We’re Not Ready for the Next Evolution of Combat Sports

Bold statement, right? It’s true, at least in my opinion. The other night I was watching a hype trailer for the next Bareknuckle Boxing (BKB) event on Direct TV and I find myself scratching my head. The question that came to my mind was, why? Why go through the trouble of having gloves made that are knuckle-less? Why go through the trouble of trying to update the traditional boxing ring? Why make a product that is different just for the sake of being different? The only answer that I can seem to get out of any major outlet is: “…Because it’s the next evolution of boxing!” I maintain my prior stance: why?

It’s not just boxing I’m talking about; I’m talking about kickboxing and the World Combat League and I’m talking about MMA and the YAMMA Pit Fighting. What BKB hasn’t realized yet is that this evolution and change for the sake of change has been done and it has failed. Miserably.

The simple truth of the matter is that these evolutions have failed because we’re not ready for them and there is no need to change. Professional boxing has evolved from bareknuckle prize fights in town squares for honor and pride. Kickboxing evolved from Eastern martial arts that have an ancient history we could spend years debating about; modern Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) evolved from all of those styles conglomerating after contests to see which the best was. Boxing has a couple hundred year history, as does Kickboxing. American MMA is 20 years old and in its modern form, maybe has 30 years of legacy to claim. We’re not ready for the evolution of the combat sport because we’re still recovering from an evolution.

Cages, the fighting surface of choice for North American MMA, is a design that has no practical application other than looks. The first “cage fight” that we can claim was the first Ultimate Fighting Championship and the only reason the event was fought in a cage was because the electrified alligator moat was a little pricey to put that together. I’m not exaggerating that as much as you think I am. Bob Mayorwitz and Rorion Gracie used a cage because it looked grizzley and like the UFC was the toughest martial arts tournament to exist. Over time, most MMA promoters used a cage because it was tradition. The YAMMA Pit Fighting event was supposed to be the evolution of MMA because their cage was going to prevent stalls and lulls in the action. A few years later, we all know that YAMMA wasn’t as revolutionary as they’d hoped because we’d be discussing how Anderson Silva was challenging Chris Weidman for the YAMMA Welterweight Crown and we’re not.

Kickboxing is traditionally contested in a ring. Muay Thai, the purist form of Kickboxing, is contested in a ring. Chuck Norris and the World Combat League (WCL) came along and were going to revolutionize Kickboxing. I’m not damning the WCL for the team concept, it works in amateur wrestling and my problem was the fighting surface. The bowl shape ring doesn’t work. I don’t know why; it could be anything from people don’t like the way it looks or it makes them walk away from the TV because it makes them want cereal, your guess is as good as mine. Kickboxing is not a dying sport by any stretch of the imagination. K-1 has been on ESPN for the better part of a decade, GLORY is on Spike TV and I can catch Muay Thai on a local sports network fairly regularly. The only palatable difference between the WCL and the stuff on TV today was the WCL’s complete abandonment of tradition. I knew that the WCL was kickboxing, but it was hard to immediately recognize it as anything remotely close to kickboxing.

So this brings me back to the point at hand. BKB is taking the sweet science of fisticuffs and trying to push the evolution of boxing by cutting the knuckles out of boxing gloves, using a bowl like surface and completely abandoning a lot of the traditions that boxing has held. Wouldn’t you know, Bareknuckle Boxing, in its purist form, had a lot more body blows because it was easier on the bare fist. BKB, the promotion, is promising more knock outs. Its another abandonment of the traditions that made professional boxing what it was. To me, in my opinion, boxing is meant to be fought in a boxing ring; boxing gloves exist for a reason and there is a very good reason why boxing evolved past bareknuckle competitions.

The WCL, YAMMA Pit Fighting and Real Pro Wrestling were all very good in theory, but they were ahead of their time. The hard truth of it is that we’re not ready for an evolution in combat sports. We evolved past bareknuckle prize fighting because we’re trying to prolong the lives of athletes; can anyone honestly answer what part of combat sports need to be evolved currently? The next big change that we need, especially for MMA, is a movement away from the 10 Point Must System. A perceived change in the rules doesn’t call for a brand new fighting surface, new gloves and the traditions that we expect to be forgotten.

I hope they prove me wrong but I don’t see a rosy future for BKB.