Slice still has ways to go inside the cage

Two fights into his mixed martial arts career and the jury has yet to render a verdict on Kimbo Slice.

If he is to be taken seriously as a heavyweight mixed martial artist, a more credible opponent than Tank Abbott must be placed in the cage with him.

Abbott was brought in Saturday night to provide a significant test for Slice, who is simply learning on the job. Slice, whose real name is Kevin Ferguson, has no jiu-jitsu, amateur wrestling, professional boxing or Muay Thai experience on his résumé.

The only thing Slice has displayed thus far is tremendous punching power, which he used in registering a first-round TKO of Bo Cantrell on Nov. 10, 2007, and also to dispose of Abbott.

If Slice has any defensive ground skills or grabbling capability, it has yet to be revealed.

Abbott's responsibility Saturday night in Miami was to make Slice prove his arsenal consisted of more than an overhand right. But Abbott, who is a couple of months shy of 43 and has just two wins in 10 fights since 1998, wasn't up to the task.

The scheduled 15-minute bout lasted just 43 seconds. There was no takedown, no wrestling and roughly 3 seconds of grappling. Slice and Abbott threw only head punches; not one body blow was delivered between them. And Slice issued the harder, more accurate shots.

It was an indoor street fight, not the mixed martial arts contest many of the 6,187 at BankUnited Center were hoping to witness. And in the street-fighting arena, Slice is nearly unbeatable.

Using advertising know-how, Elite XC did little to promote this card as a full-fledged MMA event. President Gary Shaw dubbed the showcase "Street Certified," which in a way offers him a defense against those who might criticize the featured bout.

Besides, the card's moniker accurately described what Slice truly is at this point in his pro career -- a street fighter who competes inside cages. Until forced to face a well-rounded fighter, Slice should not be labeled a mixed martial artist. This was born out Saturday night before the first punch was thrown.

Slice is most comfortable on his feet. Though he is spending many hours in the gym learning wrestling and jiu-jitsu techniques, he'd prefer not going to the ground against more experienced fighters. So, it's in Slice's best interest to make the opposition fight his fight.

What better way to do that than by setting the tone before the opening bell sounds.

Intimidation might be Slice's greatest weapon. His menacing scowl, scraggly beard, shiny gold teeth, muscular physique and legendary reputation as a bare-knuckle backyard fighter can be mesmerizing. And Abbott apparently fell under the spell.

Abbott looked unsure of himself during introductions, though he regained some confidence briefly as the men headed toward the middle of the cage to begin their encounter. In fact, Abbott landed the first punch, a left hook that caught the side of Slice's head.

The little confidence Abbott mustered quickly evaporated when Slice connected with a left seconds later. The punch staggered Abbott, who soon found himself on the ground.

"I wanted him to get up, I wanted to bang," Slice said. "I had to push him off because we were too close. Then I just knocked him down."

From that point on, Slice began to wail away. One problem … his inexperience kicked in.

With Abbott face down on the canvas, the 34-year-old Slice began landing hard rights and lefts to the back of his opponent's head. Referee Troy Waugh jumped in immediately and threatened to deduct a point from Slice for the infraction.

The situation was eerily similar to what took place at UFC 81 on Feb. 2, when former pro wrestler Brock Lesnar faced ex-heavyweight champion Frank Mir. In his eagerness to prove he belonged in the league, Lesnar landed several punches behind the head of Mir seconds into their bout and had points deducted for the foul.

Lesnar was highly excited in his second MMA bout and made several mistakes. Those mistakes would lead to his downfall.

Slice also made mistakes in his fight Saturday night. A couple of times he pulled his head straight back to avoid punches, leaving himself vulnerable. A skilled wrestler or jiu-jitsu artist would have taken advantage of this flaw in Slice's defense and likely forced him to the ground.

But Abbott lacked the ability to make Slice pay for his mistakes. As a result, the fight was fought the way Slice wanted -- standing up.

"I tried to take it to him at the start and take him to the ground, but then I just said, 'the heck with it,' and started to fight," said Abbott, who fell to 9-14 when hit by a powerful right hand from Slice. "I ran into one and that was it."

Lesnar was less fortunate. He faced a much tougher opponent in Mir than Slice did in Abbott. And unlike Lesnar-Mir, the outcome of Slice-Abbott was never in doubt. More important, Lesnar showed more overall skills in defeat than Slice did in victory.

Nothing new was revealed Saturday night about Slice's ability. Even Abbott could not gauge where the highly popular fighter stands skill-wise.

"It is still too early to know how good or great Kimbo will be," Abbott said.

There is only one way to find out if Slice deserves to be considered a mixed martial artist: Put him in the cage against a credible opponent. Until then, the jury remains sequestered.

Franklin McNeil covers boxing and mixed martial arts for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.