The first thing you notice about the bare knuckle boxing match between Artem Lobov and Jason Knight is the blood and the gore. Knight spat out teeth inside the first two minutes.
Their faces and, understandably but unusually, their exposed hands became a mess. It was gruesome by the end, even for a fight fan. Lobov won and earned a fight under the same rule-set this weekend against Paulie Malignaggi.
“It gave bare knuckle boxing a bad name,” Malignaggi told Sky Sports about Lobov’s previous fight. “Using the term ‘skill’ is an overstatement. People now think that bare knuckle is more brutal than it actually is. If you watch skilled fighters in bare knuckle boxing, it looks nothing like Lobov’s last fight.
“Lobov vs Knight was a barroom brawl so it gave people the wrong idea.”
So what is the right idea behind Malignaggi (a retired former two-weight world champion who has shared a ring with Ricky Hatton, Amir Khan, Zab Judah and Adrien Broner) and his foray into fighting without gloves?
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David Feldman, the promoter responsible, is the brother of self-styled ‘celebrity promoter’ Damon Feldman who once tried and failed to stage a boxing match between rapper DMX and George Zimmerman, the man who was acquitted for the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. A petition circulated to get that idea scrapped, and the fight never happened.
David Feldman, more recently, publicly claimed that he would half the wages of a fighter who “ran” and lost “a boring fight” and give the money to the winner.
Now with Malignaggi vs Lobov, David Feldman has found a fight which has captured some attention.
Lobov is best-known as a training partner of Conor McGregor. During the build-up to Floyd Mayweather vs McGregor, Malignaggi was drafted in as a sparring partner for the Irish UFC star. McGregor posted pictures claiming that he battered Malignaggi, which were disputed. A grudge has remained for two years and, by fighting McGregor’s right-hand man Lobov, Malignaggi plans to exact some revenge.
“You have more options in some ways, and less options in other ways,” Malignaggi said. “It depends who you are, and what you’re doing. The punches are shorter. There is less loading up on shots. You can be faster – for a speed guy such as myself, it is advantageous.”
Malignaggi dismissed worries over his hands breaking upon impact during the fight. After all, the boxing glove is designed to protect the puncher’s hands as much as anything else.
“The naked eye sees blood, cuts and broken bones but the reality is that you can punch harder with a glove on,” Malignaggi said.
The promoter Feldman told Sky Sports: “Like boxing or MMA, some fighters are skilled and others brawl. Theoretically, you must be technically sound in bare knuckle so you can pick your shots, and not break your hands. But some guys just throw bombs.
“It’s not for everybody. If you’re not a fight fan, it’s not for you.”
“Superficially, it is bloody,” Feldman said. “But we don’t have long, deep cuts which are caused by leather gloves. We are not any more dangerous than boxing or MMA.”
Malignaggi added: “Sure, some fights are bloody and violent. It’s not a tickling contest but, nevertheless, there are some good skills.
“Like any combat sport when it is first invented, it is primitive. Bare knuckle will continue to have more and more skilled fighters.”
But who is this fight for? It sits outside of the boxing fanbase but doesn’t yet attract a community of its own.
“At first we went after boxing fans, MMA fans and curiosity seekers,” Feldman said. “Now we are targeting millennials – that’s who we’re going after. It can become mainstream.”
Malignaggi said: “It can go far. It will gain popularity. It has been revived for a reason.”