- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2007

Kevin Ferguson is a real-life Philo Beddoe, the street fighter Clint Eastwood played in the film “Every Which Way But Loose.” He is an underground legend with a better character name — Kimbo Slice.

In today’s Internet world, though, underground legends surface quickly. Kimbo Slice, whose fights to date have been in backyards and streets and captured on video to become a YouTube hit, is stepping into something that resembles the mainstream when he fights Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City in a pay-per-view mixed martial arts battle in a cage.

His opponent? Former Olympic gold medal winner and heavyweight champion Ray Mercer.

These are strange times in the fight business.

Slice is a scary fellow, about 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds. He is reportedly a former bodyguard who began fighting about a year ago in Miami in brutal and bloody backyard bare-knuckle brawls for $5,000 to $10,000 a pop. He has fought opponents named Rast, Afro Puff, Big Mac and The Bouncer and beaten all of them. His only purported loss was to a mixed martial arts fighter named Sean Gannon.

The legend is that Slice served 10 years in prison, but he won’t say what for and doesn’t like questions about it either. And when he doesn’t like questions, he lets people know, as he did to one radio reporter recently on a conference call interview:

Reporter: “A lot of critics out there are claiming this is a circus, a freak show because you have a street fighter like Kimbo getting in the ring. That ain’t me thinking. I’m not saying that, but other people are saying that. How do you guys feel that some critics out there think this is a circus act?”

Slice: “There is nothing circus about this, man. I am not a clown. The man I am fighting is not a clown. The guy who put this together is not a clown. I haven’t heard nobody else come that way. I think you are coming that way, man.”

Reporter: “No disrespect from my way, that was not me. …”

Slice: “I didn’t hear that from no other critics, man. That’s disrespectful.”

Reporter: “Hey, I’m going to the fight, man.”

Slice: “You better stay home and order this one because I don’t like how you just came. That wasn’t cool.”

I’m not going to fight, so I guess it’s safe for me to say it does look like a circus and not worthy of Mercer, the last American heavyweight to win Olympic gold (in 1988) and a former heavyweight champion. I suppose, though, it is no less of a circus than the great Joe Louis being a professional wrestler. And like Louis, Mercer is taking part in this for one reason — he needs the money. Both Mercer and Slice will get $50,000 for the fight, with the winner receiving a $25,000 bonus, plus another $10,000 for a knockout.

“This is the most important thing in my life right now,” Mercer said. “It has changed my life. It has given me another breath in the fight game. My kids and my family, the times we have been going through, this is for them. I’m willing to get in that ring and die for my family. That is what this fight is all about, my family and the times we have been going through.

“I don’t want to discuss what is going on with my family,” Mercer said. “All you need to know is that this fight is for me and my family. When your family is going through hard times, you do whatever you can to make it right. I’ve got nine kids, man, nine kids. We need to win this fight big.”

The last bout for Mercer (34-6-1, 25 knockouts) was nearly two years ago, when he was knocked out by Shannon Briggs in the seventh round. He has limited other combat sport experience. He fought twice in the K-1 kickboxing promotion and lost both times, including being knocked out with a high kick by Remy Bonjasky in March 2005.

The fight, sanctioned by the New Jersey Athletic Control Board, will take place under mixed martial arts regulations, with a scheduled three five-minute rounds. Both fighters say they have been training hard with mixed martial arts experts, but it’s likely the fight will be something between a boxing match and one of Slice’s backyard brawls.

“We are throwing knuckles — that is what boxing is, only with a little padding on,” Mercer said. “That will come natural. In boxing, you are throwing blows, looking out for this or that, but this will be more intense because it is mixed martial arts, but this is a street fight. Anything goes.”

Slice said he has put much more into training for this fight than his typical street fight, both physically and spiritually.

“I have cleansed my body and cleansed my soul,” he said. “When I fought street fights, I’d be sitting in a truck smoking a blunt before I went out to fight. But since I have been training for this fight, I cut out a lot of things. I haven’t even had sex in three months, man. My life has completely changed for the better. I am ready for whatever comes.

“I had a mental meltdown these last couple of months, and I turned my brain into a sponge, and I soaked up everything that was coming toward me,” Slice said. “I was rebuilt, man.”

Does this mean Kimbo Slice, the street fighting legend, is no more? Has Philo Beddoe gone legit? Will Slice be throwing down in some backyard again someday for cash?

“I’m not done with that,” he said. “If my guys [Slice has street fighting managers] line up a contract, I will do it anytime. … I like to fight. If I don’t make dollars, then the whole thing doesn’t make sense.”

As if any of this does make sense.

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