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The Brawler

Kimbo Slice was an internet legend when that still meant something

Getty Images
Getty Images

It feels like there isn’t anything that we can’t see, find, or know. The internet has made the world feel conquerable. The legend of Kimbo Slice came from a time that was unconquerable.

For many of a certain age, the Bahamian American fighter born Kevin Ferguson was a digital apparition before he was a person. A shadow on message boards. A ghost story with a record. A pixelated force in 360p. And to many who wouldn’t admit it, he was an icon to those familiar with the early, Miami-based online pornography company Reality Kings, for which Ferguson was a bodyguard and mascot/enforcer. I first saw Ferguson, as did so many, on a website called sublimedirectory.com, where his street fight with “Big D” Byrd — billed as his first — found the bearded, hulking Ferguson turn Byrd’s right ocular cavity into freshly shaved charcuterie. When a divot above Byrd’s eye was sliced open and dripping crimson, thus abruptly ending the fight two minutes in, Kevin Ferguson became “Kimbo Slice.” The fight itself is less strategic conquest, more brute ballet. Kimbo has no technique, no grace, no ability to protect himself. He just throws brick after fist-shaped brick. After his win, the handheld camera that had tracked Byrd’s demise follows Slice from the bare-knuckle backyard into a driveway — the lens gets close to Slice, who can be heard thundering, “All day. All day.” Then he vanishes into a van.

Who was that? thousands of people asked. (I can confirm at least eight.) He appeared to be what many young, craven, increasingly internet-addicted men sought: a monster and a myth. A YouTube star in the old-fashioned sense — the bridge between underground Faces of Death tape-trading and a mass market of exploitation commerce. But this was no merchant of death or even the heavyweight American answer to the Gracie clan. Slice was just a punch-thrower with a big rep and, ultimately, a tarnished record. (But what long, swooping punches — it was like watching felled logs used for jump rope.)

The cracks began to appear when Sean Gannon, the Boston cop with the countenance of a stuck pig, crushed Slice in a basement in 2004. Still there were glimmers: He knocked Bo Cantrell out in 19 seconds in 2007. Slice fought — and defeated — an over-the-hill Tank Abbott in 2008. He slugged his way into Dana White’s UFC — after being billed as the star of EliteXC and CBS’s Saturday Night Fights in 2008 and appearing on The Ultimate Fighter in 2009 — but was quickly demystified. Read this essential, empathetic Dan Le Batard account from months before a controversial win over James Thompson. Four months later, after the legendary Ken Shamrock was forced to pull out of a fight with Slice, replacement Seth Petruzelli dismantled the internet hero in a 14-second TKO. Slice floundered in the ensuing years, washing out of UFC and taking up boxing as a kind of professional hobby. (He went undefeated, 7–0.) He had shrunken from view — present, but invisible.

He eventually returned. In February, Slice won his last professional fight, at Bellator MMA 149. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it’s difficult to watch. Matched up with Dhafir “Dada 5000” Harris — a fellow Perrine, Florida, fighter — Slice outgrapples, outlunges, and outlasts his opponent. But it is grisly getting there — two middle-aged men who’ve spent an adulthood getting smashed in the face, flailing and dragging across the floor. As the fight stays ground-bound, the boos in the crowd begin to simmer. This is a slog. After a prolonged struggle on the mat midway through the second round, Dada rises — his eyes are red like two Swedish Fish. Soon, both men collapse upon each other without losing their footing, dipping back and forth into one another like crisscrossing oil derricks. In the third round, after landing nine consecutive blows to the head, a barely sentient Slice watches Dada lean, wobble, and helicopter to the ground for good. TKO. Dada reportedly “absolutely” almost died during the fight, suffering cardiac arrest halfway through. By the end, Slice looks as though he’s about to drown. He wanders out of the cage, victorious.

Slice’s win over Harris was the highest-rated Bellator event ever. The legend came to life, the ghost revivified. Only it didn’t — shortly afterward, it was revealed that Slice had tested positive for Nandrolone. The fight was ruled a no-contest. Four months later, Ferguson is dead at 42. He was a father of six, and a grandfather. He was warmly regarded by family and friends as a gentle giant. Funny, too. Last year, he told Greg Howard: “Bowling is relaxing. Think about it, man. It’s a black ball rolling down the lane, knocking down some white pins with red stripes around their necks. That’s poetry, man.” We know that Kimbo Slice was not a monster or a myth or even a magnificent fighter. But we know about him now.

This post has been corrected and updated. An earlier version incorrectly described Kimbo Slice’s path to the UFC, attributing CBS’s Saturday Night Fights to that promotion; it was an EliteXC promotion. Slice did not join the UFC until after he appeared on The Ultimate Fighter in 2009.