David Feldman is the Founder and President of Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship. He joins Chris Van Vliet from Philadelphia, PA to talk about how BKFC has become the fastest growing sport in the world, the struggles he went through to get it sanctioned, what signing Paige Van Zant meant for the company, the offer they made to Mike Tyson to have a bare knuckle fight, the 5-year plan for him and BKFC, why he feels this is safer than MMA or boxing and much more!
Chris Van Vliet: It’s been a wild two years for you guys with Bare Knuckle F.C. What’s it been like for you on the inside watching this grow?
David Feldman: “Looking for the nicest restaurant to celebrate at and looking for the closest bridge to jump off of [laughs]. It’s been such a wild and crazy ride, but I mean it’s really just been an unbelievable experience that I couldn’t have even imagined when I thought of this thing. How fast this would grow and the kind of recognition and acceptance that we got so fast. I always thought this was going to happen, but I thought it would take 5 to 7 years to get where we are at now. We have a tremendous team, they did a really good job of coming together and having each other’s back. It’s been a tremendous ride and I am really happy with where we are at. I can’t wait for the growth.”
Chris Van Vliet: What did you think was missing from combat sports. I mean you’ve been around combat sports for pretty much you’re whole life. What do you think was missing that Bare Knuckle was going to fill?
David Feldman: “I don’t know so much if something was missing or there was something extra that could be added. I thought that if you could do something that is a little bit more fast paced in today’s environment, I like to call it the A.D.D [attention deficit disorder] environment. Everybody either has A.D.D. or thinks they have it. It was faced paced, exciting, shorter rounds and closer atmosphere. You’ve got nothing but action the entire fight. So I think that it could fit in to today’s society and they love it. It’s action packed, fast paced excitement. It’s the purest form of fighting that there is. We are giving the fans something great, the fighters are fighting their asses off. Everyone is doing tremendous and it seems to be working out.”
Chris Van Vliet: A lot of businesses have struggled so much during the last year and a half with COVID. BKFC has exploded, so what’s the secret here?
David Feldman: “It was really just forward thinking. This whole thing has been a risk. I gave ten years of my life to try and get this thing sanctioned. I didn’t know if it ever would get sanctioned, and finally it did. So I then gave the next two and a half years just trying to get this thing going. So I had to ram it down people’s throats because they didn’t know what it was. When COVID came, it was really just another speedbump. I’m not taking light of it. I feel so bad for everyone that lost their life or got seriously injured from this. I feel closer to those that lost their livelihoods. That was a tremendous setback for those individuals and I feel really bad.”
“But on that note we had to make something happen. Do we do a closed door show? I saw the UFC did one, it was tremendous and it was great for them to set the tone. But it didn’t have the atmosphere as much there. You didn’t hear the crowd and you didn’t see the atmosphere. So I said lets do a live event where we can have fans. We found a place in Oxford Mississippi. So July 24th 2020 we became the first live sporting event in the country with fans. Then we just moved on to September, October, November, December. We skipped January, then we did February around the Superbowl. It was KnuckleMania, a tremendous event for us. From there things have just started to explode. I think if you can give a fan a consistent product, they are going to like what they see and they will continue to be a fan. That’s how we were able to grow our fanbase.”
Chris Van Vliet: You talked about getting this sanctioned and getting this legalized. What does that process look like?
David Feldman: “Right now, I’m not going to say that it’s simple, but it’s a lot easier. It’s a different presentation to what I was presenting without any experience under my belt. Imagine I am going into a board of commissioners, ten of them, and I say ‘I want you to sanction bare knuckle fighting, because it’s safer than boxing and MMA.’ They are looking at me like what is wrong with this dude? How is he telling us that bare knuckle is safer. I would do two simple things. First thing I would do is have the main commissioner come over to the wall, and I would ask him to punch it with his bare knuckle. He would tap it a little bit. Then I would put a glove on him and ask him to do it again. Then boom, he would crack it. I then say ‘that’s my case.’ I didn’t have to explain it, they would get it. Then I would also imitate smashing my knee into someone’s head. I then ask ‘Which do you think is harder? The bare knuckle or the knee?’ They would all say the knee. Then I would ask ‘So why can’t I do this?'”
“From March 2018 to June 2018 they gave me that opportunity to be the first legally sanctioned bare knuckle fighting promotion. We just made a big splash that day. Now, because we were lucky enough to acquire the consulting of Dr Don Muzzi, who is the president of the Association of Ringside Physicians. He is the number one fight doctor is all of the country, he is our consultant. We have compiled data that shows that in our fights we have less injuries than in boxing and MMA. We have less concussions, less head trauma, less facial fractures and even less hand fractures. The only thing we have more of is more lacerations. We knew it as we were doing it but now we have data. You can argue my opinion all you want, but you can’t argue the data. The data is the data, it is what it is. that is what is helping to open up these doors that have been shut for so long.”
Chris Van Vliet: I feel like BKFC is being looked at the same way that UFC was being looked at 25 years ago. What’s it going to take to shift that mindset for the general public?
David Feldman: “I think it’s just staying the course really. Every fight people go to, they watch it and they love it, especially live. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s fast paced. It’s got that little bit of brutality to it. But they see the fighters walk out of the ring fine, not carried out on stretchers, not groggy, they just walk out of the ring. Yeah they are busted up, but you see a picture of them a week later and they are perfect. I think it is staying the course a little longer, getting these studies behind us. The really great thing is that next Wednesday BKFC becomes part of the Association of Boxing Comiisioners. It should be a lot easier for us to then open up these doors.”
Chris Van Vliet: Was there a possibility of BKFC being sold?
David Feldman: “I was offered a lot of money just last week to sell. I have to tell you I stayed up for two nights in a row just thinking do I take the money? But you know I am a passionate person. I’m not in it for the money. I have a core three or four people that have worked with me since the beginning. Some have worked for free for two years. Until I can change their lives and change my life at the same time, leave money for the next generation, that’s when I know it is time to go. By that time I am sure we are really going to change the minds of a lot of people.”
Chris Van Vliet: Is the hope to take some fans away from boxing and MMA, or are you trying to create a whole new fanbase?
David Feldman: “I think we will certainly borrow some fans from boxing and MMA. I’m not going to say that we will take them. I think that if you are a big MMA fan, you will stay a big MMA fan. Same with boxing. But there is always room for improvement of something different. I think what sets us apart for the common person is everybody in the world has either witnessed a bare knuckle fight or been in one. Also I think it’s more adaptable to the common person than boxing or MMA. I think we can certainly open up a new fanbase. The thing about BKFC is that we stay in our own lane. We market the way we want to market, we use some fighters from mixed martial arts and from boxing. We are gaining new fans that have never watched combat sports before. But we are here just to do our thing. We are here to build our thing up.”
Chris Van Vliet: Mike Tyson was a name that was thrown around with BKFC. How close was that to actually happening?
David Feldman: “I don’t know how close it was to actually happening. The offer was official, we talked to the team a couple of times. Everything about it was real. Did Mike Tyson want to get hit with a bare knuckle at his age? that was the big question. Ultimately the answer was no. He did his fight, which was a great fight against Roy Jones. But I don’t think they went in there at a war trying to kill each other. I think they went in there as more of a show. You know what, Mike Tyson, for all that he has accomplished, he deserves the opportunity to just entertain and get paid for it. That’s what happened for him.”
Chris Van Vliet: You’ve been so successful two to three years in. What’s the five year plan from now?
David Feldman: “Five years from now? That’s definitely sitting on an island somewhere. I got three to five years left in this thing. All the stress, I can’t spend as much time with my family. I want to be able to do those things and I can’t right now, they understand why. I can’t just sit at home, but in three to five years I can get it to a point where I don’t want to walk away from it, but I can consult whoever would be the predecessor. But I would love to be continually involved with it in some way, shape or form. It’s kind of like a baby to me. I hatched it and made it happen. I love this, it’s not a job, it’s something I really love. The fans love it and the fighters love it.”
Chris Van Vliet: We had Paige VanZant on the show a few months ago. I think when you guys signed her people went ‘Oh. This is the real deal if they are getting names like that.'”
David Feldman: “Absolutely. Paige did wonders for us. She wasn’t getting paid what she should have been getting paid. I think we overpaid her. I don’t mean we overpaid what her value to us is, I mean we overpaid her compared to what other people were going to pay her. She was worth every cent that we spent on her. She was the most expensive fighter that we ever had, on the most expensive card, and we brought in the most revenue. Definitely she was every bit as valuable to us as what we paid for her, so it worked for us. While other companies were bidding for her and we won that bid, people were like wow this is serious. I love the direction where this is going.”
Chris Van Vliet: What are three things you are grateful for?
David Feldman: “My team, Brian Peterson for giving me a shot and my family.”
Featured image: Sporting News