The name of Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson is one that won’t soon be forgotten in the fight world. The son of the now-deceased street brawler wants to be sure of that much.
Kevin “Baby Slice” Ferguson Jr. gets out of bed each day determined to extend his father’s legacy through his own fighting career. For him, that starts with his professional mixed martial arts debut this Friday at Bellator 162, which goes down at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn.
Ferguson Jr. isn’t “Kimbo,” but there’s no doubt he’s the offspring of the street fighting sensation. Outside of the fact he competes at Welterweight and his dad was a Heavyweight, almost all of the attributes are eerily similar. From his tenacious look with gold-plated teeth to his mentality and his approach to the sport, Ferguson Jr. is a reflection of the man that inspired him to fight.
“Kimbo” suddenly passed away in June due to congestive heart failure, and now, just over four months later, his son competes professionally for the first time.
Looking at Ferguson Jr. with a comparative eye to his father is natural, and he’s not only aware of that fact, he embraces it. He says he feels no obligation to live up to the “Slice” name when he steps in the cage, rather it’s a way he maintains a link to his late father. Keeping the name in the family trade.
“Fighting definitely helps keep me connected to my dad,” Ferguson Jr. tells Rolling Stone. “I’m not over his death. Every day I deal with it, but I take it one day at a time. You never get over it. You don’t want to try to get over it because then you just hurt yourself more.”
But no matter what, he insists he’s ready to go down his own path.
“There’s no pressure for me to perform,” he continues. “This is something I’ve been doing and I love to do it. I’m here to put on a show and, October 21st, I’m ready to purge.”
Ferguson Jr. can recall the first time he became aware of fighting. His father cut his teeth as a noted street brawler in Florida who made his fame when achieving celebrity through YouTube and other video forums first became possible. Eventually “Kimbo Slice” was recruited from the backyards and alleys into the world of sanctioned MMA competition, and given his age and physical limitations, thrived beyond the imagination of most.
“Kimbo” began his MMA career when his body was already shopworn from a high school and college football career. However, his heavy hands, polarizing look and magnetic personality made him a world-renowned figure who could draw eyeballs to his fights no matter the promotion or quality of opponent. He wasn’t afforded the opportunity to start training MMA from the outset, but Ferguson Jr. was sent down that path early in life and he’s never looked back.
“This is something I always wanted to do and my dad opened the doors for me in a big way,” Ferguson Jr. admits. “Sparring with my dad is when I knew I wanted to be a fighter. It was tough. He didn’t take it easy on me. Every time I sparred with him he sat me down. Body shots would send me down. He hit me in the stomach with all his force. I always knew this was something I was going to do.”
It’s clear Ferguson Jr. wants to walk in the footstep of his dad, and he might already have a leg up. “Kimbo” was notorious for minimalist training camps, only making infrequent appearances in the gym in the weeks leading up to his fights. He didn’t want that for his son, though, which is why before his passing he encouraged “Baby Slice” to move from Florida to California and join a legitimate gym where his skills could flourish.
He landed at Team Bodyshop MMA in Lakewood, Calif., where under the watchful eye of 37-fight MMA veteran and head coach Antonio McKee, the transformation began.
“I don’t think he ever anticipated training the way we train,” McKee says. “I asked him, ‘Do you really want to fight? Or do you want to live off your father’s name?’ He says, ‘I really want to fight.’ I told him we needed to cut out the bad habits. He said, ‘I’ll knock anyone out anyway.’ Just like his dad would say.”
McKee admits Ferguson Jr. had plenty of faults when he first arrived at the gym. The 24-year-old has just one amateur fight to his name, which was an 83-second knockout of Tom Brink in March. MMA has a sharp learning curve and unsurprisingly his skills are still quite green, but McKee says he knows when a fighter has great promise, and he views Ferguson Jr. as one of his star pupils.
“The first time we did rounds he didn’t make it out of the first round,” McKee recalls. “He gassed out, he passed out and he was all over the place. I told him to calm down and I asked him, ‘Do you want to keep doing what you’re doing or do you want to change and do something different?’ The sky is the limit for the guy. He hits like a truck. ‘Rampage’ Jackson is probably one of the hardest hitters I’ve trained, but pound-for-pound it’s ‘Slice.’ He can punch incorrectly and knock you out. ‘Slice’ is going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
Ferguson Jr. wants to do it all the right way. Fighting is in his bloodline, but the necessary hard work, dedication and sacrifice must come on his own accord if he wants to maximize his potential. He already has an advantage over his father in the sense he’s more offensively and defensively diverse, but perhaps most importantly he’s surrounding himself each day with training partners like A.J. McKee and Joey Davis, who are two of the sport’s most highly regarded prospects.
“We tell him he has to train 10 times harder than anyone else to keep that name ringing and go out there and live up to his father’s legacy as well and go out there and knock people out,” McKee, who is the son of coach Antonio McKee, says. “It shows him the level he needs to get too. At the end of the day, you got to put in the work. There’s no shortcuts.”
The goal when Ferguson Jr. enters the cage is the same as his father: knock out the opponent as quickly and violently as possible. Fights became a struggle for “Kimbo” when he couldn’t accomplish that goal, but Ferguson Jr. doesn’t envision experiencing those same problems. Training with Team Bodyshop MMA has provided him more tools and allowed him to be a complete fighter.
“I’m taking it to the next level for the ‘Slice’ name,” Ferguson Jr. says. “Working with McKee and Davis, who is a national champion wrestler, I feel like nobody is going to be able to hold me down in that ring. These guys are not going to be able to hold me down in there. They can try to take me down but they going to end up getting hurt.”
Ferguson Jr.’s attempt to become a high-level fighter will have its peaks and valleys just like everyone else that competes in the sport, but it’s arguable his driving force is stronger than most who will stand across the cage from him. He’s almost positive that’s the case for Bellator 162 opponent Rick Bing, who also competes in a pro bout for the first time.
It hasn’t been long since tragedy struck with the shocking death of “Kimbo,” but Ferguson Jr. intends on paying tribute to the memory of his father each time he enters the cage for what he hopes is a long and illustrious MMA career.
“He’s very proud of me, I know that,” Ferguson Jr. says. “This is something I love to do. This is a passion of mine. Everyone likes a winner, so I’m here to do that and when it’s done I’ll be happy and the crowd should be happy. I have no nerves. I’m going to hit hard. I’m going to move fast. I hope he’s ready.”
Yet once his first fight starts, Ferguson Jr. knows it will all go back to those early lessons from his father.
“The first thing I ever did was the bob and weave, so I know I’m not going to get hit in this fight,” he continues. “If I do I’m going to be able to take it and deliver mine. If he can take mine, then good for him, but he can’t, so it’s goodnight.”
Update: After the story was published it was made public that Kevin Ferguson Jr.’s debut has been postponed after his opponent, Rick Bing, came in 25 pounds over the 170-pound weight. We will continue to update the story.