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BKB 16 Preview: The Bare Knuckle Shuffle

Twenty years ago you’d have been hard pressed to find a casual fight fan out there that’d even heard of ‘bare knuckle boxing’, let alone actually witnessed a contest with their very own eyes. At the turn of the century, Guy Ritchie’s Brit-sploitation classic ‘Snatch’ lifted the lid on the murky world of unlicensed and bare knuckle pugilism, but its romanticised, smoke-filled and beer-drenched pastiche of the underworld’s favourite pass-time was a gargantuous far cry from the reality of the bare knuckle scene.

For the most part, bare knuckle in the late 1990s wasn’t that vastly different from bare knuckle fighting scene of the 1890s. Factory yards out of hours, country lanes or hay bales in fields, far from the beaten track; it was hardly glamorous and almost certainly on the borderline of legality… not that anybody particularly cared.

In recent years the bare-knuckle scene has seen something of a resurgence on both sides of the Atlantic, bolstered in no small part by the participation of a slew of notable names from the MMA sphere. Promotions in the US have built their cards around recent UFC cast-offs and the stars of yesteryear, with the likes of Bec Rawlings, Kendal Grove, Charles ‘Felony’ Bennett, Chris Leben, ‘The New York Badass’ Phil Baroni and Ricco Rodriguez all taking part with what can only be described as… varying degrees of success. On this side of the ocean the blueprint has been similar. Native bare knuckle star Jimmy Sweeney has been pitted against UFC veterans Cody McKenzie and Julian ‘Let Me Bang Bro’ Lane in showcase contests, while 2019 has seen the likes of Brad Pickett, Mark Godbeer, Oli Thompson and Norman Parke participating, with even more big names teased for future events.

BKB 16, set to take place in London’s prestigious IndigO2 venue this Saturday night, it’s a huge leap from the promotion’s embryonic years. Back then they were lucky if a hundred-and-fifty paying customers were able to cluster around a tiny hay bale ring, as a couple of local tough guys tried to turn each others’ faces into ground beef.

This weekend a crowd of close to two-and-a-half thousand will enjoy a card featuring a number of faces well known to the BKB faithful and the semi-finals of their ‘prize-fighter’ tournament, complimented by a smattering of headline attractions from the MMA circuit.

Topping the bill is a certifiable UKMMA legend in Brad ‘One Punch’ Pickett. A star of the UK’s formidable Cage Rage promotion before taking America’s WEC and UFC by storm as one of England’s most well rounded mixed martial artists, Pickett fought a who’s who of the world’s best before calling time on his MMA career in 2017. He’s now viewed as the man behind former Cage Warriors champion and undefeated UFC bantamweight Nathaniel Wood’s rise to prominence, ‘One Punch’ is still game for a scrap and has cited the lesser demands of training for a bare knuckle fight as one of his primary influencers for stepping back into active competition.

Pickett’s will be facing off against a fellow UKMMA alumni, albeit one with a drastically different career trajectory. ‘Short Fuse’ Mark Handley ended his MMA career five years ago with a 5-11 ledger on the back of seven consecutive losses. Though bear in mind that the majority of his MMA defeats came by way of submission, since making the foray into bare-knuckle brawling; Handley has gained a new lease on life in the BKB ring and will look to continue his winning ways at BKB 16. Scalping Pickett would unquestionably be the highlight of his career.

If you’re a fan of massive dudes punching each other repeatedly in the face – and let’s face it, who isn’t? – then you should need no further reason to tune into BKB 16 than the return to action of UFC veteran and former BAMMA champion Mark Godbeer. If you had to glean one takeaway from Godbeer’s 17-fight MMA career, it should’ve been that he was very good at punching people really fucking hard in the face. He made no secret of his fondness for doing so in a sport that prides itself on being multi-disciplined, so one would imagine ‘The Hand Of’ Godbeer will be fairly adept at punching people really fucking hard in the face in a sport like BKB, which is essentially fifty percent punching people really fucking hard in the face.

Elsewhere on the bill, is one of combat sports’ true world warriors, Will Chope, returns to BKB for his second outing following a successful debut earlier this year. With well over 100 fights to his name and still not 30 years old, Chope brings a unique mixture of youth and experience to the ring and is no stranger to the fine art that is ungloved combat. Chope faces the veteran Barrie Jones in the evening’s opener.

Other attractions include Ricardo Franco (a student of UFC veteran Danny Mitchell) facing off against Connor Tierney in the semi-finals of a ‘Prizefighter’ 8-man tournament, while ‘Smudger’ Smith and James Connelly make up the other half of the bracket.

Marc Moggridge/BurghleyImages

Domestic fans can watch BKB 16 event by subscribing via a one-night pass to UK porn channel Television X, home to such classics as The Great British Bonk Off and the highly topical Hard BreXXXit. I don’t know about you dear reader, but there’s nothing that gets me in the mood for a wank more than high level stylised violence, so drop your £10 and enjoy the sight of half-naked men’s bodily fluids spraying everywhere with reckless abandon… and the excellent porn that follows. BKB 16 is also available via Virgin’s On Demand service in the UK, and FITE.tv worldwide.

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