Although it is most definitely the oldest form of fighting, bare knuckle boxing (BKB) is probably more associated with thugs, hooligans and street fighting rather than being credited as an acceptable form of combat sport. Recently a few different promotions have been making headlines and are trying to take the sport to a new, more accepted mainstream level, but is this possible?
What is Bare Knuckle Boxing
My attention was first drawn to bare knuckle boxing in 2014 when I saw a VICE documentary which detailed the lead up to, what was at the time, the biggest BKB event for many years, featuring an international matchup between James “Gypsy Boy” McCrory of Ireland and America’s Aaron “The Knuckle Butcher” Gaughan. The show was organized by a man named Andy Joynes Topliffe who was running BKB fights either outdoors in fields or in small buildings which drew crowds of a hundred or so spectators gathered around bails of hay which served as the ring.
Although certainly not the same production level as a WBO Heavyweight title fight or a UFC pay per view, these events most definitely were a more recent step in not only keeping BKB alive, but also moving towards a more regulated, sanctioned presentation of the sport. It also helped to keep alive the fighting spirit of the Travellers culture from Ireland and Great Britain as documented in the “Kunckle” (2011) film.
So intrigued by what Andy Topliffe was doing, I asked him to be a guest on an episode of The FightBox Podcast where he not only revealed that you can make your fists rock hard by soaking them in diesel, but also that he sees bare knuckle fighting as “the next big sport”.
Where we’re at now
While some may write him off has crazy for trying to take bare knuckle boxing mainstream, 2018 has shown us that this is the direction the sport is moving. Two promotions have simultaneously been attracting a lot of new eyes to this eldest of combat sports and it looks like BKB could be on the cusp of a second golden age.
In the UK, a promotion appropriately called “BKB” has been steadily gaining recognition. Their most recent event, BKB 11, held in June, didn’t resemble a street fight. The presentation of the product was professional. The fighters were dressed like boxers, not street thugs. The referees looked like referees, not like your abusive drunken uncle. All the details of a legitimate combat sports event were there – branding on a professional ring, nice looking walkouts, ring girls, both guys present for the decision in center ring after the fight, decent lighting and knowledgeable commentators.
The same could be said for their American counterpart promotion “Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship” which organized their inaugural event on June 2nd from the state of Wyoming in the USA. This event, they claim, was the first legally sanctioned BKB event on American soil since 1889. BKFC is smart in the presentation of their product as they had many well established boxers and MMA fighters booked on the show including former UFC Heavyweight champion Rico Rodriguez and also recently released UFC women’s fighter Bec Rawlings who won the first ever sanctioned women’s BKB fight in America.
Taking it to the Next Level
For me, these two events showed that BKB can be presented as a legitimate form of professional combat spots. But it remains to be seen if it will eventually be able to rise to the level of success that boxing, MMA or pro wrestling has had. For sure it will have its niche market as kickboxing, Muay Thai, grappling and other martial arts do. I also think it might serve as an extra pay day for fighters who are either on their way up or way down from a successful combat sports career.
One of the only tweaks I would make to the BKFC product would be the allowance of some kind of protection to the hands of the fighters, even if it’s only a hand wrap that is allowed to go over the knuckles or some gauze and tape. Taking a look at some of the fighter’s mangled hands afterwards was hard to do. I think it would be in the best interest of both the promoter and the fighter if they were able to better preserve the health of the fighters’ hands.
With that being said, I only see bigger and better things for the future of BKB. Some critics will never be able to get over the “street fighter” stigma the sport has, but I for one can see better production values, maybe slight rule changes and the inclusion of more skilled fighters taking this sport to the next level. After that, it’s ultimately up to the people whether the sport catches on or not.