KNUCKLE UP: A brief history of bare-knuckle boxing and a BKFC 5 preview

By Cole Henry, MMATorch Contributor

Bare knuckle boxing is exactly what it sounds like, boxing without gloves. The first documented report of a bare-knuckle fight comes from 1681, and it involved a footman for an English duke and a butcher. Unfortunately, the butcher and the footman are largely lost to history, and it’s a man by the name of James Figg that is often credited with being the first professional bare-knuckle boxer.

The history of bare-knuckle in the united states is an interesting one. The sport was never sanctioned by a sport governing body, and instead, the fights were sanctioned by The National Police Gazette, a popular Men’s lifestyle magazine at the time. It wasn’t until 2018 that bare-knuckle was officially legalized in the U.S., and since then we have witnessed several bare-knuckle promotions spring up to try to take advantage.

Perhaps the most notable is Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship. BKFC will be returning this weekend for their fifth show, a card that features several notable names. The event will take place tomorrow night in Biloxi, Mississippi with a headline bout featuring former UFC featherweights, Artem Lobov and Jason Knight.

Knight is a former top prospect in the UFC who at one point won four straight fights inside of the octagon. But after a four-fight losing streak led to his release, Knight chose to sign with BKFC over any interested MMA promotions. Standing across the ring from him will be Artem Lobov. Lobov is a very unique figure in MMA. He is a main training partner of Conor McGregor and for that reason, he has been involved with several major moments in the sport over the last few years. Unfortunately, none of them have really come from his own abilities, and he’s developed a bit of a reputation as a McGregor “lackey”. But this could finally be his chance to achieve his own success. Lobov is a striker, and for that reason perhaps bare-knuckle is a sport that will allow him to prosper. Either way, we have a main event between two guys who are not known for backing down from fights.

The co-main event will feature another very familiar name, Chris “The Crippler” Leben. Leben is one of the more controversial figures in MMA history. His clear talent always seemingly overshadowed by his poor life choices, Leben feels as though he is finally in the right place and frame of mind to show what he is capable of. Standing across from him is another fighter who is a bit notorious but for far different reasons. Justin Baesman might be best known as the recipient of vicious liver kick KO loss to Raymond Daniels in a kickboxing match, but he does have some notable MMA wins over the likes of Scott Smith, Max Griffin, and Daniel Roberts. Notably, between kickboxing and MMA, Baseman has lost thirteen of his last fifteen fights.

The rest of the card features several notable names including UFC veteran Chase Sherman who will face Sam Shewmaker, and Isaac Vallie-Flagg competing against Randy Hedderick. Britain Hart will face Christine Ferea for the Women’s America Featherweight Championship, and Johnny Bedford will compete against Abdiel Velasquez in a lightweight tournament semi-final bout.

The fights begin at 9 pm ET/6 PM PT with the prelims on Facebook Live and the main card is available on and the FITE app.


Full Fight Card:
Artem Lobov vs. Jason Knight – Featherweight bout
Justin Baesman vs. Chris Leben – Light heavyweight bout
Britain Hart vs. Christine Ferea – Women’s American Featherweight Championship
Sam Shewmaker vs. Chase Sherman – Heavyweight bout
Rusty Crowder vs. Reggie Barnett – Lightweight tournament semi-final round
Randy Hedderick vs. Isaac Vallie-Flagg – 165-pound bout
Abdiel Velazquez vs. Johnny Bedford – Lightweight tournament semi-final round
Khalib Harris vs. Harris Stephenson – 165-pound bout
Sheen Starr vs. Ivana Coleman – Flyweight bout
Troy Beets vs. Bobo O’Bannen – Heavyweight Bout

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