We call ourselves civilized, but we’re really not.
Sure, we took a sport that we loved – that shocked us with its brutality when it debuted in Denver, CO, back in 1993 – and we molded the violence into something with rules and weight classes. Now it’s on FOX, and soon to be ESPN, and some of the athletes can becomes stars and earn a decent wage, while organizations like the UFC and Bellator can boast legitimacy and go wherever they please. But that necessary evolution has done nothing to stifle the hunger we all share, all of us connoisseurs of combat sports and cagefighting and sanctioned face-punching.
Last night, the inaugural Bare Knuckle FC debuted on pay-per-view. Twitter, Facebook, the forums – everyone went bonkers over it. And rightly so. It was freakin’ awesome.
Bec Rawlings, the tattooed Aussie who struggled during her time in the Octagon, kicked ass. Bellator vet Eric Prindle got smoked by a dude who looked like he’d murdered more than a few troublemakers in prison while the guards looked away. Meanwhile, UFC and Bellator refugee Joey Beltran channeled his best Clint Eastwood in “Every Which Way But Loose”.
As per MMAFighting:
The highlight of the night was a burn burner of a battle between MMA veterans Joey Beltran and Tony Lopez.
In a back-and-forth bloodbath of a fight, Beltran bested Lopez by unanimous decision (49-45, 49-45, 49-46) in a heavyweight tournament alternate bout. Beltran opened up a nasty cut on Lopez’s head early on, but Lopez rallied in the late rounds with huge shots. The reaction on social media was that Beltran vs. Lopez seemed like the bare-knuckle equivalent of Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar — a war that helps elevate the medium.
In a post-fight interview, Bare Knuckle FC promoter David Feldman said he could not have scripted the first event any better.
“We are here to stay and I think that we just showed the rest of the combat sports world that there is a new player in town,” Feldman told interviewer Ron Kruck.
#BKFC “The Beginning” was the #2 trending topic on #Twitter IN THE WORLD last night!! We told you The Bare Knuckle Fight Championship was coming & not only going to impress but “Take over the world!” In the words of David Feldman founder of the #BKFC & that is exactly what we did!! 👊💯💥🏆 . . .#BKFC #WeAreHere #ToStay #TheTakeOver #JustTheBeginning #TonyLopez #JoeyBeltran #BareKnuckle #Leaking #BloodyBattle #Fight #FirstEvent #Live #HistoryMaking #MixedMartialArts #Boxing #Fighters #Battle #BareKnuckled #Innovative #Arena #ToeTheLine #KnuckleUp #World #Sports #PayPerView #Championship
Beyond the bloody pugilism, though, there was an element of shadiness, the sense that to behold the soon-to-be-swelling fists smacking against burgeoning hematomas was to witness a crime. That we were watching something raw and true.
Therein lies the irresistible allure of these kinds of fights.
For nearly a decade and a half, I covered unsanctioned fighting in New York. I wrote a book about the Underground Combat League, which tried to be as “MMA” as possible under the circumstances. I wrote about illicit kung fu fights for VICE. I even wrote about unsanctioned boxing matches that made more than a few South Bronx nights crazy. Throughout that time, whenever I went to sanctioned events – in New Jersey, or Connecticut, or elsewhere – countless commission officials asked me in hushed whispers if I could bring them to one of these shady events. It was their job to make sure all bouts under their purview were safe, but off the clock, they too wanted to partake in the wicked joys of reckless combat.
Which is to say, of course they did. Everyone does. It’s simply part of our nature.
Dana White, when he was selling the notion of mixed martial arts to the media, once made the analogy that if one street corner had a football game going on, another had a baseball game and another had a basketball game, and a fist-fight broke out on the fourth corner, all the spectators would gravitate toward the fight. He wasn’t lying. But to take that analogy further, what if instead of a baseball game a cage was erected, with sanctioned fights now occupying a corner? More than likely, that unsanctioned fist-fight would still garner the lion’s share of attention.
I interviewed former champ Michael Bisping in the lead-up to UFC 159 in New Jersey, and after the interview I invited him to an underground event slated for the day after his fight. He was tempted, but ultimately declined. Author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain went instead. After sitting in the front row of the VIP section at the Prudential Center on Saturday night, Bourdain was ringside for no-frills madness at an undisclosed location the following afternoon. Guess which event he liked more?
No matter what ESPN app has exclusive broadcasting rights to UFC Fight Nights, we’ll always love our Kimbo versus Gannon.
No matter what new markets the UFC explores, or how many events they have at Madison Square Garden, we’ll always hunger for our semi-organized fights in bodegas and on rooftops.
No matter what Conor McGregor drama unfolds, and which UFC stars rise and fall, we’ll always tune into whatever iteration of combat sports pushes the envelope – Bare Knuckle FC or otherwise.
We call ourselves civilized, but we’re not.
And that’s perfectly fine.