To the world Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson was a well-known badass that went from street brawler to MMA fighter. To those that encountered him personally, however, Slice was as kind-spirited outside the cage as he was mean inside of it. As Gina Carano wrote on Instagram: “You were always such a gentleman to me. Whenever you were around I felt a peace come over the room.”
Slice died on Monday at age 42 after being hospitalized earlier in the day. The cause of his death remains unknown, but it was clearly unexpected because Slice was scheduled to fight under the Bellator banner on July 16 in London.
Professional fighting is still very much a niche interest around the world, but Slice’s history proved he was a transcendent star. He could draw the interest of those that wouldn’t normally watch fighting.
Slice was one of the most famous competitors the sport has ever seen. Everyone loves a knockout specialist, and that was Slice, through and through. It didn’t matter if he was pitted against an overmatched opponent or at a deficit in skill, Slice would always look to win, and win big.
His name caught fire in the mid-2000s due to the massive popularity of YouTube videos where he participated in backyard bareknuckle fights against fellow brawlers in his hometown of Miami. Before long, Slice became an Internet sensation.
“A fight starts by word of mouth,” Kimbo told Rolling Stone in 2006. “A guy is a badass in his neighborhood, and then people that know people make it happen. It’s braggin’ rights.”
Slice’s fierce attitude and colorful personality paired with his trademark image consisting of a thick black beard, gold teeth and signature do-rag, made him difficult to miss. He would also frequently appear as a bouncer on the Internet porn website Reality Kings.
He brought his loyal following to the MMA scene and even on his worst day, against his most unrecognizable opponent, would draw millions of spectators to his fights. Even to this day many of the most viewed MMA matches to ever air on network television involve Slice’s name on the billing.
Although Slice wasn’t the most talented fighter – his contests were hardly a showcase of technical mastery – he would always provide entertainment and compete until the triumphant or bitter end. Whether it was a 60-second crushing knockout or a sloppy 15-minute decision, Slice would always bare his soul for every fight, and he was adored and admired for it. Shaquille O’Neal tweeted that he was “at a loss for words,” and Hulk Hogan wrote: “RIP Kimbo my brother,we will miss you in the 305,only love4U.”
Just a small group of MMA fighters can turn heads with the simple mentions of a name. Ronda Rousey, Conor McGregor and Brock Lesnar are among those few, and Slice was right there. But even as a larger-than-life character he always humble, kind and genuine to those around him.
Born in the Bahamas but raised in Florida, Slice was a standout football player during his time at Bethune-Cookman University and the University of Miami. Knee injuries derailed his chances of turning professional and making an NFL run, however, and that’s when he turned to unsanctioned street fights and work as a bouncer.
After dabbling in amateur and unsanctioned bouts, Slice eventually crossed over into MMA in 2007. Many current fans of the sport will recall Slice’s debut, a 19-second knockout of Bo Cantrell at “EliteXC: Renegade” in November 2007, as the fight that introduced them to the world of MMA.
It’s also difficult to forget his May 2008 bout with James Thompson at “EliteXC: Primetime.” With a peak viewership of 6.5 million on CBS, Slice and Thompson had an exhilarating and messy back-and-forth heavyweight fight that ended when Slice burst his opponent’s swollen ear in grizzly fashion.
Although it was among the hardest fights of Slice’s career and ended in somewhat controversial fashion, he still managed to leave with his hand raised on a platform that may never be replicated.
But that was Slice. You never knew what would happen when he entered the cage. It might be short and sweet; it might be long and ugly. A fight was always coming, though, which is why UFC signed Slice in 2009 to appear Season 10 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series. Unsurprisingly, he brought ratings to the show unlike anything else in 20-plus seasons.
After splitting results over his two-fight UFC career, Slice parted ways with the promotion in May 2010. Over the next several years Slice tried his hands at a boxing career. He would go 7-0 with six knockouts in the boxing ring between 2011-2013 before taking a hiatus from combat sports altogether until 2015.
In January 2015, Bellator announced Slice would return to MMA on multi-fight deal. He went 1-0 with one no-contest in his final fights before his death, including a victory over longtime bitter rival Ken Shamrock. There was plenty of hatred going into their June 2015 fight, which Slice won by first-round knockout, but Shamrock, like many, mourned the loss of the iconic fighter.
We battled inside the cage, warrior vs warrior. Outside the cage, we have loved ones. REST IN PEACE KIMBO SLICE. May God Watch Over You.
— KEN SHAMROCK (@ShamrockKen) June 7, 2016
Although 42 is far too young for anyone to pass away, Slice used his time well and accomplished more than many could hope in a lifetime. His rise through the Internet proved fame can be achieved in many ways, and he wisely parlayed that success into a notable and financially lucrative career. Kimbo was the ratings kings, “The King of the Web Brawlers” and most importantly, a loving father of six children.
Kimbo’s impact on the global exposure of fighting – be it on the streets or in the cage – won’t soon be forgotten. That’s not something he would have care much about, though, because for Kimbo, it was all about the love of the fight.
“I enjoy doing what I do – I love exchanging blows,” he said. “The fame, that just comes with the territory.”