Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | midnight
The bullseye on his back will be big and red, but the scariest-looking man in mixed martial arts prefers a darker shade for his toes.
Much like UFC legend Chuck Liddell, Kimbo Slice paints his toenails, the first indication that the Internet’s baddest backyard brawler has a softer side to him.
“Really I just have ugly toenails,” says Slice, somehow letting his gold-tooth smile sneak out from under his grizzly dark beard.
“My whole family does it before a fight.”
And now that Slice, whose real name is Kevin Ferguson, is away from his three boys and girls for three months to shoot the UFC’s popular reality TV show “The Ultimate Fighter,” the paint offers a constant reminder of them.
“I’ve been away for three months before, but this is different. No contact, no nothing,” says Slice, who said the hardest part of filming in a house with 15 other oversized men will be the time away from his family.
“I’m hoping for the best and praying the worst never happens. The structure for the household is not there. I have to leave word and hope that everything is being followed the right way.”
In the end (and minus the obvious financial gains) Slice’s adventure to Las Vegas is really all about his kids. To prove that daddy’s not just a YouTube sensation, or a guy who got knocked out by a jab from a no-name light heavyweight in 14 seconds.
“I have no idea what happened, but it definitely (expletive) with me a little bit. (Expletive) just wasn’t right mentally,” said Slice, who lost his late-notice fight against Seth Petruzelli in October 2008, after Ken Shamrock injured himself hours before their scheduled bout.
“It was like being in a house with green and blue rooms, with a brown ceiling and skeletons on the wall. It’s a mind thing. You got to be a 100 percent mental, and 70 to 80 percent physical to fight.
"But that’s what being an ultimate fighter is all about, to ultimately fight whether it’s ground, stand-up, or whatever. Wrestling jiu-jitsu, boxing, Tae Kwon Do, whatever it is. Put them all into one and become an ultimate fighter."
The 35-year-old Slice — a one-time hot football prospect for the University of Miami who created his larger-than-life persona by filming street fights of himself in backyards, warehouses and shipyards — knows the pressure of the 10th season of the Spike TV show is squarely on his shoulders.
“I kind of will always be the underdog, no matter who I fight,” said the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Slice, who has compiled a 3-1 pro MMA record.
“These guys have been doing it 10 years or their whole lives, and then you got a guy coming off the streets trying to prove himself. But I’m out here to prove that I can fight with the best the UFC has.”
While hardcore MMA fans, UFC president Dana White included, scoff at the idea that Slice has any real shot at succeeding in the UFC, White admits Slice was man enough to take him up on his offer that “the only way this guy will ever get into the UFC is if he went through “The Ultimate Fighter.”
“At the end of the day I respect the fact that he came on the show. This is the only way I said he would get on the show, and he’s doing it,” White said.
“The question is can the guy fight. That’s what were gonna find out. He’s very serious. It’s going to be interesting.”
Slice said he didn't talk any trash when he met up with White on the first day of taping or question why the UFC president has been such an outspoken critic of his and made comments like the one in the summer of 2008 when White said: "It actually makes me sick when we have such great athletes in this sport, so many guys that are really talented and they don't get showcased by the major media. But as soon as a freak show pops up, everybody jumps on it, wants to cover it."
Instead Kimbo (who got the "Kimbo" part of his nickname from a cousin in the Bahamas and "Slice" from his exposure on the Internet) said his best form of revenge would be to keep his mouth shut and just go out and win.
"It don't bother me. That's the McMahon of the UFC," Slice said referring to WWE's chief Vince McMahon. "He's the man. He's runs the (expletive).
“The greatest revenge is success."
But Slice said if someone intentionally messes with him like on past seasons of "TUF" by urinating in his food or trying to get him kicked out of the house, revenge would be quick and punishment would affect both parties.
"There's gonna be gun play, but fortunately for them I couldn't bring my pistol (in the house)," said Kimbo, only half joking about what he would do if some of the antics from past seasons occurred to him. "That's a whole another level. Silver bracelets (handcuffs) if you feel me."
White assures that the urination hi-jinx are long gone, but UFC fans will want to tune into every episode for what he calls "the best television we've ever done."
"It's great. Not only with the coaches but what happened to the fighters. And I'm not talking guys (expletive) in each other's fruit. I'm talking like real stuff that happened, good stuff," White said.
At the time of the interview, UFC light heavyweight champ and one of the coaches for “TUF’s” 10th season, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, said he hadn't gotten to know Kimbo enough from their quick conversations, but said he wouldn't count out the former bodyguard for a pornography company to win the whole thing.
“I haven’t really talked to him much, but he seems like a regular down-to-Earth guy. He was very humble,” Jackson said.
Former NFL player Marcus Jones has no problem with Slice being the biggest star on what White has said will be the biggest season (and not just because it features heavyweights for the first time since “TUF” No. 2) of the reality show that began filming in Las Vegas last month and will debut Sept. 16.
“I feel that any person or any fighter that brings attention to this sport that elevates the awareness for the sport, it’s good for the sport,” said Jones, a first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996.
“If you say Tiger Woods isn’t good for the sport, then all the sudden Tiger Woods comes on and everyone’s watching golf. But if there were no Tiger Woods, no one would be watching golf. If a person brings more fans to the sport just because of the simple fact they bring that novelty, so be it. You want positive attention drawn to the sport.”
But Slice — who White says has the same contract for “TUF” as every other competitor — doesn’t consider himself a star and thinks that is truly the reason so many people tune in to watch him.
“I shop at Winn-Dixie and K-Mart just like everyone else. I never considered myself or thought of myself as a star or some big name,” Slice said. “I’m from the streets. I still consider myself the same guy.
“I’m just a little squirrel in this big world, trying to get a nut.”
Slice admits at the end of the day — despite the financial success he's found in a sport which saw him help set a North American record of 6.5 million viewers during Memorial Day weekend in 2008 — fighting is in his blood, and he wants to test himself against the very best fighters in the world.
“It’s still heavy in my system. It’s still in my mind. I still got the feel to fight, to learn, to train, to go through all the (expletive)," Slice said. "To get in there to knock a (expletive) out, or (expletive) knock me out. As far as do I got anything to prove?
"Yeah ... to myself maybe."
Andy Samuelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-948-7837.