Kimbo Slice's story was bound to end this way because America has always boxed with black men while wearing loaded gloves.
Even when you're bigger, faster, stronger and punching twice as hard, there's always the risk of your Dickensian rise from poverty ending in tragedy because the American design, for many black people, is filled with flaws that set you up to fail.
In the movie version of Slice's life, he was supposed to continue his early legacy as a bad-ass brawler who punches his way into the mainstream, becomes adored by fans and retires, only to coach a new breed of superstars from his hometown in South Florida.
Truth is, Slice—birth name Kevin Ferguson—was a glorified street fighter whose backyard brawls were the stuff of legend, but his professional career ended as merely tomato-can status. And now, at 42, Kimbo Slice is dead. His death, no matter the cause, is steeped in an African-American tradition of flaming out fast. The flame is designed to burn bright, only to flicker to a dismal end because the punches from poverty, while holding the weight of history, are predestined to lead to a spectacular knockout.
The family that Slice fought desperately to provide for is now without him. The history books that capture this sort of history won't remember Slice. His street-brawling record won't be recorded. And as if the black cloud of American history weren't enough, the boxing gods decided to rain on Slice, with his death coming just days after Muhammad Ali’s. It feels about right that even in death, Slice is up against a boxer he can't beat. The world will never forget Ali, but today, many are going, "Kimbo who?"
Slice rose from unknown to a wrecking machine willing to risk it all for a money bag in a backyard because that’s what happens when you grow up in South Florida, where Slice played football until Hurricane Andrew devastated his high school.
It becomes the polished poverty credo: “Since the world won't ease up, I'm going to have to beat it off my back.” And that is exactly what the 6-foot-2, 225-pound, Bahamas-born beast of a man who crash-landed on YouTube around 2005 decided to do. Before that, he was just a student who dropped out of Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla., only to end up homeless. Soon he would become a bouncer, then a porn bodyguard, then bare-knuckle brawler. All physical jobs, all benefits of a body built around protection.
As a brawler, Slice was to the streets what Mike Tyson was in the ring. He was a brutal, knockout-punching, rock-solid mass of the American dream, and the physical manifestation of what happens when hopelessness comes out swinging. His name became legend on YouTube streets, and his legend became arguably too big for him to follow. He burned out in mixed martial arts before he even got started. In 2007 a now-defunct MMA outfit booked Slice as its headliner. The event was the first MMA fight on CBS. His first showing was a dismantling of a lesser opponent.
In 2009 the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) booked Slice as a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter reality-TV series after UFC President Dana White said he wouldn't last two minutes in the ring with a real MMA competitor. He was out of place. For a man who had spent the majority of his life beating people with his hands, he couldn't grasp the complexities of working with his feet or how to break out of a choke hold. He compiled a 1-1 record before bouncing from the UFC altogether to try his hand at professional wrestling. It didn't work.
Slice's last fight was with Dhafir "Dada 5000" Harris, who starred in Dog Fight, a documentary based on street brawlers from Slice's old neighborhood. The movie focuses on Harris' struggles to follow Slice's rise to fame, all the while adding that he could beat Slice if the South Florida legend would only take the fight. Bellator, a low-level MMA outfit that works with UFC has-beens, signed up both men to clash. The fight was a joke. Both men were too slow, too chubby to move past punches thrown from as far back as the story of their legends.
Black neighborhoods are alive with stories of men like these who once were. They may be more American than the fictional tales of ragged men begging for hay nickels in the street, and only known to those focused enough to care. And no matter how hard the punch, they can't brutally beat the fate that America has planned for them; the fix is in. It always has been.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is associate editor of news at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.