As an aspiring journalist, I am taught to be unbiased and see things from all sides. To learn the finer details of a subject, so that I can truly be informed. And that thought process also holds true in my personal passions, like professional wrestling, comic books and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
Yet, my love for those pastimes didn’t start off with having a great understanding of them from the jump.
In each, there was some irresistible force that grabbed my attention and forced me to stay there and watch/read. In wrestling it was Hulk Hogan. When it came to comics, reading “snikt” and seeing Wolverine slash at bad guys had me hooked. And, oddly enough, Kevin Ferguson was that force for me in MMA. This is how Kimbo Slice turned me into an MMA fan.
I wasn’t always an MMA fan. As a teen I went to Blockbuster Video and rented the first three UFC’s and watched in shocked amazement at the brutality of that tournament. But my interest in it started and ended there. I forgot about it and continued on with my other infatuations.
So I missed out on Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar going to war on national TV. I missed out on the years where Chuck Liddell became the UFC’s version of Mike Tyson.
I wasn’t always an MMA fan. As a teen I went to Blockbuster Video and rented the first three UFC’s and watched in shocked amazement at the brutality of that tournament.
I didn’t get to watch the rise of a stoic Russian fighter named Fedor Emelianenko as he laid claim to being the best fighter in the world. Or when former pro wrestler Kazushi Sakuraba become a national icon, and Gracie killer, in a Pride FC ring.
All of that…I got to see after the fact.
It wasn’t until my mid 20s, with the urging of my close friend Jeff, that I rediscovered the MMA. It was 2007, and Brock Lesnar had made his MMA debut in June.
That alone piqued my interest in the industry, since I had watched “The Next Big Thing” on WWE programming for years. Yet I felt overwhelmed watching a UFC broadcast.
It was the cool new thing, and I really didn’t have a good grasp on the sport itself and its major stars. That just wouldn’t do. Even before I went back to school for journalism, I always had a desire to be able to converse on a topic with a respectable knowledge on it that was greater than the average joe.
As luck would have it, I had a subscription to Showtime back then. And while channel surfing I came across a show called Elite XC. So I started to watch it.
Whenever it would pop on the Showtime schedule I would check it out and slowly start to get an understanding of what this sport was about. Take downs, scrambles, shooting, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jui Jitsu, etc. As my burgeoning knowledge and love for MMA grew it coincided the rise of this street fighter from Florida.
I never saw Kimbo Slice’s street fighting videos before he became a professional prize fighter. But the promotional work done by Showtime and Elite XC more than got me up to speed. Seeing this man school fellow citizens like he was Jean Claude Van Damme in “Lionheart” is an easy sell. But for the man legally known as Kevin Ferguson, it was much more than that.
As a professional wrestling fan since I was a wee lad, the shaping of this character dubbed Kimbo Slice appealed to me. The man exuded “it” factor. He had a stare that felt like daggers through your heart. A beard that would make him fit in with an Amish community. As well as a mouth full of gold and a matching chain with a big a** gold fist dangling from it. The entire aura said bad mother f*****.
But I know how hype can sell a bag of mixed goods. This wasn’t wrestling with predetermined endings. Or boxing, which was just a sanctioned version of what Kimbo had already shown he could do. He was going to MMA, where masters of other disciplines even failed.
I watched his first match with Bo Cantrell with great intrigue. And when he drubbed his opponent in just 19 seconds, I was completely sold on the fighter named Kimbo Slice. When he followed up that win by putting a hurting on UFC veteran Tank Abbott, I was in awe.
He just seemed like that baddest man on the planet. Scary looking and just as scary inside a cage. I started to ask the friend that pushed me to the sport silly questions like, “Do you think he could beat Randy Couture?” Yes, utterly absurd, but for the newly initiated it seemed plausible at the time.
But with all great rides they just don’t last forever. The smoke around Slice’s aura started to dissipate in his battle with James Thompson. It was MMA’s first foray into major network television. What was entertaining at first, decayed into a sloppy fight that ended mercifully as it seemed like Thompson’s ear was one more shot away from exploding.
I watched his first match with Bo Cantrell with great intrigue. And when he drubbed his opponent in just 19 seconds, I was completely sold on the fighter named Kimbo Slice.
Despite the nay-sayers feeling it was vindication of their belief that Slice was not legit, I still was behind him. “Just a bad night at the office, but he still got the win,” I thought. Then the Seth Petruzelli bout would completely blew away what was left of Slice’s imposing atmosphere.
In just three fights Slice went from internet sensation, to mainstream needle mover. His fourth bout was another stroke of clever match making as he would face another UFC vet. But this time it would be one with an even more recognizable name in Ken Shamrock.
Unfortunately Shamrock was forced out of the fight, due to a cut he received during a light warm-up in his hotel room the day of the fight. And in stepped Petruzelli. Petruzelli was at a clear size disadvantage since he fought at light heavyweight and Slice was a heavyweight.
But he came into the short notice fight with a considerable advantage in fight experience. Having fought 13 times previously, and even beat MMA legend Dan Severn.
The bell rang and the rest was history. In 14 seconds the narrative was completely changed on Slice. Along with his career trajectory. A year later he followed the loss with a disappointing first fight elimination on The Ultimate Fighter–to another veteran fighter in Roy Nelson.
In his short tenure in the UFC he went 1-1. His fight with Houston Alexander mirrored the sloppy brawl with Thompson. After that he was dominated in a fight with fellow TUF alum Matt Mitrione.
At 4-2 Slice was now viewed by the MMA community as a flash in the pan, who was never truly a credible fighter. But that is where fans miss the boat on what was special about Slice. If a career is judged by wins and losses, MMA is littered with fighters who never reached potential. In the end the sport is as much an entertainment business as anything else. And Slice has always stood out as one of the more unique and entertaining fighters to ever step foot in a cage. He was a true rags to riches story. He didn’t make his name through wrestling or BJJ tournaments. He didn’t win championships in boxing. He earned street credibility in an old school way–with his hands. That is something many people can understand and relate to.
If a career is judged by wins and losses, MMA is littered with fighters who never reached potential.
After a hiatus that took him into professional boxing, Slice would eventually return to MMA and make two appearances for Bellator.
And I must say, I was happy to see it.
Sure, I was a much more savvy MMA enthusiast by 2015. I was a die-hard and knew what separated the pretenders from the contenders. But that singular vibe that was a Kimbo fight was fun to see back. His bout with Ken Shamrock wasn’t what you would call memorable, and his brawl with Dada 5000 was disastrous to view. But I watched them both, glued to my seat. It wasn’t high-level stuff but it was Kimbo Slice. How could you not watch. And I wasn’t the only one. As the ratings for both fights were some of the highest Bellator has had to date.
So with his death yesterday, the memories of his early days in the sport and my early years as a fan came flooding back. While he had the look of a ferocious thug, the outpouring of love for Slice on social media shows the warm and good natured human being he was.
— Scott Coker (@ScottCoker) June 7, 2016
I knew kimbo since I was 19. I was a kid. Wouldn’t be where I’m at it if it wasn’t for him.
— Jorge Masvidal UFC (@GamebredFighter) June 7, 2016
The ATT Family and South Florida community lost a legend today. RIP Kimbo. pic.twitter.com/sjs8ctyJMd
— American Top Team (@AmericanTopTeam) June 7, 2016
In the annals of MMA history some will scoff at the notion of Kimbo Slice as a superstar in the sport. But for a person paying a ticket to go to an arena, or a viewer at home sitting down with a cold one and wanting to be entertained, few will leave as lasting an impression as Kevin Ferguson, a.k.a. Kimbo Slice.
On cards he headlined, I got to discover talented fighters like Jake Shields, Antonio Silva, Gina Carano and “Cyborg” Justino. It was a trickle down effect. He got me to notice good fighters and it made me want to find out about even more.
I will miss his exploits in the cage. Because Kimbo Slice helped to turn me into an MMA fan.