Kimbo Slice Used YouTube to Jump From Street Fighting to An Actual MMA Career

Mixed martial artist Kimbo Slice, who died on Monday night, rose to prominence on YouTube long before the word "YouTuber" became a household term.

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Jun 7 2016, 6:12pm

Kimbo Slice posing before his May 2008 fight against James Thompson. Image: Getty Images

Mixed martial artist Kimbo Slice, born Kevin Ferguson 42 years ago, died three days after boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Ali was "the greatest," a fighter with peerless technique and an extraordinary social conscience—the perfect athlete for the turbulent 1960s. Slice, who endured a difficult childhood and adolescence, emerged in his late 20s as "the greatest"... on YouTube, the perfect showman for the internet era.

Slice, whose Reality Kings-produced street fights were uploaded to YouTube, became one of that site's first breakout stars. His viral videos, which included him knocking an opponent's eyeball out of its socket (also seen above), were must-see viewing for a generation of young men who gathered around laptops to shout "oh shit!" as Slice landed punishing, ungloved blows.

As Slice transitioned from street fighting to mixed martial arts, losing forty pounds in the process, opinions were mixed about his likelihood of success. He had lost a street fight to Sean Gannon, a police officer with an MMA background, and many experts assumed that competent fighters would be able to handle him.

Slice's earliest professional fights in the Elite Xtreme Combat organization pitted him against the fading stars of a bygone age: he submitted out-of-shape boxer Ray Mercer, who was famed for his granite chin, and then kayoed a past-his-prime Tank Abbott, a bruiser perhaps best known for his 600-pound bench press and willingness to fight women.

He scheduled a fight against Ken Shamrock, another diminished veteran, only to have Shamrock pull out due to a cut. Slice's opponent, Seth Petruzelli, said he was asked to go easy on the novice fighter, but instead pummeled him into submission in 14 seconds.

Slice remained bankable in spite of this. His YouTube fame confirmed that he was eminently watchable, and whether that audience had tuned in to see him succeed or fail, he had their attention. Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White cast him on his Ultimate Fighter show, where he suffered an inglorious defeat to portly Roy Nelson and then won an uninspiring decision against Houston Alexander. His first UFC match, in May 2010, was a boring debacle; he was dispatched by Matt Mitrione and unceremoniously released by Dana White.

The years between Slice's UFC release and signing in early 2015 by the Bellator promotion were characterized by false starts. He boxed a few lackluster professional matches, teasing a contest against broken-down light heavyweight megastar Roy Jones Jr., and resigned from pro wrestling (a sport that seemed like a natural fit, given his charisma) before debuting in Japan.

Slice's final two MMA bouts offered a fitting capstone to his career. He and Ken Shamrock (by then over 50) engaged in a match that Shamrock, despite apparently capturing Slice in an inescapable submission, somehow lost via TKO, an outcome that struck some as fixed—no surprise for either man, given the allegations of fight-fixing that have surrounded both. Then he and the immense bruiser Dada 5000, who had starred in the Dawg Fight documentary and seized Slice's legacy as the king of the street fights, duked it out for three sluggish rounds before Dada collapsed from exhaustion. Because Slice tested positive for the steroid Nandrolone, victory eluded him; the outcome of the bout, which drew an impressive 2.5 million viewers, was changed to a no-contest.

Two months later, Slice was dead. It would be tempting to say that he failed to realize his potential, but Slice, who had spent his youth playing football, was a latecomer to the fight game.

"He could have been a world class shootboxer," Ryan Christie, a retired US Army sergeant who kickboxed while stationed in Korea, told Motherboard. "His stand-up was similar to how Dutch kickboxing was, leg kicks and punches in flurries. He wasn't anything spectacular, but he had good speed and power for his age and weight."

Former opponent Ken Shamrock echoed this assessment, remarking on Twitter that Slice should be remembered as a "warrior." "Even when he won a fight it seemed like he was never good enough," Shamrock added.

But in one very important way, Slice wasn't merely good. He was the first great fighting star of the YouTube era, and he'll be forever archived there, turning heads and dislodging eyeballs from their sockets.