Fans seeking to participate in what some regard as the most important fight card in mixed martial arts history, presented by Los Angeles-based ProElite Inc.â€™s live fight division, EliteXC, have the opportunity to reserve their seats now.
Tickets, starting at $25, for a history-making event Saturday, May 31, at the Prudential Center at Newark, N.J., are available at Ticketmaster locations, by phone at (201) 507-8900, online at www.ticketmaster.com and at the Prudential Center website at www.prucenter.com. Doors open at 5 p.m. ET. The first live fight is at 6:30.
â€œIâ€™m obviously very excited to come back to New Jersey, which is my home and a place where I served as a member of the board of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board,â€™â€™ said EliteXC Live Events President Gary Shaw. â€œNewark is a great city and the Prudential Center is one of the newest, most modern facilities in the United States.
â€œNo one is better at running an event center than AEG. Iâ€™m very pleased to be working with them again. From start to finish, it is going to be a spectacular, memorable night of exciting fights and entertainment for fans in the tri-state area. Top to bottom, everybodyâ€™s matched tough.
â€œKimbo is really excited about returning to New Jersey to fight on May 31. I know he wants to put on a show and continue his magical trip from the street to Elite.â€™â€™
The card will be the first-ever MMA event shown live in primetime on network television. â€œCBS ELITEXC SATURDAY NIGHT FIGHTSâ€ will air on the CBS Television Network at 9-11 p.m. ET/PT.
The incredibly popular Kimbo Slice (2-0) of Perrine, Fla., will face Englandâ€™s James â€œColossusâ€™â€™ Thompson (14-8) in what will be a thrilling main event of an outstanding show.
In other televised fights, EliteXC middleweight champion â€œRuthlessâ€ Robbie Lawler (15-4) of St. Louis, by way of Davenport, Iowa, will defend against Scott â€œHands of Steelâ€ Smith (13-4) of Sacramento, Calif.; Gina Carano (5-0) of Las Vegas, Nev., faces Kaitlin Young (4-1) of Circle Pines, Minn., in an excellent womenâ€™s fight at 140 pounds; Phil Baroni (10-9) of Long Island, N.Y., faces Joey Villasenor (25-6) in a 185-pound scrap and unbeaten Brett Rogers (6-0) of Minneapolis throws down with Jon Murphy (4-2) of Minersville, Pa., in a heavyweight match.
The Lawler-Smith dispute, scheduled for five, 5-minute rounds, figures to be a slugfest. The other fights are slated for three, 5-minute sessions with the exception of Carano-Young, which is set for three, 3-minute rounds (see Fighter Pages below).
Matchups for non-televised, undercard bouts that will be streamed live at ProElite.com will be announced soon. Fans can watch pre- and post-fight interviews only at ProElite.com.
Kimbo, whoâ€™s trained by the respected legendary fighter and trainer, the no-nonsense Bas Rutten, has required all of 62 seconds to dispatch of his initial two MMA opponents. Kimbo, aka Kevin Ferguson, has shown ferocious striking skills but has yet to be taken to the ground.
â€œWeâ€™re continuing to work on polishing his striking and weâ€™ve changed his stance, which has made him an even better striker,â€™â€™ Rutten said. â€œHe is more explosive now and fit. But for a guy who has had only two MMA fights, Kimbo continues to do everything right.
â€œHe is going to surprise everybody with his ground game, especially those who believe he doesnâ€™t have one. After about 200 street fights, he is putting it all on the line and taking a big risk. James Thompson is going to be a great opponent.â€™â€™
Already a major MMA attraction, Kimbo made a name for himself on the Internet where videos of the bald, bearded, menacing-looking former underground bare-knuckle street fighter have been downloaded literally millions of times on YouTube.
Kimbo registered a 43-second, first-round knockout (punches) over Tank Abbott in his last start Feb. 16, 2008, in Miami, Fla. Dangerously explosive and always one punch away from ending a fight, Kimbo won his MMA debut Nov. 10, 2007, stopping Bo Cantrell in 19 seconds.
â€œIâ€™m looking forward to fighting Thompson in Newark on CBS,â€™â€™ said Kimbo, who recently re-signed with EliteXC. â€œBut I love to fight and always look forward to fighting. It really doesnâ€™t matter where or against whom. Everybody knows that.
â€œTo all the MMA fighters who continue to disrespect me, to all those who say I donâ€™t have a ground game, I lack this, I lack that, I say, â€˜stop talking and bring it on. Iâ€™m ready.â€™ â€™â€™
Thompson, who trains with Randy Couture at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, could be Kimboâ€™s toughest test. Since going pro in January 2003, the former Pride and Cage Rage fighter has defeated the likes of Dan Severn, Japanese judo legend Hidehiko Yoshida and Don Frye.
The 29-year-old, six-foot-five Thompson possesses significant advantages in age (three years), height (three inches) and experience. The Brit has fought all over the world.
But the key may be whether a veteran known for heavy hands will come out and look for takedowns and try to use his size to wear down Kimbo from the top position on the ground.
â€œThis is a tremendous opportunity for me and I will have a solid game plan for it,â€™â€™ said Thompson, who has won four times by submission. â€œThe world will be watching. Iâ€™ll be ready.â€™â€™
Long regarded as one of the worldâ€™s most gifted middleweights, Lawler will be making the first defense of the EliteXC belt he won in dramatic, convincing fashion with a third-round TKO (strikes) over defending champion Murilo â€œNinjaâ€ Rua on Sept. 15, 2007, in Honolulu.
â€œI fought a smart and controlled fight and kept my distance, but that is how I fight these days,â€™â€™ Lawler said. â€œI told my corner after the second round that I was going to knock him out.â€™â€™
Lawler rocked and mocked Rua several times before dropping him with a left hand. After a series of jackhammer right hands and two more lefts, the referee halted matters at 2:04.
While he performed with poise against Rua, the crowd-pleasing Lawler is known for an aggressive, unbashful, at times swing-for-the-fences style, and for putting as much heart and bad intentions behind his punches and lethal flying knee attacks as anyone could expect.
â€œEvery fightâ€™s big, at the time,â€™â€™ said Lawler, who recently re-signed with EliteXC. â€œYou live by the moment, fight for today. May 31 is obviously a big fight for me, and more people will be watching. But once Iâ€™m in the cage, theyâ€™re (his fights are) all equal.â€
Smith is a â€œfreestyleâ€ fighter and knockout artist who comes out throwing bombs with an abandon thatâ€™s made him a huge fan favorite. Aptly nicknamed â€œHands Of Steelâ€™â€™ — heâ€™s a union field foreman in his familyâ€™s steel business â€“ heâ€™s won 11 of his fights by KO or TKO.
But one of the most dangerous strikers in the business also owns a strong wrestling background and possesses terrific cardio. Smithâ€™s two other triumphs were by submission
In his EliteXC debut, Smith rallied after losing the first round to knock out Kyle Noke at 0:07 in the second. Two brutal, picture-perfect right hands did all the damage.
â€œI didnâ€™t fight the first round like I usually do, but I started to get comfortable and find my range toward the end of it,â€™â€™ said Smith, who has won nine times in the first round. â€œI came out pumped for the second and made up for it. Once I got inside â€“ bam — I knocked him down.â€
Until numbing Noke, Smith was best known for his dramatic comeback victory over Pete Sell in perhaps the most totally unexpected, shocking ending to a MMA fight in history.
â€œFans know I come to war, that Iâ€™m a fighter,â€™â€™ said Smith, who rallied from the brink of defeat to score a second-round knockout over Sell Nov. 11, 2006. â€œI think they love that I engage and I keep punching until I knock you out. They can read that when they watch me in the cage.â€™â€™
Since its inception, EliteXC has consistently included women’s fighters on its cards. None is more popular than Carano, the most recognizable female MMA fighter in the world.
Carano, aka â€œCrushâ€ on American Gladiators, will be making her first start since she got up from a hard early takedown to record a 2:53, first-round submission (rear naked choke) over Tonya Evinger on Sept. 15, 2007, in Honolulu.
â€œWhen she got me down, I knew I couldn’t freak and had to keep my composure,â€™â€™ said Carano, who celebrated her first submission by running around the cage. â€œAfter reversing her, I considered standing up. But I’ve been practicing working on top, so I just went through with it.”
Itâ€™s apparent the moment you meet Carano that sheâ€™s the epitome of strength; a strong woman: mentally, spiritually and physically. Yes, she is more than a pretty face. And the Muay Thai specialist also is smart enough to know she had better not underestimate Young.
â€œI donâ€™t take anyone lightly,â€™â€™ said Carano, who trains at Xtreme Couture gym and also recently re-signed with EliteXC. â€œIâ€™ve got a big target on me.â€™â€™
Carano, whoâ€™s not afraid to hit or get hit, garnered national notoriety in 2007 for her quote: â€œWe’re not hitting tennis balls. We’re hitting people. Isn’t that more exciting?â€
The talented Young, a devastating striker with excellent skills and a solid Muay Thai background, is excited about getting the chance to test her skills against Carano.
â€œIâ€™m totally pumped,â€™â€™ Young said. â€œGina always comes to fight and doesnâ€™t seem to have an off day. I think on paper we are probably even. One of my greatest advantages is definitely that I have a very aggressive striking style. I think itâ€™s more aggressive than Ginaâ€™s.â€™â€™
Young won her pro debut with a second-round TKO on Oct. 4, 2007, and then gained instant notoriety the following Nov. 24 by registering three devastating first-round knockouts to win a HOOKnSHOOT eight-woman, single night tournament in Indiana. Total fight time: 1:53.
Baroni is a flamboyant, trash-talking, KO artist who exploded on the scene in 2001.
MMA fans may love or hate him, but they canâ€™t ignore a true showman and personality who always makes for entertaining, memorable, non-stop slugfests. His entrance alone, some say, is worth the price of admission. He is of the best interviews in all of sports.
With his pulverizing punching power and dynamic energy that triggers an edgy persona, Baroni truly believes — sometimes until his very last breath — that heâ€™s going to win every time.
Baroni, whoâ€™s fought the best, may not always back up his words but heâ€™s tough and courageous and one would be hard-pressed to find a fan seated during one of his fights.
â€œI am sick and tired of whatâ€™s been going on and someoneâ€™s going to pay and that someone is Villasenor,â€™â€™ said Baroni, who has lost two in a row (both were world title fights). â€œI am going to knock the s— out of Villasenor and then go after one of the champions again.â€™â€™
Villasenor is a well-conditioned, determined, battle-tested, well-rounded veteran whoâ€™s always been willing to fight anybody, anytime, anywhere.
â€œIâ€™ll fight whoever they put in front of me,â€™â€™ said a native of Albuquerque, N.M., and a protÃ©gÃ© of MMA guru, Greg Jackson. â€œYou can bet there will be a lot of fireworks in this one.â€™â€™
A former King of the Cage champion, Villasenor enters this one with momentum, having won his last two starts, including an exciting 4:45, first-round knockout over Ryan Jensen in a rousing battle that featured numerous exchanges on March 29, 2008, in San Jose, Calif.
â€œHe caught me with some shots but then I really connected with that right hook,â€™â€™ said
Villasenor, who stopped Jensen with a series of combinations followed by the punishing right.
Rogers, a big, scary, intimidating sort, will be making his third consecutive appearance for EliteXC. â€œIâ€™m extremely happy working for them,â€™â€™ he said. â€œEliteXC is a great organization and nothing compares to how Iâ€™ve been treated by them. They definitely take care of their guys.â€™â€™
The hard-hitting six-foot-five, 27-year-old Rogers has ended his last four fights in the first round. Only one of the relative newcomerâ€™s fights has made it to the second.
â€œWhen I touch you with my fists, you are going down,â€™â€™ said Rogers, a member of Team Bison who has only been training two years.
Rogers got involved in MMA to keep him off the streets. â€œLife for me has never been easy,â€™â€™ he said. â€œIâ€™d always lived in bad areas, terrible environments, first where I grew up on the south side of Chicago, and then in Minnesota where I moved to in 1992.
â€œYou had no choice but to learn to pick things up. Iâ€™m a patient man but everyone has a breaking point. But I knew it was better to train and fight pro then fight on the streets. If I am going to fight, it had better be for the right reasons and get me paid.â€™â€™
Murphy scored a career-best 0:19, second-round knockout over Dave Huckaba in his last outing on Aug. 25, 2007, in Jackson, Miss. He dropped Huckaba with a series of punches, the most damaging of which were four vicious right hands.
The following December the former middle linebacker at Syracuse University underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery. Murphy was back in the gym by early January â€˜08. Before resuming training, however, he had a complete hair makeover.
On New Yearâ€™s Day, Murphy, who hadnâ€™t seen the inside of a barbershop since October â€˜05, shaved his shoulder-length hair and donated it to Locks Of Love, a non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to children under 18 who suffer from long-term medical hair loss.
â€œI had known about them for about a year,â€™â€™ Murphy said. â€œIt took a while for my hair to grow the required 10 inches it took to donate. I wound up donating about 15 inches.â€™â€™