FRONT PAGE OF YAHOO.COM - A Kimbo VS Tyson fight?

It’s hardly a stretch to suggest that Kimbo Slice is the Mike Tyson of the 21st century. Tyson became a cultural phenomenon in the 1980s with his intimidating visage, powerful punches and almost weekly appearances on ESPN.

Slice shares the same intimidating look and powerful punching, but his vehicle to stardom was the Internet video-sharing site, YouTube.

And while Slice struggles to be taken seriously as a mixed martial artist, calls are increasing for the pulverizing punchers of past and present to meet in a cage. Slice’s promoter, Gary Shaw, said he’s not encouraging such talk, given that Tyson is retired and hasn’t fought in three years.

But Shaw said he owes it to Slice to consider the bout if Tyson, who appears to weigh nearly 300 pounds and hasn’t had a win in more than five years, would agree to it.

“Call it a freak show or a circus or whatever you want, but it would be the most-watched pay-per-view event ever,” Shaw said.

There’s little doubt of Slice’s importance to Elite XC, the mixed martial arts promotional company that Shaw runs.

On the most important card in mixed martial arts history, it’s almost irrelevant what middleweight champion Robbie Lawler does. Or his challenger, Scott Smith. Or what all but one of the other athletes who will compete in the Elite XC show on May 31 at the Prudential Center may do.

The success or failure of that show, and, perhaps with it, the company, will depend upon the performance of Slice. He is in the main event of the live first MMA show to be broadcast on network television for a reason.

He’s there, fighting James Thompson, because of the 2,065,443 views the nine-minute video, “The Best of Kimbo Slice,” got on YouTube.

He’s there because of the 2,163,315 who went to the site to watch his bare knuckles street fight with a guy known only as Adryan.

He’s there because of the 2,313,241 who saw him lose his only one of these types of bouts to a Boston policeman, Sean Gannon.

If only those people who have watched Slice’s backyard fights on the Internet tune in to watch him tear apart Thompson on CBS on May 31, it will go a long way toward stabilizing Elite XC and establishing it as a viable alternative to the UFC.

Elite XC has been bleeding money and conceded in a recent filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission that it has lost in excess of $27 million in little more than a year. It may not, it admits in the filing, have the money to make it through the year.

Slice, whose real name is Kevin Ferguson, is the one person who can reverse that. If he brings the more than 10 million sets of eyeballs who viewed his street fights on YouTube to CBS, it could change the landscape on the MMA scene.

Both Slice and Elite XC are in awkward positions, though. He’s an extraordinarily powerful puncher, but he is only in the infancy of his days as a mixed martial artist. It takes years to become a competent and well-rounded mixed martial artist and Slice still has much work to do.

That’s why he’s been fed a series of tomato cans since turning professional. In his first bout with Elite XC, he fought Bo Cantrell, who was so intimidated he was tapping, it seemed, when Slice gave him a dirty look. He was then matched with early UFC brawling legend Tank Abbott, who had won exactly one fight in 10 years and had been routinely knocked out early.

Most matchmakers have the luxury of developing their quality prospects slowly and exposing them to a variety of styles. But Slice was a headliner from his first day in MMA, which changes the way he has to be matched.

“There is an ‘it’ factor that some guys have and some don’t, and Kimbo has it,” promoter Gary Shaw said. “Oscar De La Hoya has it. He is still a superstar, even though he doesn’t have superstar skills any more. Tyson has it. When Tyson walks into an arena, the place still erupts. I’ve been to a high-class steakhouse with Kimbo and I’ve seen it.

People, not just the young kids, all stand up and say, ‘Kimbo! Hey, there’s Kimbo!’

“You could take most of the best fighters in the world and have them walk into a place like that and the maître d would say, ‘OK, we’ll have a table for you in 40 minutes.’ Kimbo is a superstar right now, and he’s only going to get bigger.

The problem is that Slice is being treated like a curiosity more than a developing athlete. Shaw spent much of the last few days answering questions about whether he’d pair Slice with Tyson and Eric “Butterbean” Esch, a 400-pounder whose shtick was being billed as “The King of the Four-Rounders,” rather than about whether he’d pair him with a competent and trained MMA fighter.

Tyson has never trained in MMA, hasn’t boxed since June 22, 2005, and hasn’t won a fight in more than five years. He looks like he weighs close to 300 pounds and only recently got out of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

Asking a promoter if he’d want his fighter to face Tyson is like asking a 20-something male if he’d like to date Scarlett Johansson.

Well, duh!

A fight with Tyson would mean huge money, but it would be more carnival act than serious competition.

And Elite XC needs to steer Slice away from the carnival act side of the business and convince a skeptical public that he’s a real fighter.

His highly regarded trainer, former UFC heavyweight champion Bas Rutten, believes that he is. Rutten said he hopes Thompson can push Slice in the May 31 bout so he can gauge where he is.

But Rutten said he believes Slice could be ready for top 10-type fighters as soon as perhaps two or three more bouts.

“We’re building a fighter here, and we’re building a fighter who is going to be very formidable before not too long,” Rutten said. “He’s worked extremely hard. He was a hard puncher when I first saw him, but he’s improved his striking greatly. His footwork, his reach and his torque are all greatly improved.

“He’s working on his submissions. That’s the area he’s most green, but he’s learning. People said I was just a striker, but more than half of my wins were by submission. It can be learned. He’s already very good with his takedown defenses and his escapes and reversals are surprisingly good.

There are critics, to be sure. UFC president Dana White bemoaned the fact that Slice will headline on CBS during a conference call on Thursday. White said he wanted to make certain that when MMA first appeared on network television, it was with fighters who upheld the sport’s image and traditions.

He said his worst fears are being imagined as Elite XC parades Slice out front and center.

“To have CBS, a big network like that, move forward with a guy like Kimbo Slice headlining it, there’s no secret that’s what I tried to stay away from,” White said. “Kimbo Slice isn’t a mixed martial artist. This guy was fighting in your backyard three months ago and now h

“To have CBS, a big network like that, move forward with a guy like Kimbo Slice headlining it, there’s no secret that’s what I tried to stay away from,” White said. “Kimbo Slice isn’t a mixed martial artist. This guy was fighting in your backyard three months ago and now he’s going to be headlining on CBS. Personally, I think it sucks.”

Slice eschews the notion he doesn’t belong in the national spotlight. He’s been cast in some corners as a hoodlum, but shrugs off the portrayals as inaccurate.

He is, he insists, serious about becoming a complete MMA fighter and not just a guy who can capitalize on a gangster image.

“I don’t live a thug life,” Slice told the Ventura County Star. “We go to church on Sundays … spend family time together. I don’t portray a thug image.”

And he shouldn’t be portrayed as a sideshow fighter, which is how fights with men such as Tyson and Butterbean, would cast him.

He’ll have a short shelf life if that’s how he’s matched. The hard-core fans will always be captivated, but the general public who, as Rutten says, have no idea who Fedor Emelianenko is, will soon move to other things.

But if Rutten is correct and Slice can become one of the world’s elite heavyweights, he’ll not only save Elite XC, but he also can play a pivotal role in legitimizing MMA to the masses.

Matchmaking for Slice is critical.

“We don’t want him to be treated like a circus act, because he’s not,” Rutten said. “He’s a legitimate fighter who is working extremely hard – I mean as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen – and who is getting better so quickly. Kimbo is a nice, respectful person to everyone he meets and he’s taking the sport super seriously. He deserves that same kind of respect in return.”

 He’s there, fighting James Thompson, because of the 2,065,443 views the nine-minute video, “The Best of Kimbo Slice,” got on YouTube.

Holy cow! I wouldn't have imagined more than 2 million hits.