Published Tuesday, June 2, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, June 2, 2009 | 4:53 p.m.
Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White promised more surprises in store for the 10th season of the UFC’s popular reality television show “The Ultimate Fighter,” but few in the mixed martial arts community could have guessed the secret would be this big.
Kevin Ferguson, known to the fighting world as Kimbo Slice, will compete on the latest version of the Spike TV series that begins taping Wednesday and is scheduled to air in September.
“It should be interesting, given some of the things I’ve said about him,” said White, who confirmed to Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Iole that Slice is one of the 16 participants living in a house in Las Vegas trying to earn a guaranteed UFC contract.
The news, which was confirmed by the Los Angeles Times, Sherdog.com, and is quite an about face for White, who in the recent past has mocked the legendary street brawler — saying even his promotion’s lightweight champion, B.J. Penn, could dispose of the 230-pound behemoth.
"Other than get 10 million hits on YouTube, what's he done to deserve to be in the UFC? Nothing," White said at a press conference in October.
"I don't consider him a real athlete. He won't win The Ultimate Fighter. The offer's out there if he wants to take it, but he won't win it. I might (put a heavyweight show together just for him)."
Win or lose, Ferguson’s mixture of animated supporters and detractors will likely mean big ratings for the 10th season of the reality show, which will feature the heavyweight divison for the first time since “TUF” No. 2.
Add in the intensifying rivalry between the upcoming season's coaches, former light heavyweight champs Rashad Evans and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and White said he believes “season No. 10 is going to be the highest-rated season in ‘Ultimate Fighter’ history.”
But Ferguson’s mystique — which he built through a cult following that watched his brutal street fights on YouTube — hasn’t exactly translated to success during his brief MMA career.
While Slice (who has a 3-1 pro record) attracted an MMA record 6.5 million viewers when he defeated James Thompson by third-round stoppage in the first MMA card shown on network TV in the U.S. on May 31, 2008, his last outing in October was one he certainly would like to forget.
Last second fill-in Seth Petruzelli, who took the fight on the same day that Ken Shamrock was deemed medically ineligible, knocked out Slice just 14 seconds into their bout broadcast on CBS.
Slice's promotion, Elite XC went defunct shortly after the fight, and recently Ferguson’s manager, boxing promoter, Gary Shaw, said that Slice would give pro boxing a try after negotiations to join the Strikeforce fighting organization fell apart.
“He just really wants to fight right now," Slice's manager, Mike Imber, told Sherdog.com.
The 35-year-old father of six — who was a High School football star, homeless, a limo driver, strip-club bouncer, and bodyguard for a porn company before he got his break in fighting on the Internet — gets a unique opportunity to prove his naysayers wrong, including the outspoken White.
“We walked into the gym and I tell you what, he was pretty serious. He wasn't messing around, he wasn't joking," White told Carmichael Dave on his Sacramento radio show Monday about his first encounter with Slice.
"He wasn't laughing. I don't think he's a big Dana White fan either. How could you be after all the things that have gone back and forth?"