Updated: Jul 16
A "Bad Boy" is making his long awaited bare knuckle debut at BKFC 11 on July 24. 38-year old Dillon Cleckler (10-1 MMA) makes the transition to the sport when he meets Frank Tate in a heavyweight bout at the Lafayette County Multipurpose Arena in Oxford, Mississippi. The event will be LIVE and FREE for fans. More info on that coming shortly.
"When they (Bare Knuckle FC) first came to Mississippi, I had a bunch of guys that I trained with doing it," Cleckler recalled of his introduction to the sport. "It didn't look very appealing at first. Some of the fights I had seen, like that Jason Knight - Artem Lobov fight, were brutal. But, I guess it is just the thought of trying something new, the boxing aspect of it, focusing on one technique rather than several different techniques, a new challenge, something different to tackle."
"Bad Boy" Cleckler vividly remembers what he thought would be the first and last conversation of him having anything to do with bare knuckle competition.
"My wife and I went and saw the Jason Knight fight. Her first words were 'You're not ever doing that.' I was like 'Yeah, I don't want to.' Next thing you know, we signed a three-fight deal."
Obviously, things changed and Cleckler and his wife did a 180-degree turn on their decision. He said that some of the things going on his personal family life led to signing a deal with Bare Knuckle FC earlier this year.
"We just had our second daughter on June 16. We're getting a house built this year. There were a lot of financial reason as to why it wasn't a bad move," he said of making the decision to give bare knuckle a shot.
The opportunity comes to Cleckler after two big MMA wins in 2019. Those victories were the first he had seen since the last time he had his hand raised in 2014. Cleckler's last loss, in 2015, is the only loss on his professional record.
"I never wanted to quit. I never wanted to stop," Cleckler said of a four-year layoff he had between 2015 and 2019.
"I tore my hamstring pretty bad," he said. "It was a really severe injury and I couldn't do anything to get it to heal. Those are one of the worst injuries you can have in any sport. I would think it was healed, go back to training full time, and end up hurting it."
"I would take a couple of months off, heal up, and repeat that cycle for a while before I said, 'I have to stop and let this heal.' I had planned on taking about a year off, no training, not touching it, just rehabbing, and within that year I met my wife. We got pregnant pretty soon after our first year. We have my now two-year old. That was a good distraction. I started worrying about everything that had to do with being a parent. I started a company with a few friends of mine and just really got off the beaten path. Then once things got back to where I could take some time out to train, that's when I got back into it."
"Plus, I keep having girls so I have to stay on top of it for a while," Cleckler jokingly said of being a father to two young ladies. "They're gonna start bringing these young Thunder Cats home. I gotta try to look the part still. That had a little bit to do with it also."
With the pending bout against Tate being Cleckler's first in the new sport, he is grateful for the extra time afforded to him as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"Working a lot of boxing stuff. I started training I want to say March, April," Cleckler said. "We thought something was going to happen in May or June but then the coronavirus hit and shut everything down. Dates kept changing but I kept training because I figured there was no better time to work on stuff. It's been a good training camp, it's been a long training camp. I haven't been injured. I've had keys to the gym so I didn't miss a beat when things were shut down."
"My wife has been pregnant through most of this (COVID-19 pandemic) which is scary because she has a weaker immune system," Cleckler said. "It was scary for me to have to step out and go places and possibly bring it back to her and my two-year-old. You can look around and go 'Man, I never thought I would live to see some of this crazy stuff that is happening,' but it is our norm now. It's been different, but it's a crazy, funny world we live in."
"I want to look good. I think every fighter has aspirations of wanting to look good, like they've trained, and done it before," Cleckler said. "You want to look crisp, you want to look sharp. Win or lose, I want to look good because boxing is something I've always trained in, never just at boxing, but I want to look sharp. I feel that if all that falls into place, the outcome of the fight will too."