Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Like every combat sports promotion, Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships wasn’t immune to the coronavirus pandemic that shut down live events across the U.S. for several months.
The fledgling organization was forced to cancel several cards, but after months of waiting, BKFC finally returns to action on Friday with a lightweight title fight between UFC veteran Isaac Vallie-Flagg and Luis Palomino to headline the promotion’s first event since February.
BKFC president David Feldman acknowledged the difficulties his promotion faced during the pandemic, but with the UFC successfully staging a number of cards and Bellator MMA poised to return this weekend, he felt like the time was right for bare-knuckle boxing to come back as well.
“It’s been tough,” Feldman said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “We’ve had a couple shows planned, and with COVID, we had to pivot and adjust. We’re here – knock on wood – [and] we’re only days away from the event, so I think we’re in good shape to get this fight off the ground.
“We have a good card and we’re excited really to just get back in action, and we’re ready to give the fans some fights for free. Everything that we’re doing this time is completely for free. No cable subscriptions, no pay-per-view.”
In order to stage an event, Feldman says the athletes and personnel working the show will have to undergo extensive testing for COVID-19, as well as going under quarantine to ensure everyone is healthy come fight night.
One major difference for BKFC 11 this weekend versus cards being held by the UFC or boxing matches taking place in Las Vegas, this event will also welcome a small number of fans in attendance.
The card is being held in Oxford, Miss., which is a state that has loosened restrictions enough to allow an audience to attend the fights.
“There’s just so much preparation going into it and so much precaution,” Feldman said. “The coronavirus testing for everybody, the temperature checks, the quarantining, there’s so much going into this to keep everybody safe. We do have a limited crowd. We were allowed to have a limited crowd in Mississippi. We didn’t go overboard, we kept it very, very light.
“I did that really for the ambience and to get fans cheering in the background but everybody’s separated by social distancing. Everybody will be wearing masks and all the necessary precautions that we’ve seen in other sports and organizations putting on their events. Safety is our main concern. Always has been in anything we’ve done with Bare Knuckle and now with COVID, we’re taking extra precautions as well.”
Feldman promises the promotion is taking steps to ensure the crowd will be following strict protocols in the arena, which was strengthened after BKFC reduced the total number of tickets sold despite being allowed a larger audience by the local government.
“We’re allowed to have about 1,200 fans, it’s a 4,000 seat capacity, we’re all allowed 25 percent,” Feldman explained. “But we cut it off at 500 people because we want to make sure that it’s completely spaced out. Not that it’s a big deal, cause it’s only 500, but it sold out in about 30 minutes of going on sale.
“It was a good sign for us that people were hungering for us to get back in action. We know where we stand and where we’ll be once things get back to normal, and we’re happy. We’re happy we get to put on this great fight card.”
Former UFC fighter Jim Alers was originally expected to compete in the main event, but Feldman revealed he was dealing with a COVID-19 related situation with one of his coaches and ultimately bowed out of the fight.
“Someone on [Jim Aler’s] team was affected by COVID, so he chose to sit this one out cause he didn’t want to go without his trainer,” Feldman said. “I understand that, I respect that. Isaac Vallie-Flagg is 3-0 in bare-knuckle, and bare-knuckle is still pretty new, and to be 3-0 right now speaks a lot.
“He proved he was ready to step up, and Luis Palomino is as old school as old school gets. He holds a victory over Jorge Masvidal, had two wars with [Justin] Gaethje, so he’s as good as they come. It’s just been a pleasure to work with them, and I can’t wait for this fight. I can’t wait to crown this 155-pound championship.”
With a lightweight title fight planned for Friday night, Feldman has already started plotting out the rest of the year for BKFC now that the promotion is back in action. The next four BKFC cards will happen on Aug. 21, Sept. 19, Oct. 16 and Nov. 14.
Once this year is wrapped up, Feldman teased ambitious plans for the promotion in 2021.
“We actually have some really great things coming next year,” he said. “We’re going to be doing two shows a month with the new platform we have, with an announcement we’re going to be making shortly. We’re just really glad to be back in action.”