In the Shadow of Kimbo Slice

Kevin Ferguson Jr. (aka Baby Slice) is channeling pain from the death of his late father (aka notorious street fighter Kimbo Slice) to defend a family legacy the only way he knows how: in the cage.

By Jason King

Photography by Jake Michaels

December 13, 2016

The fight was listed in small print on the Bellator 165 program—one of 13 bouts on the undercard and not part of the broadcast on Spike TV.

Still, as he exited the SAP Center locker room in San Jose and sauntered toward the cage for his pro debut, Kevin Ferguson Jr. commanded the attention usually reserved for mixed martial arts champions.

His toenails were painted a shiny black and red. Sunglasses covered his soft brown eyes, and his dark hair was twisted into shoulder-length dreads. The golden grill that sparkled when Ferguson flashed his teeth matched the chain that dangled from his neck.

Just like Dad.

Flanked by two trainers, three close friends and a pair of security guards, Ferguson spoke to no one as he snaked through the ground level of the arena, his eyes fixed in a piercing, forward stare. Photographers, videographers and guys with boom mikes tracked his every move. This, they all knew, was a moment worth capturing.

Ferguson stopped briefly in the concourse and threw a flurry of punches into the air.

"Hit him with those and he's going to sleep!" shouted Bellator star A.J. McKee, clapping his hands before grabbing his roommate and sparring partner by the shoulder. "The moment everyone's been waiting for is here! Go out there and put on a show!

"Steal the show!"

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Kevin Ferguson Jr. enters the cage at the SAP Center on November 19, 2016 for his professional MMA debut in San Jose, California.

Standing nearby, Spike TV executive David Schwarz shook his head. Such hype and flamboyance are common among established MMA stars. But for a guy with zero pro fights on his resume?

"Unprecedented," Schwarz said.

Yet also understandable.

Ferguson is the son of the late Kimbo Slice, who knocked out and bloodied countless men in bare-knuckle, backyard brawls in the mid-2000s, often leaving gashes over their eyes and baseball-sized lumps on their foreheads.

Along with generating millions of hits on YouTube, the unsanctioned fights helped launch a multimillion-dollar MMA career for Slice, whose gaudy jewelry, long beard, heavy frame and gold grill made him one of the most marketable stars in the sport's history.

Bellator executives no doubt saw similar earning power in Kimbo's son when they signed him to a contract last spring—never mind that he had just one amateur bout to his credit and hardly any formal training.

"He's got crossover appeal," Bellator President Scott Coker said. "That's no secret. He admits it."

Yet after only five months of tutelage under longtime fighter Antonio McKee, the 24-year-old Ferguson had a catchy nickname—“Baby Slice”—and all the confidence in the world heading into his debut match November 19 in San Jose.

As the reggae music he'd selected for his entrance blared throughout the arena, Ferguson reached into a bag and retrieved a necklace holding a vial of his father’s ashes, draping it around his neck while cellphone cameras flashed in the stands.

Descending the entrance ramp, he couldn't fight off a smile.

The significance of the moment overwhelmed his body.

Quite literally, he was following in his father's footsteps.

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Kevin Ferguson Jr. jokes with friends in the SAP Center locker room prior to his MMA debut on November 19, 2016 in San Jose, California. A.J. McKee (left) is Ferguson's roommate and sparring partner.

A year before his debut in front of 13,000 fans, Kevin Ferguson Jr. could be found behind the counter of a gas station.

lt was the winter of 2015, and his job at Fas Mart in Enfield, Connecticut, involved everything from selling coffee to bleary-eyed police officers in the wee hours of the morning to ID'ing underaged teenagers attempting to buy beer late at night.

At 23, Kevin—who was living with a college friend—felt unfulfilled in his $10.50-an-hour job.

He knew he was capable of more.

"The normal 14-year-old would've been scared to see their dad in a fight like that, but I wasn't at all."


After a few months of training at Plus One Defense Systems in West Hartford, Kevin signed up for an amateur MMA fight in the showroom of a Chinese restaurant. His first-round knockout of Tom Brink caught the attention of executives at Bellator, who eventually signed him to a pro contract.

That Kevin showed potential in the cage was hardly a surprise to those familiar with his past.

Or rather, anyone familiar with his father.

Kevin was in junior high school when Kimbo—a limo driver and security guard for Reality Kings, a Miami-based adult film company—began earning extra money by participating in fistfights against anyone foolish enough to challenge the imposing 6'2", 235-pounder.

QT With Pops... #Kimboslice #Kimboslicejr

A photo posted by KEVIN FERGUSON JR (@babyslice242) on

Kevin Ferguson Jr. (left) stands next to his father, Kimbo, at Dave & Buster's. This was the last photo taken of Baby Slice with his father before he died.

Rather than shield Kevin from his way of living, his father did the opposite. When a shirtless Kimbo would burst through wooden backyard gates to square off against opponents, Kevin was often just a few feet behind, off camera. Minutes later, as they drove away in a luxury SUV, Kevin would watch from the backseat as Kimbo flipped through the wad of $100s he'd just earned.

Before he ever finished puberty, Kevin had matured beyond his years.

"The normal 14-year-old would've been scared to see their dad in a fight like that," Kevin says, "but I wasn't at all. He was just doing what he had to do to take care of his family. It was a learning process for me."

And also addicting.

Kevin had grown up studying highlight tapes of boxers such as Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr. and Floyd Mayweather Jr. on a portable DVD player. "Those were my cartoons," he says. Watching his dad pummel people in person, though, was what made him want to try the sport himself.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Kimbo asked.

Kevin nodded.

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."


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.

Kevin pauses.

"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.'"


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."

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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.

Kevin Ferguson Jr. looks on as Aaron Hamilton recovers from a knee to the head during their match at the SAP Center on November 19, 2016, in San Jose, California.

"The first takedown in family history," the television announcer joked.

After Kevin forced Hamilton to the ground a second time, the announcer's partner chimed in. "We thought he'd be fighting just like his dad. But I prefer [Kevin's] style. I think it's a little bit more diverse."

As dominant as he was in the opening five minutes, things took a turn for the worse in Round 2. It looked as if Kevin had the match won when he positioned his arms near Hamilton's neck for a chokehold that, if executed properly, would've forced a submission.

Suddenly, though, Kevin's arms fell to the side and went limp. Hamilton capitalized immediately by reversing the hold, forcing Baby Slice to tap out.

"Part of me feels for him," Hamilton said after the fight. "He had a whole camera crew following him to the ring—and he's never even had a fight. Mix in the fact that his dad just passed…that's just a lot to have on your shoulders, a lot to deal with emotionally."

Ten minutes later, on a training table in the bowels of the arena, Kevin's heart rate jumped from 98 to 128—all within 10 seconds. Paramedics were summoned. Despite his objections—"I can walk," he insisted—Kevin was wheeled away on a stretcher.

As the doors to the ambulance slammed shut, two things on this bittersweet night had become abundantly clear.

How far Baby Slice has come.

And how far he has to go.

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Two hours after losing to Hamilton in his pro debut, Kevin Ferguson Jr. returned to the SAP Center to retrieve his belongings. His trip to the hospital was a short one—more precautionary than anything, he says, especially considering his father had just died of congestive heart failure.

Kevin says his elevated heart rate was likely caused by supplements he took before the fight to give him a boost. McKee wonders if the enormity of the moment simply got the best of him, forcing him to expend too much energy too fast.

"It wasn't nerves or anything like that," Kevin says. "I just got really exhausted, for some reason. I had this sudden drain, where I couldn't feel my arms. They just collapsed.

"I didn't have anything left."

As frustrating as the result may have been, Kevin seemed upbeat and encouraged as he stuffed his gear into a duffel bag in an empty locker room. With a mountain of pressure stacked against him, he proved he could compete. He proved he belonged.

"People tell me I'll never be able to escape my father's shadow. That doesn't bother me at all. It's a really good shadow to be in."


After the event, Coker, Bellator's president, noted that most aspiring fighters train for four to five years before landing a pro contract. Kevin, mostly because of his father, got his shot after five months.

"Now he has a measuring stick," Coker said. "I hope he's not discouraged, because what I saw tonight was a kid who really, really has some talent.

"I was hoping I'd run into him tonight. What I'd tell him is, 'You showed me a lot. You could be a real star in this sport. Now go back to the gym, put your time in and continue your growth.'"

Kevin is doing just that.

Still, no matter how much success he has in the ensuing months and years, he knows that any mention of his name will always be followed by a reference to his father. He'll always be Kimbo Slice's son.

Instead of creating his own legacy, he's content to build on the one that's already there.

"People tell me I'll never be able to escape my father's shadow," Kevin says. "That doesn't bother me at all. It's a really good shadow to be in."

Jason King is a senior writer for B/R Mag. A former staff writer at, Yahoo Sports and the Kansas City Star, King's work has received mention in the popular book series The Best American Sportswriting. In both 2015 and 2016, King was tabbed as one of the top five beat writers in the nation by the APSE. Follow him on Twitter: @JasonKingBR.

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