Let’s Talk Bare Knuckle Boxing, Tribal Commissions and Legality

This week it was announced that the Miccosukee Resort & Gaming casino in greater Miami will host an eight-bout bare knuckle boxing event including a title bout involving ‘the world champion of bare knuckle boxing‘ Bobby Gunn.

Gunn, who staged the first sanctioned bare knuckle match in the U.S. since 1889 in 2011 on Tribal land in Arizona, is seeking to defend his title.

The recently announced event is not being sanctioned by the Florida State Boxing Commission as the event is taking place on the sovereign land of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.  The question, however, is can this event be legally held?  The answer is arguably no given provisions of the Professional Boxing Safety Act, a US Federal Law which is national in scope.

Section 6312 of the Act specifically allows professional boxing events to take place on “Indian Reservations” however the law has a strict requirement.  It states that any such event must have health, safety and licencing requirements that are “at least as restrictive” as those in the State where the bout is taking place or the most recently published version of the recommended regulatory guidelines of the Association of Boxing Commissions.

So the question is can this be done?

The ABC does not have any guidelines allowing bare-knuckle boxing so their standards likely cannot be used to meet this requirement.

Similarly, the State of Florida also does not allow Bare  Knuckle Boxing.  The State’s Boxing Commission, whose jurisdiction does not extend to tribal lands, advises as follows

Bare-knuckle fighting is illegal in Florida. As such, the Florida State Boxing Commission will not sanction a bare-knuckle fighting event. Anyone who participates in or organizes such an event is subject to administrative and criminal penalties.

Bobby Gunn Tweet Screenshot

As evidenced by the above screenshot Gunn is a strong proponent of the safety of bare knuckle boxing and he may be right when it comes to the issue of traumatic brain injury.

With MMA experiencing its 13th modern day fatality this week Gunn may be able to argue that allowing the removal of gloves is a safety standard that is “at least as restrictive” as what Florida law allows, however this argument goes against the very clear stance Florida has taken in the above comment. Subject to a safety argument winning the day it appears that Tribal Commissions are on legal thin ice in regulating bare knuckle boxing unless they can persuade the ABC or their respective State government to also allow the sport.


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