Ray Mercer vs. Kimbo Slice – Will You Watch?

21.06.07 - By W. Gregory Guedel: There are many events that occur in our beloved sport that cause one to sigh and mutter softly: “Only in Boxing…”. Another such spectacle has arrived – the upcoming mixed martial arts bout between Olympic Gold Medalist and former WBO Heavyweight Champion “Merciless” Ray Mercer and underground bare-knuckle fighter Kimbo Slice. Held under the auspices of the “Cage Fury Fighting Championships” series, the bout will be broadcast this weekend on pay-per-view from the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City..

Mixed martial arts (“MMA”) contests differ from traditional Boxing primarily in regard to the allowable techniques. These techniques can be broken down into two categories: striking and grappling. The types of strikes permitted include blows with hands, feet, knees or elbows.

Grappling involves submissions, choke holds, throws and take downs similar to freestyle wrestling. Unlike professional Boxing, mixed martial arts competitors are allowed to “tap out” – meaning to tap the floor or their opponent or notify the referee that they do not wish to continue. Upon notice of a “tap out”, the referee will immediately terminate the contest and the fighter is declared the loser via submission.

While many Boxing purists look askance at these “hybrid” sports, it is undeniable that the genre is gaining popularity and economic clout in the US and elsewhere. Cable television is replete with channels that regularly feature MMA bouts sanctioned by various agencies, and training gear featuring MMA logos is building all-important “street-cred” with young wannabe’s and fashionistas. Such exposure can be hard to find for Boxing, which seems to find its mass-market appeal limited to rare events like the DeLaHoya-Mayweather megafight.

Which brings us back to the match at hand, Mercer v. Slice. At present, Ray Mercer is 46 years old and well past his prime by any measure. In his heyday, he was known for power punches and an iron chin, able to take and give with the best of the division. His wins over Tommy Morrison, Bert Cooper, and Tim Witherspoon illustrated his potential – culminating in his capture of the WBO crown in 1991 – but the fights he dropped to Larry Holmes, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko, and Shannon Briggs placed him just under the top level of Heavyweight fighters in his era. Nevertheless, he is a skilled and deeply experienced boxer who has seen it all and generally acquitted himself well against the best in the business.

Kimbo Slice, formerly known as Kevin Ferguson, is another story completely. His age is unconfirmed but reported to be 30 years, although that may be a bit conservative. After a stint as a bodyguard for a pornographic movie producer, Slice is now billed as “The King of the Web Brawlers”. A star athlete in his youth, he now competes in bare-knuckle bouts (usually in what appears to be someone’s backyard or garage) which have gained fame through the internet video purveyor YouTube. Given that unlicensed bare-knuckle fights are illegal in the United States, his opponents are usually identified only by a nickname, and from their appearance range from former jocks to obese nightclub bouncers. He was “defeated” (although the outcome of the match depends on who you ask) in 2003 by Boston Police officer and part-time MMA fighter Sean Gannon, who is also the only one of Slice’s opponent to list his actual name for the record.

With an imposing build and a beard/shaved-head combo that harkens back to the heyday of Mr. T, Slice is certainly an intimidating figure. His fights have generally ended in early knockouts, often with his opponents requiring medical attention as a result. However, Slice’s overall fighting skills appear limited. His punches are primarily wide-ranging hooks that carry power but lack precision. With a defense best described as porous, there is usually a clear lane straight up the middle between his hands. He is certainly hittable and tired badly against Sean Gannon after the first few minutes, indicating potential stamina issues. Overall, Slice would not appear to pose much of a threat to a skilled fighter like Mercer in a traditional Boxing match.

Yet there’s the rub – this fight is not a traditional Boxing match. While Ray Mercer will indeed be able to apply his typical complement of jabs and power punches, Slice can counter with unconventional weapons like elbow strikes and grappling holds. This will be new territory for Mercer, who at this stage is far beyond the typical point where fighters try to learn new tricks. Indeed, the adjustment to MMA conditions has proved daunting to many professional boxers who have attempted the leap. Former Heavyweight title contender Franz “White Buffalo” Botha moved into the K-1 MMA circuit in 2003 and promptly lost his first five fights. Does Ray Mercer have enough adaptability to adjust to the “anything goes” world of MMA? Even if he does, is there enough gas left in his tank to outfight and outlast the younger and hungrier Slice?

Perhaps a more appropriate question for Boxing aficionados is: Do you care? Many may view this event as a somewhat sad (or humorous) gimmick fight, a sideshow designed to make a few bucks off of some recognizable names. Others may in a broader context see this bout as another indictment of the declining state of boxing, where a former holder of “The Greatest Title In Sport” is now participating in a sideshow. Conversely, the match may also hold positive potential, as Boxing seeks to regain its audience and enjoy greater “crossover” exposure with the X-Box generation. It’s unclear how much appeal this bout will hold for casual fight fans, but it will undoubtedly provoke strong reactions from ardent followers of The Sweet Science.

So with the Mercer/Slice extravaganza imminently approaching, the question of the hour remains – Will you watch?

Article posted on 22.06.2007

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