James Thompson is quickly becoming the Rodney Dangerfield of MMA; the man simply can’t get any respect.I woke up Sunday morning at my hotel in Newark and put on SportsCenter. I was delighted to see that ESPN decided to devote coverage to the festivities from the night before. There was one glaring problem though, which was that the anchor introduced the clip with a headline that read, “Kimbo crushes Colossus.”
Kimbo Slice no doubt inflicted a lot of damage upon Thompson that night, but from my vantage point, Thompson did his share of harm onto Kimbo as well. To claim Kimbo “crushed” James Thompson in their fight this past Saturday night was an egregious error. But then again, Thompson is not a man that was a stranger to egregious errors this past weekend weekend.
During the press conference that proceeded the debut of “Saturday Night Fights” on CBS, EliteXC Live Events President Gary Shaw pronounced that Robbie Lawler and Scott Smith would rematch each other in the near future following the stoppage of their fight due to an eye poke that Smith received from Lawler. That decision makes perfect sense, but what would make just as much sense would be to sign a rematch between Slice and Thompson. It’s a rematch that Thompson deserves — no, it’s a rematch that he’s entitled to it.
While conspiracy theorists have been running rampant with reckless accusations that there was somehow a fix, the reality is that while there is no hard evidence to support that theory as well as major holes in any circumstantial evidence, Thompson is still a victim of bad officiating. Having been someone who had attended more than their fair share of pro and amateur shows in the state of New Jersey, I can speak from experience that Dan Miragliotta is a very good official. However, he had an off night this past Saturday and it came at Thompson’s expense.
Much has been made about an apparent tap by Kimbo Slice during the first round of the fight. Some say that Slice was submitting while others suggest that he was offering a thumbs up. To be honest, after watching multiple replays, I still am not quite sure what he was doing. But I’ve seen nothing conclusive to make me believe he was tapping out. First, Thompson had him in a standing guillotine. Putting someone in a standing guillotine when someone leaves their neck out is fairly easy. However, getting them to tap from it is a different story. Thompson didn’t have any hooks in and was applying the choke from a flat footed position. My experience when applying standing guillotines or having them applied on me — and by no means am I anything more than just a guy who trains occasionally — is that if you don’t jump guard to get hooks in, then it’s essential to stand on the heels of your feet so that you can apply additional torque to the neck by pointing your hips to the sky.
Nobody can say for certainty what was going on except for Kimbo, but my bet is that while Kimbo was probably extremely uncomfortable, he didn’t feel like he needed to tap. I don’t profess to know Slice well, but I’ve always found him to be a straight shooter. While his word probably isn’t good enough for a lot of people out there in the overly-cynical society we live in, his word is good enough for me. So if the man says he didn’t tap, I am inclined to believe him. I am sure that last statement will generate a great deal of reaction, but I’m not worried about that. That’s how I feel. Take it, or leave it.
While I don’t buy into the tap argument, I do believe Thompson still has several other valid issues. First and foremost is what took place during the second round of the fight. We can sit here and debate whether the 20-22 unanswered strikes that were delivered by Thompson to Kimbo were love taps or not, but the operative word is “unanswered.” Slice did not improve his position and was not intelligently defending himself.
I’ve seen fights stopped for much less but I also have seen much worse where fights were allowed to continue. It all comes down to the discretion of the referee. Some referees are more liberal than others. They aren’t robots so there is no way to enforce a specific standard when it comes to such a gray area of a fight. All that a fighter can ask for is consistency. And if Miragliotta was going to give the fighters a long leash in the second round, then he should have applied the same standard in the third. To not stop the fight in the second after all of those unanswered strikes but to then stop the fight in the third while Thompson was still on his feet and coherent just isn’t fair.
I’ve heard the New Jersey Athletic Control Board’s position on the stoppage and it makes sense. Yes, both fighters were tired and had absorbed a lot of damage, but Thompson was still standing. The fight was not over. Sure, Thompson was in major trouble and I would go so far as to say there was a 95 percent chance that he was going to knocked out. But as Thompson himself has stated, who knows that for sure?
Thompson trained hard for the fight and went in and performed the best he has in quite some time. In fact, I would go so far as to say that is the best tactical fight he has fought in his entire career. And as such, I contend that he earned the right to be knocked out. That’s right, he deserved the right to be knocked out. I know how inhumane that statement sounds, but let’s remember what we’re talking about here: professional fighting. Risk, danger, and injury are inherent to the sport. Look, we’ve all seen Thompson suffer some pretty brutal knockouts, however, if there was concern over his well-being based on his past performances, then why license him in the first place? If there is a need to judge him by a different standard than other fighters, then perhaps he shouldn’t be fighting.
Complicating matters is the fact that Thompson wasn’t just a victim of bad officiating, but also poor judging. While the scorecards never came into play, judge Eric Colon scored the second round 10-9 in favor of Slice. Sometimes rounds are not easy to judge and they can go either way, but round two was not one of those rounds. There was no gray area in this case; Thompson won the round. He did so in such a definitive fashion that judge Douglas Crosby felt compelled to score the very same round at 10-8, in favor of Thompson.
But the scoring issue is a reminder that Thompson was leading the fight until the stoppage. If he gets knocked out, the fact that he was winning the fight on the scorecards is a moot point. However, when a fighter is a victim of an early stoppage, it becomes a major sticking point.
Throughout his entire time in Newark, Thompson was treated as an afterthought. The main event from this past Saturday wasn’t promoted as a fight between Kimbo Slice vs. James Thompson, but simply as a fight featuring Kimbo Slice. All Thompson did was go out and give a gutsy performance. Was it a masterpiece? No, but as stated earlier in this article, it was the best performance we’ve seen from him in quite some time. So why should the man be penalized for it? Will he be sent back to the UK left to rot away until he’s disappeared from the public’s conscious? Or, will he receive his just due and be embraced for his effort? Considering that EliteXC is in dire need of new stars, the promotion should be rallying around Thompson.
During early part of his tenure in PRIDE, Thompson was seen as someone that had a lot of potential. He was a powerful man with a marketable look. The problem was that Thompson would win fights when he was expected to lose and lose when he was expected to win. Such an inconsistent track record makes it difficult for a promotion to put any kind of real marketing push behind him. Yes, he’s the same guy who holds wins over Don Frye, Hidehiko Yoshida, and Dan Severn. But at the same time, Thompson is still the guy who got knocked out by Butterbean just 43 seconds into round one [EDITOR’S NOTE: this is a stoppage that many have questioned as being early as well] in February of ’07 and the same guy who got knocked out in ten seconds into the first round last July against a then-unknown Neil Grove. But what if? What if Thompson can build on Saturday’s effort and turn the corner? What if he can show the chin he showed Saturday night as opposed to the soft one he’s shown for much of his career? The popularity of combat sports is growing in the UK, and after seeing the groundswell of support that Ricky Hatton has received from British fans, what promotion, whether it be boxing or MMA, wouldn’t want a viable British heavyweight with charisma?
While Thompson was an afterthought leading up to the fight, he shouldn’t become one in its wake.
The point here isn’t to suggest that Thompson is the savior for EliteXC, but that the promotion could put itself in a win/win situation by building to a Thompson vs. Slice rematch. If Slice wins, it helps put Saturday behind him and allows him to move forward. If Thompson wins, it wouldn’t be the end of the world and could be a sign that a promotion could once again put a little faith — i.e. money and marketing — behind Thompson.
One aspect that has not been addressed is that Thompson wasn’t the only victim of the early stoppage. Kimbo was also hurt by it. Just as Thompson deserved the right to be finished by a knockout, Slice deserved the opportunity to finish his opponent in such a manner. An enormous amount of responsibility was placed on his shoulders heading into last Saturday’s show. He was asked to carry the company and as a result, many expected him to perform like a world champion in just his third official fight. What we saw from Kimbo on Saturday was not the performance many expected, but he delivered his fair share of punishment to Thompson and while he absorbed a fair share of his own, he never once quit or took an easy way out. After a terrible second round, he rebounded in the third and was on the verge of delivering the highlight reel knockout that so many people were looking for. Slice has received a lot of flack since the fight on Saturday and had he been allowed to knock Thompson out, he wouldn’t have to be dealing with anywhere near the amount of criticism he’s currently receiving.
When a lot of people heard that Slice and Thompson would be fighting, they asked why? But when it comes to the possibility of Slice vs. Thompson II, the question we should all be asking is: why not?