A Guide to Betting on Bare-knuckle Boxing Before Ben Rothwell’s BKFC Debut on Saturday
Bradley Collyer/PA Images via Getty Images. Pictured: BKFC fighters Danny Christie and Terry Brazier
You know one of the things that makes the throwback spectacle of bare-knuckle boxing exciting to watch in the year 2022? It’s the semi-illicit feeling that maybe this shouldn’t be allowed.
Two men (or women), stripped to the waist (or wearing sports bras), throwing the primitive weapons that are their bare fists at one another’s delicate faces. It just feels like the kind of thing that you ought to be watching on a river barge somewhere while keeping one eye peeled for the law.
It gets even more interesting when you find that you recognize one or more of the names on the fight card from some other combat sports.
This is a big part of the sales pitch that Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships seems to have seized on, building its fight cards around recognizable talent from the UFC and elsewhere, all with the promise of throwing them into this memorable meat-grinder to see who comes out with all their pieces still attached and in the same place.
So when you see fighters you know going bare-knuckle, such as longtime UFC heavyweight Ben Rothwell, you may want to jump on that betting action with quickness and confidence.
⚔️BKFC heads to Louisiana for the first time as Lorenzo Hunt and Quentin Henry battle for the cruiserweight title.@RothwellFighter makes his @bareknucklefc debut against Bobo O'Bannon#BKFC30 | OCT. 1 | Live on #FITE | https://t.co/QRHyvRVW5apic.twitter.com/j0MhKPViL5
— FITE (@FiteTV) September 26, 2022
"Big Ben" makes his BKFC debut against the fascinatingly named Bobo “The Bible Belt Brawler” O’Bannon this Saturday at BKFC 30 (9 p.m. ET, pay-per-view). The heavyweight clash co-headlines the nine-fight card, and you can bet on all of the fights at sportsbooks such as DraftKings.
However, now that I’ve watched a bunch of these events and even attended a couple in person, let me tell you: If you’ve never bet (or even watched much of) bare-knuckle boxing before, there are a few things you should keep in mind before you lay your money down.
Tips for Betting on Bare Knuckle FC
This is, in more ways than one, its own separate sport.
The mistake a lot of people make is to assume that bare-knuckle boxing is just like any other striking-based combat sport. They see a boxer or MMA fighter they know and assume that it means he must be better than anyone they don’t recognize.
Thing is, this isn’t just boxing without the gloves. This is an entirely different sport. Sometimes even the fighters don’t seem to fully appreciate just how much the different setting and ruleset can impact the outcome.
BKFC bouts take place in a relatively small, circular ring. The “ropes” surrounding it are really more like padded cables that fighters sometimes get painfully bounced against. The rounds are shorter in both time and duration – five rounds of two minutes each – so the action tends to be fast and furious, with plenty of knockdowns, but a decision can also easily slip away from anyone who’s overly patient.
The BKFC rules also allow for far more clinch-fighting than what you typically see in boxing, allowing fighters to hold and hit on the inside to an extent that many boxing-centric fighters don’t always seem prepared for.
For all the above reasons, experience in the BKFC format actually counts for a lot.
You look at a fight like Saturday’s co-headliner, where the heavy favorite Rothwell (-380 on the moneyline) comes in with a record of more than 50 pro MMA bouts, many of them at the highest level of the sport. You might think that he’s a lock to beat the unheralded underdog O’Bannon (+325), who was a middling boxer before making the leap to bare-knuckle, where he’s had five fights.
But five bouts in bare-knuckle (four of them under the BKFC banner) means O’Bannon might have a much better idea of what to expect in that little circular ring, not to mention better strategies for dealing with it.
The more skilled fighter doesn’t always win here, especially the first time out. We saw this for ourselves when slick striker Michael “Venom” Page came in as a heavy favorite against former UFC slugger Mike Perry at a BKFC event in London earlier this year, only to lose a close decision after struggling to adjust to the close confines and the short rounds.
Simply being the better pure puncher isn’t always enough in BKFC, especially if the other guy has had a chance to learn a few tricks that work well in bare-fisted combat.
In bare-knuckle, the damage comes early and easily. Here’s how a lot of bare-knuckle boxing matches go: fighters “toe the line” to start Round 1, circle each other looking for openings, then come together for an indistinct flurry or two that doesn’t initially seem all that significant. But when they step (or stumble) back, someone’s already cut and bleeding, even if it’s hard to tell exactly how it happened.
Fighting with bare fists is a little more like fencing in that regard. Or, in that small space, maybe knife-fighting in an alley is a better metaphor.
It doesn’t take much of an opening for a strike to find its way through. Traditional defensive techniques like blocking or parrying become a lot tougher to employ. And since even a glancing blow from a bare knuckle can easily open a cut, there’s almost no such thing as an insignificant strike.
No Easy Handicapping for BKFC
This last point is evident on almost everyone’s faces after a BKFC fight. There might be less total brain trauma here than in a pro boxing match, but there is a lot more cosmetic damage.
The only people who get out of these fights unscathed or the ones who dominate right away and win early. Being able to fight through blood and cuts and swollen, closing eyes is practically a prerequisite, and almost any punch has the potential to swing a fight and shift momentum.
All this helps to explain why a lot of oddsmakers have been slow to offer up lines on BKFC bouts. Even the experts at handicapping combat sports don’t necessarily know all these athletes, and knowing what they can do in MMA or boxing doesn’t necessarily mean you know what they’ll do in BKFC.
That said, when you see a big, skilled, experienced heavyweight like Rothwell move into a space that allows him to punch another human being with his exposed, meaty fist, it does still almost feel like it ought to be illegal.
But then that too is part of the appeal. You watch these fights and there’s a voice in your head asking, should this really be happening? But then it is happening, fast and furious, and suddenly you find you don’t dare look away for fear of missing the whole thing.