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What if Kimbo Slice quit streetfighting and committed to MMA a decade ago?

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It was sometime in the mid-aughts, and Kimbo Slice had not completely become Kimbo Slice yet. Which is to say he wasn't quite the YouTube sensation that eventually made him into one of MMA's biggest ratings draws ever.

Slice was doing his streetfighting thing in Miami and beginning to earn himself some money, whether it was from bets or videos. There was a guy who was out there with him on the streets who kept bugging him to come to a real gym and train. A nearby mixed martial arts gym.

"He was like, 'You should come to the gym and leave this sh*t alone. Come get some real training and be a real fighter,'" Slice said at a recent Bellator media day in Los Angeles. "At the time, I was like fresh into streetfighting. I was like, 'No, this is all me right now. This is how I'm making some money.'"

That guy who ran in the same circles as Slice then was Jorge Masvidal, now a top UFC lightweight about to make the transition to welterweight. Masvidal was a streetfighter in Miami, even beating some of Slice's boys on video. But he started training in MMA early and now he's near the top of the sport.

Looking back now, Slice believes he should have taken Masvidal's advice. Maybe he would have been training at American Top Team 10 years ago. And then who knows what would have happened with his MMA career?

"I wish I would have took it serious then and started rolling back then," Slice said. "I would have. I really would have. If I had to write a letter to my younger self, I would have told my younger self if Masvidal comes to you and says, 'Hey you want to start training, leave this sh*t alone ... do it now and get into it.' But I didn't. I stuck with streetfighting for another couple of years."

It's not like Slice, whose real name is Kevin Ferguson, has been a failure in MMA under certain terms. Slice, now 41, has certainly made a large sum of money and is in line to do so again when he meets legend Ken Shamrock in the main event of Bellator 138 on June 19 in St. Louis.

But from a competitor's standpoint, Slice was never a real mixed martial artist and for the most part he understands that. Slice said that back then, when he was fighting for Elite XC in 2007 and 2008, he never believed in the ground game. It wasn't that he didn't have the desire to do it or he lacked respect for the sport. Slice just didn't think he needed anything but his hands.

"Before we can even get on the ground to do any jiu-jitsu, before you can even grab me to wrestle me down, we gotta start off standing up first," Slice said. "So if I got this down pat, you're not gonna even get to me to take me down. I wont let you. When you come in, I'm gonna catch you with something. That was my mentality then. But then you got these fighters now who can dodge a punch or two to get close to you and they got a f*cking good wrestling game and they can get you down now. Then you're a fish out of water. I didn't understand that then. It took a little age, a little time. You know what? I need to know this sh*t. What if I'm in a worst-case situation?"

Slice was a huge ratings draw for EliteXC, which fed the streetfighter opponents to raise his profile -- and hopefully, for them, his knockouts. When Seth Petruzelli throttled Slice with a jab in October 2008, Slice wasn't the only one to fall. EliteXC, which had banked its whole business on his well-muscled, broad shoulders, folded up shop.

Ferguson's tenure in the UFC further exposed him for what he was: a streetfighter masquerading as an MMA star. His skills never did catch up with his immense popularity. The Ultimate Fighter 10 was one of the highest rated seasons in TUF history, but Slice lost his first and only fight on the show to Roy Nelson. Slice did beat Houston Alexander at the TUF 10 Finale in December 2009, but five months later he was cut after being dismantled by fellow TUF 10 alum Matt Mitrione.

At that point, Slice left MMA and did some boxing, going 7-0 against handpicked opponents. But for the last five years, he did feel something pulling him back.

"There was a time when I wanted to throw a kick," Slice said of his boxing career. "I was gonna kick the guy in the head. His hands were down and I was like, 'Damn, there go a kick.' And then the movement was different. I wanted a couple takedowns. Some elbows. I was there."

So why didn't Slice learn the wrestling and grappling aspects of the game seven or eight years ago? He puts a lot of the blame on his instructors then, namely legendary fighter and soon-to-be UFC Hall of Famer Bas Rutten, who he referred to as "a celebrity coach."

"Of course they didn't do a good job," Slice said. "What did I know? I didn't know that I would need to know this. I was just ready to fight whoever you go set up with me to fight.

"I'm always willing to put the work in, because here I am today. If I was that way then, I would be this way now. Just knowing that I needed to evolve. Now being at ATT there's no choice but to learn."

That's right. Slice is at American Top Team now, the same place he could have been a decade ago. There's no telling how that would have altered the course of history. Maybe Slice would have become a better MMA fighter, but never gained the popularity he did with those YouTube viral videos. Or maybe he could have had the best of both worlds.

"It doesn't take much to see the dude is an athlete, man," Masvidal told MMAFighting.com. "He's just explosive. Hits hard, he's got a pretty good chin. And he's pretty tough. I've seen him [at ATT] taking his ass whoopings, because he didn't know really what he was doing still. He didn't know about wrestling, so he'd gas out quick. Just on natural ability he was popping up and outwrestling dudes.

"If he would have started out early instead of playing football, if he would have started out fighting when he was young, he would have been a f*cking huge problem."

Not that Slice is the kind of guy who dwells too much on the past. There's still a big fight ahead with more to follow, if you ask him. Maybe he never did achieve as much as he could have or wanted to in MMA. And most likely he never will.

His drawing power, though, has given him another chance the same way it gave him all the chances he's had previously. Slice squandered those before and doesn't want the same thing to happen again.

"You look at Bernard Hopkins, you look at Smokin' Joe [Frazier], you look at Floyd [Mayweather]," Slice said. "You look at these guys, as they get older they're in their primes, unlike the NFL [when] your career is done at 25. At 25 or 30, your career is done. With fighting, it's completely different.

"I had no intentions of knowing the ground a couple years ago. I didn't even want to train working on the ground, because I didn't feel like I would need it. And that's just how I was back then. With the years, I've gotten smarter, gotten wiser."