Kimbo Slice, a mixed martial arts fighter who died Monday evening at age 42, may be best remembered for the bouts he fought with Bellator and UFC. But before he was a pro fighter, Slice had another — perhaps more important — claim to fame: He was one of the world’s first YouTube celebrities.

This is ancient history in Internet time, of course, but Slice — whose real name was Kevin Ferguson — got his start on YouTube in 2005, before the site had even launched officially. In fact, for a time, the former limo driver and strip club bouncer was arguably more of a household name than the platform was.

“Kimbo Slice is known as one of the first YouTube celebrities,” director Kevin Connolly said in 2011. Connolly had hoped to make a film about Slice’s life. “He was the first person I ever sat in front of a computer and typed somebody’s name into YouTube. His fights ended up on the Internet, his back-yard fights, and he, all of the sudden … became this celebrity.”


Slice’s YouTube schtick was simple: challenge neighborhood dudes to bare-fisted fights, then slug it out in a South Florida back yard, parking lot or warehouse. The well-muscled, swaggering guys he faced inevitably ended up on their backs with blood pouring from their noses. And Slice, in a refreshing show of decency that may have explained his YouTube charm, was generally pretty businesslike about the whole thing — little bravado, no gloating. In one clip, he can be seen walking over to comfort the man whose nose he appears to have just broken.

“I’m not the champ yet,” Slice said, firmly, when his camera guy tried to hype him up before a fight. “But I ain’t scared to beat the champ.”

By 2006, Slice’s videos had been watched several million times — a feat at a time when YouTube averaged only 8 million views a day — and Rolling Stone had dubbed him the “undisputed online king of the underground bare-knuckle world.” He’d become so popular, in fact, that that world was no longer particularly underground: Slice made his professional MMA debut in 2007.


Slice did not do quite so hot from this point on: Even he admitted that he wasn’t, technically speaking, all that skilled. His pro record was mixed, and some of his showings were poor. In March, one of his wins was voided after he tested positive for steroids.

But none of that takes away the fact that Slice changed the Internet, or at least foreshadowed many of the ways it operates now. Right at the dawn of World Star Hip Hop, and long before stuff like dark Periscope, “Team Kimbo” saw the potential of raw, unfiltered video. Before there was any viable career path for online celebrities — before online celebrity was even a valid concept, honestly — he ascended from shaky, handheld videos to prime-time fights on CBS.

Heck, Kimbo even got a slice of early viral marketing before it became ubiquitous: He filmed 11 “stealth marketing videos” for Nike in 2008.

YouTube has a whole lot of fight videos now, of course. (YouTube has a whole lot of just about everything.) And many fighters and fight commentators who started YouTubing five or six years after Slice have since surpassed his view count significantly.

But even they credit him with the birth of the genre — if not the entire mid-aughts YouTube moment. Tommy Toe Hold, a popular MMA vlogger, sent a tweet on the subject in February.

“Kimbo Slice founded YouTube,” he wrote.

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