I used to live in the middle floor of a creaky three-family home north of Boston, sandwiched between people above and below who were both insane and irritating. The most annoying was the pale, gangly creep upstairs. He’d walk down the steps around 9 p.m., bang on my door, and start telling these off-putting stories in which he was a paramedic who'd seen too many kids die in his arms one minute, a cop with a vicious German Shepherd the next, and a mechanic who made $50 an hour working on landscaping equipment in the winter. In reality, he was a pathological liar and a drunk living in an elaborate, changeable fantasy world.
On one occasion, he cracked a beer in the stairwell and mentioned that he was an expert kickboxer. I asked where he trained. "It's private," he said. He added that Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson had visited his gym recently—thousands of miles away from The Ultimate Fighter house where I later learned he actually was staying at the time—and that he'd turned down Mr. Ferguson's offer to spar. Then he mentioned that he'd just taken a bunch of Klonopin.
People who chase benzodiazepines with Coors Light just might be the target audience for Bellator 149's co-main event on February 19, in which Ferguson fights Dhafir "Dada 5000" Harris in Houston. How else can you explain the appeal of booking two brawlers with a single-dimension skill set between them on one of MMA's biggest stages? How else to justify 5-2 Ferguson's awkward progression from first-round TKO over UFC pioneer (and Bellator 149 headliner opposite Royce Gracie) Ken Shamrock to being booked against a 2-0 backyard fighting promoter from a place you've probably never been?
When the fight was first announced in November, Harris's name actually resonated with me by total coincidence: Just days earlier, I'd watched Dawg Fight, a brutal documentary about South Florida's illegal backyard fighting scene circa 2010. Harris, the star and a backyard brawler himself, fashions a persona as a benefactor for the Miami-Dade neighborhood where he and Ferguson both grew up. He organizes unregulated fights both as an outlet for neighborhood tough guys to settle scores without guns and a springboard for disenfranchised brawlers to work toward legit pro fighting careers.
One of the film's subplots is the falling out between Harris and Ferguson. Harris says he was part of the Ferguson's entourage and that the rest of the crew held him back from breaking through. Ferguson has said that Harris was just a hanger-on who inflated his role and stole Kimbo Slice's bearded and Mohawked persona for himself. After Harris's first legit MMA fight, the movie teases the prospect of an eventual match-up between the two.
And here we are, just over a week out from its reality. As far as beefs go, this one is about as parochial as it gets—the weirdest part about the fight is that it's taking place in Houston instead of Miami—but Ferguson is still a celebrity with wide name recognition. It's easy to forget that he's been involved in some of the most-watched MMA fights in America. Even my shitty neighbor knew who he was. In returning against Shamrock after a five-year-layoff, the bout was the most watched in Bellator's history. So the task ahead of February 19 has been introducing Harris.
Forgetting for a moment the particularly seedy corner of combative sports where he made his name, Harris seems a decent guy who's genuinely concerned for his community. To hear him tell it, a key part of his distaste for Ferguson is that he's made himself scarce in the place he grew up since becoming a star. "The problem is not him moving," Harris told the Inside BJJ podcast. "…the problem was he never came back—not to give a speech, not to give a turkey."
Harris is also a breathless and quick-witted salesman. One of the Inside BJJ hosts sounds concerned when Harris avoids a question of whether he's been training grappling, pointing out that those deficiencies sabotaged Ferguson's early career. Harris responds: "Kimbo's realistically been inside the game eight, nine years. He still don't know shit, bro!"
This fight is a suitable lowest-common-denominator complement to the irrelevance of Gracie-Shamrock III. Like Ferguson's own booking against Shamrock, the goal is to build on old narratives of unfinished business to keep the strange mythology of Kimbo Slice chugging along. And something has to fill the void in a fight that's bound to end in quick, ugly, weird, and/or depressing fashion, and drama borne of personal grievance is as good as anything else. A rematch between Ferguson and Sean Gannon is closer now than ever.
But to look at Ferguson and Harris, there's an appeal that persists even if you've never in your life fought or watched a fight: you have the chance to watch two people whom you'd never want to hit you hit each other instead. No matter how thick the haze of Klonopin and light beer, that fact still cuts through.
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