Thursday, August 22, 2019

Is It Too Much, Too Soon For The Resurgence Of Bareknuckle Boxing?

Longtime readers of The Boxing Truth® are likely familiar with the coverage this observer has provided over the years of the various forms of Bareknuckle Boxing that have emerged. Over the last year, several promotions have surfaced devoted to presenting Bareknuckle Boxing in its purist form in a modernized presentation. Some of these promotions have included the Bareknuckle Boxing promotion out of the United Kingdom or (BKB) for short, not to be confused with the now defunct BKB branded promotion that was owned by United States satellite television provider DirecTV, Bareknuckle FC that regularly stages cards in the state of Wyoming, the World Bareknuckle Fighting Federation (WBKFF), which staged one card also in Wyoming, and finally the Bareknuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC). Like the Bareknuckle FC and WBKFF, the BKFC began in Wyoming, but over the promotion’s seven events have expanded to include Mississippi, Mexico, and Florida.

The BKFC also broke from it’s established model as a pay-per-view attraction with its most recent event earlier this month by streaming the event for free on both digital combat sports network Fite TV and the BKFC’s official YouTube page. Although as this observer has stated in the past, Bareknuckle Boxing provides further opportunities for boxers and other combat sports athletes, a question I have found asking myself is whether or not the sport of Boxing in Bareknuckle form is expanding too quickly?

It is important to remember that up until recently, many states in the United States had an outright ban on bareknuckle combat. While DirecTV’s version of BKB initially began as a gloved-form of Bareknuckle Boxing, it quickly evolved from that to a form of Boxing that included the “BKB Pit” ring with no ropes but adapted the use of standard Boxing gloves. Even though adapting standard Boxing gloves appeared to clear significant hurdles in terms of licensing, sanctioning, and regulation as the last two BKB branded events were held in Las Vegas, NV, the promotion has not staged a card since 2015 and there have been no announcements of further events.

With DirecTV’s brand of BKB having essentially disappeared from the combat sports scene, the other promotions have emerged by presenting Boxing in a pure Bareknuckle format. No special knuckle-exposed gloves, just hand wraps over knuckles. Despite the success promotions like BKB in the United Kingdom, Bareknuckle FC, and the BKFC have had in a short period of time, the hurdles that initially stood in the way of DirecTV’s version of BKB as well as what stood in the way of the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) for several years in terms of sanctioning and regulation remain ever present.

A new Bareknuckle Boxing promotion will join the fray in September as MMA legend Ken Shamrock will debut his Valor Bareknuckle promotion in its inaugural card in the state of North Dakota that will be televised on a pay-per-view basis on both the cable/satellite medium as well as the digital streaming medium via Fite TV on September 21st. On one hand a new Bareknuckle promotion entering the fray will provide further options for combat athletes, but on the other hand, some might question whether further expansion for the sport will be good in the long-term.

For the sport of MMA, expansion was a relatively slow process with only a handful of notable promotions worldwide, which included the sport’s inception into the United States in the early 1990’s. This was due to the sport initially being presented as a form of no-holds barred combat, which raised the ire of several politicians and thus created a significant roadblock in terms of regulation and sanctioning that took the sport several years to overcome. Though one could make the argument that the struggles that the sport of MMA faced in its early years actually helped the resurgence of Bareknuckle Boxing in a way as by the time the sport began to resurface, MMA had become almost universally sanctioned around the world and this may have led to some state athletic commissions being more open to regulating Bareknuckle Boxing, the question remains as to whether more strict athletic commissions and regulatory boards will be willing to open their doors to the sport.

Some may wonder why that would be a potential obstacle after the evolution of MMA that saw it’s initial no-holds barred format evolve to it’s current form of the use of gloves and weight classes. We should remember why Bareknuckle Boxing was eventually banned in terms of being an organized sport and why Boxing adapted the Marquess of Queensberry rules that include Boxing gloves. While yours truly was obviously not around in those times, as a Boxing historian, I have always been led to believe that the adoption of Boxing gloves primarily had to do with an overall concern for the safety of fighters. It is also worth noting that the scheduled distances of fights prior to the introduction of gloves were significantly greater than what one sees in the sport today where fights were at times scheduled for distances of twenty rounds or more.

Although obviously not every fight that occurred involved such a grueling test of one’s endurance, the effects from an accumulation of punishment sustained in Bareknuckle combat, which resulted in varying injuries that unfortunately included death was something that the sport dealt with. Even today with all the improvements not only in the sport in terms of shorter distances of fights and greater medical knowledge and screening, Boxing and other forms of combat sports do have to deal with the possibility of fighters suffering severe injuries that can at times unfortunately lead to death.

As most knowledgeable Boxing fans know, the sport was recently hit with two separate tragedies that resulted in the deaths of two boxers as a result of injuries sustained in the ring. Jr. Welterweights Maxim Dadashev and Hugo Santillan each passed away days apart after competing in bouts in July. Although these tragedies did not occur in bouts that were sanctioned under Bareknuckle rules and occurred under  the traditional professional Boxing format, the potential for similar circumstances does exist due to no gloves being used in those Bareknuckle bouts and the potential of such could stand in the way of further licensing and regulation clearances among more strict state athletic commissions and regulatory boards around the world.

While the subject of what can make Boxing as a whole and by extension all combat sports safer for the athletes that compete in it is one yours truly plans to discuss in the near future, the resurgence of Bareknuckle Boxing does have a few aspects that I do believe help its case in terms of seeking further clearances to stage cards. Firstly, though Bareknuckle Boxing is a form of professional Boxing, its format differs from the traditional form most are familiar with. Most of the Bareknuckle Boxing promotions use a two minute round format and tend to schedule fights for shorter round distances than the traditional form. Although knockouts under the Bareknuckle format can obviously be brutal, the knockouts tend to come suddenly and do not necessarily occur as a result of an accumulation of punishment over the course of a long fight. What also works in its favor is bouts tend to be stopped appropriately once it is apparent that a fighter is in danger and has had enough.

Whether or not those factors will eventually lead to the Bareknuckle form of the sport being sanctioned and regulated in states such as New York and Nevada remains to be seen. While the fact that several different Bareknuckle promotions have began and will begin operating is a good thing from the standpoint of it opening up further opportunities for athletes across all combat sports disciplines, I do fear however, that by so many promotions/groups emerging in such a short period of time that it will create an over saturation in terms of Bareknuckle events being staged in a calendar year, which could result in it being difficult to grow their respective audiences, but also and more importantly may do more harm than good when it comes to what should be the goal of every Bareknuckle Boxing promotion, to achieve universal licensing and regulation across the board. An achievement that frankly took the sport of MMA too long to accomplish.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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