Thursday, January 31, 2008 Updated: February 8, 11:41 AM ET
Abbott: Slice 'doesn't have the skills to hang'
By Michael Woods Special to ESPN.com
He is a certified legend in mixed martial arts, a genuine character who has chosen to leave his rough edges intact and who refuses to capitulate to the powers that be who would like him to play down his gleeful thirst for the savage aspects of MMA (and his unabashed thirst for alcoholic beverages, for that matter).
David "Tank" Abbott, the best-known street fighter in MMA until YouTube and Kimbo Slice came on the scene, will get a chance to hold on to his unofficial title when he meets Slice on Feb. 16 in Miami on an Elite XC card that will be televised by Showtime (10 p.m. ET).
Promoters know Abbott, virtually the last man standing from the pioneer era of the UFC, will put butts in seats. Because he lives to fight and is not afraid to promise that his foe will be more likely to leave on a stretcher than on two feet, fans know he will show up ready to toss when he leaves the locker room.
The hard-sluggin', hard-chuggin' Abbott ("My hobby is drinking," he told ESPN.com when asked what he was doing during a recent layoff from fighting) also has been a fave of promoters looking for a last-minute replacement, because they know full well that the Huntington Beach, Calif., resident will make the transition from barstool to cage in the blink of an eye.
Part of Abbott's appeal comes from his appearance.
Apart from a slightly Mansonesque gleam in his eye, he looks quite like a regular Joe who is no stranger to supersizing and the regular consumption of malted beverages.
Abbott made a name for himself fighting on the streets of Huntington Beach, Calif.
Abbott walks into the cage with a belly hanging over his shorts, but by now, no foe is prone to dismiss him just because his body bears no resemblance to those of the MMA stars of today, who train maniacally and often augment their diets with the latest and greatest supplements.
A fan can look at Abbott and readily identify with his disdain for a stringent dietary regimen, his unapologetic romance with cocktails and his long-standing addiction to the rush that comes from squaring off with another like-minded man who wants to disconnect his head from his shoulders.
No, Abbott might not fit neatly into the MMA scene of today. The suits are working diligently to grow the sport worldwide by playing down the old-school "no holds barred" elements. But Abbott, 42, who first appeared in the UFC back in 1995, believes he still has enough pop in his punch to stick a pin in Slice's dreams of turning his Internet street-fighting escapades into a legit enterprise.
"Kimbo's going to be on his back," said Abbott, who brings a 10-13 mark to Miami. "I don't see it going any other way. I can do anything I want to him, but what fun is that? I like to knock people out."
It's that uncomplicated bravado that convinced Ted Turner's pro wrestling outfit, WCW, to take Abbott aboard in 1999 and keep him there until 2001, and made it a no-brainer for promoter Gary Shaw to match up Abbott with the 33-year-old Slice (2-0, with one match an exhibition against boxer Ray Mercer).
Slice and Abbott tangled verbally on a conference call to announce the February event.
Slice delivered a curt "What's up?" when asked to give an opening statement to the media.
"The fight is going to last as long as his interview opening did," Abbott replied. "'What's up?' is about how long it's going to take for him to end up on his back, knocked out."
Slice countered, "Did you have a six-pack or 12-pack before you said something?"
"I don't drink beer," Abbott said. "I can afford vodka."
OK, so playing up one's drinking habits isn't likely to strike fear in a foe's heart and give someone a psychological edge going in. ESPN.com asked Abbott, 3-7 in his past 10 outings, about his sipping habits, wondering if they have detracted from his in-cage performance over the years.
"Not even close," he said. "The bottom line is, I'm a physical freak of nature. In 1999, I ran a marathon after training for three months. Now, the first thing I did after I finished was go to a bar and have a drink."
That said, Abbott has dialed it back some, especially during training periods.
"The older I get, the less I go out weekdays," he said.
In fact, the common perception of him as a "straight from the barstool to the cage" warrior might well play into his hands now, he said.
"I'm not out as much now," he said. "Maybe 10 years ago, I might have been. If Kimbo wants to think I'm out partying, and that helps him sleep, then let him think that."
Abbott told ESPN.com he will be in good condition to meet Slice. He did have a period, he said, when he wasn't as physically or mentally sharp as he should have been when he stepped into the cage.
He described himself as being a basket case in 2003.
"I had no business fighting," said the brawler, who has been wrestling since he was 9 and has been a boxing gym rat since the early 1990s. His mom, Mary, died three weeks before he fought Frank Mir, losing via submission, in February 2003 at UFC 41. Around the same time, his beloved dog, Adolph, age 13, also died.
No, we're not nominating him for sainthood. But with his outpouring of emotion and digestible explanations for his 0-3 in '03, it's even easier to understand Abbott's long-standing appeal in the sport.
That aside, could the Slice fight be too much, too late for Abbott? Promoter Shaw seems to think the sky is the limit for Slice.
"Is Tank too much for Kimbo?" Shaw said. "I hope not. I'm as confident as possible in Kimbo. But Tank can punch, and he has a vast amount of experience."
ESPN.com also asked Mir whom he likes in Abbott versus Slice.
"Tank is a powerful puncher still," the heavyweight said. "He's still dangerous. And he's got a lot of cage experience. It's a bad fight for Kimbo, unless he takes Tank to the ground. I shot on Tank, and he sprawled pretty strongly. The fight depends on how well conditioned Tank is. Kimbo's strong suit is slugging, and he's fighting the king of sluggers. I like Abbott."
Abbott, too, likes Abbott.
"I can't fathom this going the distance," he said. "He doesn't have the skills to hang."
And he isn't the least bit miffed that someone with just two MMA fights has called him out and thinks he can take the veteran out.
"It would be human nature to take it that way, but I don't care," Abbott said. "We're kind of a perfect match. It's not so much who's got the belt; it's the dance, the two partners, who make the fight."
Part of his edge, he feels, comes from his reason for fighting. Unlike Slice, he said, his 200-plus street fights didn't take place for the cash bounty or in a semi-structured environment.
"It was a different ball of wax when I fought on the street," he said. "There were no friends to make sure it didn't go overboard. When you entered into a fight, you assumed the risk to die. I'm a warrior. I was fighting when the prize was going to jail."
Michael Woods, the managing editor of TheSweetScience.com, has written for ESPN The Magazine, GQ and The New York Observer.