BKB 20: Post-Fight Reflections

The scene was set. On the 25th January at the O2 Indigo Arena, London, BKBtm kicked off their 2020 campaign in style. An excellent night of fights was on the cards as always, as the sell-out capacity bubbled with anticipation. For many, this would be their first taste of Bare Knuckle Boxing and what a night for an introduction it was. BKB 20 had it all meteoric rises, plummeting falls and more blood than a Quentin Tarantino movie.

On a night that gifted us the fastest knockdown in BKB history, grudge matches galore and Bare Knuckle Boxing’s first-ever one-night prizefighter, it’s hard to believe that this card had more pullouts than the entirety of last years combined. Yet, we saw one of the best BKB shows to date nevertheless, and this serves as a testament to the tireless work rate of Jim, Joe and all the fighters. Congratulations to you all!

So, without further ado, we will once again be taking a look back at BKBtm’s last card. Dissecting the fights, atmosphere and entertainment in the hopes of generating reflective discussion and discourse.

Lee, take it away!

“Let’s get this party started people!”.

Lee Drewett

John Hick Def. Azi Thomas, via UD

The opening bout of the evening saw Birmingham’s John Hick face-off against Welsh debutant Azi Thomas. Coming in, Azi was favoured by the bookies at 4/5 and it’s easy to see why. Thomas was an ex-Welsh Amateur Champion, with a very solid Professional MMA record and a full camp behind him. Whereas short notice replacement John Hick despite being 2-0 in BKB was criminally underrated due to his lesser credentials outside of Bare Knuckle.

*Bell Rings*

As the bell rang, a feeling out process ensued. Thomas started the bout on the back foot looking to entice Hick in onto his big right hand. While Hick stayed at mid-range working the jab while making good use of head and body movement to create openings for his uppercuts. A fairly cagey affair for the majority. This round introduced us to the excellent Boxing pedigrees on display. As the round came to its conclusion it was hard to tear the two apart in terms of scoring. That was until Thomas began to pile on the pressure in the final ten seconds. Landing an assortment of hooks, uppercuts and body shots which for me won him the round. Yet, the judges gave it to Hick.

Round two commenced and suddenly the dynamic had changed. Both men took to the centre at a ferocious pace, with some beautiful shots landing on both sides. However, as Hick began to create distance and get some good work off, he started to establish his uppercut, which proved to be the decider as he sent Thomas to the canvas early on. Undeterred by the knockdown Thomas began to close the distance with a flurry of rights and lefts. Only to be caught once again by a perfectly timed uppercut which stopped him clean in his tracks. An excellent round for Hick who came away with the 10-8 thanks to his quality timing and shot selection.

As the third and final round came underway we were once again treated to a Hick masterclass. Comfortable and light on his feet, Hick eased through the round at distance, evading Azi’s overhands, while opting for precise single shots. A smooth operator throughout, Hick showed himself to be a worthy title contender and with his record improving to 3-0 there will be few arguing against it.

What I find so incredible about John Hick and his BKB career is the fact that he has never had a full camp in Bare Knuckle. Every single one of his victories has been a short-notice fight. Particularly his first against Martin Thorne at BKB 9 where he recorded the fastest knock out in BKB history after coming in on just one day’s notice. Yet the absurdity doesn’t stop there. When I pulled Hick aside for an interview after the fight, he revealed to me that he had fought all three fights without a single sponsor. Unbelievable for a man fighting at this level and quite frankly unheard of. So, in the spirit of giving, we’d like to reach out to any potential sponsors looking to jump on board with John and get maximum exposure for their brand. With live television coverage, across twenty-one countries worldwide and many more on social media. If you fancy the opportunity for yourself, feel free to message John at @hands_of_brickbkb on Instagram.

John Hick (Grey shorts and claret trim) and Azi Thomas (Grey shorts and black trim) / Tee Reskah Photography

Mason Shaw Def. Ash Griffiths, via Second Round TKO

Next up came Mason Shaw versus Ash Griffiths. A fight which saw Mason step through the ropes for the first time since his shock defeat at the hands of Anthony Holmes. While his adversary Griffiths was also coming in off a loss against James Connelly all the way back at BKB 14. The question on everyone’s lips, however, was how would Shaw react? Would his last performance overcome him? Or would he find comfort in the chaos and get back to winning ways? Certainly, the latter proved to be the correct preconception as Shaw came out looking like a new man.

Right from the offset, Shaw oozed confidence. Hands carried low and shoulders dipping in anticipation. The two-time British title contender came out at an almighty pace. Picking off Griffiths from the word go with an array of vicious hooks forcing Ash to cover up repeatedly. The pace and pressure of Shaw became a real problem for Ash early on. Throwing the Geordie journeyman off his stride and backing him up into dangerous positions. Finally, Shaw, had his man cornered as he unleashed a brutal one-two-three combination scoring a knockdown at the end of the round. Carrying himself with pride, Shaw roared with passion as he saw his opponent fall to the canvas. 10-8 Shaw.

As the second round commenced, Shaw measured the flicking shots of Griffiths as he searched for an opening with the jab. Then! Out of nowhere came the finishing blow. A beautiful overhand right landing clean on the equilibrium sending Griffiths straight through the ropes. An absolutely fantastic response from Mason who seems to have found his natural weight at fourteen stone. Hats off to Ash as well of course, who had a tough time out there and was visibly frustrated by his performance.

Mason Shaw (White and gold shorts) and Ash Griffiths (Black shorts and green detail)/ Tee Reskah Photography

Eric Olsen Def. Matthew Hodgson, Via Second Round TKO

Next up came two men who genuinely disliked each other in Eric Olsen and Matthew Hodgson. After a heated exchange at the weigh-ins, the pair had to be separated by security and certainly, that same intensity was taken into their bout.

Despite his obvious height and reach advantage it was Hodgson who became the aggressor early on. Stalking down his man with malicious intent. While the wildly unorthodox Olsen opted for his explosive stationary stance, resembling that of UFC Featherweight Chan Sung Jung. It was this very style that proved to be the decider in the first. As Olsen was able to catch Hodgson multiple times due to the un-telegraphed nature of his reactionary striking. With the very first strike of the fight, Olsen was able to do a great deal of damage. Opening up a cut above Hodgson’s left eye. Which as the fight went on proved to reverse the roles of aggressor and retaliator as Olsen began to take full advantage of Hodgson’s impediment. But not without stark resistance from the Yorkshireman who kept the fight competitive, with some lovely body shots and a stinging jab to finish up the round. 10-9 Olsen.

The second round saw an almighty resurgence from Hodgson, who perhaps sensing the severity of his cut began to really take the fight to Olsen. Backing his adversary up against the ropes and landing a couple of beautiful right hands. Yet, tragically as Hodgson began to start opening up, the fight was stopped on account of his cut. A disappointing end to a cracking fight, but nevertheless a brutal reminder of the unforgiving nature of Bare Knuckle Boxing.

When I caught up with Olsen after the fight, I was extremely pleased to hear that his long-awaited title shot looked to be the next fight for ‘Blood Axe’. A well-deserved opportunity for one of the pioneers of the sport who currently sits at 6-4 with a three-fight win streak.

Eric Olsen (Black Shorts with gold trim) catches Matthew Hodgson (Black Shorts with white stripes) with a lunging jab/ Brooklyn Freeman Photography

Jonny Lawson Def. Robin Deakin, Via First Round TKO

Jonny Lawson versus Robin Deakin certainly lent us an interesting storyline. With both men yet to taste victory inside the BKB ring, but, nevertheless as game as they come and hungry to get their hand raised.

The hunger was clear from the get-go as both men pounced on one another searching for the first meaningful strike. A precursor for the high-intensity affair which proceeded and in fairness the pace never gave up. For the majority of the fight, Lawson stood on the front foot unleashing an onslaught of hooks and uppercuts as Deakin bobbed, weaved and clinched. After landing a couple of clean strikes Lawson began to enforce his will on the contest and looked set to cause further damage, with a finish in clear sight. The finishing sequence did not disappoint either. A beautiful lead uppercut into a dipping right hand and then another lead uppercut which dropped Deakin hard. Although Deakin was able to get to his feet and beat the count, he got up on wobbly legs and the contest was subsequently stopped in the corner as the bell rang. A great moment for Lawson and one I’m sure he will forever savour. But, for Robin Deakin, this fight had meant more than just the result. It was about his journey, his story and ultimately his legacy.

For Deakin getting into the ring had been a battle in itself. Prior to this bout, I’d spoken to Robin about the tremendous adversity he had faced leading up to his last three fights. Experiencing stretches of homelessness while simultaneously fighting his own demons in his head. I was overjoyed to be greeted by a happy Robin Deakin on fight night and it was a testament to his strength of character that he fought on regardless that night. It was clear he had fallen back in love with the sport and as a fan, this was wonderful to see.

Side Note: For anyone reading this at home who his struggling with mental health and depression. I urge you to talk to someone, be that a friend, family member or helpline. For you are never truly alone. I have attached the Samaritans website and helpline below and I wish you all a brighter day:

Samaritans Website: https://www.samaritans.org/

Samaritans Helpline: 116 123

Jonny Lawson (Black Shorts) colliding with Robin Deakin (Red Shorts)/ Photography By Brooklyn

Paul Hilz Def. Bachir Fakhouri, Via First Round KO

Paul Hilz versus Bachir Fakhouri. Violence personified. Two men known for their punching power and sheer ferocity in the ring. This one was never going to last long!

Both men made impressionable ring walks as the anticipation grew around the packed Indigo arena. Bachir opting for an altered rendition of Fugees ‘Ready or Not’. While Hilz chose the suitably titled ‘Hungry Little F****r’ by Potter Payper. And a ‘Hungry Little F****r’ he was, as Hilz threw himself at Bachir, clocking him clean on the jaw with an outlandish overhand right, sending Fakhouri to the canvas in a world record time of 2.4 seconds. Incredibly, however, Bachir found his footing and was quickly bouncing on the balls of his feet, ready and raring to go. Yet despite his willingness to fight and the landing of his own right hand, Bachir quickly found himself on the canvas for a second time. Once again tasting the returning Paul Hilz overhand which folded Fakhouri tightly. At this point, the crowd were deafening, and I could barely hear myself think. Yet, amongst the chaos I found myself drawn to the eyes of Paul Hilz. The look on his face was terrifying. His pupils had dilated so much that his eyes resembled a dark mass. All the while, he never, averted his gaze from his adversary. Like a hungry lion stalking his prey, Hilz knew this contest was nearing its end. And just like that! Bang! It was over! One last overhand sunk into Fakhouri’s skull and the referee called it off as Bach took his final fall.

What a fight! Two men who put it all on the line for glory and were left with a standing ovation at the climax! For Bachir this will serve as a learning curve, but also as a commemoration for the heart of a man who never gave in. And for Paul, well… another first-round knockout.

After the fight, I was understandably unable to speak to Bachir, but I did get to talk with Paul. And finally, the cat was out the bag on his quite frankly absurd training camp. Prior to the bout, Hilz had broken his ribs, trained through a bout of foot and mouth disease and had a tumour come up on the back of his knee. All reasonable reasons to pull out of the fight, yet ‘The Brawler’ fought on regardless. To quote Paul “You’d have to cut my arms and legs clean off for me not to fight”. Warrior!

Paul Hilz (Black and camo shorts) Dropping Bachir Fakhouri (Black and gold shorts)/ Photography by Brooklyn

CJ Mills Def. Robby Drought, Via First Round KO

Next up was the long-awaited return of former British Light Heavyweight Champion, CJ Mills. Who had been out of the ring since BKB 16 where he suffered a devastating knockout loss to Daniel Lerwell. Opposite him stood Robby Drought. A rough and ready Irishman who had taken the fight on short notice and two weight classes above his natural weight. Nevertheless, Robby came in as a worthy scalp for CJ, having taken Kris Trezise to a close five-round decision loss in his last outing.

As the two squared up face to face there was a distinct height difference between the pairing with CJ the sizeably larger man. And right from the start Mills looked to use this in his favour establishing range with the jab while searching for an opening for his right hand. Stepping in hot, Mills cracked Drought with a straight right that penetrated his guard and sent the Irishman stumbling backwards. Smelling blood CJ pounced on his opponent working the body and head in quick succession as he overwhelmed and subsequently dropped Robby. Clearly hurt but keen to go on Robby clambered to his feet and came right after CJ. The two traded hell for leather in the centre of the ring with Robby not quite able to get on the inside of CJ, who finished the fight with a flurry of lefts and rights. Certainly an outstanding performance from CJ Mills, who impressed me massively with his hand speed and natural finishing instincts.

For CJ, this looks to be a crucial victory that will elevate him back up towards his British title. While for Robby hopefully, we can see him at his natural weight next time, as he has jumped weight for both of his BKB fights now. Congratulations CJ and commiserations Robby. Another great scrap!

CJ Mills (Red short with white trim) backing up Robby Drought (Black shorts) against the ropes/ Photography By Brooklyn

Rob Boardman Def. Javier Trujillo, Via Second Round TKO- World Super Welterweight Title Fight

World Title fight time! This one between Rob Boardman and the American contender Javier Trujillo for the World Super Welterweight title. Previously the fight had been set up between Daniel Lerwell and Boardman. However, due to injury, Javier Trujillo was the man who stepped in to make his debut in a huge world title fight. Coming in Trujillo held an impressive 6-1 professional MMA record as well as a five-second knockout victory in only his second professional fight. Clearly the American was not to be scoffed at. And was certainly not to be overlooked by the undefeated champion Boardman, who looked to make his first defence since winning the belt back at BKB 17 against Ricky Nelder.

As soon as the ring walks were over, the respect was clear from the get-go. Both men came into the ring with a twinkle in their eyes. Slapping hands and smiling. This is the adrenaline rush they live for!

Starting off there were clear differences in the styles of the two fighters. Trujillo sported the traditional open-guard MMA stance. Square at the hips, sacrificing surface area for lighter footwork. While Boardman represented his Amateur Boxing credentials with the traditional elbow tuck and side foot combination. Both men carried their hands low and to the surprise of absolutely no one, went to war! Good shots were landed on both sides throughout the first round with the decider being the added aggression of Boardman who kept to his front foot. Finding a lot of success with the lead hook. Ultimately this round was very tight and I was honestly a little surprised by how well Trujillo was able to get his work off. Finding a home for his jab regularly and showing a real sense of belonging. 10-9 Boardman.

The second round saw a further shift in gear as Boardman took to the centre quickly. Looking to find a home for his big clubbing shots. Yet, Trujillo undeterred by the advancements of Boardman bobbed and mimicked his man. Rolling under multiple shots with a great response coming from his sneaky right hand. Then, just as it began to really open up and become a scorcher of a fight. Trujillo was pulled aside by the doctors to take a closer look at a deep cut above his right eye. And just like that, it was over. An unfortunate end to an epic contest of will and desire. Nevertheless, Well done to both lads. Hopefully, we can see Trujillo back in there again soon and Boardman getting the long-awaited Lerwell match-up next.

Javier Trujillo (Black Shorts) and Rob Boardman (White Shorts)/ Tee Reskah Photography

Prize Fighter Semi-Final One: James Connelly Def. Sean George, Via UD

Kicking off the one-night Prize Fighter was James Connelly and Sean George. The people’s main event. This fight was certainly an exciting prospect when it was pulled out the hat the night before. And for many, they had hoped to see this as the final. Yet, here they were, two titans of the sport ready to do battle and it certainly did not disappoint.

Rushing to the centre of the ring, Connelly came out looking to force the error on George. His lead hand out-stretched poised to parry and counter. Clearly the game plan was set. George comfortable on the back foot, danced in and out of range with good footwork and elusive head movement. Darting into mid-range with strong straight shots, which momentarily halted the cautious advancements of Connelly. Ultimately, however, it was Connelly who started to nudge himself in front during the contest. Alternating between body and head as he began to back his man up against the ropes. Then… Boom! A beautifully timed overhand right which caught George on the centre line sending him flying into the ropes. Down went the Welshman! But up he got. Hoisting himself to his feet with plenty of rope in hand. 10-8 Connelly.

As the second round commenced a sense of urgency rung true in George’s style. Applying much-needed pressure to the now confident Connelly. Yet, as George looked to sink a straight right into the body of Connelly, he was met with a skimming left hand that flicked George off balance. Frustratingly touching down for another knockdown. Back to his feet quickly George began to really take the fight to Connelly. Firing away an accumulation of short sharp hooks as he looked to shut down Connelly’s breathing room. Here it became clear that Connelly was cruising, perhaps looking to save his energy for the final. James stepped off his man and allowed him to give chase. Despite the best efforts of George and some good work being put into the latter half of the round, the scorecards still read 10-8 Connelly.

The third and final round saw much of the same. George coming forward looking to land hard. While Connelly danced around his man, scoring with potshots from all angles. What impressed me most about Connelly in this round was his movement. Switching between orthodox and southpaw naturally, while dipping low and exploding to the periphery of his adversary. It was the way Connelly was able to cut angles and keep himself away from danger that won him this round and ultimately the fight. A defensive masterclass of the highest order. Congratulations Connelly.

After Connelly was named the victor in the ring I was able to pull aside the living legend, Sean George for a quick interview. Prior to the bout, I had caught up with George in an interview for our YouTube Channel in which ‘The Outlaw’ had professed to me his willingness to retire. However, after the fight George sang a different tune, stating this would not be his last. Quite frankly I was over the moon. After seventeen Bare Knuckle Boxing bouts, George still had the hunger to go on. What a credit to the sport!

Prize Fighter Semi-Final Two: Connor Tierney Def. Matty Piper, Via Second Round TKO

While Connelly waited in the wings, in came two potential opponents. Connor Tierney and Matty Piper. Both men proudly sporting their Football teams emblems on their shorts. Tierney representing Birmingham City and Piper *cough* *cough* that other team in North London. Despite Piper’s poor taste in Football teams he certainly didn’t have a poor taste when it came to his fighting style. An exciting forward marching puncher noted for his peekaboo guard. Which he used regularly to get in on the inside of his rangey foe. Yet, despite some stretches of success for Piper, Tierney largely took control. Measuring distance well with the jab while using the lead hook to disconnect from close range exchanges. A very composed first round from Tierney who took very little damage and never swayed from his expert fundamentals. 10-9 Tierney.

As the second round commenced Piper seemed all of sudden hesitant to step into the pocket. Perhaps deterred by the work Tierney had got off in the first round. Now the fight was playing into the Brummie’s favour at distance. And so Tierney took the driving seat. Repeatedly rifling home the right straight as he began to close up Piper’s left eye. With the resistance of Piper beginning to fade we got to take a good look at Connor Tierney. Who was able to play to his strengths and lead with his backhand. Sticking and moving elegantly in an outstanding display of skill. As the round went on Piper began to back up and repeatedly blink. Clearly his vision was beginning to be obstructed by the damage done to his eye. As the bell rang to signal the end of the round. Piper returned to his corner and upon releasing the severity of Piper’s eye the contest was called off by the doctors. A very clever and composed performance by Connor. Showing maturity and high-level fighter IQ. Next up the all Brummie Final!

Prize Fighter Final: Connor Tierney Def. James Connelly, Via Second Round KO

This is it! The main event of the evening! Few words can properly describe the rawness and brutality of this fight. Two men with no love lost going for broke in the hopes of being crowned Prize Fighter Champion. Standing across from each other clearly Connelly had taken the worst of the damage. Sporting a cut above his right eye before the fight had even started. But this wouldn’t stop him for sticking it on Tierney right from the offset. Charging at his adversary right from the word go. The suffocating pressure of Connelly turned what on paper looked to be a technical chess match into an old school tear up. Fists flying Connelly led with the overhand to close the distance before firing away short sharp shots in the pocket. Meanwhile, Tierney covered up and came back at Connelly when he sensed an opening. At distance, Connor was landing freely with his own overhands, wobbling Connelly hard at the end of the round. As debate sparked as to whether or not it should have been scored as a knockdown. A very close round, hard to call but the judges gave it to Tierney 10-9.

As the second round commenced Tierney came out looking sharper than ever. Quickly establishing distance with straight shots while aligning his hands and feet in fluid motion. Connelly looking tired and battered beyond repair came forward with a couple of lazy lefts allowing Connor to counter hard with the overhand right. And just like that! it was over! One of the most violent knockouts in BKB history. Connelly slumped to the ground face-first as Connor and his team were sent into a frenzy.

Brought to tears post-fight. Tierney showed just how much this moment meant to him. In an emotionally driven interview after the bout with myself. Connor spoke about the sheer ferocity of the fight and the toll it had taken on him. Behind his eyes gleamed a real sense of pride with every word he spoke. Only ten months ago he had been on the receiving end of another extremely devastating knockout against Ricardo Franco at BKB 16. Yet, he had rebuilt himself from the bottom up. Mentally he was stronger than ever and was clearly enjoying himself in the ring. Well done Connor! I hope you read this with a smile on your face champ, you’ve done your family proud. Pound for pound number four baby!

James Connelly (Red shorts with white trim) and Connor Tierney (Blue, Yellow and White shorts)/ Photography By Brooklyn

Toe The Line Fight Of The Night:  James Connelly vs Sean George

Toe The Line Knockouts Of The Night: Connor Tierney Def. James Connelly

Toe The Line Performances Of The Night: Connor Tierney, Mason Shaw and John Hick

Card Rating: 8.5/10

Fans Rating: 9.5/10

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