Wrestling & MMA

Legend of Kimbo Slice: From backyard brawler to iconic fighter; dead of heart failure at 42

Kimbo Slice emerged from backyard brawls to become a popular figure in mixed martial arts.
Kimbo Slice emerged from backyard brawls to become a popular figure in mixed martial arts. AP

Kevin Ferguson used the Kimbo Slice role to surf the YouTube/DailyMotion wave from backyards to mixed martial arts. In the process, the former bouncer from Perrine ascended to superstar icon status.

That’s why “he’s the godfather of those guys,” said Billy Corben, director of Dawg Fight, a documentary on the backyard fighting culture in Perrine. “I don’t know how many of us were talking about backyard fights on an international level before Kimbo’s videos. You also have to remember, he was one of the earliest YouTube stars. He let a lot of people know the possibilities.”

That, fiancée Antoinette Ray and six kids will be the 42-year-old Slice’s legacy following his death Monday night at Margate’s Northwest Medical Center.

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel and the Broward County medical examiner’s office, Slice was admitted on June 3 with complaints of severe abdominal pain, nausea and shortness of breath. The report later stated that he had congestive heart failure and a mass on his liver and was in intensive care on a ventilator. The report continued that his family was told he needed a heart transplant and the doctors were getting ready to transfer him to a Cleveland facility where he would be placed on an organ donor list.

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“We are all shocked and saddened by the devastating and untimely loss of Kimbo Slice, a beloved member of the Bellator family,” Bellator president Scott Coker said in a statement on Bellator’s website. “One of the most popular MMA fighters ever, Kimbo was a charismatic, larger-than-life personality that transcended the sport.

“Outside of the cage, he was a friendly, gentle giant and a devoted family man. His loss leaves us all with extremely heavy hearts, and our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Ferguson family and all of Kimbo’s friends, fans and teammates.”

UFC, which signed Slice out of the backyard brawls, issued a statement: “While he will never be forgotten for his fighting style and transcendent image, Slice will also be remembered for his warm personality and commitment to family and friends.”

Slice tested positive for anabolic steroids and an elevated testosterone level after his last fight, Feb. 19 at Bellator 149, against his former bodyguard Dada 5000 (Dhafir Harris). Harris spent extended time in the hospital after his knockout loss that left him, he said an interview, walking through death’s revolving door twice before he left the ring.

Corben saw both damaged fighters afterward.

“I was stunned [at Slice’s death],” Corben said. “I believed after that fight, seeing Dada 5000 and seeing Kimbo, that Dawg Fight 2 would end with those guys on a pulpit in Perrine hugging it out. I thought it would be a real symbol of hope for the community. With all the beefs, seeing these two guys quash it would be a peaceful, settling force.”

Although born in the Bahamas, Slice grew up in Perrine and played linebacker at Palmetto High. As an adult, he experienced homelessness, a state he escaped with jobs as a limousine driver, bouncer and bodyguard.

The long, underground bare-knuckle brawl culture — or, to be exact, the pay that could be $300 to $500 per fight — beckoned to someone with Slice’s thick build and thin economics. Once someone got the idea to video-record the fights and give the public direct access via websites, Slice grew into an underground sensation. Bald, bearded, bulging with muscle in every direction, and with a smile flashing a grill, Slice appeared to be the epitome of a fearsome anti-establishment hero.

South Florida media coverage helped elevate Slice from the underground. His signing by the UFC established him as a role model for those in the backyard brawl culture of Perrine. His third pro fight was the first on over-the-air network TV.

“His extraordinary legacy is he helped create the business model,” Corben said. “Record yourselves, put it online and hope to get discovered by an MMA scout or trainer. And it’s worked.”

Miami Herald sportswriter Linda Robertson contributed to this report.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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