Is Big-Knockout Boxing The Evolution Of The Fight Game?

It’s called Big-Knockout Boxing (BKB). Developed and owned by DIRECTV, this new company/sport has recently been sanctioned by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. On August 16th, BKB will put on its biggest, and likely most expensive, card to date, featuring former boxing title challengers Gabriel Rosado and Bryan Vera.

What is BKB exactly? The company says:

BKB is a new combat sport designed for fight fans who crave action, intensity, and most of all—big knockouts. Fights are furiously fast with just five or seven two-minute rounds. There's no time for hugging or dancing. In BKB, it's fight or lose.

The fighters square off in “The Pit,” a 17-foot diameter circular arena that lacks the ropes so familiar to boxing fans. Immediately surrounding the The Pit are inclined walls geared to keep the fighters in the middle of the action. The combination of neon flashing lights and slate gray in the arena gives the space a futuristic look that feels as if it could be one of the obstacle courses on "American Gladiators."

The purpose behind it all is quite simple; BKB wants to put “the knockout back into boxing.” You see, from BKB’s perspective, the sweet science has gone soft. There’s too much running, too much lateral movement, too much defense. By removing the ropes, decreasing the size of the ring and inclining the walls, BKB wants to force its combatants into telephone-booth wars.

To add to the excitement and likelihood of concussions, BKB has reintroduced a very old concept back into the fight game: bare knuckles*. No, it isn’t the same type of bare-knuckle boxing that is still alive and well in England. It’s a hybrid likely conjured up by marketing executives looking to balance the ultimate goals of BKB with the optics of the sport.

(Ed's Note: It has recently been brought to our attention that BKB will no longer be using the exposed-knuckle gloves described below. Instead, the sport will now use regular 8oz or 10oz boxing gloves, depending on the weight class. The fighters on BKB's upcoming August 16th fight-card, with headliners Bryan Vera and Gabriel Rosado, will use regular boxing gloves. The description below of the exposed-knuckle gloves only applies to the style of glove used by BKB under its former moniker, Bare Knuckle Boxing)

BKB fighters wear a unique glove that looks exactly like something Floyd Mayweather would wear, but the portion of padding that would usually protect the knuckles has been carved out. It makes little sense.

Although gloves have been used in some shape or form for hundreds of years, they were not a mandatory part of boxing until the Marquess of Queensberry rules rolled out in the late 1860s. At first blush, it may seem as if the gloves were adopted to protect fighters from the devastating force of bare knuckles. In fact, however, the gloves were primarily adopted as a form of protection for fighters’ hands. The small metatarsal bones in a hand are quite fragile, especially under the immense pressure and force they’re routinely exposed to in a fight. As a boxer refines his technique and perfects his punches, he learns to generate more power than the hand can endure. The gloves protect the hands, helping to avoid breaks and fractures that can shorten a career.

The added padding does reduce some of the power but not as much as one might think. And the difference between a typical professional boxing glove (which can range from 8 ounces to 12 ounces) and an MMA glove (only 4 ounces) is actually quite negligible.

Clearly, by cutting out the padding over the knuckles, BKB gloves have substantially, maybe even entirely, defeated the purpose of wearing gloves, at least from a scientific point of view.

If we look at recent beginnings of BKB, the gloves start making a little more sense. "Big-Knockout Boxing" actually started out as "Bare Knuckle Boxing."

After marketing research likely revealed some negative feedback on the name, BKB made a name change. What the change does is balance, or tries to anyway, the harsh reality behind the new sport with how it’s actually sold.

Back when MMA was first developing, the marketing focused on the obvious and most sensational aspects of the sport. One promoter went as far as pitching it as “the world’s bloodiest sport.” While this catchphrase likely reeled in new fans, it also caught the attention of many state athletic commissions, who would eventually ban the sport for a time (professional MMA is still not sanctioned in New York).

Likely aiming to avoid such a fate, BKB changed its name and softened its pitch from, “Banned for over a century. It’s back,” to, “Putting the knockout back into boxing.” A reference to its illicit past isn’t the smartest move as BKB works toward wider appeal and official recognition by various athletic commissions.

In an attempt to syphon off some of boxing’s fan base , BKB has intelligently recruited two recognizable boxing names, Gabriel Rosado and Bryan Vera, to fight for the BKB World Middleweight Championship.

Both Rosado and Vera have earned a following with recent gutsy showings against fighters like Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Gennady Golovkin and Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin. Both are come-forward pressure fighters who like to bang. It’s a compelling match-up and likely to be better than some of the sloppy fighting that has been showcased on earlier BKB cards.

If BKB wants to grow into the mainstream, it’d be smart to also pull in popular MMA fighters. Guys like Nick or Nate Diaz, who are known for their boxing ability and have a cult following, would undoubtedly bring a great deal of attention to the young company. Assuming he wasn't contractually tied up by his old UFC contract, a match-up between Nick Diaz and the winner of the Vera-Rosado fight would be electric.

Can BKB thrive without such big names? The sport is predicated on a theory that regular boxing has lost its luster because of the lack of violence. The gloves, the arena and the shortened fight time are clearly aimed at the sound-bite generation. Everything about BKB is structured to give fans what BKB thinks they want: more cuts, more knockouts and more ferocity, all at a faster pace than what is currently offered by boxing.

Even for those boxing fans that loudly decry the running, or rather technical perfection, of fighters like Floyd Mayweather or Guillermo Rigondeaux, it's unclear whether BKB offers them the solution they want. What those fans, and BKB, might find out is that the rugged, no-nose, caution-to-the-wind pug is most enjoyable in a setting where he stands in contrast to technicians.

Contrast breeds excitement. When all-time power-punching greats George Foreman and Joe Frazier fought in 1973, it produced one of the most famous sportscasting lines ever uttered, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”

Despite that, the fight never garnered the same media craze as when Muhammad Ali, the quintessential boxer, fought either Frazier or Foreman. The stark contrast between these fighters is what created the intrigue that made their fights can’t-miss television. If BKB is successful in eliminating the sweetness from boxing, will the slugger lose his appeal? Maybe. Or maybe, it will breed a whole new set of fans with a fervor of only one style of fighting.

Regardless of what happens in the long term, the upcoming fight between Bryan Vera and Gabriel Rosado is compelling. Starting August 4th, we’ll know what the pay-per-view will cost. If BKB is smart, it’ll subsidize part of the costs to help lure in fans. It should chalk it up to marketing costs. If BKB charges anywhere near what it costs to watch Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao or Canelo Alvaez, it's in trouble. But if it charges $20 or less and throws in a 10 minute mini-documentary like HBO’s “Road To” series, showing how Vera and Rosado decided to sign up for the fight, BKB might steal away some boxing fans.

**Editor's Note: It was recently brought to our attention that there has been a major change to the BKB format. Starting with the upcoming August 16th match-up between Bryan Vera and Gabriel Rosado, the sport will no longer use the specialty gloves with exposed knuckles. Instead, BKB fighters will use regular 8oz or 10oz boxing gloves, depending on the weight class. The short rounds and Pit will remain the same.

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