When Bec Rawlings signed with BKFC in 2018, she was one the first high-profile athletes to take a chance on bare-knuckle at a time when the sport was still seeking legalization in most states, much less gaining any kind of mainstream acceptance.
Four years later, as she prepares to make her return at BKFC 26, the 33-year-old Australian has seen the bare-knuckle promotion flourish into a player in the combat sports space with events taking place all across the U.S. and internationally. BKFC has stolen headlines from more established boxing and MMA organizations, staging fights like the showdown between Artem Lobov and Pauli Malignaggi as well as signing Paige VanZant after she exited the UFC.
While Rawlings, who these days goes by her married name Rodriguez, doesn’t take credit for the work BKFC has done to grow itself into a much bigger organization, she’s proud that she saw potential in bare-knuckle fighting long before it was popular.
“It’s definitely cool to see the promotion grow,” Rawlings told MMA Fighting. “It’s definitely cool to see. I know there’s been some slight comments from Britain [Hart] saying I left and I’ve come back after they’ve done all the hard work, and it’s been getting under my skin. It’s like b****, I’m the reason you’re signed. I’m the reason the girls have the biggest division right now.
“I took the gamble and had the first fight. No one knew what we were walking in on when I first signed with bare-knuckle. I had no idea what was going to happen with the promotion so I think she needs to remember that I was the first, I was the one that took the gamble. Respect where it’s due, I think. I’m definitely excited to see the changes in the promotion, there’s bigger names, more hype and I’m definitely excited.”
Rawlings was part of the inaugural BKFC card that took place in Cheyenne, Wyoming in what was ultimately the first sanctioned bare-knuckle event held in the United States since 1889.
As she returns 25 events later, Rawlings is happy she played some small part in bringing attention to the sport when so many naysayers scoffed at BKFC finding success. Add to that, she’s seen the explosion of a women’s division, something she hoped would happen. But even she’s been impressed by what she’s seen with fighters like VanZant, Pearl Gonzalaez and Rachael Ostovich now calling bare-knuckle their home.
“I’m happy I could be a part of that history,” Rawlings said. “It’s only going to get bigger from here. It’s really cool to see the girl’s division really take off. That’s the main attraction. Everyone’s hyped and pumped about our division and that’s really f****** cool to see in combat sports.
“Sometimes the girls get forgotten about, especially in boxing. So things are changing and it’s cool to be a part of it.”
When she left BKFC after three fights in 2019, Rawlings was undefeated and a champion in the organization before she returned to MMA by inking a deal with Bellator. Unfortunately, her time in the Paramount-owned company was cut short thanks to the global pandemic, which shut down a lot of international travel. In her home of Australia, she was essentially stuck without any options to fight. Then her Bellator contract expired, which led the way to her return to BKFC.
During a two-year stretch where she couldn’t compete, Rawlings faced the financial reality of fight career that no longer provided any income. It was during that time that she started an OnlyFans page — a creator-driven website where users can charge subscriptions and other fees for access to photos and videos with many of the most popular pages.
OnlyFans first came to prominence when sex workers flocked there because of the creative control they had over the product, which resulted in a much bigger profit margin thanks to the money being paid directly to them.
Much like her journey into bare-knuckle, Rawlings became one of the first fighters to start an OnlyFans page, and now she’s witnessed dozens of athletes from promotions like the UFC, Bellator and BKFC follow her there.
Rawlings wasn’t exactly trying to start a trend by joining up with the adult-oriented website, but she also has no regrets whatsoever, especially considering how OnlyFans has essentially been her only source of income for the past two years.
“I’m not afraid to take risks,” she said. “I think a lot of people were a little bit scared to jump over to OnlyFans out of fear of backlash. Like, ‘Ooh are you doing porn? Are you a porn star?’ They were kind of scared of that, the stigma that OnlyFans had behind it. I pride myself on not giving a f*** what other people think. So I take the gamble and it’s paid off.
“Without my OnlyFans right now without being able to fight for two years, I would be homeless. It was worth the risk. It was worth the gamble. I’m never going to sit back and not do things out of fear of what people might think of me. Cause I’ve figured out people are going to hate regardless. They’re going to find a reason to hate if they’re going to hate. I don’t care anymore. I’m going to do me and hope that it pays off.”
Following in Rawlings’ footsteps, VanZant started a website similar to the OnlyFans format, and she said the money from that venture has paid her more than she’s ever made from fighting.
Rawlings continues to reap the benefits from her own page, and she’s defiant about anyone who disparages her from making money however she sees fit.
“I don’t understand the stigma behind it or why people care,” she said. “It’s almost like when they judge you for being a fighter cause they would never have the balls to do it themselves. I think that’s where a lot of the hate comes from. It’s because they’re actually jealous that you don’t care and you’re willing to take a risk, to get the biscuit. Risk it for the biscuit.
“It’s cool to kind of lead the way there, and it’s really nice to have security and control over your own income as well. Not having to rely on promoters and fights and kind of get bossed around. You have the opportunity to put whatever you want out there, make the money however you want, there’s no one telling you, you have to do this, or you have to do that. It’s nice to have the control finally.”
As much as she loves the financial freedom that OnlyFans provides, Rawlings is still a fighter first, and that’s why she’s happy to finally get back to doing what she loves most. It’s been over two years since she’s fought professionally, and over three years since she was crowned as the “queen of bare-knuckle,” so she is anxious to remind the world what she’s all about.
“I’m chomping at the bit,” Rawlings said. “It’s been two years since I fought. It’s been out of my control. It’s been really frustrating to be honest, cause I’ve been in and out of fight camp for about a year now. I’m ready to punch a b**** in the face.”