"Brutal" Johnny Bedford has had his hand raised in victory three times since competing inside the squared circle.
The former UFC competitor will look to be the first fighter in Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship history to claim four wins in four attempts when he meets Reggie Barnett Jr., on June 22 in Tampa, Florida.
The winner of the Bare Knuckle FC 6 contest will be crowned the promotion's first lightweight champion.
Bedford recorded a second round technical knockout over Nick Mamalis at the organization's inaugural show, followed by a unanimous decision win over Keith Richardson in the quarterfinals of the lightweight tournament at BKFC 3.
A fourth round knockout over Abdiel Velazquez in the semi-finals at BKFC 5 in April would punch Bedford into the finals.
"If I'm being honest, I haven't put a whole bunch of pressure on myself with what is on the line," Bedford said about the upcoming title shot opportunity.
"My business partner was just saying the other day, 'this is really f**king cool, what you are going for.' When he put it in those terms, I guess it really put in perspective for me. 'You know what, this is a bigger deal than maybe I put on myself.' Now it is my job to not let that pressure affect my performance. When I take a step out and look at it from my point of view, it is a really big f**king deal."
Since having the discussion with his friend, Bedford has come to terms with what is at stake.
"This is the first time this has ever happened in how long? 131 years or something they said, since the bare knuckle was permitted. The first sanctioned event was what, last June? Fast-forward 12 months later from that Cheyenne card in June of 2018, and I'm about to be their first lightweight champion. In 12 months a lot has happened, I've fought three times for them. I met David Feldman that first day and I told him, 'I'm going to be the face of your promotion. This sport is made for me.' I think I've shown that I'm kind of made for this game and there are levels to this sport. I'm tougher than your average guy and I think I'm tougher than your average combat sport athlete. Toughness doesn't get talked about enough. They always talk about height and reach, size, and speed. Who is judging your toughness? If you put a toughness meter up there, there's no one that will toe that line that will be tougher than me. Nobody that will stand in the middle of that ring and see who truly falls down first. Where I am at in my career, this sport came to me with perfect timing. I'm 36 years old. I don't have a ton of time left I combat sports, but I think I have a very good shot and I can ride this thing for a very long time."
Bedford's combat sports experience began on the wrestling mat as a youth and would propel him to the pinnacle promotion for mixed martial arts competition, the UFC.
"I was born in northwest Ohio, big wrestling state. My parents were amazing, put me in the sport of wrestling at five-years old. When I say they put me in the sport of wrestling, they did everything for me and the sport. My parents sacrificed everything. We didn't drive nice cars, we didn't have nice furniture. Every extra dollar they had was spent on getting Johnny to Iowa, or wherever this national tournament was. When I look back, my parents did everything to help achieve things that I've done now. I went on and wrestling in high school, obviously division 1 in college, I wrestled at Cleveland State University which was a pretty good wrestling program. I was actually teammates with Stipe Miocic (former UFC heavyweight champion). I transitioned to MMA right out of college, I was still living in Ohio. In March 2007, I moved to Texas to be a head instructor at LA Boxing."
The journey from Ohio to Texas would launch the combat sports career of "Brutal" Johnny Bedford. What was once just a hobby had now become a career.
"When I moved there, I think that is what truly turned my career around as a mixed martial artist and it has led me to where I am at now. I put a gi for the first time at a legit MMA Academy. Before, in Ohio, it was just me and a couple of wrestling buddies and we would get together and fight each other and that was the extent of it. We didn't have anyone teaching us armbars, or a striking coach to hold pads. We just fought each other. Here in Texas, at least in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, it is booming. There are black belts on every corner. We are a hot bed for MMA and jiu jitsu down here. I met my business partner and right hand man, Rafael Casias, and he started training me. I was the only 'white boy' and there were teenagers salivating at the mouth like 'Can I fight the white boy tonight?' I went in there and I was a grown man getting beat up by high school kids. I didn't let my ego get in the way. I embraced it. I went to that gym every f**king week. Fast forward two years and I was fighting their best pros now. I was fighting legit pro boxers now and doing well. And as I got better and jiu jitsu and boxing and became this complete mixed martial artist, is when the UFC opportunity came together. It all happened at the same time. I made my UFC debut in December 2011 and I fought seven times. I don't think I took two people down ever. If you watched my fights you would probably guess that I was a boxer first and not a wrestler, because that's just how my career went.
"Now I'm 36 (years old) and I've grappled and wrestled my whole life and I have very little interest in doing that anymore. It helps where I am at in my career, and my style but I'll be honest with you, before Texas, and before my first child, and all these things, I was kind of a knucklehead. I was that guy that would go out and look for trouble, and it wasn't hard being just 140-pounds. You go to a bar and it wasn't hard to find someone that thought they could kick your ass. I got in some real trouble. My parents had to support me, and get me out of some serious, serious legal damage at one point. I lost my scholarship at Cleveland State for being a knucklehead. What that period, that year and a half of my life, showed me that I am cut from a different cloth than most people. Most people get punched in the face, whether with gloves or no gloves, they react differently than someone like myself. I don't say that to beat on my chest and act like I'm the toughest man in the world. I just know that there's something that happens, that when s**t starts happening, and punches get thrown, I react differently than most. I know that, that s**t is not going to break me. I know how to break you."
While Bedford may be on a tear in bare knuckle competition, the question remains as to whether or not he will return to mixed martial arts competition where he currently holds a title at 135-pounds.
"No, I probably will not fight MMA again," Bedford said. "I have found my niche and after I beat Reggie Barnett on June 22, Bare Knuckle FC has no other choice, not that they haven't been great to me already but after I become their champ, it is just another paycheck. It's job security. I found something I'm having fun in and that I'm really friggin' good at. I'm really, really hard to beat. Why? Why change it? Toughness matters. If promoters want me to go back and fight MMA, what's going to happen? They are going to pay me peanuts on these regional shows to fight some 26-year old prospect. That kid is motivated. He wants to beat me so he can say he is on the level of the UFC. These kids are training three times a day. I'm 36, a father of two, I run a business, I coach a very successful MMA team. I can fight bare knuckle and put my balls on the line and see who is tougher. It is perfect for me where I am in my career. It is perfect for me.
Although he likely won't return to MMA competition, Bedford maintain that his work ethic remains the same.
"Do I still train hard? Of course. I have a very tough fight ahead of me. I'm in camp right now. I'm running every day. I'm with my boxing coach every day. I'm getting ready. It's not like I don't want to prepare. This (bare knuckle) is new to me. It's exciting. It's fun. I don't have to worry about a college wrestler taking me down and laying on me. Let's just stand up and let's find out who is f**king tougher. Let's find out. Let's find out who is going to f**king quit. If it were up to me, the ring would be four times smaller. Put us in a phone booth. Put us in there. Let's see who is going to stand and who is going to fall down. I don't think there is anyone at 135-pounds that is willing to stand with me."
"I've got job security if I keep winning," Bedford said.
"Reggie brings real skills to the table. I'm not going to dismiss and I'm not going to stoop down to that level. Reggie has real skills. He has good movement. He's a southpaw. I like that I'm southpaws back-to-back like this. Reggie is on a different level than Abdiel Velazquez though. Reggie has I don't know, 50 amateur fights, and 10 plus boxing fights. Reggie has done this sport of boxing his entire life like I've wrestled mine. Do I think that he's way better in boxing than I am level-headed in wrestling? Not even close. I think on paper, technically, he may be a better boxer but I'm going to beat Reggie Barnett. Whatever he does well, I nullify just by being in his face. Reggie Barnett... that dude can't finish a sandwich. He's fought three times for BKFC, he ain't knocked out nobody. That dude can't finish his lunch. He's gonna try to play tag, dance, hit me, and move. I'm sure he has big balls now that he went forward and made this other guy (Rusty Crowder) run. Let's see what he does when I don't back up, when I put him on his heels. I'm gonna get my hands on him and I'm gonna beat Reggie Barnett up. I'm big, strong, and I'm just too tough. I hate that I keep saying that word but I'm going to hit him and he's not going to like it."
Bare Knuckle FC 6 is headlined by Paulie Malignaggi vs. Artem Lobov and will be available on pay-per-view.