It’s been a while since I last wrote about my combat world travels. The pandemic has certainly played its role, but the truth is things in the fighting world had started to become stale to me. Now don’t get me wrong there’s been a massive amount of excitement and moments over the last couple of years, but nothing captured my imagination and inspired me to put pen to paper. A couple of weeks ago, I was doing my usual MMA research and realized that an event was selling tickets and a travel package the wouldn’t break the bank.
This wasn’t the ordinary MMA or boxing event in Los Angeles or NYC. This journey will take me to a town I’d never known existed for an event that I’d never attended before. As I board my flight, I wondered how the Hawks Nest would view the world of combat after a long weekend in Salina, Kansas for the Bare Knuckle fighting championship!
Will there be blood? Yes.
Will there be violence? Yes.
Am I way more excited than I should be for those two things? Yes.
Now all that’s left is to take a seat at my ringside table and wait for the warriors to “Toe the Line”!
After a 90 minute drive north, we arrived at the Tonys Pizza Events Center in Salina, Kansas. Par for the course, I arrive plenty early to the event and am one of the first people to enter. Walking to the floor you immediately notice the signature BKFC circular ring. We take our seats and try to hold in the anticipation for the first bout. Although I’ve watched just about every event the promotion has put on, there is still a bit of curiosity of what to expect. The crowd in the arena, although fairly thin and socially distanced was energized and ready. Soon the first two fighters would make the walk.
The opening fight on the card saw Miles McDonald square up with Kendrick Latchman. It didn’t take long for the punches to fly and the blood to spill. Ringside, you immediately notice the difference in sound. The punches connect with a pop as opposed to the thudding sound that a glove provides. Latchman found himself on the better side of the battle landing the cleaner shots and eventually putting McDonald down. Although he’d rise from the canvas to continue, some damage had definitely been done. Latchman continued to land again putting his opponent down face first on the mat. This time McDonald’s corner had seen enough and signaled to the referee to halt the fight. As a result, the competitive fighter was not happy about the decision by both the referee and his corner, showing his frustration by spiking his mouthpiece to the floor. This created the only way that this night and my return to the live combat scene could really play out, as the mouthpiece landed on my ringside table. Not exactly UFC 1 and the famous Teila Tuli tooth but definitely a sign of the kind of night that we were in for.
After about a thirty-five-minute break due to a canceled bout, the main card kicked off at 8 pm local time. Now after the opening prelim we thought we had an idea of what to expect. However, the Gods of violence turned it up to level 10 for the next two fights. First Jon Hollis squared up against Fred Pierce. The Undersized Hollis came forward early but that proved to be short-lived as Pierce began to piece him up badly. Roughly 30 seconds in, Hollis has received severe damage around his left eye. The cut seemed to really be bothering him as he continued to take brutal punishment. It wouldn’t take long and Pierce would drop his opponent with a cracking punch. A game but heavily damaged and bloody Hollis was not able to rise and Fred Pierce was the winner by first-round Knockout!
The award for phone booth kamikazes goes to LJ Hermrick and Rowdy Akers. These two toed the line and gave the crowd about 30 seconds of non-stop punches. Cuts opened up on both and swelling quickly began. The much younger Hermrick was able to land the harder and cleaner punches. At the end of the barrage, Akers was put down hard falling to all fours. He was not able to answer the 8 count and the fight was waved off. After a few seconds, he managed to get back to his feet and show the audience the damaging aftermath of a Bare knuckle fight. Although very short-lived, the crowd showed their appreciation for the frantic and wild pace. Hermrick picked up the first round KO and we continued to move up the card.
The next two bouts on the card would both end up going to the judges. First Antonio Hernandez would pick up a victory over Jack Freriks (48-47, 49-46, 49-46) in a closely fought contest. That would be followed by an even closer judges call as Isaac Doolittle ended up on the right side of the scorecards in a win over Brandon Johnson by majority decision (48-48, 48-47, 48-47). After the two 5 round battles, we got back to the don’t blink violence. In the 6th bout of the night, Bill Dieckhoff picked up a dominating first-round knockout of Austin Levine. The much larger Levine didn’t have the speed or accuracy to be able to handle Dieckhoff. The victor would put his opponent down twice and that would be all she wrote as the referee waved the fight off again, with some say from the downed fighters corner.
It was now time for the featured portion of the card as a local fan favorite and longtime Bellator MMA fighter David “Caveman” Rickles would be leaving the 4 ounce globes behind for the first time and making his Bare Knuckle debut. His opponent on this evening would be the very tough and durable Clifford Wright. While we didn’t get the typical Rickles over the top ring walk. This was the first time the crowd although thin and sum what socially distanced got very loud. The hometown cheers welcomed the caveman to the circle and set the atmosphere for what was about to take place. From bell to bell for all 5 rounds Rickles led the charge. While not necessarily carrying that one-punch power, he battered his foe to the head and body constantly.
As the last few seconds ticked away, both fighters put the guard down and let the punches fly. In the end Rickles would be sporting a bloody cut near his eye. His opposition Wright showed the signs of a ten-minute war. With his eyes and cheeks swollen and cut, he’d survive the battle and fought to the final bell. In the end, however, it was a successful debut for the Caveman as he’d be on the winning side of the most lopsided decision of the night. Now with the crowd happily buzzing it was time to move to the co-main event.
The co-main event would feature one of the more notable as well as surprising fighter signings by David Feldman and the BKFC promotion. That fighter was Nico Hernandez. Hernandez is a young undefeated professional boxer, but that’s not what makes him stand out. The 2016 Olympic Bronze medal is what makes his story so interesting. When bare-knuckle jumped on the scene a couple of years ago, many expected the older MMA fighters as well as boxers to use it as a final moment of competitive glory before calling it a career. With Hernandez, he’s right at the start of a possible long career on top of the lighter weight boxing world. After some event delays due to COVID, it was finally time to see what he could do in the wild world of BK.
In his debut, he’d be facing off against 2-4 MMA fighter Chancey Wilson. Most felt that Wilson was being brought in to be beaten badly and get Hernandez off to the proper start in this sport. When the bell sounded the Bronze medalist did his thing. Although a bit more reserved than many expected he was able to use his speed and footwork to take the early lead in the fight. Wilson to his credit kept moving and wasn’t backing down against his more talented foe. Both men went back and forth with damage showing on the forehead of Wilson as the rounds passed.
With Hernandez ahead on the cards and looking to cruise to a decision victory, the 4th round came to an end. At this point, there was some confusion as the bout was called before the fifth and final two minutes could start. Most in the crowd, myself included, thought that Wilson had had enough and called it a night. That however was not the case exactly. A tired and beat up Wilson apparently threw up in his bucket between the rounds. Kansas combat rules require a contest to be called when situations like that take place. As a result, Nico Hernandez was awarded a TKO win in a fashion only fitting for a bare-knuckle debut. The crowd again approved of a local guy getting the win and left many wondering what his next step might be in the combat world.
Finally, the time had come for the main event of the evening. A five-round war to determine the BKFC heavyweight champion of the world. A lighter but extremely athletic Marcel Stamps would be stepping up to fight the defending champion and longtime MMA veteran Joey “the Mexicutioner” Beltran. The champion Beltran is no stranger to still competition. First having established himself as one of the elite fighters ever to come out of the San Diego area, he’s gone on to compete on four different continents and fought in the pinnacle organization in the MMA world, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). During his time with the UFC and other top-level organizations, he faced a gauntlet of some of the world’s best heavyweights and light heavyweights at the time as well as all time. Even though many of those bouts may have ended with mixed results no one ever questioned the Mexicutioner’s chin, skill, or heart.
The lights dimmed, the fighters entered the ring, and now it was time for the big boys to toe the line. From the start, it was clear we were in for something rare in the world of bare-knuckle fighting. That rarity was a clash of styles. Instead of the usual brawl that occurs, Stamps came out using very crisp boxing and movement. He fairly easily was able to stay clear of the charging champ while still landing several jabs and a few power punches. The first round ended and the challenger was clearly awarded by the judges. The second round saw very much of the same. A lot of movement and the ability to avoid the close combat that Beltran was desperately seeking. Again the round came to an end with Stamps doing his thing.
This time, however, the Champion was showing some wear as blood flowed from his face and ear. It was time to make a stand if he was going to retain the gold. The third round started and you could start to see a small shift in momentum. Stamps began slowing down while Beltran just kept on coming forward with punch after punch. The 3rd round came to a conclusion. While two of the three judges ruled in favor of Stamps you could feel that champ still wasn’t going to go away that easily. With blood flowing, the proud champion came out in force. Now able to get to a worn-down opponent, the punches started to find their target. Beltran would then land a right hand to the temple of Stamps that would put him down in the center of the ring.
Now the only thing was that the referee didn’t call it a knockdown instead of going with the idea that Stamps had taken a shot to the back of the head. With replays showing very little to no illegal contact, thankfully the bout continued. The next time a clean punch landed there wouldn’t be any controversy as Stamps found himself fighting to get up by the referees 8 count. He managed back to his feet but that would be the last time. The champion Beltran stuck to his plan and finished off a worn-out challenger putting him down once again.
The referee reached the 10 count and the fight was over. The Mexicutioner came to Kansas with the belt and was heading back to California with it still in tow. Marcel Stamps showed tremendous skill but the size and heart of the champion were simply too much to overcome. Later on my flight back, I sat next to his cornerman doctor that informed me that he had broken both hands in the midst of combat. I’m sure he’ll be back and well in the BKFC light heavyweight division in the near future. For now, though the well-traveled veteran of fisticuffs seems to have found his perfect niche and for now Joey Beltran stands on the top of the Bare Knuckle Heavyweight Mountain!
In the end, the event was a crazy night of action. Good fight pacing is a major plus for the promotion and the action is always there. There is also no doubt that the bare-knuckle scene is not for the squeamish. That is not myself though and I look ahead to attending another event in the future. The thought of some BKFC combat in a packed arena would be a can’t miss live combat experience.