I decided to watch the live free prelims of the BKFC card in Tampa last night. I am an appreciator of bareknuckle boxing though I am not a regular fan of BKFC as a promotion, they are the leading legal and sanctioned bareknuckle boxing outlet. They came on my radar a few years ago when VICE did a special on them after doing a different special on BBAD out of the UK where an American bareknuckle “champion” fought the UK bareknuckle champion. I put champion in quotes for the American because I always thought that Bobby Gunn was the champion for bareknuckle. Bareknuckle has come a long way to gaining legitimacy as there was a point in time where the combatants fought with a glove that had the knuckle part torn off. Technically it was bareknuckle but it was just weird. BKFC has since grown and continued to stage events in the south and midwest attracting many former MMA stars and guys in that MMA pipeline. The only notable boxer I recall entering the BKFC ring was Paulie Malinaggi who of course was way past his best.
Old school bareknuckle has a lot of different distinctions from the BKFC product that has been put forth. In the old days bareknuckle fights either had no rounds or had round breaks when a fighter fell to the ground. Also, fights from the olden days were until the finish so they could go twenty, thirty, forty rounds, etc until a guy was counted out or had enough. This normally resulted in very tactical and measured fights with grit and stamina being just as vital as skill and strategy. BKFC is five two minute rounds which shows the somewhat MMA-ifying approach they have along with ring shape and background of the combatants. At just ten total minutes of action what used to be a fight to the finish is now shorter than a four round low level professional boxing match. I get it, they need to make the sport safe enough to be sanctioned but I feel these limitations defeat the spirit of it a little bit. That said the brutality is normally there between the blood and the inside fighting out of clinches these fights are entertaining.
Of the three fights I watched two of them were marred by heavy inside fighting. Boxing from the outside is not all too common as it seems most of the combatants are not proficiently trained in boxing. Only one of the fighters of the six that I saw had a background in boxing as Rynell Riley entered with thirty amateur fights along with two professional bouts. Oddly enough the broadcast did not list his record. The best outside boxing performance was in the opener with Joshua Sikes jabbing and moving effectively and relying on BKFC experience to beat the newcomer in a closer than it should have been decision. I scored Sikes over Michael Stripling in a 50-45 shutout but two judges had the fight 48-47. Stripling was a ten fight MMA vet with a Muay Thai background so it was expected he would try and make it an inside fight.
Sikes did his best to make the fight as tactical as possible and in the opening round took command behind a consistent jab. Stripling would have been well suited to try and jab his way in or use head movement but that is not really the way Muay Thai guys fight, they clinch. Stripling was constantly falling short with his left hooks and overhand rights which were thrown so far out of range. The clinching in this fight was interesting and it is an interesting dynamic without gloves. The fighters employ under and over hooks along with collar ties and hand fighting to get hand positioning to throw punches. It is very MMA/hockey fight like and without the gloves the inside fighting is just different. Oddly enough it was Sikes who was the boss in the clinches as he pushed Stripling back and won the battle of hand position as well. He would fight off the hands to get an inside grip and rip right uppercuts to the chin. Stripling was badly cut with blood streaming from outside his right eye, on the left eye lid, on the forehead above the left eye and just to the outside of the left eye. Stripling sucked it up and had his best round in the fourth where he started to jab his way in. He also managed to close range more though I did not score him the round I would have to assume the judges did. Stripling came on strong in the first minute but gassed and then was target practice for Sikes who took the win.
The second fight was a little weird, it pitted a three fight BKFC fighter in George Gonzalez of Indiana against debuting Stevo Morris from Indiana who had some amateur MMA experience. Gonzalez i would come to see was a victim of the 2021 top five KO’s highlight real. This fight was a drop off in entertainment and boxing ability in comparison to the Sikes and Stripling bout. The first minute went by in a very slow measured pace with Gonzalez trying to create looks by switching stances. Morris scored one pretty solid right hand and Gonzalez was in trouble. The fight devolved into clinching and one of the things that irks me about BKFC took place. The fight basically became MMA without the elbows, kicks, knees and grappling. The fight became a sumo match with few punches as they both took turns just trying to push their opponent to the ropes like an MMA fight where the one fighter just pushes a guy up against the fence but just holds them there with no striking. I can call it fighting but I cannot call it boxing. In the second round I saw Gonzalez level change like he was going to shoot a double leg, I guess the MMA inclinations and reflexes are still there. Morris landed a short right hand then leaned on Gonzalez until he wilted to the canvas. Gonzalez got to all fours and then suddenly spit out his mouthpiece and shook his head and took his count before rising at ten. There did not appear to be a fight ending punch and it was tough to tell if Gonzalez quit or if he was trying to quit, misjudged the count, or if he quit and made it look like he misjudged the count. Odd ending to a lackluster fight.
In the final fight Rynell Riley won a third round TKO over Trukon Carson in a back and forth fight. Both men were hurt at various points and the inside fighting was hellacious. Riley won with his superior boxing as his punches were harder and more accurate. He broke Carson by the third round as his face began to swell under both eyes and around the nose. The swelling was not impeding the vision but it was clear he suffered a nasty injury. The fight could have continued but again the sport is protecting its athletes and its own legitimacy.
Overall it is a fun watch but it does not hold a candle to real boxing. I could not see myself forking over the $4.99 a month to get the app especially when you have to also buy the PPV as well. As a combat sports fan I hope to see the organization grow and become more popular but will remain a casual viewer.