Brutal. Bloody. Violent. Do these terms sound familiar? For anybody who was around when the UFC began to take shape, this all may seem like déjà vu. But there’s a newly revived combat sport on the launch pad and it’s working towards lift-off. They call it Bare Knuckle Boxing (BKB).
Suddenly, BKB is making headlines and taking over conversations in the combat sports community. The sport seems to be drawing people in, but many onlookers are standing back and watching with trepidation. MMA fans seem divided on the issue by two main schools of thought.
The first group of fans are watching BKB for the novelty. They’re following known MMA commodities (i.e Chris Leben, Artem Lobov, Johny Hendricks, etc.) over to the show, and so far, they’re enjoying it. The others are distancing themselves. They don’t view BKB as a legitimate sport. The bloody-haymaker-tornadoes that seem to be summoning casual fan-interest are also being pointed to as reason to discredit the sport.
Is There a Future in Bare Knuckle Boxing?
What is it?
Bare Knuckle Boxing is essentially what you think it is. Two fighters enter a circular ring with ropes and turnbuckles. Under the supervision of a referee, the athletes engage in a boxing match without wearing gloves. As is the case with professional boxing, the rules forbid striking a downed opponent. You’ll also notice that fighters are able to tape their wrists. The tape helps prevent injuries to the wrists and the hands while also allowing for the knuckles to remain exposed for combat. Though the first legal, sanctioned and state-regulated bare-knuckle event in U.S. history took place less than a year ago, publicly ticketed events in the U.S. took place as early as the 90s. Boxing aficionados know, however, that BKB is truly an ancient competition.
Where did it come from?
Bare Knuckle Boxing in an organized sense can be dated back to the 1600s. In fact, BKB is a direct predecessor to professional boxing. So why are we seeing it come back now? One major catalyst is Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) spearheading an effort to bring BKB into the United States. They just completed their fourth show stateside and they have plans for a fifth one (sixth, if you include their February show in Mexico) this June.
World Bare Knuckle Fighting Federation (WBKFF) also hosted its debut event in November of 2018. Though the show had several big names, two fighters pulled out of the event citing contractual issues. On the debut card, TUF 1 alum Chris Leben knocked out UFC and PRIDE veteran, Phil Baroni. Unfortunately, Leben has since come forward and claims he was never paid in full by the promoter. In fact, he reports he was only given 10% of his promised $100,000 paycheck. Ouch.
Lucky for Leben, BKFC recently signed him. His debut didn’t disappoint either. He knocked out Justin Baesman 25 seconds into the first round. With Leben’s fan-friendly style, and BKFC’s established pay-structure, it’s safe to say the deal has been mutually beneficial for both parties thus far.
The novelty in BKB can only last for so long. Public curiosity will always wane as a new combat sport becomes more prevalent and more civilized. However, one insatiable fan curiosity known to draw viewers is the often-entertaining cross-over fight. Combat athletes from different sports are showing a willingness to meet in BKB and to bring their established fan bases along with them. This creates new possibilities for unique matchups.
For example, former UFC athlete, Artem Lobov and retired professional boxer Paulie Malignaggi are said to be facing each other in BKB this June. There’s significant fan interest in this fight, and it’s already being described as the biggest BKB event to date. If the card does even remotely well, the event will only be the tip of the iceberg. And with both men fighting slightly outside of their comfort zones, and on a new battlefield to boot, imaginations will be captured. Chris Leben is also rumored to be facing Bellator veteran Brennan Ward in the co-main event of this card.
Despite BKB having existed several hundred years ago, the more modern version remains in its infancy. Mississippi and Wyoming are currently the only states that are sanctioning BKB bouts. Though the sheer brutality is quite visibly raising eyebrows, it’s too soon to tell how this new chapter will unfold. If there’s money to be made, and a stable market full of savvy consumers, we could have a new permanent section being added to the fighting landscape.