When Johnny Bedford signed with BKFC back in 2018, he had faith that bare-knuckle fighting was going to be the next big thing in combat sports.
Three years and 20 events later, he’s happy to be proven correct as BKFC continues to surge in viewership and overall interest in the promotion, especially after several high profile signings as well as marquee cards such as the event headlined by Artem Lobov and Paulie Malignaggi that ended up as one of the most talked about shows in all of 2019.
Through it all, Bedford has remained a steadfast supporter of BKFC and bare-knuckle fighting while continuing to tout the 135-pound division as the absolute best weight class in the sport.
“It’s been an honor to be honest to be part of this ride,” Bedford told MMA Fighting ahead of his return at BKFC 20. “[BKFC president] Dave Feldman was actually the guy that picked me up from the airport [for BKFC 1] and I told him I’m going to be the face of this sport. No one’s going to beat me. Reggie [Barnett] and I won that night and we went to Dave and said ‘we’re next, we’re the next 8-man tournament’ and it happened.
“I did everything I said I was going to do and the truth is so did the promotion. The promotion has blown up. I’m proud to be a part of it. I’m happy for the owners and the people who put all the work in to make it happen. It’s trickled down. I’m happy. I’m a happy employee. That’s a good place to be. I’m paid what I feel is a fair price to be paid. I’m happy and honored and thankful to be a part of it.”
Bedford’s dedication to the 135-pound weight class helped spearhead the inaugural tournament to crown a champion, which is where he went undefeated before claiming the title in his fourth fight in the promotion.
Since then, BKFC has continued to invest in talent to deepen the pool of fighters competing in the division, which is why Bedford truly believes he’s representing the best of the best in bare-knuckle competition.
Of course this weekend Bedford will be battling Reggie Barnett Jr. for the second time with the BKFC lightweight title on the line because former champion Dat Nguyen couldn’t come to terms with the promotion on a new deal and he was ultimately released.
After falling to Nguyen in a razor-close decision earlier this year, Bedford was anxious to get his belt back and BKFC wasted no time booking him against Barnett to crown a new champion with the vacant title on the line on Friday. Bedford sees the speed with which this fight was booked as the best evidence yet that BKFC wants the 135-pound division to thrive.
“We may not [have] biggest drawing power or have the biggest fake boobs and get all the media that way but sh*t, we’re the dogs,” Bedford said. “We’re the hottest division so the show must go on.
“The show must go on. The promotion must go on. The truth is 135 is the best division in bare-knuckle right now. They need a champion. If you’re going to stall it up and try to hold it up and ask for money, well we’re going to move on without you, Dat Nguyen. Cause even without you, there’s still the two most winningest guys in bare-knuckle history with me and Reggie Barnett. There’s undefeated Jared Grant. You’ve got veterans who have been in there since Bare-Knuckle 1 in Travis Thompson and Abdiel Velasquez. We’re the hottest division in bare-knuckle, for real.”
In a repeat to the matchup that determined the first ever BKFC champion at 135 pounds, Bedford has to beat Barnett for a second time with his opponent currently riding an impressive three-fight win streak.
Barnett has been calling for a title shot ever since Nguyen claimed the belt back in February but now he’ll draw a rematch against Bedford instead.
While he certainly appreciates the work Barnett has done to get back here, Bedford doesn’t expect the result to be any difference once they start swinging fists inside the ring.
“Reggie and I are going to find out who that top dog is,” Bedford said. “I think he’s going to come out a little different. I get this feeling he’s going to want to clinch and dirty box with me, which blows my mind. Obviously being a Division I college wrestler and wrestling my whole life and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, you don’t think he’d want to clinch with me and maybe I only say that because of his ugly performance against [DeMarcus] ‘Chop Chop’ Corley.
“He couldn’t outbox ‘Chop Chop’ and probably most can’t. I understand ‘Chop Chop’ is a top notch boxer but he made it ugly. He turned it into a wrestling match, picking him up and slamming him and sh*t. He didn’t beat ‘Chop Chop’ Corley — he made an old man quit.”
Bedford promises he won’t go away so easily and as much as Barnett wants revenge, the former UFC fighter expects to send him home without the BKFC title and another loss on his resume.
“He’s confident he’s going to win and become champion. It’s not going to happen,” Bedford said. “The Johnny Bedford that beat Reggie Barnett a year and a half, two years ago is a completely different fighter today.”