Sunday, August 4, 2013

BKB: A Modern Twist on Bare-Knuckle Boxing

Since the inception of the Marquess of Queensberry Rules in the 1800’s the concept of Bare-Knuckle Boxing, although rightfully regarded as the original form of the sport of Boxing, has long been in the past. As time has gone on although Boxing much like all combat sports remains dangerous, the innovation of gloved prizefighting has become the standard for the sport. 
As a Boxing historian this observer frankly did not expect to see anything resembling a return to Bare-Knuckle Boxing in my lifetime.  In the past when asked my thoughts on a potential return of Bare-Knuckle Boxing I have always stated that I did not see it happening primarily due to safety concerns, regulations, and the dangers that already exist in the sport of Boxing as it is.  I have however said despite the dangers of the sport, the safety standards in Boxing have greatly improved over the years.
Sometimes when many feel a bout was stopped prematurely feeling that a hurt fighter should have been given the benefit of the doubt, an explanation that you will often hear a referee or athletic commission state was the safety of the fighter became the primary concern.  An argument could and perhaps should be made based on this, that Boxing in today’s day and age is considerably safer for those who compete in the sport and that can be attributed to those who regulate the sport who continue to make strides to ensure the safety of fighters.   
One such example is when the legendary Evander Holyfield was medically suspended indefinitely by the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) following his one-sided decision loss to veteran contender Larry Donald in 2004. The commission cited their reasoning behind the suspension as being due to Holyfield’s diminishing skills.  In covering the fight card in which Holyfield-Donald took place and the subsequent aftermath in the days following the card, this observer applauded the decision of the NYSAC.  Although Holyfield would eventually be cleared to resume his career the NYSAC should be commended for the action they had taken and continue to take to ensure the safety and welfare of boxers. 
Based on the ever present concern for safety in the sport of Boxing, this observer was surprised to hear of a concept known as BKB: Bare-Knuckle Boxing. The inaugural BKB card which premiered on July 27th was available via pay-per-view exclusively to subscribers of Satellite television provider DirecTV. The card which took place in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire featured ten bouts ranging from the Lightweight division to the Heavyweight division.  In all truth and honesty although I had obvious concerns about the fighters safety, I was curious to see this concept.
 What made this unique were the rules in which fights in BKB are fought.  Unlike a traditional Boxing ring, BKB bouts are fought in a circular pit with no ropes. Round limits on this card were two minutes in duration with a one minute rest period between rounds.  Bouts were scheduled for distances of five, seven, and ten rounds respectively.  Judges scores are done on the traditional ten-point must system and are announced after each round to the fighters and the audience in attendance.  If a fighter steps out of the circular pit accidentally it is considered a slip. A fighter who is knocked down however will be given a traditional ten count to get to their feet. 
Boxing gloves were also used in this concept. The gloves however are smaller than a traditional Boxing glove with one exception, the knuckle area is exposed although the hole is deep enough seemingly to prevent actual contact with the knuckles.  The gloves also range between five and seven ounces depending on the weight class in which a bout is being contested.  Although some stated prior to this card that “It isn’t Bare-Knuckle Boxing if gloves are used.” This observer thought it was a unique concept and a necessary component with regard to fighters’ safety. 
Unlike a traditional Boxing ring, the BKB circular pit measures seventeen feet in diameter and 227 square feet which makes it just over half the size of a traditional 20X20 Boxing ring.  From a fan’s perspective the BKB pit offers unrestricted viewing angles due to it’s lowered floors and colored lift gates signifying each fighter’s respective corner that lift and lock at the beginning of each round.   Prior to this card I really didn’t know what to expect but much like the anticipation prior to a mega fight in either the sport of Boxing or the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) it was certainly intriguing to see what this concept would look like in practice.
One thing that was obvious as the fights got underway was that this type of format does not necessarily favor a boxer who likes to utilize lateral movement.  This is due the narrow space in the pit area.  This format however appeared to be tailor made for a boxer who likes to fight on the inside.  This observer’s initial impression was that this format although a little different than a traditional Boxing format was indeed unique and was often entertaining to watch.  The two minute rounds in particular seemed to ensure a quick pace where fighters were looking to let their hands go from the outset of a round.  Although some Boxing purists may have varying opinions, BKB seemed to deliver on what it promised which was to provide entertaining and action packed bouts. 
The inaugural BKB event was not however without some elements of controversy.  In the first bout of the card, a Cruiserweight fight between Chris Traietti and Larry Hopkins, Hopkins was floored just seconds into the second round by what all accounts appeared to be an accidental head butt.  Although Referee Dave Greenwood immediately signaled “No Knockdown!” he counted Hopkins out after Hopkins failed to respond to his command to get up. 
It goes without saying that whenever there is a new concept or a would be new sport put into practice, that there is likely to be some confusion early on.  In regard to this situation I am surprised that this fight was not ruled a no contest due to an accidental foul.  Although a little confusing one would assume that we are likely to get some clarification on such a rule in the future on subsequent BKB cards.  For now it appears that Larry Hopkins was the unfortunate recipient of a tough break however given that it was the first card under the concept and format of BKB, circumstances like this are bound to happen. 
What should be applauded however despite the confusion surrounding the ending of the Traietti-Hopkins bout are the performances of  the referees who officiated on this card.  The damage caused by the bare-knuckled exposed gloves was immediately noticeable.  The referees however in this observer’s eyes did an excellent job of making sure that fights were stopped when appropriate and that the fighters who competed on this card did not suffer any unnecessary punishment. 
Individually each of the ten bouts proved to be exciting however the bout that stood out in my mind on that evening beyond the Traietti-Hopkins bout was the Light-Heavyweight bout between Jason Naugler and Teneal Goyco.  Although all the bouts on this card provided plenty of action the Naugler-Goyco bout in the opinion of this observer was the fight of the night.   From the opening bell these two fighters engaged in a slugfest with each fighter having their say in the opening round.
Goyco opened a cut on the forehead of Naugler with a left hand in the second round. The cut would worsen as the fight progressed however Naugler remained undeterred and kept coming forward.  By the end of round three Goyco seemed to be getting the better of the exchanges however Naugler took the punches well and even taunted his opponent before having his mouthpiece knocked out by a Goyco jab in the closing seconds of the round. 
By the end of round three Naugler’s cut had worsened to the point where frankly I wondered whether the fight would be stopped between rounds.  It was a nasty gash and although Naugler’s heart and frankly the heart and determination of all the fighters who competed on this card could not be questioned, this was one of the things that I was concerned about with regard to a fighter’s safety prior to this card.  A vicious Goyco left hook that landed flush on the jaw of Naugler would bring an end to the fight in round four as the fight was immediately stopped by Referee Mike Ryan.
Overall I came away from this card with a feeling of optimism. After all I was not sure what to expect out of this card but was pleasantly entertained by the heart and pure guts of all the fighters who participated. I was equally impressed by the New Hampshire Boxing and Wrestling commission in how they were able to ensure the safety of the fighters.  My overall impression is that BKB may be in a position that is not all that unlike the position that the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) was in when it surfaced in the United States in the early 1990’s.
This observer remembers how MMA was looked upon during that period of time.  One should remember that during MMA’s inception in the United States that it was essentially no holds barred fighting where the only rules were No biting, No eye gouging, and, No strikes in any form to the groin. 
The original format of MMA here in the United States raised the ire of many politicians, most notably Arizona Senator John McCain who labeled the sport as “Human Cockfighting” and was a driving force in lobbying to see that the sport was banned by many states. As a result of McCain’s efforts many states did indeed ban the sport of MMA and many cable companies refused to carry pay-per-view MMA events for a period of time.
In time the sport of MMA evolved into it’s current format of rules and regulations including the use of gloves and various weight classes.  In time many states have lifted their ban on MMA and in the last decade the sport has grown at a tremendous rate not just here in the United States but around the world.  Although rules and regulations can vary depending on a particular MMA promotion, the sport overall has proven to be quite successful.  Even though MMA still has some hurdles to clear in some states, the day of universal licensing and regulation for MMA events in the United States seems to be near.
For the newest twist on the original form of Boxing in what appears to be the latest addition to Combat Sports BKB, there may not be as great a struggle for acceptance and regulation as has stood in the way of the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.  As long as safety precautions continue to be taken and fighters are cleared to compete in the same manner in which Boxers and MMA fighters have been for many years, this observer believes the concept of BKB Championship Boxing could be around for some time. 
Will the concept of BKB evolve in the future? Only time will tell… 
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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  1. Interesting thought on the subject. Me too I would like to see the return of BKB. Real BKB, not the gimmicky gloved Big Knockout Boxing.

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