With bare knuckle fighting coming to the United States for its first fully legal, sanctioned event in more than 100 years, Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships CEO David Feldman had to find a roster of suitable athletes to fill BKFC's first-ever event on June 2, but even Feldman was surprised at how many fighters offered to be a part of the event.
BKFC's first event "BKFC: The Beginning" will feature a number of familiar faces fighting on the card, including former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez and former boxer Bobby Gunn. The number of top names that contacted Feldman told Fightful in an exclusive interview about fighting for BKFC was far beyond expectations.
When Feldman first made public that this event, taking place in Cheyenne, Wyoming, he said he got more than 2,000 emails from fighters wanting to compete in BKFC.
“As the announcement started going a couple of months ago that we were making a push to get this regulated and that it was a possibility, they reached out to us. I’m probably looking at over 2,000 emails by fighters. Some of the guys thought they were tough street fighters and I’d say about 75 percent of them are well-schooled and well-experienced combat sports athletes. Some of the bigger names around that have reached out to us, but we just couldn’t afford them for this show, but some really big names reached out to us. Now some big names have tweeted about us saying they are excited and how it’s back to where it started. Almost all of the fighters [fighting on this card] reached out to us, which was an unbelievable sign. We’re just getting innovative and getting 20, 30 calls each day,” Feldman said.
The one question many people have is why is there so much interest from the fighter's side to be a part of something that has not been tested for longterm success and Feldman may have an answer for it. Feldman said some fighters who previously had success in other sports, such as mixed martial arts, see bare knuckle fighting as another avenue for success as the bare knuckle fighting mainly focuses on the boxing aspect of fighting.
Feldman used Rodriguez as an example of such a fighter unable to hang with the best in MMA nowadays. It has been more than 15 years since Rodriguez defeated Randy Couture to win the UFC heavyweight title and Rodriguez believes he can still fight well as a bare knuckle fighter.
“Here’s why they jumped on board. They jumped on board because some of the guys are very good fighters and they already had their time to shine in the UFC or in other [sports]. Now they’re looking at another outlet to where they can not only be in the mix of something, but actually be at the top of something. I think that’s why a Ricco Rodriguez said, ‘Look Dave, my grappling, everything I’m doing right now with these high-level grapplers in the UFC, I can’t compete with these guys, but I can throw. This is it. I love this and I want to be a pioneer,’" Feldman said.
There's also the fact that with bare knuckle fighting being a potential hit with combat sports fans, fighter see this as an opportunity to be a pioneer of the rebirth of a sport that has influenced so many of today's combat sports.
"That’s the word they all say: I get to be a pioneer and be at the start of something because that’s who everyone remembers who started in the UFC. They remember Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, the guys that started it all up, that’s who they remember. They wanted to be those guys,” Feldman said.
Rodriguez will be a part of an eight-man heavyweight tournament on the June 2 BKFC card in Wyoming where the winner of the tournament is expected to walk away with $50,000. Only the quarterfinal bouts will be held on June 2. Rodriguez will take on fellow MMA fighter Lewis Rumsey in the quarterfinals.