The setting for BKB19 was a cold and dark autumn evening in London. But under the unforgiving lights of the 02’s Indigo Room, we saw it all. Champions were made and destroyed. Favourites and underdogs both had their day. There were knockouts and knockdowns. There was music, lights and blood.
The evening’s entertainment was 11 superbly well-matched fights organised by the world’s only legal Bare Knuckle Boxing promoter BKB. I shared the experience with a full Indigo room and fight fans from 19 countries across the globe. From the sandy deserts of Mozambique and Saudi Arabia to the icy flatlands of Canada and Russia, BKB19 reached a record audience on live TV.
The following is a detailed review which covers the fights, atmosphere, special guests, ring walks, betting odds, technical analysis, audience, and everything in between. It’s not designed to be read cover to cover. Just take the bits that interest you. Get a feel for what it was like to be at BKB’s best show yet. Enjoy!
Paul Hilz Def. Mitch Turner, First Round TKO
Kicking off the card was Paul “the Brawler” Hilz vs “Iron” Mitch Turner. Both men entered the ring coming off a loss and so had a point to prove. Neither man wanted a repeat of their last bout, which both ended in first round defeats.
At the opening bell, Hilz took centre ring in his signature low crouch. He found success early with several clean overhand rights, sending his fans wild. Though a lesser man would have crumbled, Iron Mitch took the shots well. Turner, the lighter footed of the two, countered with punishing hooks throughout. Most impressive was his slip and uppercut counter to Hilz’ opening jab. Clearly, he had done his homework. Unfortunately, Wigan’s man failed to adapt to Hilz’ overhand rights and ate several more.
The middle of the round saw the range between the two increase and it was pleasing to see the “Brawler” box. Here we began to notice the cut on Turner’s face. Hilz, an excellent finisher, smelt blood. Closing the distance, he walked his man to the corner where he ended the contest with a barrage of hooks to head and body.
Both Hilz and Turner are to be commended for their determination and no-nonsense attitudes. Turner was clearly disappointed following the bout, but should hold his head high. An excellent opening stanza to an evening that continued to please.
Eric Olsen Def. Dom Clark, Third Round TKO
The clash between Bournemouth’s Dom Clark and New York’s Eric Olsen didn’t go the distance either. Both men are experienced mixed martial artists. Previously separated by 3,400 miles of Atlantic ocean, now they shared a 16ft ring at the 02 London. Dom “the Dominator” Clark had a 1-2 BKB record going into the fight, making him the underdog against 4-4 “Blood Axe” Olsen.
Blood Axe gave his usual “f*ck you” double middle finger salute to his haters and threw in a gruesome throat slit for good measure. BKB’s boogeyman peeled off his satanic skull mask and entered the ring. At this point, no one wanted to be Dom Clark! People watching Eric for the first time would be shocked to find out what a genuinely calm, friendly and honest person he is…out of the ring!
As he often does, Olsen came out switching levels to target body and head. Dive-bomber jabs to the body preceded big right hands up high. Though a little flat-footed, Olsen had some success against the nippier southpaw. Clark, bouncing on the balls of feet, looked comfortable on the back foot and managed range well. A cagey round saw the judges side 2-1 to the American.
Clark threw very little with his lead hand in the second. Later, X-Rays showed that he had badly aggravated some historical hand injuries. However, he did seem to suss his opponent’s go-to defence. The Dominator started to feint up high to draw the reaction and landed several rear uppercuts as Olsen ducked low. One of these shots connected well and Olsen certainly noticed! All three judges gave Clark the round.
The final round would be the decider. It warmed up quickly and both men deservedly got a great reception. Clark started well, pushing the American back to the ropes. Olsen turned it up a gear and came back. Dom’s turn again and the two traded in the centre of the ring. Blood starting to pour heavily from the top of Olsen’s head.
A big swing from Olsen missed, compromising his stance and leaving him momentarily lost in the ring. Dom took advantage and pushed him to the neutral corner. Trapped against the ropes, Bloodaxe avoided a five-punch combination with excellent upper body movement. This man could fight in a phone box! Olsen came back with a right hook from down low that hurt Clark and the resulting flurry of hooks and uppercuts put him down. Some may argue that the final blow landed on the back of Clark’s head, but it didn’t seem intentional to me.
At the end of the fight it seemed that Dom had also suffered a dislocated shoulder. It’s hard to tell when it happened though. I personally have also dislocated my shoulder during a fight. It is an agonising injury and especially scary knowing you only have one arm to defend yourself. Dom showed a lot of heart that fight and I enjoyed watching it alongside some of his fans. Good luck on your recovery Dom.
Prizefighter Semi-Final: Hubert Geven Def. Mark Rawes, Third Round TKO
The evening’s first prizefighter semi-final was Holland v England. Amsterdam’s MMA star Hubert Geven faced unlicensed boxing champion from Bournemouth Mark Rawes.
Only 2lbs separated the two at weigh in, but Geven looked much bigger in the ring. The Dutchman has won MMA titles up to 77kg (170lbs). Conversely, Mark is naturally towards the lower boundary of the weight class.
Rawes started excellently. His form was tight and his head movement kept him off centre line. The speed and accuracy of Rawes’ jabs were very impressive. Clearly, training had focussed on this shot. Meanwhile, Geven’s style was more JCB than sting like a bee. Geven’s gameplan was to steamroll in to rough up his opponent on the inside. The MMA veteran didn’t adjust well to boxing and too often held and hit. It was ugly and brutish, but did the damage.
Escaping one clinch, the Englishman changed level and landed a superb left hook. The Indigo room went wild as the Dutchman staggered backwards, only just staying on his feet. The cleaner boxing won Rawes the first round.
Mark opened the second with some clinical double jabs. However, Geven bulldozed forwards again, mauling the Englishman against the ropes. The two men fought practically chest-to-chest for much of the bout. Vicious uppercuts on the inside caused Rawes’ right eye to begin to close and in the third Geven’s straight rights started to land home.
Mark could not come out for the fourth. The stoppage was fair as he had started to take avoidable shots. The mention of Bare Knuckle Boxing is often met with grimaces, so it was pleasing to see BKB’s emphasis on safety. Rawes fought valiantly, but the bigger, heavier man always wins in a dogfight.
Darren Hendry Def. Ashley Gibson, Second Round TKO
Darren “the Dazzler” Hendry certainly shone at his BKB debut. The heavy favourite went for the knockout from the opening bell. Yet, he did prove there was more to him than meets the eye. Looking more like a bodybuilder than a boxer, bad boy Hendry made no friends with the men who would regret bringing their girlfriends to the show.
Why did the bookies have so much confidence in a man with only two non-professional Bare Knuckle fights experience? Especially against 15-fight professional “One Bomb” Gibson. The secret is in Hendry’s amateur boxing pedigree. Dazzler remained undefeated as a senior in his amateur campaign, also winning the Haringey Box Cup in 2018.
Ash Gibson was 8-5-2 leading up to the bout and weighed in 8lbs heavier than his opponent. Making his 16th BKB appearance, the veteran looked completely unfazed by the Adonis facing him.
A big opening swing from Gibson was just out of reach. The fight could have been over very quickly if that landed! Hendry’s amateur pedigree was instantly apparent from his tight form and the use of his feet to control range. The referee paused the action to tell off Hendry for holding and hitting. The two touched hands and Hendry didn’t have to be told twice to get stuck in. Gibson looked in danger as Hendry tore into him by the ropes. Hard body shots eventually made Ash touch down. Gibson got back up without even taking the count!
Just as things were looking one sided, Gibson’s looping right hook finally found its mark. The shot momentarily put Hendry on one knee and one hand. Knockdown! Unluckily for Gibson, his work went unrewarded as the referee failed to spot the touchdown.
The second, and final, round saw Hendry charge in again. He quickly put his man down in a neutral corner. Gibson took the full count this time but still looked unfazed. BKB19 was just another day at the office for this pro. However, Gibson was quickly down again after another barrage of hooks. Worryingly this time, Gibson’s eyes strayed to his corner. “One Bomb” went for that big looping right again but was caught mid-throw. He went down a third time and the referee waved it off.
The night’s knockout streak continues.
Craig Morgan Def. Scott McHugh, Unanimous Decision
Bout five was an absolute cracker. Both Craig Morgan and Scott McHugh brought an army of fans from across the UK. Supporters from both Llanharan and Leeds made the respective 200+ mile journeys to the 02 London. Wow, was it worth it!
Craig “Rocky” Morgan entered the ring undefeated in Bare Knuckle. He brought a 2-0 record from a different promotion, with both wins coming via first round knockout. Next through the ropes was Scott “the Mute” McHugh from Leeds. 2-1 in BKB, McHugh is notorious for his size, physical strength and knockout power.
At the opening bell, chants for “Rocky” spurred Morgan to take centre ring. From a wide stance, the Welshman flitted in and out of range to target head and body with some eye-catching combinations. Though the smaller man, former super-featherweight gloved pro Craig Morgan was the clear aggressor. With 70-odd gloved amateur fights under his belt, Rocky had little trouble closing the distance against a much rangier opponent.
McHugh had a tentative opener, looking unsettled on the back foot. The Mute looked to counter when his opponent’s swings fell short and did have some success. A crisp right hook counter off the ropes forced Morgan to back off and marked him under his eye.
McHugh had a better second round. Strangely, his success came by giving away his height advantage and switching levels at close range. Leeds’ man countered well again and managed to avoid some heavy-looking body shots. We know Morgan can bang to the body- his last Bare Knuckle opponent was hospitalised with a broken rib and punctured lung. A harder round to score meant the judges came back with a three-way split.
The respect between the two has been evident all fight. The third round started with an embrace, but then quickly ignited. Morgan’s left hooks started to find home and bang! An explosive short left hook to the chin flattened McHugh. Crazily, the Mute jumped right back to his feet. Clive Allison can keep his 20 second count- McHugh doesn’t want it! The Leeds fans spur their man on. McHugh lands two vicious left hooks that snap Rocky’s head back. He can take a shot! The two continue to the final bell and Craig wins his BKB debut by unanimous decision.
Congratulations to both men. The bout was so entertaining it flew by. They both gave and took some heavy shots. Their sportsmanship was exemplary throughout. I look forward to seeing them both back in action soon.
British Light Heavyweight Title: Anthony Holmes Def. Mason Shaw, Unanimous Decision
Mason Shaw believed Anthony Holmes had bitten off more than he could chew in his Bare Knuckle debut. The bookies agreed, backing the more experienced Shaw at 1/2 and newbie Holmes at 7/5. Though both men stood 5’10’’ tall and weighed 14 stone 7 lbs, 24-year-old Shaw was ten years younger than his opponent. Shaw also had the boxing advantage over the mixed martial artist facing him. He had an impressive 21-5-2 unlicensed gloved boxing record and was 2-1-1 in BKB.
A tentative start felt like a lull in the evening’s action. There was very little boxing at mid to long range. Holmes seemed to nick the round with his work up close and a noticeable right hand at the end.
In the second, Holmes brought up his opponent’s guard with a 1-2 before banging a right hook into the ribs. Sickener! Shaw took a knee but got back to his feet quickly. The pace picked up and Shaw looked dangerously close to folding again under punishment to the body. Clear tactics from Holmes.
Shaw didn’t seem himself as he repeatedly covered up and looked down. More crippling body shots put him on one knee in the third. However, it may have done him some good. “Smiley” returned with a spiteful 1-1-2, landing the right hand at the end. Despite that, Holmes soon put Shaw down again. Though seemingly from a body shot, Barrington did not issue a count.
Shaw woke up in the fourth, opening with a great double jab that knocked his opponent’s head back. Shaw intelligently tried to catch the bullish Holmes as he closed the gap. However, the tide soon turned back to Holmes and Shaw looked hurt again. He went down for the fourth time with 12 seconds left in the penultimate round.
In the fifth and final round, Holmes only needed to stay on his feet to snatch the British title in his debut. Some good boxing at range and hard-connecting hooks from Shaw were not enough though. Mason failed to shake off some ring rust this bout, but hopefully soon gets back to his usual self. The deserving victor won by a wide unanimous decision. The new champion Holmes is one to look out for in future. What a formidable display. Congratulations.
Mickey Parker Def. Dave Thomas, Second Round TKO
Now for the Cruisers. Dave Thomas looked to notch up his first BKB win after losing his debut against Mason Shaw. The Pennington man had a clear Irish influence. Fighting in green, white and orange shorts with “Danny Boy” across his belt, Thomas entered the ring to the iconic Irish anthem Dirty Old Town. The 5/4 underdog looked confident and in great physical shape. It was nice to meet some of his family and friends at the start of the evening too- lovely people!
Mickey Parker was all smiles as he kept us waiting pre-bout. No bother, Tom Jones’ Delilah lifted the roof off the 02. “Lionheart” brought a 4-2 BKB record from Portsmouth and came in as 4/7 favourite. BKB19 would mark Parker’s first fight back since his British heavyweight title defeat to Mark Godbeer in March. Would he find more success at Cruiserweight?
Thomas started in a very low squat and bamboozled the man facing him. I was really impressed by Thomas’ composure as he landed a clubbing left hand and elegantly walked Parker onto a clean right uppercut. Thomas is a surprisingly slippery operator for a man weighing 15 and a half stone. Tyson Fury is that you?! He looked relaxed as he sat back in the corners with his hands down and landed some hurtful looking shots as he exited. Parker struggled to settle this round. The favourite took some huge right hands well- including one that dislocated his jaw!
Parker settled in round two. A right hook to the temple sent Thomas crashing to the canvas. On the way down, Thomas brought Parker down with him. I thought it deserved a count but Barrington waved continue. Parker used his frustration to turn it up a gear. He sunk two vicious uppercuts into his opponent and one to the body for good measure. Barrington told him off for holding and turned back to a grisly scene. Blood dripped down Thomas’ face from a bone-deep cut. Robin Reid on the commentary team was obviously shaken as he saw the bone. Even the highly experienced paramedics grimaced as they caught glimpses of Thomas’ skull. The fight was quickly waved off.
The result was a shame for Thomas who has visibly improved leaps and bounds since his last outing. He was understandably annoyed with the stoppage as he felt he could continue. Maybe had someone handed him a mirror he would have agreed with the decision!
James Lilley vs John Wayne Hibbert, Draw
If you used BoxRec to predict this fight, you’d no doubt have put your house on John Wayne Hibbert. The former gloved professional was Commonwealth Super Lightweight Champion and WBC International Super Lightweight champion. His impressive 18-5 gloved record even includes a TKO win over current BKB Featherweight World Champion Tyler Goodjohn. Despite his lack of Bare Knuckle experience, NetBet still backed Hibbert to win his BKB debut at 5/9.
Underdog James Lilley made his ring walk to Liam Gallagher’s new track Shockwave. The 6/4 underdog would be hoping to make a shockwave with a win over the most elite boxer he’s fought to date. Lilley’s 8-6 pro gloved boxing record and 4-6 MMA record are nothing to be sniffed at. However, the men’s CVs certainly suggested a Hibbert win.
I have a feeling that BKB fans had more faith in James Lilley than the casual spectator. Undefeated in four professional Bare Knuckle fights, Lilley sits at number eight on Toe The Line’s pound-for-pound list.
An excellent opener from Lilley. The Welshman drew and evaded shots with excellent upper body movement and tidy footwork. He used his feet to create angles and put himself in an excellent position to counter. Lilley seemed the more nimble of the two. He also landed an eye-catching right hand which Hibbert took well. All three judges for Lilley.
Hibbert seemed to recover from the shock on bone-on-bone impact in the second. The debutant’s confidence visibly grew as he landed a solid counter right hand. Instantly, he looked more like the gloved champion the bookies were expecting. The pace increased and both men were now beginning to mark up around the eyes. A lovely step to the right and body shot from Lilley could be heard from out of the ring. A few seconds later, Hibbert came back with an equally audible right hand. A tight, enjoyable round saw the judges side with Hibbert 2-1.
Both come out aggressive for the third. The final round was a little scrappy. Despite some holding, the toe to toe exchanges were still exciting to watch. Hibbert was working out his opponent more and more as the seconds passed. Lilley was still sharp; creating angles, slipping and countering. The final round could have gone either way, but I narrowly gave it to Lilley.
Shock result! Both men looked surprised to hear a draw. That means the final round must have been a three way split. I, like some other spectators, thought Lilley edged it, but you couldn’t disagree with the result.
Hibbert certainly has a future in the sport. I’d love to see a five round rematch. A five rounder may work in Hibbert’s favour, having seen how he improved every round. It was also pleasing to see that gloved records aren’t everything in this sport. Lilley’s superb performance against a much more accomplished gloved professional underlined the difference between gloved boxing and Bare Knuckle. Contrary to popular opinion, there are more differences between the two sports than just the gloves or lack of.
Congratulations to BKB promoters Jim and Joe for signing such high-level fighters and matching them perfectly.
Prizefighter Semi-Final: Smudger Smith Def. Tony Lafferty, Unanimous Decision
A Scottish thistle and Yorkshire rose blossomed side-by-side in the second prizefighter semi-final of the evening. A place in the £10,000 final was at stake. Despite that, two proud ex-soldiers showed the utmost respect for each other before, during and after the bout. In the England v Scotland battle, who won? Certainly, the sport’s reputation.
Lafferty is a crowd pleaser in and out of the ring. The booming bagpipe and drum of traditional Scottish highland war songs heralded the arrival of one of BKB’s most entertaining fighters. The former Corporal marched to the battleground wearing the glengarry, which is the ceremonial headdress of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 5 Scots regiment.
With Remembrance Day just five days earlier, Smudger also wore his beret from his 9+ years in the Yorkshire Regiment. He entered to a chilling remix of In for the Kill and certainly went on to prove it with his best performance to date. He fought in memory of his nephew Josh Moir-Barik. Just three days short of his 24th birthday, Josh tragically passed away following a car accident. The unfortunate incident in July has certainly given Smith drive in his professional campaign. Toe The Line wish Smudger, his sister and family the very best. Rest in peace, Josh.
Smudger’s feints and level changes safely got him in range to land some hard shots. He also seemed to rediscover his amateur footwork from his days as a junior boxer. This is the sharpest we’ve seen Smith box. Offensively, he was accurate, put shots together well and threw from a great range of angles. Defensively, he was composed and judged range excellently. Despite Lafferty’s efforts, he couldn’t goad the composed boxer opposite him into the scrappy dog fight he wanted. Lafferty did have some success. A close-range counter right hook in the first round sent Smudger staggering backwards, but the Tiger failed to pounce.
Ten seconds into the fourth and the men exchange right hands. Down goes Lafferty! Stirling’s man took the count knelt upright. He congratulated Smudger with a cheeky nod and point that the crowd loved. Though a man went down, it was a tiger that got back up. Lafferty resurrected himself, roaring, calling his man on, spitting out blood and rubbing it on his face. It was exactly this sort of behaviour that made the Ancient Romans say “f*ck that” and build Hadrian’s Wall…
Warrior or not though, Tony began to take even cleaner shots. He certainly kept BKB’s favourite cutwoman Sammy Cheesa busy with a gruesome lip laceration. Tony took a big right hand against the ropes and splattered blood all over commentary team! The crowd ohhhhhhhhhed in admiration. Was this in admiration of Smudger’s shots or Tony’s chin? Who knows, who cares!
At the final bell, both men sank to the floor in exhaustion and to bow down to each other. Then the photo that stole the show. Both donned their army headdress again and saluted each other. What a reaction these men got from the 02.
The grit and determination Lafferty consistently shows should be applauded. That night he lost against a naturally bigger and more experienced boxer, but won the hearts of everyone watching. Well done Tiger! Smudger deservedly progresses to meet Hubert Geven in the prizefighter final. The Yorkshireman impressed many with his best performance yet, including sport legend Jimmy McCrory, who called him Fighter of the Night.
Both of these former servicemen did their regiments, fans and the sport proud. Tony Lafferty of Argyll and Sutherland and Smudger Smith of the Yorkshire Regiment, Toe the Line salute you.
Both men have had rollercoaster ride lives. Find out their stories here: http://toethelinebkb.com/lightweights-beware/ http://toethelinebkb.com/tony-lafferty-my-story-so-far/
British Super-Middleweight Title: Daniel Lerwell Def. Ricky Nelder, Unanimous Decision
Belter! This British Title fight was one of the most entertaining bouts from BKB19. The challenger: Ricky Nelder; a hard-as-nails 14-fight veteran with a point to prove. The champion: Daniel Lerwell; an undefeated knockout artist with a chin to match.
Ricky Nelder (9-4-1) climbed through the ropes first. The challenger had promised that tonight would not be a repeat of his disappointing performance against Rob Boardman in his last outing. Nelder and trainer Simon Acock had been working hard. He had a solid, stocky build and was in unbelievable shape. Birmingham’s “Bull” looked as strong as a… well you can imagine. Entering next; undefeated British champion Daniel Lerwell. So far, not one of Lionheart’s three opponents has survived to hear the final bell. The bookies backed the heavy-handed Welshman to retain his title at 1/3 and rated the upset at 2/1.
Neither man bothered to test the water before diving right in. Lerwell started in centre ring, a little heavier on his feet than his opponent. Nelder absorbed some brutal hooks but wouldn’t budge. What is this man made of!? The Bull came straight back with some tasty counter left hooks of his own. The 02 were in for a treat.
The Bull charged in the second. He backed up Lerwell against the ropes. The champ came back with a body shot and scored a flash knockdown! Nelder was right to contest it as it was borderline a slip. Unfazed and looking for war, Nelder called his man on. He looked scary. The pair went toe to toe and traded audible shots which the crowd loved.
By the third round, Nelder looked hard done by. He was marked up and blowing. Both men traded counters on counters, firing solid shots up close. What a fight! It feels like Nelder’s range control is underappreciated. He is actually great at moving in and out of range and creating angles. Lerwell’s corner urged him to maintain distance. The Bull is extremely dangerous up close and was most successful there. I loved both men’s work.
Through the fight, Nelder’s arching overhand right often fell short. This left Lerwell to step back and punish the body as his man covered up. Lerwell showed great variety and shot selection throughout. Investing in body shots paid dividends and the champion took the wind out of his opponent’s sails.
In the break after the third, promoter Jim Freeman predicted that Lerwell would stop Nelder in the next round. Then, from nowhere, the ring ropes broke. A four minute break to repair them completely changed the dynamic of the fight. Though the break was unwanted, it threw Nelder a lifeline and he came back with a vengeance. Could the challenger turn the tide?
Rejuvenated, Nelder found great success with some vicious counter left hooks. The Bull’s signature feints got him in range to land more frequently. The challenger landed a monstrous right and left which could be felt from the VIP section. How was Lerwell still on his feet? A quiet round from the champion. All three judges for Nelder.
Nelder needed a knockout to win. The fifth and final round saw him use his jab a lot more than previously. He used footwork, angles and feints to try and close the distance. Success! Nelder gets in close and lands some brutal body shots. Daniel Lerwell takes them well- what a chin! A great final round from Nelder. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough.
Nelder looked dejected at the final bell of what would soon be announced as his last fight. However he can retire with his head held high. He is an icon in BKB. His toughness, experience and desire to fight make him a highly respected member of the community too. Well done Ricky. All the best from Toe The Line.
Lerwell’s 5-year-old son Theo has autism. The champion is a proud campaigner for autism awareness and got his message spread across 19 different countries across the globe. Toe the Line proudly support Dan’s mission to spread awareness. So if you would like to learn more about autism, just click the link: https://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/asd.aspx
World Lightweight Title: Ricardo Franco Def. Jimmy Sweeney, Sixth Round TKO
The main event met and exceeded all expectations. It was an underdog storyline worthy of a Rocky film. Ricardo “Bon Bon” Franco shocked the world by climbing off the canvas twice to dethrone four-time three-weight world champion and undisputed pound-for-pound king Jimmy Sweeney.
The ‘King of BKB’ Jimmy Sweeney was backed by the bookies to defend his title at 2/5. Going into the fight, the champion boasted a 23-1-0 record, having avenged his only loss. Meanwhile, Franco was a 7/4 outsider, having earnt his title shot by winning BKB’s inaugural prizefighter tournament earlier this year.
In an unprecedented move, Franco took on Sweeney at his own game. The challenger copied the champion’s snake-charmer hands, trying to distract him with garish feints and misdirection. Franco had clearly done his homework too. He defended Sweeney’s staple lead hook off the jab using his feet and right hand guard. For me, Franco’s range control, defence and right hands to the body won him the opener. However, two judges called a draw and the third went Sweeney’s way.
Both men seemed to be on fast-forward as they came out for the second. Franco’s footwork complemented his reach advantage perfectly. His deceivingly long right hand landed several times too. Sweeney proved his chin as he ate them up without problem. Though Sweeney has beaten man mountain Kris Trezise, he seemed to struggle with the range of Franco. An exceptional round for the challenger sent the crowd crazy with anticipation at the bell.
The third stanza started with more hand waving from a confident Franco. If you follow the Gainsborough mixed martial artist and Bare Knuckle boxer on social media, you’ll know about his “defence lab”. The joke workshop gave fight fans some… “useful” self-defence tips. This advice includes what to do if an armed attacker breaks into your en-suite while you’re doing your business and you only have a toilet roll to defend yourself. Franco deployed a defence lab head shell and boom! Sweeney walked the joker onto a huge right hand to the chin. Franco went down hard! The challenger rolled on floor and got back up on Bambi legs. He went down again- is it over? The 02 was absolutely wild. Franco had some words with his corner and got back on his feet. I wondered if some referees would have stopped this as Franco staggered backwards to the ropes.
Sweeney dived in for the finish. Referee Barrington separated the two again. Sweeney could smell blood and Franco was keen to hold. Sweeney for the KO! The Celtic Warrior wobbled Franco badly with a leaping left hook and put him down again with a vicious combination. Franco was hurt. Surely he was finished. Yet no, the challenger got back to his feet. Time was running out for the champion to finish the job. With just seven seconds left, Sweeney pounced, but Franco ducked under the killer shot. Suddenly, Sweeney slipped and the bell rang. Unreal round. The audience had blown the roof off the 02. What a fight. 10-7s all round for the champ.
Franco didn’t look himself in the fourth. His hand waving had disappeared along with his confidence. There was blood on his face and his legs still hadn’t fully recovered. Sweeney’s breathing had been affected by mouth damage sustained in the earlier rounds. Now a bad cut across the bridge of his nose exacerbated his breathing difficulty. Both men looked like they’d already been through seven rounds. The pace calmed. Jimmy Sweeney showed why he is BKB’s best. The champion adapted. He took centre ring and began to nullify Franco’s jab and straight shots to the body. He also had better success avoiding Franco’s rangey right hand. A great Sweeney round.
The champion turned up the tempo in round five. Sweeney operated from his usual long stance but looked twice as fast. Despite his fast feet, range still seemed to be an issue. Further, his breathing difficulty was giving Franco confidence. Chants of Rico spurred Ricardo to take centre ring. A close round with two judges for Franco, and one for a draw.
Doctors pestered Sweeney over his cuts before the sixth. However, the Celtic Warrior is a proud fighting man with a deep background in combat sports. He would never quit, even if fighting blind.
Sweeney darted forward in the sixth round behind some crisp double jabs and slipping his head off centre line. He landed another left hook, reminiscent of when he put Franco down for the second time. Slick defensive movement and counters made the champion look his usual self again. Suddenly, the referee called time to check Sweeney’s cuts. It was a blood bath in the corner as two paramedics inspected him. The blood splattered across Sammy Cheesa’s face made her look like an extra in the music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The paramedic inspecting Sweeney began to shake his head. Sweeney begged to continue. The paramedics signalled to Barrington- it was over.
Franco jumped on his brother’s shoulders and his roars echoed through the 02. The crowd went wild in one of the biggest upset’s BKB has seen. What a reaction. Franco climbs the ladder to Toe The Line’s number one pound for pound. More importantly, he deservedly becomes BKB’s Lightweight World Champion. What a fight. Well done Bon Bon!
Sweeney went straight over to show his respect. We saw how much Sweeney wanted to continue fighting. Then seeing him lift up Franco’s hand showed the man’s class. The King of BKB will be back. Sweeney immediately bounced back the last time he lost his title. Will the rematch be repeat or revenge? There’s only one way to find out…
This fight was definitely the jewel in the crown of a fantastic evening’s boxing. Congratulations to all fighters.
BKB’s iconic Master of Ceremonies was on excellent form. Though recently hospitalised by a long-term health condition, Lee Drewett showed no signs of slowing down. His sharp wit drew audible laughs from the crowd. Lee’s relaxed body language oozed experience and his interactions with star guests flowed naturally. Drewett’s 30th show was broadcast live across five of the Earth’s seven continents. Could the residents of Turkey or Estonia understand a Geordie accent? Probably not. Yet, there was plenty of action in a language we all understand: combat.
Former world champions Frank Bruno MBE and Enzo Maccarinelli made welcome appearances. Chants of “Bruno” and a (slightly out of tune) rendition of Happy Birthday from the BKB family serenaded the member of boxing royalty for his 58th birthday. Enzo Maccarinelli, who retired Roy Jones Jr with a scintillating knockout, was popular with fans and fighters. Microphone in hand, the Welshman conducted post-fight interviews and some commentary.
There was refreshingly little trash talk between the fighters. This absence of fake feuds and hype was especially welcome following the recent pantomime that gloved boxing has become. Logan Paul v KSI at the Staples Centre, the WBC introducing yet another version of champion, Floyd Mayweather planning another farcical exhibition against a non-boxer are all examples. Bare Knuckle Boxing is quickly shedding its unfair reputation to the ignorant. It is showing itself to be a sport for men (and hopefully soon women) of honour.
The overriding feeling in the audience was openness. One isolated incident didn’t spoil BKB’s crowd-control clean sheet and the promotion maintained its perfect “AAA” venue-reputation. The behaviour of BKB fans has been essential in the promotion securing a spot at Wembley Arena later this year. Jim Freeman and Joe Brown will need to maintain a safe environment if they are to lead Bare Knuckle boxing into the mainstream arena.
The outstanding element of this particular show was the quality of the match making. In this sport, mismatches are very quickly (and brutally) discovered. Such instances are rife in other promotions. Worse, poor matchmaking can be dangerous and rightly puts off crowds. Fights were almost always perfectly matched. Hats off to Jim and Joe.
BKB is taking off fast. This is a great promotion which is developing rapidly. The future is bright and promising. See you in January for BKB20!
Toe The Line Fight Of The Night: Jimmy Sweeney v Ricardo Franco
Toe The Line Knockouts Of The Night: Paul Hilz and Darren Hendry
Toe The Line Performances Of The Night: Ricardo Franco, Anthony Holmes and Smudger Smith
Card Rating: 9.5/10
Fans Rating: 9/10