They came to the gym in Tampa, FL, with their dreams tucked in their gym bags, a dozen men weaned on a thousand years of The Ultimate Fighter and convinced that this could be their ticket to stardom. A dozen men who had come to strut their pugilistic stuff before a handful of media, two UFC vets, and the promoter of the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships (BKFC) - the sixth installment of which would play out at the nearby fairgrounds in a few days.
Most were locals, or at least local enough. One drove down from Indiana. Another was from Wisconsin. Some had had MMA fights, or boxing matches, or competed in jiu-jitsu. But there was - of course - one dude who showed up without any equipment whatsoever, and wore jeans, a t-shirt, and a collection of gold chains around his neck. He and a few others had maybe thrown down once or twice in the streets, and that was it.
Yet despite the disparity in experience, training, and willingness to invest in gym shorts, they all had one thing in common: they had come to try out, and hopefully earn a slot on a future show.
“We going to watch you shadowbox,” said promoter David Feldman, bellowing at the aspiring bare-knuckle boxers assembled before him. “We’re going to watch you hit the bags, we going to watch you work out. But what I want to know is the ‘why?’ – why are you here?”
For Tom from nearby Clearwater, that answer had something to do with his evolution as a competitor. He’d already fought in a cage. This was simply…next.
A few others had similar motivations. They had even traveled similar paths, from MMA, from boxing, from places where they’d had to acquire the skills needed to punch people in the face.
Then there was the kid wearing the Rick & Morty “Pickle Rick” cap, who came from the next county over to give his all. Sure, it was clear from the moment that he began hitting the heavy bag that his heart was writing checks his abilities couldn’t cash. And yeah, when it came time to work the pads, Pickle Rick needed an explanation on how to throw ones and twos. But he wanted it.
With varying degrees of effort and sweat, they all wanted it.
But “want” only carries a would-be bare-knuckle boxer so far, and after two minutes on the heavy bags, two minutes on the pads, and two minutes shadowboxing, Feldman and the aforementioned UFC vets (Chris Lytle and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson) had seen enough. It was time for the decision-making huddle. Tom, Pickle Rick and the rest all lined up, patient and hopeful.
In the end, two BKFC contracts were awarded - one to a diminutive buzzsaw named Geane Carlos Herrera, and one to a jacked Lorenzo “The Juggernaut” Hunt. When BKFC comes back to Florida in November, for a show at Universal Studios in Orlando, they would be on the card.
Everyone else would have to order the pay-per-view and wonder what could’ve been.