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‘This has got to stop’ - ABC president slams bare knuckle boxing after fighter’s death

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Association of Boxing Commissions urges improved medical requirement for bare knuckle boxing

Justin Thornton weighing in at BKFC 20.
Justin Thornton weighing in at BKFC 20.
BKFC / YouTube

Justin Thornton died two months shy of his 39th birthday. Thornton, a fighter who amassed a career MMA record of 6-18 between 2008 and 2020, participated in the August 20, BKFC 20 fight card. Dillon Cleckler knocked out Thornton in 19 seconds in that bout. MMA Fighting reported that Thornton was partially paralyzed after the stoppage. The Mississippi born fighter remained in the hospital for several weeks after the bout to deal with an infection from a spinal cord injury. Thornton died on October 3.

BKFC President David Feldman released a brief statement on Thornton’s death (per MMA Fighting). “This morning we were very saddened to be notified of the passing of one of our fighters, Justin Thornton, who competed at BKFC 20 on August 20, 2021,” Feldman said.

“We join the rest of the combat sports community in sending our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones.”

On Tuesday, MMA Junkie spoke to Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) president Mike Mazzulli about bare knuckle boxing and the regulation of the sport.

“Every state and tribal commission needs to address safety and the process to how they do it. The ABC is not here to tell you how to do it,” Mazzulli said. “We’re here to help you do it, but (this situation has been) really disappointing. … These guys are recycling these MMA fighters that shouldn’t be fighting any more. They will not pass tests to be an MMA fighter so they go to bare-knuckle boxing. … This is a fine example of what is wrong with bare-knuckle boxing and what they are doing to these fighters. It bothers me. We talk about fighter safety and protecting the fighter at all costs. … This has got to stop.”

The ABC also released a lengthy statement about the safety concerns about bare knuckle boxing, which includes the following wording. “With the tragic news regarding the death of Justin Thornton and the limited medical data regarding short and long term injuries in BKB, the ABC medical Committee recommends enhanced screening of individuals considering participation in such events.”

BKFC has events booked for October 9, October 23 and November 6 according to its website.