of Slice trading knuckles with neighborhood opponents. In one, he seems to produce an eye injury in his adversary that looks like something out of "Evil Dead II." In his most infamous encounter, he engages in a gym battle with Boston police officer Sean Gannon; the fight ends only when Slice is unable to answer a 30-count.

Such undisciplined, unsanctioned activity should be sickening to anyone reputed to be a fan of legitimate fights, but that would ignore human nature. We're programmed for violence, and the more profane, the better.

It's a tasteless admission, but I find Slice's videography to be preferable to the career of a Jens Pulver (Pictures), who is so good at what he does that it often -- as in the case of his UFC title run -- becomes an exercise in mechanical, emotionless performance. There's no urgency in watching two men so learned in defensive posturing that one clean strike out of 50 is cause for celebration.

PRIDE's fanbase, both in Japan and in the States, was due in no small part to that promotion's gleeful insistence on unfiltered violence. Foot stomps, mismatches, size differentials -- fans recognized the primal stakes.

It's no different when we beg athletes to recount their favorite street fighting stories. It may not be Budo, may bring shame to the culture of martial arts, but we delight in it nonetheless. When Bas Rutten (Pictures) talks about throwing someone through a plate glass window, or slapping someone wielding a machine gun, there's a chemical reaction taking place. We like the idea of antagonists being humbled, and we admire those with the constitution to get physical in unpredictable circumstances. There's no shame in appreciating Slice's lurid past or asking Abbott to recite his umpteenth altercation. It's just another campfire story for the testosterone set.

Late last year, I was speaking to Matt Serra (Pictures) about his brother, Nick. I asked him to think about a story involving his sibling that stood out in his memory.

"I don't want to get into the street fighting stories," Serra said, citing concerns over the responsibility that comes with being a teacher of martial arts. "We have students, teenagers, and a lot of them might look up to my brother and me."

Serra paused.

"All right, I'll tell you one that was pretty good. Man, we were at Action Park, and this big juicehead … "

For comments, e-mail jrossen@sherdog.com
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