Over 2019, BKB™ put on five sell-out shows in the 02’s Indigo Room. This year has also seen the promotion’s most accelerated growth in popularity. A trend mirrored by Social Media engagement too. This growing popularity is partly due to increasing public awareness, but largely due to the improving quality of the cards Jim Freeman and Joe Brown produce. Their consistently well thought-out matchmaking has produced some beautiful clashes of style.
In celebration of such a successful year, I present to you my handpicked Top Ten BKB Fights of 2019.
Like artwork, fighting is of subjective taste. What I may like in a fight will likely be very different to what the next man wants. I’ve included slugfests, technical displays and a few in between, so everyone should find something to appreciate. There’s no point reeling off a list of factors I’ve used to judge the bouts. The best fights are the ones that provoke an emotional response. They are the ones you remember.
I hope you enjoy reading this list as much as I did compiling it.
10) Tony Lafferty bt Ben Gumbrell, UD, BKB 18
Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANEKpPAo8c4
Tiger vs Gladiator. Skill vs heart. Brawl vs brains. Kicking off my list is the lightweight prizefighter quarterfinal between Ben Gumbrell and Tony Lafferty. The controversial bout was so close that the judges could not separate the two at the final bell. To the delight of the fans, BKB had to call for a bonus deciding round.
As usual, Lafferty came out all guns blazing and using his heart as his defence. Stirling’s Tiger makes no secret that he prefers a tear-up to a chess match. Bare Knuckle debutant Ben Gumbrell was surprisingly composed in his first time under the lights of the 02. He used his feet to control range and nullify his opponent’s aggression.
Though quite scrappy, this fight had a lot going for it. It was high paced throughout, as both men gave their all to progress to the tournament’s next stage. Stylistically, Gumbrell’s method contrasted nicely with Lafferty’s madness. Competitively, the margins between the two were razor thin. Finally- the drama! Gumbrell’s last minute knockdown earnt him a second chance in a critical fourth round.
9) Dan Chapman bt James Connelly, UD, BKB 15
Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtWY41iW9Go
Fans of an all-guns-blazing tear up will disagree with me here. However, the quality of clean boxing between Chapman and Connelly makes this bout a top contender for us purists.
The two undefeated pound-for-pound candidates commendably took very early risks in their careers. Both entered the ring 1-0, risking their young “0” against a significant step-up in class. In the David vs Goliath battle, Chapman gave away five inches of height against BKB legend James Connelly, but still managed to score two knockdowns en-route to a UD.
The silky Youth Commonwealth Games gold medallist Dan Chapman used an exquisite hands-down style; reminiscent of fellow Team GB rising star Josh Kelly. Subtle yet effective whole body feints drew reactions from Chapman’s opponent, which he evaded with fluid upper body movement. The highly decorated former amateur star showed excellent footwork to remain elusive too. The man could turn on a ten pence piece!
Connelly was comfortable on the front foot, taking centre ring and stalking his man down. He used feet, feints and long-arming to stop his shorter opponent closing the distance. Connelly entertained with cheeky misdirection too. He waved his hands, dropped his guard and crazily looked away, hoping to walk Chapman onto hurtful shots.
8) Kris Trezise bt Robby Drought, UD, BKB 18
Fun fact – I once had the same boxing referee as Trez. Luckily, just not at the same time! Like entry number ten, Trezise vs Drought saw another Bare Knuckle debutant wow us to make a dramatically competitive fight. Nobody gave the unknown Drought a chance against 4-1-2 Kris Trezise. But just look what he did to the British Champion’s face!
The boxing occurred predominantly at mid to long-range. Hence, the fight included plenty of long and clean straight shots which were pleasing to the eye. Neither man was very defensively inclined, so we enjoyed a high connection rate. They exchanged counters on counters in thrilling exchanges. Add to the mix two great chins and two big hearts and we have a barnstormer on our hands.
You could have made a case for either man winning. Throughout, I was on the edge of my seat and had one thumb hovering over my accumulator’s ‘cash-out’. Both men left the ring looking like Sloth from the Goonies. In the words of Drought himself; that was “F*ckin’ war!”.
7) Tyler Goodjohn bt Marc Navarro, UD, at BKB15
Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2caX-douGOY
This fight wasn’t the most competitive. Nor did it end in a momentous knockout. However, Tyler Goodjohn’s bad-blooded schooling of Marc Navarro was beautiful to watch. The boxing masterclass rivals Lerwell v Mills for online views, with the highlights racking up 3.5 million views.
The fluidity of the (now) Featherweight World Champion was poetry in motion for fight fans. His slick slips and superb defensive upper body movement helped him leave the ring still looking pretty. The former Super Lightweight English gloved Champion judged range perfectly, countered well throughout and went to the body frequently. As the fight continued, he asserted his dominance more and more. Congratulations El Tornado, you made us smile, gasp and even laugh.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic, however. Navarro did have sufficient success to make the fight enjoyable. He may have had the best chin in BKB and once again showed what he is made of. “The Freakin’ Rican” did not know how to take a backwards step. Styles make fights and this was a deceptively good matchup.
6) Daniel Lerwell bt Ricky Nelder, UD, British Super Middleweight Title, BKB 19
Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAHcM6Ig-wE
These indestructible dreadnaughts had the 02 on their feet. Over a brutal five round skirmish, they bombarded each other with heavy artillery start to finish. Hold up though. Lerwell and Nelder’s war was more than just a slugfest. The bout provided all the excitement of a hard man’s scrap, but backed it up with British title-level skill and class.
Neither man bothered to test the water before diving right in. The pair went toe to toe and traded audible shots which the crowd loved. Both men swapped counters for counters, firing solid shots up close. Nelder absorbed some tasty punches in the earlier rounds that made us ask ‘what is this man made of?!’. Lerwell does hit hard. Up to that point, not one of the Welshman’s opponents had survived to hear the final bell.
A four minute break to repair the ring ropes completely changed the dynamic of the fight. It threw the battle-worn Nelder a lifeline and he came back with a vengeance. Rejuvenated, the challenger had a fantastic final two rounds. Entertainment wise, it’s hard to beat a fight like this. Heart, power and chin met experience and skill in an awe-inspiring combination.
Lerwell is a proud campaigner for autism awareness 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: http://fightingforautism.com.au/
5) Jimmy Sweeney bt Edgar Puerta, UD, World Lightweight title, BKB17
Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkR-ovPLbsU
BKB17’s main event showed an enthralling mix of skill and aggression. Two classy operators went toe to toe in aggressive back and forth exchanges. The ‘King of BKB’ climbed off the canvas in a thrilling turn of events to defend his world title against former WBC Silver World Champion Edgar Puerta.
The tough Mexican was happy to take a shot to give one back. He looked very much at home on his Bare Knuckle debut and was a pleasure to watch. True to his heritage, Puerta was aggressive, looked for combinations and went to the body often. Jimmy showed his class and was composed throughout. That said, when Puerta wanted to play rough, Jimmy gave it back!
The third round was a big contender for round of the year. Just as the Champ looked in control, Puerta backed him up and dropped him with a big right hand. Now Jimmy’s turn! The Celtic Warrior got back to his feet and proceeded to put Puerta down twice. Sweeney v Puerta was a landmark fight for BKB. The promotion showcased the pedigree of the fighters it has signed. What’s more, this absolute back-and-forth classic raised the roof off the 02.
4) Daniel Lerwell bt CJ Mills, KO3, British Super Middleweight title, BKB16
Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_RivrdR0Bs
The war between Daniel Lerwell and CJ Mills for the British Super Middleweight Title is an all-time BKB classic. The social media phenomenon has deservedly totalled 26.6 million online views. The bout treated fight fans to five knockdowns and the cherry on the cake was one of the most brutal knockouts the 02 has seen.
Both men entered the ring with identical undefeated records and both had to climb off the canvas at least twice. The fight ignited immediately, with a knockdown just nine seconds after the opening bell. The pace throughout was relentless. Neither man held back as they exchanged thunderous shots from the opening bell to the brutal ending. The crowd really got behind this one. The display of chin and heart was certainly impressive. The 02 winced and cheered as blow after heavy blow landed.
Eventually, Daniel Lerwell left the ring the victor. His show-stopping knockout sent out a stern message to everyone in the promotion. Don’t let the ending deceive you though. CJ Mills boxed impressively throughout and showed the heart and guts any warrior would be proud of.
3) Ricardo Franco bt Jimmy Sweeney, TKO 6, World Lightweight Title, BKB19
It doesn’t get much better than this. Pound for pound number one and two gave their everything in an epic world title clash. The story had dramatic plot twist after dramatic plot twist, with the eventual winner narrowly surviving two heavy knockdowns. Significance of the upset aside, the fight itself was a cracker.
The challenger started well. He complemented his reach advantage with in and out footwork to keep Sweeney at bay. Bon Bon’s deceivingly long right hand landed several times. An exceptional second round for the challenger sent the crowd crazy with anticipation.
Just as Franco looked in control – bang! Sweeney walked him onto a tight right hand in the third. Franco went down hard. His fans weren’t singing anymore! Sweeney could smell blood and quickly brought Franco to his knees again with a vicious combination. The bell spared Rico from another onslaught. Unreal round. The audience blew the roof off the 02.
In the sixth, the referee called time for the medics to inspect Sweeney’s cuts. It was over. The crowd went absolutely wild in one of the biggest upsets BKB has seen. An electric reaction from the 02. Though the stoppage was due to a cut, this fight potentially tops the list for atmosphere.
2) Tyler Goodjohn bt Sean George, SD, World Featherweight Title, BKB18
Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1CKUiXKwKo
I touted this fight to be a “guaranteed Bare Knuckle masterpiece” in my predictions. I was not wrong! This world title clash was upcoming Prince of BKB vs battled-hardened veteran in an ‘unstoppable force vs immovable object’ dilemma. Typically of these matchups, the fight was a nightmare to judge and the fresher rising star walked away with a close decision.
The fight was extremely technical. Impressively, both fighters remained perfectly composed and 100% focussed over the seven rounds. Every shot was sharp and retracted back to start position immediately. Goodjohn and George maintained tight guards and showed exquisite shot variety in a display that amateur coaches would encourage their fighters to watch.
The cleanliness of the close up work is a defining quality of this fight. It is very rare to see sustained toe-to-toe trade-offs, as they often quickly result in holding or retreat. George and Goodjohn however, were a pleasure to watch as they planted their feet and engaged in some scintillating toe-to-toe action. Their fluid transitions between offense and defence at close range would make Roberto Duran proud.
Both fighters are a credit to the sport. We commend them for the way they sustained such composure and pace – which are difficult to achieve simultaneously. We were on the edge of our seats throughout. In short – a masterclass.
1) Ricardo Franco bt James Connelly, UD, Prizefighter Final, BKB17
Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWu4ORatt5E
In the words of Nate Diaz, “I’m not surprised motherf*ckers”. Connelly and Franco’s seven round barnstormer obviously had to top my list. This is the fight I set as homework when I want to get someone hooked on BKB. Why? The fight is everything a fight should be. It was high paced. It was back-and-forth. It was two pound-for-pound bests giving their all.
At stake were £10,000 cash, the Jack Broughton trophy and a world title shot. Both men poured their heart and soul into their performances. Franco and Connelly showed great heart and determination as they consistently traded heavy blows. The men piled counters upon counters in electrifying exchanges. The intense pace both men sustained for seven rounds beggared belief. No other fight in BKB’s history has defied the limits of human stamina so spectacularly. The tide changed from fighter to fighter so frequently that fans were in and out of their seats more than in a game of musical chairs.
Though both men fought aggressively, they never neglected their technical ability. Fluid boxing, ample shot variety and excellent footwork displayed both fighters’ class. You didn’t have to be a boxing purist to appreciate the level these athletes box at. Ricardo Franco walked away with the hard-earned points victory that led to his successful world title shot at BKB19.