Many of today’s combat sports trace their roots all the way back to the old sport of bare knuckle boxing, but one man’s vision will bring back old school fighting to a new audience.
The sport of bare knuckle fighting had not seen a legally sanctioned and regulated event in the United States, but David Feldman, CEO of Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships, will host its first event at the Cheyenne Ice & Events Center in Cheyenne, Wyoming on June 2 and feature a number of familiar faces within combat sports competing on the card.
In an exclusive interview with Fightful, Feldman said the process of getting such an event was long and arduous, one that had Feldman wondering at times if he was ever going to get this idea off the ground.
“I won’t say we quit, because if we did, we wouldn’t be here," Feldman said. "We paused a few times and took a few steps back and took a look at it. I had to provide for my family too and I said, ‘why would I waste time with this thing?’ I love it and it’s a passion of mine. I think it can be a big competitor in mainstream combat sports, but it just seemed like no one was opening the door."
Names such as former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez, former boxing world title challenger Bobby Gunn and former UFC fighter Bec Rawlings as well as the quarterfinal round of an eight-man, $50,000 heavyweight tournament are all scheduled to fight on the historic event, which had to go through a number of hurdles just to get a commission's approval.
"We did blunt force trauma impact studies, we did punch impact studies, we did concussion studies. We did everything to show these people [at the various athletic commissions] that, ‘Look, everything we’ve been talking about makes sense,’" Feldman told Fightful, saying that out of the 29 athletic commissions that he has approached throughout the past decade in getting this project going, 28 of them said no. "I had to give them the layman’s terms and it’s weird because I could show them all this stuff that they wanted."
Feldman's vision came to be when he struck up a friendship with Gunn, who had fought on a couple of boxing events Feldman had promoter, perhaps most notably Gunn's 2017 fight against Roy Jones Jr. for a minor cruiserweight world title. Gunn came from a family of traveling Gypsies who would often use bare knuckle fighting as sport for people to bet on and as a way to settle family disputes.
Feldman then decided to hold one bare knuckle event on a card that featured boxing and MMA fight in Arizona in 2011 - the card took place on an Indian reservation and was not sanctioned by the Arizona State Boxing Commission, but instead by the Yavapai Nation. Feldman believed he was onto something when more than a million people tried to buy the fight on internet pay-per-view.
"We had over a million people log in to buy the event (on internet pay-per-view) at one time and the paywall dropped. Streaming was very new back then and the paywall dropped, it crashed and we weren’t able to cash in on it. We had 1.2 million people log in to buy the fight in 40 minutes, so we know we had something," Feldman said.
According to Feldman, the rules of his version of bare knuckle fighting is to ensure tons of hard-hitting action with little time for no action taking place in the ring. Every fight on the card will consist of five two-minute rounds except for Gunn's fight as the lineal heavyweight champion will fight in a seven-round fight. The in-action rules will be somewhat similar to today's Marquess of Queensbury rules we see in boxing matches today except for a few notable differences.
As with boxing, there will be no grappling, kicks, elbow and knee strikes, meaning the fist is the fighter's only offensive weapon. However, when there’s a clinch, people can punch with their open arm, but if there’s a three-second lull in the action during a clinch, the referee will separate the two and restart the fight.
As far as future events is concerned, a number of states had already said they would be happy to sanction bare knuckle fighting events after seeing another state successfully pull it off. Although Feldman has at least a couple of more events scheduled for later in the year, he believes he will with Wyoming as the home state of BKFC for the moment until other states give Feldman the OK to hold events there.
In the meantime, Feldman said he hopes this event will not only be the launching point of the world's next big combat sport, but also shatter the perception that bare knuckle boxing is the most barbaric and brutish version of what today's combat sport has to offer.
"The thing I heard from the commissions was about perception. One commissioner said –I’m not even going to tell you which state, I wish I could tell you, but I can’t- ‘Oh I’ve seen bare knuckle fighting when I was a kid and I’ve seen someone’s eye get knocked out.’ I just said, ‘So you’re telling me you saw a street fight, so you won’t let me do a properly sanctioned fight with professional athletes with all the medical testing? That makes no sense to me.’ He just said, ‘Nah, denied.’ Really it was perception, perception, perception. The perception is that it’s a backyard fight, it’s a bare knuckle fight, it’s a street fight, it’s not a true, legitimate sanctioned sport because nobody has ever seen it before. I get their perception, but everything I’ve shown, from how we’ll make an economic impact, how the fighters are safer, how we’re doing the medical testing and how the public wants it," Feldman said.
When asked about why he is so invested in the sport, Feldman jokingly responds "Why not?" After many trials and tribulations in getting the sport sanctioned, Feldman thought it would be appropriate to name this first event BKFC: The Beginning. To him, he truly believes it is the beginning of the next phenomena in combat sports just as the UFC revolutionized and popularized mix martial arts at the turn of the century.
"We’re here to stay. There’s a million organizations in the next five years. It’ll prove the concept that we know what we’re talking about and fans want to see this. We are about to usher in a new era in combat sports," Feldman said.