Former WEC champion Mike Brown knew Kimbo Slice better than most. As a competitor, he trained alongside and befriended the YouTube star-turned-MMA fighter. As a coach, he was tabbed to train him when Slice decided to resume his career in the Bellator cage.
In this interview from The Luke Thomas Show on SiriusXM, Brown speaks candidly about Slice, revealing the heavyweight star had signs of serious illness prior to his untimely demise. Brown also opens up about the Kimbo he knew, how he'll remember him and more.
I know this must be difficult. How has the last 48 hours been for you?
I mean, it's just been hectic, trying to find out all the details of what went on here and just try to process it. It affected a lot of people because a lot of people are close to him.
Let's talk timeline here. Did you know he was sick? Were there any signs in the last weeks or months?
He wasn't feeling well the last, I don't know if it was maybe the last month or so. I know he went on a P.R. tour to London and I think on the way back he'd gotten pneumonia or something like this. From there on, he was having some trouble. He had troubles with his gall bladder. I know he was having hiccups for a few days at a time. It was really uncomfortable. I know there were some other things going on.
I don't know all the details, but I know he wasn't feeling well.
But when he fought Dada 5000 in February, there were none of these issues?
No, no. This is, I think, when he got back from the trip to London, is when it all started happening. So this was maybe a month ago.
Did you get a chance to see him at any point during this time?
Yeah, he stopped by the gym a couple of weeks ago. He didn't look great. He had the hiccups. He just looked real uncomfortable. He looked sick. He looked like he was losing some weight.
We had chatted about, 'Hey man, we gotta pull out of this fight' and he was on board. I don't know if he made the official call yet, but he was talking about not fighting. Then I got the call a week or week and a half later.
How long in advance did you know things were really serious?
I didn't even realize. I didn't even know he went into the hospital. I started seeing the same thing everyone else did on TMZ. My phone was blowing up. I was getting calls. Then I talked to his manager, Mike Imber, he confirmed with me and told me what was going on. Then it was sad news.
How long was Kimbo in the hospital?
I'm not certain 100 percent. I think a couple days, but I don't know for sure. I had thought he was in there for the weekend, maybe, but I don't know the exact day he went in.
So, when you saw him, though, he was receptive to the idea that trying to fight at some point in July was not a good idea?
He actually seemed relieved, honestly, because somebody else on his side was saying [that]. A fighter never wants to not fight, of course, but when other people are telling him, 'Hey man, you gotta pull out of this' he seemed kinda relieved.
We talked about Anderson Silva just having that gallbladder surgery and he thought he might need the same surgery, actually.
By the time he went to the hospital, is that the first time he'd actually received medical evaluation for his problems?
MB: I think he had been before because he had pneumonia. He was in the hospital not too long ago because of pneumonia.
And they didn't detect any of these other problems?
I don't know. I have no idea. He doesn't tell me everything, also.
What has the mood been like in American Top Team where he had done a large amount of his training?
MB: It's really somber, actually. There's not a lot of laughing going on. You can see there's definitely a somber tone. There's a TV with a projection of a picture of him. It just says 'Rest In Peace'. You just see a lot of people stop by it and talk about him. You just see the mood's not good here.
You knew him better than most. If I had to ask you who he was, how would you answer that question?
I would say he's a family man who lived to provide for his family. He was as humble as a human being can be.
Why was he so misunderstood in the early stages of his career? Early on, there was confusion about who he was. Why do you think that is?
I think it's the videos, you know? The YouTube videos. He just seemed like so wild and so barbaric, but people didn't really know his personality. They just saw what an animal he was when he was fighting.
When did you first start training with him? How long ago?
Just for these past two fights. The Ken Shamrock fight and the Dada 5000 fight.
But he was in ATT before his Bellator run, right?
Yeah, when I was competing, he was here training as well and [Ricardo] Liborio was training him at the time. We had become friends. We would chat when he would come in a lot. He'd always goof around with me and Brad Pickett. We became buddies from there.
Then when he decided he wanted to fight again, he contacted the general manager Richie Puma, and they thought that I would be a good fit for him. Then we started working together.
When you began to train him, what more were you surprised to learn about him?
He's just such a great dude. He just made time for everybody in the gym. He was so cool like that.
Literally like a month ago, we were in there hitting the mitts and the gym was pretty closed and this family came in. They were looking to sign up. They got so excited that he was in there. They were elbowing each other, you know? It was this older father, this maybe 17-year-old kid and he's like, 'Man, I told you this is the place! I told you this is the place!" They were so excited he was there.
Kimbo saw it and he was hitting the mitts and he did his thing. He finished the round and he went over. It was so funny how he interacted with them. He wanted to make them feel good and feel welcome. We get this stuff all the time. So many people in and out of the gym, most fighters don't do that type of thing. But he was asking the kid all kinds of questions about himself, like, 'Hey how old are you? You want to be the best?' Stuff like this.
You could just see it made these guys' year. That's what he did. He did that type of thing a lot of times. He was always trying to make people feel good and I don't think a lot of people knew that about him.
You and Brad Pickett are your own odd couple, but the real odd couple is you and Slice. It seemed like it really worked. Why did you guys work so well together?
I think he trusted me and he had faith in me. That's the biggest thing. He knew I wasn't going to bulls--t him. He knew that I knew what I was talking about. We were going to work together and try to get better.
Slice was not the best heavyweight ever, but he is an important part of MMA, particularly in the U.S. When you think about his contribution to MMA, what strikes you?
It's funny. Like you said, he wasn't maybe the best heavyweight in the world, but he never ever claimed to be. That's one thing, he was so humble. You never hear him talk about how good he is. He was just willing to fight anybody.
A lot of people would knock at him because everybody - maybe some jealousy, I think - people would want what he had because he was so successful. He drew so many big numbers, so many people wanted to fight him. But he never talked bad about anybody even though so many people would talk negative about him. I thought that was really great how he always stayed humble in that way.
Did he ever struggle with the criticism, with experienced fighters who didn't understand things like card placement?
I've never seen him struggle, no. Not at all. The reason he was top of the bill is because he's such a big draw. Everyone wanted to see him fight. That's just the reality.
This is the truth about Slice. When he first appeared, I didn't know what to make of him. However, even if you were a skeptic - and in 2007 or 2008, I was - he just won people over.
Yes, and I think it's because he was so humble and he wasn't afraid to fight. With minimal training, he was legit fights.
Think about when he fought Ray Mercer. The guy has, what, maybe ten backyard street fights and then he fights Ray Mercer in a MMA fight, the guy who was former heavyweight champion of the world in boxing for his first fight and wins? That's pretty crazy.
Then beating guys like Houston Alexander and James Thompson, these guys trained for a long time at top gyms. Kimbo hadn't trained very long when he beat those guys.
Is it true he had lingering knee problems?
Yeah, he did have a bit of a bad knee. I don't know what the diagnosis was, but it would bother him sometimes, yeah. I don't know exactly what was wrong with him.
In his last fight, he tested positive for steroids. Did you have any idea he was doing that?
No, no idea. It was a shock to all of us.
Did you ever speak to him about it?
You know what's weird? I never did. I sent him a text when the news came out and tried to be not too hard on him because I knew he was down. Just said, 'Hey, we gotta try clean this up and move' and that's it. Honestly, I didn't really want to bring it up. I let him deal with that problem.
Who did Kimbo Slice hang around with outside of the gym?
I think mostly his family. He was with his family 90 percent of the time, or even 99 percent. One of his closest friends was Mike Imber, his manager, but he was with his family all the time. Every time he came into the gym, he brought his kids. He was never alone. He would usually bring his son and daughter nearly every time he was in there.
His son actually fights. Do you guys train him at ATT?
He came for a few weeks, but I think he's training out in California. I'm not sure where now. He was for a bit.
Do you have a favorite memory of Kimbo Slice?
The story about the family coming in is one of my favorites, but I don't know. A funny story is just when after the Shamrock fight he had torn the webbing of his baby toe. He had this little cut. There was a bunch of us back there where the doctor was looking at him, where you get checked out. He was crying like a little baby over this little cut toe.
We were all busting his balls, making fun of him, but I've never seen a guy that big whine about something so little. I'm sure it was painful. He ended up getting a few stitches, but it just seemed so funny because these guys are slugging it out, punching each other in the face and then he's whining and crying over a little cut on his toe.
Then when they were going to try to stick him with the needle, he didn't want that. He's literally holding his wife. 'No, I don't want it!' It was pretty funny, too.