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From The Streets To The Octagon: The Career Of Kimbo Slice

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The sad news from the sports world continues, as internet street fighter Kimbo Slice died earlier this week at the age of 42. While the cause of death isn’t confirmed, heart failure is suspected as possible. Slice, whose real name is Kevin Ferguson, was scheduled to fight next month for Bellator at their event in London. While never reaching the status in the cage that he did on the streets, Kimbo had a very unique story and provided MMA with some entertaining moments.

Originally from the Bahamas, Ferguson survived poverty during his youth in Miami and had a notable high school football career, which earned him a scholarship to the University of Miami, but he was only there a short time since he didn’t meet the academic standards. Searching for a way to make a living, he worked as a driver, a bouncer and security. One of his bodyguard jobs was for the adult production company, “Reality Kings” and the website indirectly led to the start of his fighting career. In 2003, Ferguson began fighting for money in unsanctioned street fights that were filmed and posted on various adult-themed sites online. When YouTube launched in 2005, a more mainstream public was exposed to the Miami-based street brawler, and videos of his fights became extremely popular. These gritty backyard slug fests generated such a cult following that it actually opened the door for Kimbo Slice to start a pro career.

In 2007, after training at a few pro MMA gyms, Slice competed in an exhibition fight against former boxing champion, Ray Mercer. He submitted the aging boxer early in the first round, prompting his introduction to the pro ranks just a few months later. Elite XC, the upstart promotion that was attempting to get a piece of the MMA pie during the boom in popularity of the sport, signed Slice to a multi-fight deal that saw him make his MMA debut against the completely unknown Bo Cantrell. Kimbo KO’ed his opponent in 19 seconds, adding to the hype around the bearded slugger. In early 2008, he returned to the cage to battle veteran Tank Abbott, who provided no real challenge and was knocked out in 43 seconds. Later that year, Kimbo was a part of MMA history when he fought in the main event of the first show broadcast on network TV for the Elite XC organization that aired on CBS. The show did major ratings, and Kimbo won via TKO when the referee stopped the bout after his opponent, James Thompson had a cauliflower ear burst from a right hook.

At the time, the common criticism of Slice was that he wasn’t a legitimate mixed martial artist and he wouldn’t have been offered a contract without the underground fights against no competition, which is a fair summary of his rise to fame. Was Kimbo a novelty act? Sure, but he was a fighter that people wanted to watch, and proof of it was the four million viewers that tuned in for his fight against Seth Petruzelli. However, Slice’s novice experience at the pro level was exposed and he lost via TKO in the first round.

Elite XC folded shortly afterwards, and the subject of Kimbo fighting for the UFC became a frequent topic of conversation. UFC president, Dana White stated that if Slice wanted to fight for the organization, he would have to win the Ultimate Fighter reality show, which was a smart business move because it capitalized on the former internet brawler’s popularity to generate ratings. In 2009, filming started on the show and the audience got the chance to get to know another side of Kimbo Slice. Beneath his golden grin and imposing appearance, Kevin Ferguson was a humble competitor that was just trying to make a living to support his family. His genuine appreciation for the UFC opportunity, and effort to become a credible mixed martial artist made it easy to rally for Kimbo to achieve success. He was eliminated from the reality competition when he lost an exhibition fight to Roy Nelson, but he continued to train during the filming of the show and then sharpened his skills at the American Top Team center. At 35, Slice was already past the typical age for a fighter to start in the promotion when he made his UFC debut, but he won his initial bout with a unanimous decision against Houston Alexander. In 2010, he was defeated by Matt Mitrione and subsequently released from his contract. Many of his critics, including Dana White, praised Slice’s efforts during his time in the UFC.

Following his brief stint in the UFC, Slice began a pro boxing career, mostly of sideshow type fights where he KO’ed virtual unknown challengers and garnered a 7-0 record. When he wasn’t boxing, he appeared in various TV shows and commercials. After a five-year hiatus from MMA, Slice returned for a fight against Ken Shamrock for a Bellator event. I’ve said it many times, Shamrock shouldn’t be allowed to fight at this point and he was knocked out in the first round. Despite the complete gimmick of Slice vs. Shamrock, it was a draw as it set a ratings record for Bellator on Spike TV. Most recently, he fought another street fighter, “Dada 5000” earlier this year and it was one of the worst fights in the history of the sport. Dada 5000 actually went into cardiac arrest at the conclusion of the contest and had to be rushed to the hospital for treatment. Post-fight, it was revealed that Ferguson tested positive for elevated testosterone and the bout was overturned to a no contest.

Ferguson, a father of six children, explained that he was grateful for his chance to fight professionally because it allowed him to put his kids through college. In 2010, the associated press asked him about his time in the UFC and he mentioned that he was thankful to fight on the under card of the events. It’s important to note that the humble Slice never claimed to be a polished MMA competitor or that he was going to win championships, it just seemed like he was happy to get the chance to make a good living for his family.

Considering that he died from heart failure and he previously tested positive for steroids, you have to wonder if PEDs played a role in his death? Since he passing, there have been reported that he had various health problems in recent months, but at this point, most of that has to be considered speculation until it’s official confirmed.

Regardless of the cause, it’s disappointing that Kevin Ferguson passed away far too young, but his popularity in the sport will certainly be remembered. Kimbo Slice was a fierce brawler inside the cage and a humble competitor outside of it. Was Kimbo a great fighter? No, but he did provide entertainment to millions of fans when his bouts set ratings records. All things considered, Slice is a success because he went from brawling on the streets to fighting on broadcast television. There are not many that would’ve guessed it during his reign as street fighting king on YouTube, but Kimbo Slice has a very unique place in MMA history.

Sincere condolences to Kimbo’s friends and family at this difficult time.

Until next week

-Jim LaMotta

@jimlamotta

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