Was Kimbo Slice almost a WWE Superstar?
Over the past decade, Kimbo Slice has emerged as one of MMA’s most popular, and controversial, figures. Slice, who first gained international notoriety when videos of him street fighting went viral, is best known for his unforgettable look, larger-than-life personality and legitimate toughness — all characteristics that caught the eye of Tommy Dreamer when he was working for WWE’s Talent Relations department in the mid-2000s. The ECW Legend was instantly impressed and made a pitch to bring Slice — who had no experience — into WWE, but was a deal ever close to being signed? WWE.com called up The Extreme Icon to find out.
WWE.COM: How did Kimbo Slice first get on your radar?
TOMMY DREAMER: His manager sent me a very impressive demo reel. Back then, it was on a VHS tape and I was totally in awe of what I was seeing. It was all street fighting and him cutting promos. I had no clue who he was and I was captivated once I saw him.
WWE.COM: Was there any notoriety to the Kimbo Slice name at this point in this press?
DREAMER: Not yet. He was so underground. I saw the world in him, I really did.
WWE.COM: How extensive was your courting of Slice? Was a deal close at any point?
DREAMER: I spoke with his manager and then I spoke with [Kimbo] briefly and he was down and ready to go — he was a big fan. My job was to look for new talent, [so] I brought the [demo] packet to John Laurinaitis, the head of Talent Relations at the time, and I presented it to him. The handling of how to hire him would have been different because he wasn’t a trained wrestler.
WWE.COM: What was upper management’s reaction when you made the pitch for Kimbo?
DREAMER: [Laughs] Well, John, who was my boss, always trusted me and my opinion and he was kind of on the fence. He asked me about his age, I don’t remember how old he was. He was impressive to John, but John was like, “Do you think he can adapt to what we do?” And I was like, “Who cares? Let him learn on the road, this guy is getting a reputation, blah, blah, blah …”
WWE.COM: Why do you think the deal never materialized?
DREAMER: I was told “We’re not going in that direction,” and “How long would it take to develop a talent like that?” I don’t know if he would have went to developmental system at the time or if he [Kimbo] was thinking, “Hey, I’m gonna get signed and go to the main roster,” but it was kind of shot down quickly.
WWE.COM: What do you think the main concerns were?
DREAMER: This was somewhere between 2003 and 2005, so if he’s 42 years old today, he was in his early thirties then. So if you’re going to bring in a talent who has no wrestling experience, it’s going to take a while to adapt. You know, the developmental system when I was there had a lot of guys who had UFC and MMA experience and it didn’t work out. Ron Waterman fought for the UFC and I wrestled him, a bunch of times, and some of those guys weren’t translating to do what we do. So I just think if you get someone that age, unless they are a superior athlete, it is going to take at least two years to learn how to do what we do. And if you’re trying to make someone a star, it’s going to take another two years to try and elevate him. So, “We’re not going in that direction,” that’s what that means.
WWE.COM: What could you have seen Kimbo doing in WWE if he had ended up getting signed?
DREAMER: If you think about that time, we had Brock Lesnar and we had Kurt Angle. To me, [Kimbo’s] a modern day Clubber Lang who can really back it up. I can remember being in the crowd when Mr. T hopped the guardrail before the first WrestleMania and when I first saw Slice, I just saw him looking into the camera like Clubber Lang and saying, “Pain.” A guy who is just too extreme for the world and is an underground fighter, and that is how I would have introduced him in WWE. I think he would have been a huge star in our industry if he had pursued it.