Upsets Rule The Ring At Knucklemania-BKFC 16

By on February 8, 2021
Photo-Jordan Raiff

The leadup to the Super Bowl always makes for an interesting landscape of events in the community that hosts the big game. Even with the pandemic still raging, 2021 would be no different as a new contender in the fighting arts realm in Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship brought Knucklemania to Lakeland on Friday night.

Founded in 2018 by former pro boxer David Feldman, Knucklemania was the 16th event for the company and 3rd in the Tampa area with each event getting larger in stature and in prominence.  Friday night’s fights had everything you wanted in combat sports and a familiar face was in attendance as Shaquille O’Neal was ringside.

Photo-Jordan Raiff

The card on Friday night featured some veterans of the BKFC squared circle and a new comer whose name is very familiar if you follow combat sports, especially MMA, as Paige VanZant has joined the association.  The UFC veteran has changed her padded gloves for wrapped hands and was ready for her debut against Britain Hart. Hart a 3 fight veteran of BKFC actively pursued the fight against VanZant.

Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff

Hart in a recent interview discussed the process on how she got the fight:

“Everyone had already warned me, ‘You’re not going to fight her first, it would be cool if you did, but you’re not.’” Hart said. “You’re basically going to be two sharks — Paige is going to be a shark, and you’re a shark and you’re going to eat a bunch of goldfish that way you make a mega-fight and it will be a lot of money.

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“I said OK, but then when I had my fight on Nov. 13 and she was ringside, I don’t know what it was, it was the weirdest thing, but I was just possessed and I went up to her and said, ‘You’re f**king next.’ Because of that little stunt, everyone was like, ‘Wow, Britain you’re a freaking genius, you might have just landed yourself that fight.’”

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And that she did as Hart made the most of her opportunity by taking the fight to VanZant from the ring of the first bell throughout the ring at the end of the fifth. Hart consistently went to the body and slowed down VanZant. All three judges scored the fight 49-46 and I had Hart winning the first four rounds fairly easy.  VanZant was active throughout the fight and connected but Hart got the better of their exchanges and threw more punches.

“You know what, I made this moment about the people who believed, not the ones who didn’t believe,” Hart stated “This wasn’t about the ones who said I couldn’t win; it was for all those who believed I could.”

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 The other co headlining bout was the Champion Johnny Bedford taking on Dat Nguyen for the 135 lb BKFC Championship.

Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff

First round was even as both fighters landed big shots to the body and the face with Bedford landing a big shot to Nguyen’s chin and he shrugged it off like it was nothing. This was the theme of the fight as Dat’s chin took huge shots from Bedford and he never went down. The five round slugfest was a back and forth of brutality.  Nguyen also connected with an onslaught of punches to Bedford’s face and cut him but never seemed to hurt Bedford.

Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff

It was anyone’s fight going into the fifth with Bedford jabbing Nguyen effectively with Nguyen throwing haymakers with both fighters connecting. As the final bell rang, the crowd stood and cheered with applause and fans shook their heads in disbelief at what they witnessed as it went to the scorecards.

Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff

With a unanimous but somewhat surprising decision in such a close fight, 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46, Dat Nguyen takes the unanimous decision and the two titles home. Shaq joined the fighters in the ring and handed Ngyuen the belts. Soon after, Bedford walked down the catwalk completely dejected. 

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Nguyen goes to 3-0 (1KO) and has the option for a rematch with Bedford or can pick his next opponent as he has the belts. After what we watched tonight, lets hope the rematch gets made sooner than later. Nguyen stated “Anyone who fights me, they’re always going to get the best of me. That’s what Johnny Bedford got.”

Chris Leben vs. Quentin Henry

Chris Leben, a veteran of both the UFC and lately BKFC called it a career by taking on Quentin Henry in a heavyweight bout.

Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff

Henry came out draped in red, white and blue to Hulk Hogan’s theme song “A Real American”. Henry looked a real lean 205 and barked at Leben as the ring announcements were made. Leben had his hands full from the start as Henry attacked when the bell rang.

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The two tussled around the ring, grappling and throwing bombs in the clutch. Leben hit Henry with two left hands during the clutch with one of the shots accidently poking Henry in the eye. After a delay for the medic to check on Henry, the fight continued and Henry bull-rushed Leben.

Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff

Thunderous power shots were exchanged with Leben landing a crushing and final blow that toppled Henry to the canvas.  What a finale and victory for Leben as he was able to ride out into the sunset with his hand held high for one final time.

Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff

In the prelims:

Tampa’s own Martin Brown took on Hawaii’s Zach Zane and overcame an early knee injury when both fighters went down awkwardly following a Zane punch to the back of Brown’s head.  There was lots of fighting in the clench in both the first and second round. Brown knowing he had to do something as the knee started to swell, overwhelmed Zane and Zane’s corner stopped the contest at 1:28 of round two.

Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff

The fight of the night for me was also the first fight of the main PPV card featuring:

Charisa Sigala vs. Taylor Starling

Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff

Sigala making her debut from Rancho Cucamonga, California opened up Starling’s eye early in the first with fists flying from both fighters. Seconds later, Starling floored Sigala with a straight power right hand. Sigala got up and the two battled non-stop into the forth round with Sigala going down once again in the second.  Starling started to dominate with the jab as her eye flowed with blood down her cheek.

Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff

The battle continued into the 5th and final round both Sigala and Starling scoring at will but the two early knockdowns was enough to give Startling the unanimous decision.  These two took serious damage to their faces with both receiving looks by the medical staff after the fight. I don’t think their moms could recognize them afterwards.

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Other preliminary fights:

Lorenzo “Juggernaut” Hunt vs. Rob “The Destroyer” Morrow

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At first, the most exciting thing about this fight was Juggernaut using Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” with two scantily clad women as he walked up to the ring.  The first two rounds were definitely a feeling out between the two fighters as both didn’t want to make a costly mistake. It was also the only time that we heard any boos from the crowd.

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The boos turned to cheers in the forth round as Juggernaut turned it on and unleashed an onslaught of blows that Morrow tried but couldn’t defend due to the pure speed and power of the shots. Juggernaut hit Morrow with a one-two combination to the face that dropped Morrow as the bell rang. Morrow tried to get up but the ref stopped the fight. 

Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff

John Chalbeck vs. Greg Bono

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Chalbeck dominated the first round putting Bono down with an ear punch. He was smooth in his attack and floated through the ring.

Bono came back in the in the second as an exchange of flurries of blows to the face and into the body in an even round even as Bono’s face was blooded from the crown to his lips. 

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Just when you thought the fight was possibly going to go the distance,  Chalbeck nailed Bono in the face with a thunderous right hand and continued to dominate the fight and dropped Bono for good in the third.

Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff

Haim Gozali vs. John McCallister

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The two big men clutched and an grabbed throughout the first round and exchanged some heavy blows with McCallister getting the best of Gozali.  Gozali got his revenge in the second as McCallister went down awkwardly and it looked to the crowd like he tore up his knee.  He got up but then took a hard shot behind the ear and the fight was over early in the second. Gozali by K.O.

Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff

Dillon Cleckler vs. Chris Jensen

As these two behemoths walked up to the ring, you knew this wasn’t going to last 5 rounds as both of them looked determined to end it early.

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The prediction came true as Dillion Cleckler first hit Chris Jensen with a quick but heavy shot to the mouth and followed it up with a blast just below the ribs near the liver and Jensen went down like a sack of spuds. 34 seconds in and Cleckler had a huge win to a massive contingent of fans .

Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff

Travis Thompson vs. Dave Morgan

Morgan making his BKFC debut

Travis “The Animal” Thompson 2- 3 came in sporting Buccaneer Red with the logo and beads to match.

Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff
Photo-Jordan Raiff

Thompson has knockout power in both hands from viewing his previous fights and put Morgan down late in the first with a punch behind the ear. Morgan got up to and finished the first round but went down again on a punch that brushed the shoulder of Morgan but he had had enough and went down to a knee and he was finished.  Thompson by TKO

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Jarod Grant vs. Brandon Lambert

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Lambert making his debut with Grant at 2-0 and he came to the ring donning a big green mohawk and running his mouth early in the fight. Both came back to haunt him as he got gassed early.

Lambert went down in the third by an overhand right close to the back of the head and also suffered some damage to his nose. Grants experience and patience paid off to take his pro record to 3-0. Keep an eye on Grant as he moves up the ranking.

Knucklemania was a huge success in a venue I thought was too big for the event. Boy was I wrong. This is a sport on the rise and with Shaquille O’Neal possibly coming into the mix in some ownership capacity, the sky is the limit.

https://www.bareknuckle.tv/
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