When the son of the late Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson stepped into a cage in the western Massachusetts mill town of Chicopee this past March, he looked a little like a less-bearded, 60-pounds-lighter version of his dad in his prime. More importantly, Ferguson, Jr. looked good in a way that most debuting amateurs do not: he threw punches without anxiety guiding them, he switched stances with ease, and he kept the initiative before landing a hard right hand that flattened his opponent less than 90 seconds in.
After it was all over, the Warrior Nation XFA XII announcer said, "Ladies and gentlemen, Baby Slice has been born."
Now, Baby Slice is beginning to crawl, or walk, or some other tortured metaphor that plays off that nickname. Bellator MMA yesterday announced that 24-year-old Ferguson, Jr., will make his pro debut at Bellator 160 in Anaheim, California, where he'll fight another welterweight (as-year-undetermined) on the streaming prelims beneath the main event of Benson Henderson versus Patricio "Pitbull" Freire.
It's not unheard of for a fighter to make his pro debut in Bellator, but there's no secret to what's going on here. Ferguson, Jr., is a living link to arguably the most famous MMA fighter to date, whose last act in an insane career of punching faces for money took place in Bellator. Even after passing away last month, the name Kimbo Slice rings out across popular culture. If anyone can absorb some of its power, it’s a son that shares his birth name.
But the arrangement between the promotion and the younger Ferguson isn't as shameless as it could have been. Bellator says that it signed Ferguson to a "developmental deal" in April—two calendar months before his father's passing—which implies they aren't using him as quasi-celebrity fodder to build up his more experienced peers. Ferguson, a former photography student with just two years of full-time training, seems to be taking the opportunity seriously, too: according to the Associated Press, who first reported the news, Ferguson, Jr., moved from New England to Long Beach to train alongside AJ McKee and Bubba Jenkins—teammates who will also be fighting at Bellator 160.
Still, there are real hazards to cutting your amateur career short after just one fight and chasing bright lights. Amateur bouts afford a freedom to make mistakes and improvements away from the eyes (and unsolicited opinions) of the general public. As the free labor that allows regional fight cards to break even, amateur bouts are interchangeable to virtually everyone except the friends, family, and teammates to whom the fighters hawk tickets. The numbers in the win and loss columns don't matter as much as the growth of the fighter himself or herself, of fighting opponents who are progressively more dangerous and dealing with competition jitters without getting a hole elbowed in your face. But when you first go pro, suddenly the numbers matter. You're under scrutiny—doubly so when people recognize your name.
So Baby Slice relinquishes the luxury of anonymity. Then again, with a father like his, Kevin Ferguson, Jr., was never going to have that luxury anyway. Plus turning pro after going 1-0 in the amateurs worked out okay for another fighter you might have heard of. Kevin Ferguson, Jr., certainly has. The fighter's name was Kimbo Slice.
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