ATT’s Davis Teaching Kimbo Control, Patience

By Loretta Hunt Oct 20, 2009
In the last two weeks, the arrival of Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson has brought an additional shot of picture-seeking fans to the American Top Team gym in Coconut Creek, Fla.

It’s the instructors that have to play the bad guy, because Slice, recently outed as a nice guy in bada-- clothing, has a difficult time turning anyone away.

However, time is of the essence.

Under head instructor Ricardo Liborio’s direction, ATT’s staff has only eight weeks to coach Slice past the game but technically overwhelmed fighter that Roy Nelson easily took down and had his way with on the third episode of this season’s “The Ultimate Fighter” on Spike TV. Slice, who’s only 3-1, is expected to make his official UFC debut during the series’ live finale on Dec. 5 in Las Vegas.

Nobody knows this better than Howard Davis Jr., the team’s boxing director. Slice, a striker by preference whose pedigree came from videotaped brawls in Miami backyards, won’t be expected to harness enough jiu-jitsu or wrestling in eight weeks to take down or submit his opponent. In reality, it will be Davis’ job to refine what he can of Slice’s standup game and build on what the novice fighter already knows.

“He needs a lot of work,” said Davis, “but he’s coming along, definitely coming along.”

Davis, a 1976 Olympic boxing gold medalist, is easing the 35-year-old fighter into the nuisances of control, something Davis believes Slice lacked in his much-publicized 14-second loss to Seth Petruzelli in October 2008.

“Because he hits so hard, he puts a lot of turning and effort and committing to punching hard, that sometimes, if he misses, he knocks himself off balance where people can take him down,” said Davis. “That’s one of the major issues I have with him –- trying to load up on every shot. You don’t need to.”

If Slice can make his punches smaller, Davis believes the fighter will be able to preserve his positioning longer and fire off more punches in the process.

“We’re also working on defense, how to slip and parry punches,” said Davis. “We’re working on a tremendous amount of blocking.”

Like any other ATT fighter on the roster, Slice reports for training five days a week, and usually completes two sessions a day. Slice’s usual entourage of colorful characters stays home.

Without knowing yet whom Slice will face in December, Davis and the other trainers have challenged Slice in small increments, as he acclimates to the rigors of professional fighting. By his own admission, the father of six has had little exposure to the schedule a fighter keeps, except for a couple months of training out in California with Bas Rutten and Randy Khatami during his EliteXC tenure.

“He got real tired early,” noted Davis. “Now he’s starting to adjust. He doesn’t complain.”

Davis, who works with the gamut of the ATT stable from Mike Thomas Brown to Thiago Alves to Antonio Silva, said Slice’s education is only beginning though.

“To be honest, it takes anywhere from three to nine months to really digest, chew on, and let it become part of the DNA,” he said. “It could take almost a year for that to happen.”

Davis, who calls Slice the “nicest guy you could ever meet,” said he watched Slice’s escapades on YouTube a few years ago and was impressed by the fighter’s tenacity.

“I was pretty amazed that he’d let guys hit him and then kind of laugh at them,” said Davis. “I was like, ‘wow, that’s the real deal.’”

Still, Davis noticed tendencies that won’t translate well in the cage and will be difficult to tame.

“When you’re a little older, it’s difficult to be taught sometimes,” he said. “Once somebody gets into the fire, they go back to their old ways. A lot of older fighters do that. They’ve been doing something one way for a very long time and you have to tell them, ‘Hey, what you’ve been doing is wrong even though you got away with it for a while. Now you have to change.’ You have to change their emotions. That’s what you’re doing. You’re not just watching somebody. You’re changing how a person feels about what they’re doing.”

Still, Davis has found some benefits to his new student’s inexperience.

“Even though he’s 35 years old, he’s probably like a 25-year-old,” said Davis. “He hasn’t taken much abuse. He hasn’t been in the MMA arena long, where you get beat up, taken down, leglocked, armbarred, choked out. There is something he has that you can’t teach and that’s ferocity and heart. He’s very eager to learn.”

Davis credits Petruzelli’s professional training and accuracy for his one-punch stunner last October. Petruzelli hit on the chin, the fighter’s weakest spot, while Slice’s informal opponents of past didn’t connect with the sweet spot so readily.

Davis said it will be his job to prepare Slice for more shots like those. But will Slice be able to handle them?

“If he can’t, we’ll soon find out,” said Davis.
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