Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships will hold a pay-per-view event on Super Bowl weekend that features the promotional debut of Paige VanZant.
“Knucklemania” takes place Feb. 5 at RP Funding Center in Lakeland, Fla., and is headlined by a previously reported meeting between VanZant and Britain Hart, the promotion announced on Thursday. The event’s co-headliner is Johnny Bedford vs. Dat Nguyen, and the card also features a “special attraction fight” with longtime UFC star Chris Leben and Quentin Henry.
The event, which marks BKFC’s third in the Tampa area, costs $29.99 and kicks off at 9 p.m. ET. BKFC President David Feldman said all major platforms will carry the PPV in addition to FITE.TV. The promotion is also selling tickets for the “socially distanced” event that start at $55.
“We want to separate one card for the year and make it really special,” Feldman told MMA Fighting. “We have some great fights and big names, and we think we’re going to get a ton of attention from this one.”
VanZant’s signing, which came after a brief bidding war involving several fight promotions, put BKFC in the spotlight. The former UFC starlet said she chose the bare-knuckle outfit to accentuate her best fighting features.
“If you look at my MMA career, my biggest downfall has been my jiu-jitsu and my striking has been my passion,” she previously told MMA Fighting. “I’m so excited to show that off.”
In Hart, she meets a seasoned pugilist with experience in the bare-knuckle world. Hart made her promotional debut in August 2018 and dropped a split decision to Bec Rawlings, but opened a lot of eyes in her most recent appearance this past November when she stopped her opponent via fourth-round TKO. Hart called out VanZant after her win, declaring “you’re next” as they faced off.
“Britain’s a real tough girl – she’s skilled, but she’s not the best technical boxer in the world,” Feldman said. “Paige isn’t going to have to chase her down. It’s going to be competitive, but I think it’s going to be a good opponent choice for Paige on her first event.
“[Paige is] getting paid very well, and I don’t think we could have thrown her somebody that never fought bare-knuckle before, or at least someone that had a pretty well-established record. I don’t think the fans would have liked that. We’re going to give the fans what they want.”
Leben’s return comes four months after he announced his retirement from MMA after nine years of competition. The Ultimate Fighter 1 veteran transitioned into bare-knuckle in 2018 after a five-year layoff and went 2-1, most recently suffering a decision loss to fellow TUF veteran Dakota Cochrane.
An MMA referee in California, Leben’s return to the ring was motivated by inactivity from the COVID-19 pandemic, Feldman said.
“I talked to him, I said, ‘Hey, we’ll do one more, we’ll call it your retirement fight,’” Feldman said. “‘You did retire, but you didn’t really have a retirement fight. Who do you want to fight?’ He said Henry.
“I said, ‘Are you sure?’ I think Quentin is really tough, man, especially in bare-knuckle. He said, ‘Yeah, I want him.’ So Chris Leben vs. Quentin Henry in Leben’s retirement fight.”