By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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Harris walks into his kitchen where one of his fighters is waiting. It's a husky, baby-faced Carol City native who goes by Bolo. He is accompanied by his twin brother, who, like his sibling, sports a plain wife-beater, saggy basketball shorts, and intricate shoulder-length cornrows. Neither one says much. When asked why he wants to fight, Bolo nonchalantly responds: "I need the money."
Harris tells Bolo he's going to fight Big D, the first man who Kimbo pummeled on YouTube. "I'm gonna be honest with you," Harris says. "The money today is not that much, but you will get a cut of the side betting action should you win."
(Although Harris's fights are illegal for myriad reasons — they aren't sanctioned, zoning regulations forbid them, and gambling is illegal in the county — the police have so far turned a blind eye.)
Harris turns to another fighter named Chauncey, a stout Perrine local who resembles ex-Miami Heat point guard Tim Hardaway. Harris asks him if he wants to fight a strictly bare-knuckle brawl or a freestyle bout in which the combatants are allowed to use wrestling and mixed martial arts moves. "Whatever makes me bread," Chauncey replies. Harris warns Chauncey that his opponent will be allowed to take the fight to the ground and use arm bars, chokeholds, and knee shots. "I know you're a good stand-up fighter, but I want you to realize that this is a freestyle fight and I know you don't have a ground game."
Chauncey shrugs. "Man I'll fight anybody," he says. Harris has Bolo and Chauncey sign waiver forms releasing him from any liability from any injuries sustained in the ring.
"What I'm doing here is giving back to the community," Harris says. "This is a chance for them to put down their guns so they don't have to rob people to earn money."
While Perrine has its pockets of typical middle-class suburbia, many of the blocks surrounding 104th Avenue are ravaged by poverty. The town got its start as a railroad camp during the construction of the Florida East Coast Railway extension from Miami to Homestead, and was developed in a very segregated fashion, with the area to the east of the railroad tracks populated by whites and the area west of the tracks populated by blacks. When Perrine elected its first black mayor in 1949, the all-white city council succeeded in dissolving the city through the Florida Legislature.
Today, Perrine remains largely segregated, with blacks on one side of town and whites, many of them from the Keys, on the other. The median household income is $28,420. Harris's neighbor and friend Leonard Little, who has a scar on his right hand from where he was attacked with a machete, says young men growing up in Perrine are generally good children. "They go to church on Sundays and they don't disrespect grown folks," he says. "But we all grow up in the school of hard knocks. You learn how to fight in the streets."
Little and Harris grew up on the same street — 104th Avenue — which Harris pays homage to with a tattoo on his left arm. According to what Kimbo told media outlets such as ESPN, people who grew up on the street had to learn how to defend themselves from an early age.
"I must have gotten jumped like 40 times," Harris says, a wry smile forming across his face. "But even when I was getting the shit kicked out of me, I always made sure to hurt one of them."
Harris grew up the youngest of three sons born to Eleanor Stewart, a 58-year-old Bahamian schoolteacher. While Harris says he has little recollection of his father, he says his uncle filled in, offering male guidance Harris' mother couldn't. But there was no question who ran the household. Stewart formed a tight bond with her three sons that remains strong today. One of Harris's brothers now works for Homeland Security, while the other is a Miami-Dade corrections officer. Ask Harris what he thinks of his mother and he says, "She's my biggest supporter. She is always there for me."
According to his mother, Harris generally did well in school, but he did have a temper problem. "He got into a lot of fights," she says. "He gets his mentality from me. I don't let anyone get in my way." In the seventh grade, his temper got the best of him when a classmate threw his homework on the ground during an argument. "I busted his head open," Harris says. "I was arrested for assault and battery." He spent the next two years attending the Lee JRE Educational Center, an alternative school for troubled youths run by Miami-Dade County Public Schools. The summer of his freshman year, Hurricane Andrew leveled the southwest Miami-Dade house where Harris lived with his mother, his brothers, and his uncle Roland. They relocated to North Carolina for a year, where Harris took up football, before returning to Perrine in 1993 to the three-bedroom house where Harris now hosts fights.
By that time, Harris had left his troubled youth behind him, channeling the rage he sometimes felt into sports and academics. He didn't get in fights, and he steered clear of gang members and drug dealers who were rampant in his neighborhood.