Combat sports are thriving in a golden area. Anthony Joshua is one of the most prominent faces in British sport and the UFC is still riding its monumental wave after signing their $1.5billion (£1.15billion) contract with ESPN earlier this year.
However, since the deal has been signed, a portion of mixed-martial-arts fans have felt disenfranchised with the UFC’s matchmaking as the company is no longer dependant on PPV due to the guaranteed money ($150million a year) they make through each fight card. Whereas the fighters will be lucky to acquire a tiny amount of that figure.
Unlike other major sports in the States, the UFC doesn’t have a collective bargaining agreement that dictates how much of the company’s revenue they are entitled to. In contrast, NBA players get 51% of all basketball related income according to Forbes.
This has encouraged MMA fighters from the UFC and Bellator to source other forms of income through fighting. This has culminated in the rise of bare knuckle fighting.
The BKFC (Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship) held its fifth event last Saturday evening with five two-minute round bloodbath between two former UFC fighters, Jason Knight and Artem Lobov. Lobov has allegedly signed a three-fight deal with BKFC that will see him earn $150,000 in that short space of time – a purse that he couldn’t have dreamt of earning in MMA.
However, the build-up to the fight was dominated by trash talking between Lobov and former two-weight boxing world champion, Pauli Malignaggi. The two will now face off in BKFC’s sixth and undoubtedly biggest event in June.
Many onlookers have described Malignaggi’s altercations with Lobov as a desperate attempt to lure McGregor into a fight of any nature as the 38-year-old craves another big payday. Their rift started back in 2017 when they were sparring partners in the build-up to McGregor’s boxing match against Floyd Mayweather.
UK boxing journalist, Michael Benson has reportedly been told by Pauli Malignaggi: “that the BKFC are preparing a mega money offer to Conor McGregor for a bare-knuckle boxing match with him.”
I find Malignaggi’s involvement in the sport particularly difficult to watch as the American is one of the best boxing analysts out there, after impressive commentary stints with the likes of Sky Sports and Showtime. It is still unclear how much Malignaggi will be earning for his fight against Lobov at this time.
BKFC’s president, David Feldman will be hoping that the introduction of the retired boxer will encourage widespread PPV interest. Early PPV figures from BKFC 5 suggest that around 150,000 American’s forked out the $19.99 figure for last weekend’s event.
The PPV model has been heavily criticised on different fronts over the last year with the UFC moving away from the dependency of it with their ESPN deal and Boxing looking to paid streaming services such as DAZN as alternatives.
It begs the question, how on earth does Feldman expect people to invest $19.99 in their fights when illegal streaming is easier than it’s ever been? This may prove a bigger stumbling block for the growth of the sport than the barbaric nature that immediately turns people off.
The problems don’t stop there for the BKFC. Feldman is a promoter that makes individuals like Dana White and Eddie Hearn seem like Mother Theresa figures in comparison.
After one fight early in the BKFC 5 card, Feldman was seemingly underwhelmed with the level of violence: “We want action and we demand action from the fighters. We didn’t get action in that last fight, because Rusty Crowder wanted to run. Therefore, he’s giving half his purse to Reggie Barnett. Make some noise Biloxi. This is how we do it at Bare Knuckle. You fight, or you don’t get paid.”
Combat sports have forever been tarnished by shady businessman and failed promotional endeavours and Feldman appears to be no different. Rewarding fighters in the spur of the moment and going against the legitimacy of a contract is the type of philosophy that highlights the archaic nature of these sports. The caveman nature seen in the ring is being mirrored out the ring by supposed businessman.
This is particularly alarming as former UFC fighter Chris Leben has recently entered a lawsuit against the World Bare Knuckle Federation for their refusal to pay fighters.
The slaughter seen in the ring will deter any new viewers going anywhere near the sport. Whereas, combat sport purists like myself cannot take these organisations seriously when they treat their athletes like pawns and have the business acumen of a five-year-old child with a pretend tuck shop.
Featured photograph – Wikimedia Commons