Image Credit: Phil Lambert / BKFC
When retired MMA fighter, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson joined the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) team as Head of Fighter Relations, it was both a head-scratching and watershed moment.
The February 2019 announcement was a precursor to a blitzkrieg of signings that would put the fledgling brand into rarefied air. From former boxing champion Paulie Malignaggi facing BKFC star Artem Lobov to former UFC heavyweights Gabriel Gonzaga and Antonio Silva, BKFC has opened a new door for fighters exiting an old life.
TSL spoke with “Rumble” to get his opinion on all things bare-knuckle.
Talk about life now as a combat sports promotional executive vs. being an athlete?
RUMBLE: “It’s like night and day. I like interacting with the athletes instead of being one at times. It’s good to get to view things from the administrative side and appreciate all the angles. It’s a big difference, but a lot of fun also.”
How do the fighters on the roster relate to you and does that hurt or sometimes hinder your process for BKFC (ex: helping reel in former opponents or training partners or rivals, etc)?
RUMBLE: “The relationships between myself and the fighters is great. It’s all about respect and I’ve known many of them for a long time. Everybody wants to just enjoy their job, have fun and make money.”
Why do you think many MMA fighters are now exploring the sport of bare knuckle fighting professionally at a time when MMA is booming financially?
RUMBLE: “There’s more money in MMA for sure, and it depends on the promotion, but in most cases, it’s the MMA promotion making that money. Their fighters may get very little. But BKFC pays their fighters very well. This promotion has given fighters a better chance of financial survival. Our fighters go out, they perform well and then BKFC pays them appropriately for it, which they appreciate.”
Does bareknuckle fighting owe its level of intrigue to the foundation set by vale tudo and the no holds barred era?
RUMBLE: “Yes and no, I think bare knuckle is its own thing and has its’ own identity. It’s a new thing for a different type of fighter. I think bare knuckle can be better than any other style or promotion. It’s so original.”
Why did you decide to work with BKFC?
RUMBLE: “BKFC is a great promotion. I could tell from the moment I got involved that they’re going places. Why wouldn’t I want to be part of a growing dynasty?”
There has been talk about you returning to MMA action as a heavyweight? Is this true?
RUMBLE: “Yes, I am returning to MMA. I will hopefully return by April or May of 2020.”
Would you ever consider fighting for BKFC?
RUMBLE: “I don’t know. Bare knuckle is a different kind of crazy to me. I’m not that tough, I’ll admit it.”
Is Artem Lobov the biggest name in bare knuckle fighting and how important was his win over Paulie Malignaggi for the legitimacy of his newfound career as a Bare Knuckle Fighter?
RUMBLE: “Artem is a big part of BKFC’s success. He definitely put the organization on the map with his first fight against Jason Knight. I owe those two guys a tremendous amount of respect for what they did. And then Artem fighting Paulie Malignaggi was amazing too. So yes, he’s sort of become the face of bare knuckle.”
Is Lobov vs. Knight the Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar legacy that the sport needed for popular acceptance?
RUMBLE: “Yes, we needed that type of fight from their first fight to put BKFC out there and let everyone know we’re the real deal. You had to be there or watch that fight to understand how great it truly was. And then all the trash-talking surrounding the Malignaggi fight took things to the next level.”