A bare-knuckle fighting event is coming to the United States — and it’ll be completely legal and regulated.
Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship will hold an event June 2 in Cheyenne, Wyo., that features multiple former UFC and Bellator fighters and current pro boxers, promoter Dave Feldman told MMA Fighting on Tuesday. The official announcement is expected on a conference call Tuesday.
Wyoming recently passed rules that sanction bare-knuckle fighting in the state. Feldman says that it’ll be the first government-sanctioned bare-knuckle event in the U.S. in 131 years. Fighters will not wear gloves and will only have hand wraps that end one inch from the knuckles.
“It truly is the first legal, sanctioned bare-knuckle fighting event in the United States since 1889,” Feldman said.
Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship will have a host of familiar names on the card, including Bare Knuckle heavyweight champion Bobby Gunn, former UFC champion Ricco Rodriguez, former UFC and Bellator fighter Joe Riggs, kickboxer Maurice Jackson, former Bellator heavyweight Eric Prindle and former UFC fighters D.J. Linderman and Johnny Bedford.
Prindle, Jackson, Rodriguez and Linderman will all be part of the promotion’s heavyweight tournament, with the first round being held on the June 2 card.
The event will air on pay-per-view for $29.99 and tickets to watch live are available at bareknuckle.tv, starting at $50.
Bare knuckle in Wyoming will have weight classes like mixed martial arts and the ruleset will differ slightly from boxing, too. Clinch fighting is much more acceptable in the bare-knuckle rules, with fighters getting more leeway to punch with their free hand while tied up inside. Punches are the only strikes allowed.
Feldman said he went to 28 different athletic commissions and was rejected by all of them until Wyoming played ball. His argument is that gloves were adopted for boxing and MMA to protect the hands of fighters — not their heads. Bare knuckle, Feldman argues, is actually safer when it comes to concussions and brain injuries than boxing.
“It’s not just a great idea, it’s safer for the fighters,” he said. “One of those athletic commissions has to believe in the facts.”
Wyoming Combat Sports Commission chairman Bryan Pedersen told MMA Fighting that MMA and kickboxing provide more head-injury causing blows than bare-knuckle fighting would and the state sanctions each of those.
“We already regulate sanction MMA and kickboxing,” Pedersen said. “And in both of those you can receive a knee to the head, a shin kick to the head and an elbow to the head. That’s all heavy, heavy blunt-force trauma. So hand striking scores far lower than that. I think you’ll see far less concussive blows to fighters and that’ll protect everybody.”
Feldman said other states said they wouldn’t mind being the second ones to adopt bare-knuckle rules, but wanted to wait for someone else to tale the plunge first. Pedersen said he’s “proud” Wyoming was willing to be a trendsetter and he believes his state is filled with working-class people who support combat sports and bare-knuckle fighting.
“Those are people who are fans of MMA and participants in MMA and they love combat sports and they all love bare knuckle,” Pedersen said. “We’re just supporting our own people by supporting bare knuckle. I think it speaks to Wyoming’s own Western independence to go first with this. We’re excited to host.”
Once this first event happens in Cheyenne, Feldman said he’ll have video evidence to present to other commissions across the country.
“Now, I’m gonna have something to show them to show them it’s not what they think,” Feldman said. “It’s not a backyard street fight. Every fighter that’s fighting in this card is an experienced, professional combat fighter.”
Feldman said he promoted a bare-knuckle matchup involving the popular Gunn in 2011 on a Native American casino in Arizona and the venue was filled with 5,500 people with thousands of others having to be turned away. He said many, many people tried to log in to watch Gunn fight Richie Stewart, but the paywall crashed.
“We didn’t make money, but it showed us that there was something here, people want to see this,” Feldman said. “I’ve just been really pushing for regulation. I could have went back to another Native American casino not affiliated with the ABC (Association of Boxing Commissions) and done this, but the only way this would ever become mainstream is if it was regulated. We pushed toward regulation.”
They got it in one state, and the June 2 card will likely determine if any others will sanction it.
“We just have to someone believe in the sport and go first and I’m proud that Wyoming is that state,” Pedersen said.