Kevin Ferguson Jr. rakes Aaron Hamilton's head against the cage during his debut fight on November 19, 2016 at the SAP Center in San Jose, California.
"Are you sure?" Kimbo asked again, and the answer was the same.
Seconds later, the teenager was keeled over on the mat, gasping for air following a left hook to the body from dear ol' Dad.
"After that," Kevin chuckles, "I didn't want to go near a cage."
Kevin eventually mustered the courage to face off with his father again—even surprising him once with a shot to the mouth that drew blood, an unheard-of occurrence for a Slice training session.
"I was the only one to ever touch him," Kevin says. "He was like, 'If I had to get a busted lip from sparring, at least it came from my son.'"
Although he sparred off and on, it would be years until Kevin turned his full attention to fighting. He wrestled and played football at Coral Springs High School in Florida and studied fashion and photography at Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
After two years, he dropped out to become the official photographer for Team Kimbo, the marketing, social media and apparel company his dad had formed after transitioning from the world of street-fighting into sanctioned MMA and boxing competition.
Along with providing a source of income, the job allowed Kevin to grow closer to his father, who by then was an international celebrity.
Whether it was in a small-town Oklahoma casino or an arena in Australia, Kevin followed Kimbo to every fight. He also accompanied him to Thailand for the filming of The Scorpion King 3. Kimbo, who made a cameo appearance in the movie, spent the 20-hour flight in coach so his son could enjoy his first-class seat.
"Everyone viewed my dad as some big, mean guy that just went around beating people up," Kevin says. "I never saw it like that. Even when he had the 'Kimbo' persona turned on, he was still my dad.
"He may have had a big name, but he was like all fathers. He just wanted to show me the right way. When he wasn't fighting, he was a very kind, caring person."
"Everyone viewed my dad as some big, mean guy that just went around beating people up. I never saw it like that."
— KEVIN FERGUSON JR.
Indeed, while most fans knew Kimbo as the bruiser who split open opponents' foreheads, Kevin recalls the moments they spent bonding at TGI Fridays or Dave & Buster's. A pre-fight tradition was for father and son to get their toenails painted at a local salon. And it was moving, Kevin says, to observe the gentle, loving manner with which Kimbo treated his younger son, Kevlar, who has autism.
"Everyone who met him liked him," Kevin says. "All those years, I just watched him and learned from him. The way to carry yourself, the way to treat people…I took it all in."
Last April, shortly after Bellator offered a contract to Kevin, Kimbo threw his son a party at Dave & Buster's in Miami. The celebration also served as a sendoff for Kevin, who at his father's advice would be moving to Long Beach, California, to begin intense training under McKee.
Kevin initially hoped to train in Florida, but his father worried that he'd be surrounded by friends and negative influences from childhood, causing him to lose focus.
"I remember having a talk with him before I left," Kevin says. "I just felt a bond, a stronger connection than I'd ever felt before. He told me to go out there and focus, to do my thing and not worry about anyone else.
"He told me he was proud of me," he says.
A few weeks later, on June 6, Kevin was adjusting to his new life in Long Beach when he received a call from a relative.
His father, Kimbo Slice, was dead.
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Baby Slice studied fashion and photography in San Francisco before he followed his father's footsteps into the ring. "He may have had a big name, but he was like all fathers. He just wanted to show me the right way."
For three days, Kevin Ferguson Jr. refused to come out of his bedroom.
It wasn't that he was surprised his father had died. Only 42, Kimbo had been hospitalized a few days earlier in Coral Springs, where he was experiencing heart issues and in need of a transplant. Kevin knew his chances of surviving were slim.
"Still," he says, "that didn't make it any easier to take."
While the rest of the family mourned Kimbo in Florida, Kevin remained in California and, for 72 hours, hardly got out bed. He spent most of his time reading countless internet articles about his father's passing. He listened to reports on ESPN and Fox and rewatched hours and hours of his dad's fights and interviews on YouTube.
A funeral was held for Kimbo a week later, but Kevin chose not to attend.
"I just couldn't do it," he says. "I want to remember him the way I always knew him, laughing and smiling and being my dad. I didn't want my last memory to be of him lying in a casket, about to go into a hole."
Six months later, Kevin still feels the pain of Kimbo's death.
"It's something I'll probably never get over," he says. "It's always going to be there. I can't get away from it, so I'll just have to man up and deal with it."
The best way to do that, Kevin says, is through fighting. The anger he feels over the passing of his father—and the commitment he's made to honor him—continues to fuel him as he trains with McKee in California.
"I kept telling him, 'Whether you like it or not, you're a huge name. Everyone knows who you are because of who your dad was.'"
— A.J. McKEE, KEVIN'S ROOMMATE
Not that things have always gone smoothly.
McKee said Kevin arrived at his gym in June out of shape and unprepared for the intensity level it takes to train to be a top-level fighter.
"His work ethic was shit," McKee says. "He couldn't last two minutes. I'd put him in there with amateurs and he'd get thrown around like a rag doll. He kept saying, 'Just watch. When it's time for me to show up, I'll be fine. I'll do my thing.'
"I kept telling him, 'Whether you like it or not, you're a huge name. Everyone knows who you are because of who your dad was. There are millions of people who watched your dad fight. Now he's gone, so everyone's eyes are on you. Do you realize the position you're in?'"
As the weeks and months went by, Kevin came to understand.
His conditioning improved right along with his work ethic and, most importantly, his willingness to be coached.
McKee says Kevin was quiet and unresponsive to him and his other students for a month or so. Now he's opening up. Kevin says he's come to view McKee as a father figure. The coach's 21-year-old son, A.J., one of Bellator's brightest up-and-comers, is not only a training partner but one of Kevin's closest friends.
"There's definitely a sense of family, which is something I probably need now more than ever," Kevin says. "Sometimes I sit back and watch how [McKee] is with A.J. and it reminds me of me and my dad. It makes me wonder if that's what things would've been like for me if he was still around."
Kevin Ferguson Jr. squares up for his November 19, 2016 fight against Aaron Hamilton at the SAP Center in San Jose, California.
After a rocky first few months, McKee says he's amazed at how quickly Kevin has progressed. Kimbo, who competed in the heavyweight division, was known primarily for his stand-up attack. Kevin, a welterweight, has developed a versatile skill set that incorporates wrestling along with various forms of mixed martial arts.
Still, just like his dad, Kevin's biggest strengths are his fists.
"He hits people with bad intentions," McKee says. "Pound for pound, he's the hardest hitter I've ever seen. I actually think he hits harder than his dad—and that's with no training or no technique. I can't even explain how freaky it is. He's got lead in his hands.
"If he can get in shape and keep that superpower for 15 minutes, no one will beat him. He'll be in the running for a title shot in a year."
Kevin hoped to put that power on display in his debut last month against previously winless Aaron Hamilton, who was such a Kimbo Slice fan growing up that he bought the star's action figure.
Less than a minute into the fight, Kevin surprised onlookers by picking up Hamilton and slamming him to the mat.