TAMPA, Florida — Bare-knuckle boxing, which has been effectively outlawed since 1889, is making a comeback, and it may well be here to stay.
The Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) staged its sixth event on June 22. BKFC6 was by far the biggest event the group has staged so far, because they persuaded former two-time World Boxing champion Paulie Malignaggi out of retirement to face Artem Lobov, a UFC and bare-knuckle veteran.
The event in Tampa attracted over 4,000 paying fans, and promoter David Feldman claims that between 120,000 and 180,000 customers paid $39.99 each to stream the fight live, which would have generated between $5 million and $7 million.
If true, these are impressive numbers for such a bloody spectacle.
Feldman could have easily given up years ago. “The hardest part about this was perception… It's barbaric!” he said. “I pitched 28 states, and they all said no.”
But he’s already announced BKFC7, which will take place in Mississippi, and he’s bullish about the future. “Another year from now, we’re going to have a good TV deal. Three years from now, we’re competing with everybody.”
The business model is straightforward: Give the fans what they want. UFC surpassed boxing and became a multibillion-dollar business by being more action-packed and violent. Boxing had too many champions and too many long fights that went the distance, ending with bad decisions. But many UFC fights are won by master wrestlers, where one fighter grabs an opponent’s leg, arm or throat and forces a submission.
BKFC has none of that. Standing face to face and just slugging it out is encouraged in every way possible. All action brawlers are given bonuses, and they face the threat of pay deduction if they don't keep up the action. If the fighters grab each other without also throwing punches for three seconds, they’re separated and told to get back to slugging.
“If you come to it, you’re gonna fall in love with it,” says Feldman. “Not only are you seeing the action, but you hear this,” he punched his left hand with his right, three times, making a dull slapping sound. “And even me, I’ve been pushing it for years, I’m like, man it’s just awesome, it’s an awesome sound.”
This segment originally aired July 10, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.