If you grew up anywhere else in the country, you probably won't understand. Coming up in Perrine is a badge of honor that’s oblivious to skin color or wallet size. It's a rite of passage born from skirmishes on the east and west banks of US-1, in a stretch of Miami where experience and authenticity are all that matter.
Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson wore the Perrine badge better than just about anyone. Because of him, maybe the world can finally understand Perrine.
Perrine stripes aren’t handed out on yachts in Biscayne Bay or under the teal glow of South Beach. They’re earned at backyard parties corralled by chain link fences, where 100 percent humidity hangs in the air like a foreboding cloud—an ominous sign that the party can only end when the cops break it up, or the natives flee in chaos at the sound of gunfire.
Hollywood has yet to take aim at Perrine. But if there were a movie about where we grew up, Kimbo Slice would be on its poster.
Miami’s heroes have always been imported, especially when it comes to sports. The prized free agents and coveted draft picks are hired guns whose bloated contracts are justified with the promise of TV deals and tourist dollars.
Kimbo was different because he was ours from the start. His backstory reads like an everyteen coming of age in Perrine during the early 1990’s. We piled into crowded, diverse public schools ripped apart by the category five winds of Hurricane Andrew. US-1 was our Sunset Strip and we knew every seedy gas station from Goulds to the Gables that would sell beer and smokes without an ID.
Kimbo wasn’t picked for stardom. He wasn’t chosen by the machine or anointed by the media. He created his own value, one unschooled and unbridled uppercut at a time. Team Kimbo leveraged the emerging tools of modern communication (YouTube and Kimbo Slice were born about the same time in internet history) and built a juggernaut brand that should be studied in business schools.
Today’s version of the American Dream has a higher credit limit than a mere suburban home with a two car garage. It’s about being the star of the show— loved, loathed, but followed all the same by zealous millions. Team Kimbo hustled their way to the dream, Perrine style.
Kimbo never changed, regardless of success or failure. He was true to his roots from the beginning and stayed Perrine-proud until his final breath. That’s why we rooted for him. He reminded us of home.
Watch Kimbo's seminal fight against "Big D" below. Ignore the savagery if you can. (spoiler alert: Kimbo wins, but the pixelated footage is not for the squeamish.)
Look at the backyard that doubles as a gladiator pit, with its sun-scorched grass around a stucco house bound by a wobbly wooden fence. There's a dilapidated satellite dish that gave up on space a long time ago. An interstate in the backyard sends waves from the urban ocean. This is the Miami the TV networks don’t cut to before commercial breaks during Dolphins games.
Take note of the dozen or so guys in the crowd. If you watch closely, you can catch glimpses of the baggy jeans and wife beater T’s--the preferred uniform of the 305. Listen and you can hear a cultural dialect amidst the encouragement for carnage. Watch Kimbo’s posse gloat when the fight ends. They’re Perrine to the core. Multiply this crew by a thousand, put them in a tight hallway flanked by metal lockers, ring a bell and you get a sense of what life in a Miami public high school is like.
I left Miami for good more than 20 years ago, but watching Kimbo succeed—whether in the backyard, the cage, on reality shows, or in movies—made me feel like I was home. For me, witnessing Kimbo's rise to internet stardom and beyond made me proud of my roots.
I know I’m not alone. The stories and comments posted this week on Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson’s Facebook page tagged #perrine are proof the man had an impact on his home. Perrine will never forget him for it. We'll never stop spreading his legend.
Kimbo’s success brought instant life-cred to those of us who comprise Perrine’s diaspora, especially for people like me who now live in neighborhoods where chain link fences are outlawed and the quality of your grass is monitored by the HOA Gestapo.
That’s why I’ve always stood just a bit taller when friends and colleagues who might as well have grown up on another planet learn I went to same school as the guy who could be considered the world’s first YouTube-famous superstar.
There’s a picture floating around the web of Kevin Ferguson in high-school, a black and white shot of him in a football uniform sitting on the bench. Though he was years away from adopting the “Slice” moniker when the image was taken, “Ferg” has the look of a fighter summoning the strength to answer the bell for the final round. The right hand that would eventually make him famous sports a glove that almost looks ready for a cage match.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear you were looking at a semi-pro player, a grown man resting before he’s called back to the battlefield. Ferg was never a boy. Even in high school the guy had muscles like an action hero and an intimidating look that guaranteed he would always be the first guy the other team saw step from the bus.
The photo was taken in 1992 at Miami’s Tropical Park, when the Palmetto Panthers took on their rival, the Killian Cougars, in the annual battle for the “Cat Trophy.” I played in that game alongside Ferg. We shutout our rivals that day with a 12-0 victory that finished in a torrential downpour. It was the final game of the season, the last Ferg would ever play-- though not the last time he’d put on pads and cleats.
The post-game locker room celebration that day was like the ring immediately after a championship fight. The victors rejoiced. Alpha males chanted. I hugged Ferg and, not knowing what to else to say, wished him good luck. It was last time I would ever speak to him, save for a few fleeting passes in the halls. I was 15.
If we could ask Ferg about that picture, I’m sure he’d talk about the team effort it took to win that day by way of a shutout. Even then, he wanted you to know it wasn’t all about him.
It’s hard to get the humble essence of Kimbo when you look at his fights. Maybe that’s because there was so much more to the man than what happened in the ring, or the cage, or the backyard. Talk to the people who knew him best. Read the condolences and stories on Facebook. Go back and listen to his interviews. Read his quotes.
It’s not that Kimbo Slice was larger than life (though if you’ve ever seen him in person…) Kevin Ferguson was life. Perrine life. If you're from anywhere else, maybe someday you'll understand.