Earlier this week, we lost an imposing figure that went from street fighting sensation to full blown Mixed Martial Artist. Kimbo Slice as you may know him, or Kevin Ferguson as his family knew him passed away at the age of 42 due to heart failure. Ferguson was set to fight in July against James Thompson, who he previously fought and beat in the first MMA fight card ever televised on broadcast television. Kimbo got his career beginning on YouTube. He was a street fighter who received tens of thousands of views and had some serious street credentials.
Once the shirt came off, it was on.
Kimbo showed some good power and movement for a big guy and seemed to drop other big guys while taking very little damage. The fights were bare-knuckle and didn’t seem to have any rules. Many of you won’t know what I’m talking about but Clint Eastwood played in a few movies like “Any Which Way You Can” and in those movies he was a winning street fighter who participated in organized fights for cash. He was the king of the hill and had the rough background to compliment the lifestyle. Kimbo reminds me of those movies, he had a serious cult following and the air around him and his confidence made him a scary sight to opponents.
The YouTube sensation was taken seriously on the street but not many MMA pros would have given him a chance. Of course to boost revenue, EliteXC picked him up in hopes of making some money off of his following. A lot of people thought it was a waste of time and really dumb idea. Back in the “old” days, EliteXC was second rate to the UFC and needed someone to spark interest among casual sports fans who weren’t exposed to MMA. It’s hard to imagine now but in 2008, the sport wasn’t getting much coverage on SportsCenter or online. Unless you were a hardcore fan of the sport and watched UFC bouts on Spike TV, there weren’t many other options for MMA bout viewing. Despite being nowhere near the level of the UFC, EliteXC aimed to be the trailblazer that made MMA relevant and they believed Kimbo Slice would be the man to get them where they wanted to be. For a little while, EliteXC’s hypothesis worked. Kimbo’s fight with Thompson aired on CBS at primetime on a Saturday and is still the highest rated MMA fight ever to air on television with 6.51 million viewers. I guess they weren’t so dumb after all.
Kimbo, of course, did as Kimbo always did and kept fighting. His last EliteXC fight, in which he lost to Seth Petruzelli, averaged 4.56 million viewers. Numbers never lie and the numbers did not lie in Kimbo Slice’s case. Without the pandemonium surrounding Slice and the numbers to back it up, there is no way the UFC signs a deal with Fox in 2011. Kimbo proved that mixed martial arts was acceptable to mainstream audiences.
Kimbo was the first mixed martial arts star to get recognition from major sporting outlets and in some ways made the UFC jealous because of all the years of hard work they had put in before Kimbo became a sensation.
But there is no doubt that fears of the sport being too violent or bloody to air on broadcast television or basic cable were toned down after Kimbo became a star.
Today, every single sports network either airs MMA fights or covers MMA news in some way, shape or form. Major online sports outlets have also emerged with their own MMA beat writers and verticals. MMA is even discussed on sports radio and
TV talk shows because of fighters like Kimbo who were relevant. Kimbo truly brought back the assumption that gritty street fighters have a great chance against seasoned pros. A fight is a fight. I know that Kimbo lived a crazy life, it was evident all over his persona as well as his behavior. After doing research, people have always said the nicest things about him. He didn’t seem to have a troubled legal past aside from some minor offenses. He was playing the cards he was dealt. A lot of people get their shot from YouTube, but very few last through the years. Kimbo did that. Martial Arts Styles are one thing, but there are a lot of videos getting serious hits that involve nothing but a good street fight. Bruce Leroy aka Alex Cazares is another fighter who gained his initial fame on YouTube and ended up in the UFC. He is the new breed of street fighter turned Mixed Martial Artist. I say as long as it is entertaining, people will watch it. Kimbo was certainly entertaining.