Like the rest of the mixed martial arts community, American Top Team coach Mike Thomas Brown was shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Kimbo Slice on Monday.
“He had a good way of making people feel good, especially if a kid wanted a picture, an autograph or something. He just had a way of making that person feel special, and he went out of his way in situations like that,” Brown said during an interview on the Sherdog Radio Network. “The guy has a million friends. He just knew how to make people feel good.”
After initially forging a relationship with Slice as he prepared to compete on “The Ultimate Fighter 10,” Brown served as his primary coach at ATT during the YouTube brawler’s comeback tour in Bellator MMA.
“We became friends because I think he just trusted me and he had faith in what we were doing. He was training at the gym years ago when he was getting ready for the ‘TUF’ house, I believe. He was training with [Ricardo Liborio] and I was a competitor at the time,” Brown said. “So I would chat with him here and there in the gym. He would watch me and Brad Pickett spar a lot, and he liked what we were doing and we became kind of buddies. Then when he was making this comeback he came to the gym and needed a trainer, and I think it was a good fit.”
A former World Extreme Cage Fighting featherweight titlist and five-time UFC veteran, Brown worked the corner as Slice emerged from a five-year hiatus to defeat Ken Shamrock at Bellator 138 and Dhafir “Dada 5000” Harris at Bellator 149 (The win over Harris was changed to a no-contest when Slice tested positive for steroids after the bout).
Through it all, Brown found Slice to be a willing pupil.
“He is as humble as anyone could possibly be,” Brown said. “Especially for a guy that famous and with that many wins under his belt. He was a complete student and anything you told him he took it in and tried to learn it, tried to make it his own. You never heard him once ever say he’s the best fighter in the world. He was just willing to step in there against anybody. Most of the time he won, that’s the thing. But he was never cocky or arrogant. The most humble guy I know, really.”
Before they crossed paths at ATT, Brown found himself drawn to Slice because of the brawling videos that surfaced on YouTube. Those same videos made the Florida native an instant attraction in the MMA world, often drawing millions of viewers to whichever network his fight was broadcast.
“Probably his first street fight when it went viral,” Brown said of when Slice first appeared on his radar. “If you were a fight fan ,that thing went viral it was just something you would have come across. It was intriguing. You could see this guy who had this natural talent and it took some courage, you know. People walking into a situation like that they don’t know what they’re getting into; they don’t know what the other guy is capable of. There’s no ref really, there’s no doctors. It’s not very safe, obviously.
“It takes a lot of balls, it’s very courageous, and he really showed he was something special and he had some sort of talent. Even with no training he had this natural way of moving. He knew how to slip and roll almost on instinct. He was like knocking some pretty tough dudes out. It was some pretty wild stuff. People knew had something special.”
Slice remained a big draw during his second go-round in the sport. His first two Bellator appearances were huge ratings hits, and the California-based promotion booked him to face James Thompson in a rematch of a 2008 EliteXC bout on July 16 in London.
While the cause of the fighter’s death remains unknown, Brown recalls Slice feeling poorly a few weeks back, so much so that withdrawing from Bellator 158 became a consideration.
“It was like a week ago, maybe two weeks ago. He stopped by the gym and we talked about his upcoming fight. He wasn’t feeling well,” Brown said. “We were actually talking about, ‘Hey man, you can’t go through with this. It’s time to pull out of this thing.’ He had a few things going on. He had a gall bladder issues also going on. He kept getting the hiccups for days on end. He would have hiccups for a few days. He just wasn’t healthy but it was good to see him and that was it. That was the last time I spoke with him.”
Slice didn’t make his professional MMA debut until 2007, when he was 33 years old. He went 5-2 with one no contest in a memorable career that included wins over Houston Alexander, Thompson, Shamrock and David “Tank” Abbott. Had he developed his skills in an MMA gym at a younger age, Brown is confident that Slice would have become more than just a ratings draw.
“Without a doubt he would have been a champion or major contender. Look at what he did with that late start. He’s got some big names under his belt,” Brown said. “James Thompson was way more experienced, way bigger, trained at many high level gyms throughout his career. He was an established mixed martial arts fighter and he got beat by Kimbo. Also, the Houston Alexander fight was a very big win. Those guys were definitely world class fighters without a doubt. With limited experience and limited training, Kimbo went out and beat them.”
Regardless of what might have been, Slice carved out a lasting legacy for himself, and much that came from a burning to desire to make it in an unforgiving world.
“He represented so well, the guy who literally came from nothing and fought his way out of the ghetto or out of Miami and did something for himself,” Brown said. “And he did it with his hands. Self-made and did it all on his own. It’s really a crazy story.”