Last November, the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship journeyed to New York and the BKFC heavyweight championship changed hands. This time, BKFC returned to the Seneca Allegany Resort and Casino in Salamanca, New York and pushed through a few challenges to feature top caliber action and a championship bout.
Jarod “Kid Gatti” Grant was supposed to have faced BKFC bantamweight champion Johnny Bedford, but an unfortunate injury sidelined the champion. While he commenced healing, Anthony Retic stepped in to challenge Grant for the interim BKFC bantamweight championship. Retic offered stylistic challenges and enjoyed height and reach advantages, but ultimately Grant managed to out-battle Retic to claim the interim title.
From the onset, Retic set angles up with movement as Grant reached out to close the height and reach gap. A hard right hand caught Retic in round 1 and may have rocked him, but at a minimum, it served notice that Grant could change the fight with a punch or two, in addition to opening a small cut under Retic’s left eye. Grant managed to cut distance without much issue in round 2, but both fighters largely postured for most of the round and Grant somehow picked up a cut under his right eye. Retic jabbed more in round 3, making Grant defensive before he lashed out with a combination, and it earned him a hard right hand counter from Retic. Grant appeared to be setting up a big punch upstairs by working the body from a distance in round 4, and in the meanwhile Retic stayed busy with his jab. Another clubbing right hand from Grant was likely the hardest punch of the fight to that point, and Retic covered up while retreating before the round ended. Acknowledging the need to attack, Grant came forward early in the 5th round and walked directly into a combination from Retic that changed his mind for a bit. Retic slowed the action and worked his jab, then a hard right hand followed by a mauling left moved Retic across the ring. Retic battled to get revenge, but Grant nicked the action down the stretch.
Grant picked up the decision by scores of 49-46 twice, and 48-46.
“I worked so hard for this,” Grant told Chris Lytle. “[Retic] made it a tough fight. My coach kept pushing me every round.”
When asked about facing Bedford, Grant, the youngest champion in BKFC history, responded, “I hope [Bedford] heals up. Come get this work, man.”
The co-main event featured close action between middleweights Connor Tierney and Jeremiah Riggs for nearly five full rounds before Tierney caught up with a crunching left hook knockout. Tierney used his legs and movement to set up counters, and sure enough a right hand opened up Riggs’ left eye within 30 seconds. Riggs managed to follow Tierney and land his own left hand, but Tierney went right back to keeping his distance. Riggs caught Tierney with an uppercut out of the clinch, but a responding left hand from Tierney badly wobbled Riggs, who went down on a subsequent right to the ear moments later, right before the bell. Round 2 began with greater urgency on Riggs’ part as the ringside doctor looked threateningly at the damage on his face. With 1:20 remaining in the 2nd round, a crushing right hand put Tierney down. Up but clearly hurt, Tierney looked to stall between occasionally fighting through the adversity. With short time remaining, Riggs used a body lock to slam Tierney to the canvas, which got him a point deduction and gave Tierney much-needed time to recover. Riggs’ left eye wore obvious damage as round 3 began, and Tierney exploited the situation by going back to his jab and movement. Halfway through the round, an inadvertent eye poke from Tierney paused the action temporarily. When the fight resumed, Riggs’ eye and cheek bled freely and Tierney hurt Riggs with a series of punishing right hands in the last 30 seconds. The ringside doctor advised the referee to “keep [Riggs] on a short leash” going into round 4, and Riggs’ crimson trunks, the ones that used to be white, showed why. Tierney cracked Riggs, 1-1, with a nice right hand and controlled the action as Riggs couldn’t get close and couldn’t see some punches coming. A brave effort from Riggs at the start of round 5 was turned back by Tierney’s jab and right hand. When Riggs finally got close enough to land, Tierney’s head movement and footwork shut him down. Finally, at 1:31 of the 5th round, a catastrophic left hook bounced off Riggs’ cheek and flattened him. The count was waived entirely. Tierney, now 6-1, called out BKFC welterweight champion Elvin Brito and scolded Jim Alers, who was forced to pull out of a scheduled fight against Tierney on the card.
Redemption was the name of the game when welterweight Dustin Pague improved his record to 1-1 by quickly dispatching Eddie Hoch. An extremely tense 1st round got going when Pague landed an uppercut perhaps 20 seconds in. Pague quickly attacked again, landing another uppercut and a glancing right hand that opened up a cut under Hoch’s left eye. When Hoch got to his feet and claimed to want to continue, the referee disagreed and called an end to the fight at 45 seconds of the 1st round. Hoch’s record falls to 2-1.
Lightweight Matt Phillips remained undefeated and took his record to 2-0 with a wide decision win over Manny Moreira, now 0-3. Both fighters landed mostly jabs at the start of round 1, though Phillips opened up with a right hand that caught Moreira and reddened his eye. Moreira’s jab did its own work, keeping Phillips on his heels until a Phillips jab put Moreira down with about 15 seconds left in the round. Moreira stood up and recovered before saluting Phillips for the good shot at the bell. Phillips stayed careful in round 2 and ate a jab that bloodied his nose not long in. Phillips shifted to the body and moved Moreira about the squared circle with strafing shots up top, then rocked him with a right hand in the closing seconds. The difference in punching power only became more obvious in round 3 as Phillips walked Moreira down behind his entire arsenal as the latter stayed game and durable. Moreira opened up with his jab and right hand in round 4 and Phillips replied with body shots and right hands to the ear. After the bell, Moreira walked to his stool, looked at the camera and appeared to say, “Oh, man.” A high guard from Phillips picked off most of Moreira’s work in round 5. Phillips simply marched forth and landed much harder punches, even if Moreira had a few moments. All three cards read 50-44 in favor of Phillips, who won every round on the cards.
A women’s strawweight bout ended in a draw, with Charisa Sigala rising from a knockdown to deliver entertainment with Angela Danzig despite neither fighter walking away with a win. Sigala landed her right hand repeatedly moments into the fight, but a counter from Danzig looked as though it knocked Sigala down. Ruled a slip, action resumed quickly with both fighters opening up while remaining careful for the remainder of the round. In round 2, Sigala continued with a peculiar tactic: a jab followed by two quick right hands. The unorthodox approach flustered Danzig, who was making her bare knuckle debut and sought out more conventional openings. Sigala pressured well in the final 30 seconds, opening up a cut under Danzig’s left eye and clearly stunning her with a few shots. Clearly feeling urgency, Danzig fought more aggressively in round 3 and connected well early. Danzig recovered from eating some jabs to counter with a left hand that sent Sigala down, and then opened up a cut on Sigala’s left eyebrow when she rose. Sigala fought back to make the round close, and hostilities continued in round 4. Sigala found a home for her right hand, drawing more blood from Danzig’s cut and making her think twice about throwing. With the fight potentially up for grabs, both Sigala and Danzig fought hard through the 5th round, though Sigala’s jab prevented Danzig from wading in or getting much done offensively. The entertaining fight ended up a majority draw, with Sigala taking one card 48-46, overruled by two 47-47 cards. Sigala’s record is now 1-2-1, and Danzig is 0-0-1.
An exciting war ended surprisingly as Jack Grady scored a knockout over Gabe Sacchetti in two rounds. Grady, 1-1, attacked first and pushed the fight inside, but Sacchetti pushed Grady down in what was ruled a slip. The two tangled back up, however, and Sacchetti landed several punches in the clinch and Grady looked to go down from a series of punches, though it was again ruled a slip. Sacchetti moved back inside and left no room for error with another knockdown as he assailed Grady from a Muay Thai clinch. Grady spent the rest of the opening round trying to settle the pace and survive the round. Moments into round 2, a right hand put Sacchetti down hard, sharply changing the momentum. Another clinch allowed Sacchetti to recover as Grady smothered his punches with no room to throw. After they separated, though, Grady landed a right hand to the ear that put Sacchetti down for the full count as he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat after a disastrous round. Sacchetti, now 0-2, was counted out at 1:14 of the 2nd round.
In the only heavyweight clash of the card, Zach Calmus defeated Kyle McElroy by decision, and bad blood between the two wasn’t quite settled. A right hand from Calmus landed off the scratch in round 1, and McElroy responded with a big left hook in close soon after. The action calmed as both fighters waited for the other to make a mistake, to the point where both the referee and the crowd asked for more action. McElroy looked to work his jab in round 2, but again few punches were thrown in the first minute of the round. Close to the halfway point, Calmus connected with two right hands that McElroy absorbed well. Calmus landed a nice right hand to the body, then McElroy began clowning before opening a small cut under Calmus’ left eye at the bell. Round 3 followed a familiar pattern: little action until the second minute. Then both men opened up more and landed hard, flush punches on the other, McElroy likely getting the better of matters. Calmus put more effort into catching McElroy with right hands in round 4, but McElroy’s movement and counters were difficult to get past. Finally Calmus got McEloy into a clinch, which McElroy rocked out of complaining to the referee. After angling to the ropes at the end of the round, McElroy bent forward and ate two or three punches at and one possibly after the bell, one of which opened up his right eye. McElroy exploded at the referee, charging that he’d been caught after the bell. Calmus mocked McElroy through the 5th round, but he also caught McElroy with several punches that appeared to wobble the taller man. The taunting continued after the bell, with Calmus exaggerating his celebration of apparent victory. Judges agreed with Calmus, handing him the victory with scores of 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46. After the decision, McElroy refused to shake hands.
Flyweight Devin Gibson stayed true to his word, using body work to dispatch bare knuckle debutant Kody Murray in four rounds. To open the fight, Murray lunged forward behind an awkward stance, covering up and switching between orthodox and southpaw. Gibson tangled up with him and both fell to the canvas. Indeed, Murray’s strange movement forced Gibson to reassess. By the end of round 1, Gibson appeared to have found his ideal distance with his jab and right hand. In round 2, Gibson held Murray’s rushes off for the most part, using sharper boxing and better movement to show off his hand skills. A jab to the body from Gibson, 2-0, set up a combination that sent Murray down moments into round 3. Murray rose blinking his eyes and he clinched to buy time as Gibson tried to follow up. But more body punches awaited Murray, whose aggression all but stopped. Gibson’s corner asked him to go for a finish before round 4, as a mixture of exhaustion and Gibson’s experience rendered Murray ineffective. Gibson landed a left hook downstairs that sent Murray down and he was unable to continue at 1:44 of the 4th round.
Stanislav Grosu, a Moldovan middleweight fighting out of Virginia, earned his first bare knuckle win and brought his record to 1-1 with a dominant stoppage win over previously unbeaten Christian Torres. Torres struck out with a right hand off the scratch before turning southpaw, but Grosu got hold of the situation using his reach and jab. A right hand clocked Grosu about 30 seconds in, but again Grosu found his distance and caught Torres moving in. Grosu’s Muay Thai clinch set Torres up to eat five straight right uppercuts, which deposited Torres onto the canvas and raised a few welts around his eyes. Unable to beat the count, Torres falls to 1-1 with a stoppage coming at 1:01 of round 1.
A middleweight bout between Damon Bell and Art Driscoll ended on a medical stoppage, resulting in Bell earning his first bare knuckle victory. A tentative opening minute of the fight saw both men mostly jabbing and looking for openings. Bell used his jab and footwork to good effect in the 1st round, while Driscoll struggled to find his distance and land punches. Driscoll fought more aggressively in round 2 until a left hook stopped him in his tracks. A follow-up strong jab opened up Driscoll’s eyelid and forced him to take a knee. Driscoll, 0-2, got up by the count of nine, but the fight was quickly stopped at 37 seconds of round 2 when the cut combined with the eye quickly swelling. Bell’s record is now 1-1.
In the opening fight of the free prelims, Sito Navarro quickly dispatched Anthony Prater in a featherweight clash showcasing two fighters making their bare knuckle debuts. Prater lashed out first in round 1 and missed before he managed to get Navarro into a clinch, as he said he’d intended before the fight. Vicious body work from Navarro wore Prater down and made the latter regret moving the fight inside. Prater hit the deck after getting nailed with a left hand moments later. When he rose, more body shots put Prater down hard. Though he managed to get up, Prater was doubled over in pain and the fight was ended by the referee at 1:22 of the 1st round.
Jarod Grant UD5 Anthony Retic - Scores: 49-46, 49-46 and 48-46 - BKFC Interim Bantamweight Championship
Connor Tierney KO5 Jeremiah Riggs - Time: 1:31
Dustin Pague KO1 Eddie Hoch - Time: 0:45
Matt Phillips UD5 Manny Moreira - Scores: 50-44, 50-44 and 50-44
Charisa Sigala D5 Angela Danzig - Scores: 48-46 Sigala, 47-47 and 47-47
Jack Grady KO2 Gabe Sacchetti - Time: 1:14
Zach Calmus UD5 Kyle McElroy - Scores: 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46
Devin Gibson KO4 Kody Murray - Time: 1:44
Stanislav Grosu KO1 Christian Torres - Time: 1:01
Damon Bell TKO2 Art Driscoll - Time: 0:37
Sito Navarro TKO1 Anthony Prater - Tiime: 1:22
A successful return to New York was important, considering the sold out crowd and BKFC’s recent partnership with Triller. It was also crucial to continue the momentum set in motion by an incredible Knucklemania II, and an exquisite fight night card featuring scrappers from strawweight to heavyweight did precisely that.
“As we saw, nothing about the quality of the fights is going to change,” said BKFC president David Feldman, Sr. “We’re moving along in 2022, doing the same great things as before, and New York welcomed us back for it.”
Beginning April 8, BKFC will have five events in under one month, from three different U.S. states, and Thailand. The bare knuckle season is about to be extremely busy, and the return to New York was just the beginning.
Follow Patrick Connor on Twitter: @PatrickMConnor