Saturday June 20th, 2015

Dangerous to whom?

A prizefight, perhaps more than any other sporting event, asks the essential questions and provides cold, hard answers. Such was the case with Friday night’s Bellator circus sidesho—I mean, main event.

One of the contestants was 51-year-old Ken Shamrock, who when he burst on the MMA scene two decades ago at UFC 1—yes, at the pot-holed on-ramp of this bumpy road—was billed as “The World’s Most Dangerous Man.” And back then he could live up to the nickname, putting arms and legs and windpipes in danger on a regular basis.

But that was then, and this is ow! The Ken Shamrock of today is a pained ghost of the figure who once was beating fellow legends like Bas Rutten and Dan Severn. On Friday night, when he stepped into a round cage in St. Louis with the backyard brawler Kimbo Slice, Shamrock might well have been announced as “The World’s Most Endangered Man.”

Shamrock hadn’t fought in five years. And before hanging up the gloves back in 2010, he’d gone through a dizzying spell in which he lost nine of 12 fights, the final indignity coming against a no-Wikipedia dude who himself had lost all but two of his previous 15.

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Now we can add another loss to the record, as Shamrock was knocked out by Slice at 2:22 of the first round of a fight billed as "Unfinished Business," an allusion to seven years ago, when a scheduled meeting of these men was canceled when Shamrock pulled out on fight day. It was a fiasco, and while these fighter and Bellator matchmakers believed this this night would make up for it, the general consensus was that this was a step in the wrong direction. 

As things turned out, though, it wasn’t as horrific a spectacle as it could have been. Shamrock actually was on the verge of winning, twice taking the one-dimensional slugger to the canvas, and the second time locking in a rear naked choke. That’s always been Ken’s game—22 of his 28 career wins have come by submission—so it was looking like he had this one. But thick-necked Kimbo refused to tap out, and after withstanding a good half-minute of breathtaking squeezing, he escaped and got the fight back to standing.

His domain.

Ten seconds later, this whole dangerous enterprise was over. Mercifully. As soon as he was back on his feet, Slice started throwing hamhock right hands, backing up Shamrock. And then Ken, rather than going for another takedown, threw a lazy right cross of his own. It missed, and Kimbo blasted him with a right that put him on his back. Slice moved in, but referee John McCarthy thankfully got there first, saving Shamrock from a beating no 51-year-old should be dealt.

And there was Slice the Submission Survivor walking over to the fence, arms outstretched, and telling the cageside crowd, “I have evolved. I have evolved.” He’s a man of mysterious mixed message, that Kimbo, as moments later he would begin an in-cage interview by thanking Jesus, whose acolytes tend not to be big evolution fans.

But actually the 41-year-old with the big beard and thunder in his fists was indicating that he was a different fighter from the one whom Shamrock was scheduled to fight back in 2008. That had been a crazy night. First, Ken was pulled from the bout after suffering a facial cut on fight day, and it’s speculated, though the fighter denies it, that Shamrock cut himself after being denied more money. Then the whole Kimbo balloon popped when his replacement opponent, Seth Petruzelli, took just 14 seconds to hand him his first loss.

A lot was lost that night: Money and reputations.

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So it made sense, to Shamrock and Slice, and to perpetually attention-seeking Bellator, to do a makeup. And yet, with the two men combining for 92 years on this earth and coming off a combined 10 with no fistic activity, it made no sense at all.

Whatever. Nothing else on this night made sense, either.

For the most part, Bellator had used this crazy old-man fight to draw eyes to a showcase of in-their-prime talent. Former lightweight champ Michael Chandler and featherweight king Daniel Strauss made quick work of a couple of mismatches, as did heavyweight Bobby Lashley, who has never lived up to the hype. Then Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, the reigning featherweight champ, escaped a fuzzy-headed beatdown being delivered by Daniel Weichel and stunned the challenger with one-punch KO. That one was worth tuning in for.

But it was the main event that attracted the eyes toward the Bellator cage. We should not be surprised. Go to a Bellator or UFC show, and even if there’s a championship fight going on inside the cage, a fist fight in the stands will yank away all attention. Diehards gravitate toward skilled fighters. The masses sprint to witness a brawl.

Kimbo Slice (5-2) has made a life of that. He was recruited to an MMA career based on the popularity of YouTube videos depicting his bare-knuckle beatdowns of brave, doomed marks in backyards around South Florida. He knows how this works. He tried going legit with the UFC and lost more than he won. He tried boxing. But this is his stage.

It is not Ken Shamrock’s stage. He now has a record of 28-16-2, and let’s write that in ink and shut the book.

You’re 51 years old, Ken. You’re a tough guy, always have been, always will be. You’re going to say you can use the payday. But you don’t need this. You built a legacy that burst from the spotlight of the sport’s birth. You fought long beyond what anyone sane would have decreed the end. It’s time to bask in what you’ve done, while redirecting your passion to life's next challenge. Not in a fight that puts you in more danger than you can handle.

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