Selling Kimbo Slice

By Loretta Hunt Sep 16, 2009
In an editing bay tucked away somewhere in Las Vegas, Kimbo Slice’s future has been decided.

Slice, who’s real name is Kevin Ferguson, was one of 16 heavyweights selected to compete on Season 10 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which debuts Wednesday at 10 p.m. EST/PST on Spike TV.

The cast includes a diverse group of athletes, including an IFL champion, four former NFL footballers and three heavyweights who’ve already clocked time in the Octagon. But it’s Slice, who has already commanded six-figure paydays and starred in nationally run TV commercials as himself, who will be scrutinized with every interaction, remark and eyebrow-raise he makes.

Slice’s time in the cage is his own, whether he falls flat on his face in his first bout, like his embarrassing 14-second loss to Seth Petruzelli last October, or picks off opponents like he did at the start of his short but well-publicized career. Editing won’t help or hinder either way because performances don’t lie.

Outside the cage, the editors have a delicate task on their hands. Marketing a man who became the Internet’s boogeyman by taking on all comers in random Miami backyards can be a tricky proposition. Expose too much vulnerability and you stand to tarnish the image. Afterall, the boogeyman isn’t all that scary with the lights turned on.

In Slice’s case, he’s genuinely a nice guy when you keep him away from backyards and cages. At the UFC Fan Expo in July, Slice politely admonished a reporter for not readily giving up his seat to a female journalist, but managed to charm the throng of writers that surrounded him while he did it.

The 35-year-old fighter believes it’s this dichotomy that has won him so many admirers.

“What people know about me in general when I fight, I come to fight. You gonna knock me out, I’m gonna knock you out,” said Slice during the July interview. “That’s what I’m coming to do. I’m not trying to be cool with you right now. I’m not trying to be your boy right now. Right now, it’s me and you and that’s my mentality when I fight. People can relate to that, because when I’m done and out of that cage, I’m back having a beer with this guy, sitting down with this guy, just back to being me.”

Fame hit Slice fast and hard in 2008, after online videos exploiting his street-fighting escapades catapulted him into a multi-fight deal with the now-deceased EliteXC. Slice appeared on CBS’s “Saturday Night Fights” two times, garnering nearly 14 million viewers combined. The nation was enthralled by Slice’s bare-bones toughness. Kids started dressing up like him on Halloween, and Slice became the second fighter ever featured on the cover of “ESPN The Magazine,” behind former UFC champion Chuck Liddell.

Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Fame hit Slice fast and hard.
When Slice’s contract went up for grabs in June, the UFC reportedly didn’t hesitate, quickly restructuring TUF’s 10th season to feature heavyweights only (some called in without the formal auditions), while sending a handful of disappointed middleweights and light heavyweights home.

Slice will be the first bona fide celebrity to compete on the series, though the father of six figures himself more of an everyman.

“People kind of dig me and like me the way they do because I can relate to that guy right there,” said Slice. “He goes to Walmart and shops; I’m in Walmart, too. He sees me and we talk. I’m in Winn-Dixie just like he’s in Winn-Dixie. I don’t consider myself no big-time -- you know what I’m saying? Nothing like that.”

Slice also doesn’t take himself too seriously.

“I can’t be phony of who I am, you know what I’m saying? I ain’t got no image. I’m me. This is what you get,” he said. “With these cameras here, without the cameras here –- I’m me. I don’t try to be something I’m not.”

Demico Rogers, one of Slice’s housemates, described the fighter as “a giant, scary cage-fighting teddy bear.”

“I think that this show is going to help him a lot, because everyone has their own idea about Kimbo Slice, but this show is going to show that he’s a real person, that he has feelings, he has children, he has the fiancée, he loves life, he loves kids,” said Rogers. “He does charity. He’s just a really good guy.”

Are fans ready for the softer side of Slice? That’s not something Slice and his longtime manager and high school friend Mike Imber worry about.

“I’m not concerned about how he will be portrayed ‘cause however he acted on the show is who he is,” Imber said in a text. “We’ve never hid anything about him thus far, so I‘m pretty sure you’ll see the same guy you’ve been seeing.”

Imber said his friend and client has always been true to himself. It wasn’t always the case that Slice would walk into a room and all eyes would gravitate to him, said Imber, but he’s not surprised it has come to be the norm.

“He’s definitely always done things his way,” said Imber, “but you always knew there was something special about him.”

If it were his perceived fighting skills that launched his popularity, Slice’s sun would have already risen and set after his sobering loss to Petruzelli. It’s Slice’s journey from pauper to phenomenon, and where it goes next, that has captivated fans. And Slice, his Brutus beard and entourage of assorted characters notwithstanding, is fascinating to watch on that journey.

“There’s a drive for something and I guess I’m still searching for that inner me, I’m still searching for something, so until I find it, until my fight is done, I’m gonna fight. It’s my passion,” Slice told reporters in July.

On Wednesday night, Imber said he and Slice have plans to go play paintball and throw a BBQ before they sit down to watch a night of fights with the Miami-based brood.

Whether or not Slice’s intangible star quality will be magnified or diminished by what fans see on that night and for the next 12 weeks remains to be seen.

If Imber has concerns, he isn’t showing it.

“As far as marketability, you never know –- maybe he will be opened to a whole new set of opportunities,” said Imber.

Slice concurs.

“I’ll leave that to the crowd to decide,” said Slice. “I’ll leave that to the fans.”
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