Hate to do it, but I have to say it. 2016 has been just a brutal year for celebrity deaths.
Prince. David Bowie. Hans Gruber. Nancy Reagan. The Cleveland Cavs. Glenn Frey. Schneider. Lawrence Phillips. Abe Vigoda. Muhammed Ali. And now, Kimbo Slice has passed away at the age of 42.
For a lot of young people, they first set eyes on Kimbo around the age of 13. That’s when they found YouTube, and one of its biggest stars was a shirtless Paul Bunyan knocking guys out in a parking lot. Kimbo was part brawler, part pioneer.
Today, you can see thousands of street fights and sucker punches online. But ten years ago, Kimbo was the first guy to figure out not just how to make a dollar out of it, but to make a career and a life.
It’s truly incredible what he did. In a few years’ time, Kimbo went from punching guys on an amateur camera in a backyard somewhere… To being the face of a major MMA card on CBS. The guy was gracing the same network as Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods.
And this was not long after Kimbo was homeless, or working as everything from a limo driver to a bouncer for a porn company. He was not just some internet celebrity. He truly had a Hollywood story.
He talked in recent years about how prize fighting allowed him to send his 6 children to college. And again, for Millennials, watching Kimbo videos was part of growing up on the Internet.
They were the kind of things where you’d wait for your parents to be asleep, click that you were over 18, and then marvel at this big scary dude knocking out guys’ teeth.
Personally- I remember it vividly. We started talking Kimbo on this show over 8 years ago. I was spellbound by it. It was violence, it was reality TV, it was a little Jerry Springer, a little Jackass, and it was unlike anything I’d ever seen.
Kimbo and his crew roll up in a Hummer, he gets out, takes off his chains. Takes off his shirt. Punches some guy’s head off. And then drives away. A perfect formula for the short attention spans of this era.
Everybody was geeking on this Kimbo dude on YouTube.
Of course, hardcore early-arriving MMA purists hated him. Mention the word Kimbo to a friend who loved MMA, and it was like a slap in the face. Dana White himself talked about how there was no way Kimbo could hang with his fighters. And he was right. In no real surprise, UFC heavyweights were a tad more skilled than some rando collecting 50 bucks to get punched by Kimbo in a park.
But Kimbo himself admitted that. He knew who he was, and he was cool with it. He said way back in 2010. “The guys who are holding titles, these guys are awesome. I’m really just having happy days in the midst- being among them, fighting on the undercards, just contributing to the sport. That’s really what I want to do. I’m not looking ahead to winning a title or anything like that. I’m just enjoying each fight as it comes.”
It was YouTube commenters who were hyping this guy as unbeatable. Kimbo himself was about his kids and getting paid. He told Jimmy Kimmell once “I enjoy kicking ass. I really enjoy what I do.”
And we all enjoyed watching him do it. But his own admission, he wasn’t some all-time great fighter. But he was an innovator. He’s a first ballot YouTube Hall of Famer. And if the Internet is the Roman Coliseum, Kimbo was our first gladiator. And I hope he’s up there icing some dude in that big parking lot in the sky.
Rest in peace, big guy.