Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson: The Other People’s Champ

It was confirmed last night that Kevin Ferguson, popularly known as Kimbo Slice, had died.

I had the pleasure of working with Kimbo Slice during my tenure as an event operations guy at the Ultimate Fighting Championships. Like anyone young, black and street savvy, I was deafened by the underground buzz of some bald bearded guy from Miami who was knocking fools out by the pound on YouTube.

The tales swirled through Every Hood, USA but nothing at the time compared to the visuals. Raw, ethereal and unforgettably black, they appealed to everyones unconscious yearning for something dangerous. And Kimbo, with his uniqueness and penchant for blunt expedience in these backyard matches, captivated everyone from the urban jungles to back offices worldwide.

So after hearing much derision on the road that Dana White had issued a public challenge to Ferguson to enter The Ultimate Fighter house and compete to earn a spot in the UFC as a contestant on Season 10 featuring Heavyweights, I was excited that I might actually meet this dude one day.

I was already living out a lucid dream, co-owning an MMA promotion, Shine Fights, run by black men and it happened to be based in South Florida. We knew we didnt have enough juice to snag South Floridas biggest rising MMA prospect in Kimbo Slice. After all, a whole company, Elite XC, was created around him, so we attempted to sign his protg, Cuban street fighter Rene Level Martinez instead.

Although those talks fizzed, I remember that the meetings with Level revealed an aura around the new elevated breed of combat sports contestant, the street fighter, as something so intriguing, it was almost regality disguised as desperate pauperism.

In the South Floridian Cuban ghetto of Hialeah, I attended backyard fights thrown by NYC expatriates and street legend Pistol Pete and rap juggernaut Fat Joe, both enamored, afraid and curious. My partner Devin Price and I engaged with Pistol to find out more about this world and the adherents of it.

Guys who would fight in a backyard or on concrete to entertain the fans were rabid for blood and ready to disperse if the sound of approaching police sirens ever bleated.

My family is from a housing project along the mouth of Harlems storied 125th Street corridor, and I saw street fights a plenty. But none of those guys carried it with the same optimism and grace.

The Miami street fighting movement so based in respect and competitive spirit and eventually propelled into our daily budding digital entertainment mix and, ultimately, into the worlds prime time.

And Kimbo was the chosen King of the genre.

So after seeing Kimbo compete in Elite XC, finishing his first three opponents before finally losing to a pink-haired Seth Petruzelli, we all found out in the UFC that he had entered the TUF 10 house.

We watched him lose to Roy Big Country Nelson during the first round of the reality show teleplay and as a confession, I never watched the Ultimate Fighter. But I joined the collective yearning for Kimbo to persevere and show continued courage while learning a sport with the expectation to be at the top of it.

Kimbo defined the phrase, on the job training, ambitiously joining the American Top Team gym to transition from the streets to the cage with every camera already on him. Yet he took every challenge, win or lose, with grace and poise that people claim doesnt exist in the streets.

I finally did work with Kimbo twice for his UFC debut against Nebraska street fighting royalty turned MMA star Houston Alexander in Las Vegas, and in his final UFC appearance against Matt Mitrione in Montreal. In a sport dominated with white stories and corporate conformity, it was a pleasure to just be young and black around him and his team.

They reminded me of what I could only assume Jack Johnson went through in his time, arriving unapologetically with stocking capped heads, braids and locks, gold fronts and gold chains to the awkward UFC administrative receiving party.

I loved the dichotomy and the camaraderie I could share with these brothers, harkening back to my nascence in Harlem and the “By Any Means Necessary” attitudes we were given as the next generational descendants of Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party.

Kimbo Slice, or Ferg as I overheard him called by those close to him, wasnt the first but he made the biggest impact for a sub-genre of fighter that received little respect in a business where the words world-class mean financial commitment to a martial arts gym system that the underprivileged had no access to.

These guys knuckled up and did what was natural under the hot Florida sun, trying to etch out there own place in our hearts with pure competitive energy.

Those that have followed in Kimbos footsteps, like UFC Lightweight Jorge Gamebred Masvidal, would never have had a way in if it werent for his courageousness and self-effacing ability to evolve just as the viral video generation has.

An undefeated 7-0 professional boxer with 6 knockouts and a mixed martial artist that had competed in the top MMA organizations on the planet is what the Bahamian made of himself.

Luckily for us, we were all able to watch him elevate the street fighter to a place of grace and reverence, which will never be matched.

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