Documenting Bare Knuckle Boxing Legality

The below article was first published in June 2019 and is updated as new jurisdictions legalize Bare Knuckle Boxing

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When this site started several years back MMA was illegal in certain jurisdictions and regulatory progress was mapped out.  Now Bare Knuckle Boxing “BKB” is walking a similar path and its regulatory story, much like MMA’s, is intriguing as many athletic commissions use creative reasoning in allowing the sport.

This post will be updated from time to time as new US and Canadian jurisdictions allow the sport.  To date these are the athletic commissions which have legalized BKB and their methods of doing so

  1. The modern era of BKB kicked off with Bobby Gunn competing bare knuckle in a bout regulated by the Yavapai Nation in 2011.  The bout drew criticism from the Association of Boxing Commissions.  Tribal commissions, like US States, enjoy their own autonomy when it comes to licencing boxing in their jurisdiction.  They are subject to a Federal requirement that health, safety and licencing requirements 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.
  2. The Wyoming State Board of Mixed Martial Arts was the first state athletic commission to allow BKB in the modern era.  They did so under the logic that BKB was not a subset of boxing but rather was a sub-set of Mixed Martial Arts.  Technically BKB in Wyoming is a seperate ruleset for MMA.
  3. Mississippi was the third jurisdiction to allow the sport.  As a default BKB should not be allowed in the State as their rules require boxing bouts to utilize the ABC’s unified rules of boxing which mandate gloves.  However, the Commission enjoys the power to waive any of its own rules and such waiver takes precedence.  Using this power the Mississippi Athletic Commission allowed BKB.
  4. Florida came next.  Florida’s laws specifically require gloves to be used in boxing and MMA bouts.  Unlike Mississippi, the Florida State Boxing Commission does not enjoy the power to waive this requirement.  That was no deterrent, however, with the Commission being persuaded that nothing in their legislation required gloves to cover a boxer’s knuckles.  They approved ‘gloves’ which were nothing more than padding placed under the fighter’s handwraps and did not cover the fist from the knuckles down.
  5. The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation known as the Three Affiliated Tribes oversaw Ken Shamrock’s Valor Bare Knuckle event at the 4 Bears Casino and Lodge in New Town, North Dakota on September 21, 2019.  The bouts were officially regulated by the Three Affiliated Tribes Commission Of Athletic Regulation.
  6.  Z Promotions hosted a bare knuckle boxing event on Saturday September 28th 2019 at ENMAX Centre in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.  This was the first BKB legally held in Canada.  Alberta is, to my knowledge, the only Canadian or US jurisdiction that regulates combative sports on the municipal level instead of via a Province wide or State wide commission.  Bylaw 5412 which creates the Lethbridge Combative Sports Commission is broadly worded giving them authority to regulate all sports “that hold bouts and contests between opponents involving striking with hands, feet, knees or elbows“.  From there Commission is given broad power to “establish rules and regulations in respect of, but not limited to, its procedures, the holding of bouts and contests, and the regulation of the conduct of promoters, principals, contestants, agents, seconds, attendants, managers and referees, including the discipline thereof.“.  Given these wide powers the City has a legal framework in place allowing them to host such a combative sports event.   I reached out to the Commission for a copy of their official rules for this event who replied as follows “The bare knuckle boxing match was part of a card that included seven fights. It featured Bobby Brents vs Don Wonch. The fight was stopped after the second round. Mr. Wonch sustained two facial cuts and indicated he could not see properly. Mr. Brents was declared the winner on a referee’s stoppage because of an injury.The rules for bare knuckle boxing the Lethbridge Combative Sports Commission adopted are based on the rules used in the state of Wyoming. If you are interested or require further information I suggestion you visit the City of Lethbridge website at www.lethbridge.ca. The Combative Sports Commission is listed under: City Government/Boards, Commissions and Committees. You can also visit the Z Promotions website: zpromotions.ca. Thank you for your interest.
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