Starting a new fight promotion is risky business. There are only a small handful of established players in combat sports who dominate the market.Whether it’s MMA, professional wrestling, or boxing, getting a foothold as a new promotion and finding the right people to run the business can be difficult. The world of bare knuckle boxing is no different, and that’s why the World Bareknuckle Fighting Federation (WBKFF) made Bas Rutten the face of their company.
Hiring Rutten may have been the only thing they got right. Rutten is well spoken, understands the fight game both domestically and internationally, and has the trust and respect of fans and fighters alike. As for everyone else running things behind the scenes, well it was every shady pro-wrestling or boxing promoter story you’ve ever heard all wrapped into one.
Rutten stayed professional and didn’t let on to the mess that was going on behind the scenes leading up to WBKFF 1 on Nov. 10, but it seems he couldn’t hold back any more. In a lengthy Facebook post, Rutten details the tumultuous path that led to the first and likely only WBKFF show from Casper, Wyoming. It all starts with an earnest question from the unnamed matchmaker to Rutten:
“Do I need to get prostitutes for the fighters for after their fight?”
Rutten told him that they didn’t. Promoting bare knuckle boxing would bring enough negative attention on its own. There was no need to bring any more controversy into this.
There was also the issue of the contracts offered to the fighters. Among the notables scheduled for the card were former Bellator fighter Brennan Ward, former NFL linebacker Shawne Merriman, and former UFC Welterweight Champion Johny Hendricks.
Hendricks had a good run in UFC, scoring big fights with Georges St-Pierre and Robbie Lawler during his run at the top of the welterweight division. He presumably made decent money for those fights but his opportunities dwindled as he lost fights and his star faded. Regardless of this, WBKFF offered Hendricks $250,000 to show and another $250,000 to win. The offer was so generous that Rutten claims Hendricks said “he couldn’t believe that they offered him that kind of money since he had trouble getting fights.” Ward was offered the same deal and Merriman was going to get $500,000 plus a cut of the pay-per-view buys.
Rutten moved to renegotiate the contracts as soon as he came on board, but was met with resistance due to what he thinks was an arrangement for fighters to “kickback” money to the unnamed matchmaker who put together the fights and contracts.
Rutten also talks about said matchmaker intercepting payments that were intended to go to fighters for training camps and keeping the money to fund a drug habit.
There is also the story of the Wyoming Commission refusing to license Mike Bourke to fight due to what they felt was a fixed fight Bourke participated in in Romania. Bourke was scheduled to fight Merriman on the show. Merriman soon dropped out of the card altogether. Bourke and Merriman share a manager.
It’s one hell of a story and it’s a miracle that the show even happened at all. Read Rutten’s full account of the first WBKFF show below.