After trying something new with real-time open MMA scoring, the Kansas Athletic Commission is aiming at another combat sports trend: bare-knuckle.
The commission will invite industry stakeholders to a summit on May 5 and 6 in Kansas City, Kansas, with the idea of creating a standardized regulatory framework for the fast-growing form of pugilism.
“We need to get everybody in a room and we need to get this right,” KAC commissioner Sean Wheelock told MMA Fighting.
In the past two years, multiple bare-knuckle promotions have sprung up around the country, with Wyoming hosting the first major events. Other states have jumped into the fray as the leading player in the space, the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships, has expanded its territory and signed marquee talent.
The promotion made big waves this past June with a pay-per-view headliner between ex-boxing champ Paulie Malignaggi and UFC veteran Artem Lobov. BKFC promoter David Feldman claimed the event was trending toward 200,000 buys, though industry estimates reported a flop with just 18,000.
Regardless, the BKFC hasn’t slowed down since the event and will visit Wichita, Kan., on March 14 for a card featuring UFC vet Josh Neer and Bellator vet David Rickels.
Kansas was the seventh state to legalize the sport, hosting a bare-knuckle boxing event in November 2019. The state differentiated itself from others by crafting a ruleset specifically for boxing sans gloves.
Wheelock, who also serves as the chair of the Association of Boxing Commissions’ rules and regulations committee and commentates for BKFC, said there are over 10 states that are considering regulation.
“The reality is economics,” he said. “It’s always safety first, but beyond that, this is a sport that’s growing, and for states named Kansas, where we’ve had one UFC in our state’s history, it opens up another revenue stream.”
The idea for a summit came about amid repeated requests for a set of unified rules for bare-knuckle; currently, there are none. A small handful of bare-knuckle promoters separate themselves in small ways. BKFC holds fights in a ring, while Ken Shamrock’s Valor has them on a mat. Different round lengths are used.
The final ruleset is not as important as the standards for medical protocols, fighter safety, and record-keeping, Wheelock said.
The sport is marketed as a bloodier, more action-packed alternative to MMA and other combat sport. Wheelock said it’s not going anywhere, so regulators, sanctioning bodies, medical professionals and other stakeholders need to get on the same page.
As for whether BKFC will see open scoring, Wheelock said it’s up to Feldman to decide if that experiment is worth trying after watching Invicta FC test it on Friday.
“My guess is he wants to see how it plays out on March 6, as do I,” he said.