Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Depending on how his contract standoff with the UFC plays out, Francis Ngannou could become one of the most coveted free agents in MMA history in 2023.
If that happens, BKFC founder David Feldman is vowing to do his best to convince the UFC heavyweight champion to test his hands in the bare-knuckle boxing ring.
“I’m not sure if he’s out of that window yet, but we’re definitely making a play for him,” Feldman said Wednesday on The MMA Hour.
“At that stage, you’re talking about money, right? And if we can back that kind of money up, we’re in the game. I don’t think we’re out of the game for anything right now, to be honest with you. We have a good partner that we just partnered with that likes to think outside the box, likes to disrupt things as we do, and I think that there’s a great opportunity for us to get the biggest and best names out there.”
That aforementioned new partner is Triller, the big-spending social media company that expanded into fight promotion in 2020 and recently acquired a majority stake in the BKFC.
Feldman said Wednesday that with the help of Triller’s resources, he is confident the BKFC will be able to afford throwing its hat in the Ngannou sweepstakes with a competitive offer.
The BKFC has been a significant player for MMA free agents in recent years, with the promotion inking notable UFC names to contracts such as Mike Perry, Chad Mendes, Paige VanZant, and more. Another popular former UFC fighter who was briefly connected to the BKFC is The Ultimate Figher 1 winner Diego Sanchez, however the deal never came together and the 20-year veteran ultimately signed with Khabib Nurmagomedov’s MMA organization Eagle FC, where he is slated to debut in a 165-pound bout on March 11 against Kevin Lee.
According to Feldman, Sanchez remains on BKFC’s radar — and an offer to fight in bare-knuckle boxing could still be in play if he performs well against Lee.
“Diego, I was just a little bit concerned about everything that was going on with him,” Feldman said. “And then I finally made the decision to, yeah, let’s give him a shot, and he wanted to go to Eagle [FC]. But he’s been messaging me the whole time [so], we’ll see what happens in that fight. I’d love for him to come back over to BKFC, so we’ll see what happens.
“At the end of the day, I really want to make sure that these fighters’ health and well-being are looked after or taken care of more than anything, so if it looks like in this upcoming fight that he can perform great, I’d love to bring him over. But he’s a great name and a great warrior and a legend in the sport.”
Feldman also addressed the status of another former UFC star, VanZant, who has been out of action since a July 2021 loss to Rachael Ostovich dropped her record to 0-2 in the BKFC ring. The BKFC president said he’s currently in discussions with VanZant on a potential return and expects to have a firmer answer after her husband Austin Vanderford challenges Gegard MousasiB for the Bellator middleweight title Friday at Bellator 275.
“I think so,” Feldman said. “We’re in talks with them right now. I’d love to have her come back in late spring, early summer. That’s what we’re talking about. So she’s got to kind of see where her head is. I think you had her husband on [The MMA Hour] today, so I think they want to get through that fight first before they talk about what’s next for her.”
VanZant’s signing in 2020 was a watershed moment for the BKFC as the Dancing With The Stars runner-up was the most recognizable mainstream name to join a sport and promotion still battling for legitimacy in the public eye. VanZant’s two appearances with BKFC have generated significant interest within the fight world, however she has struggled to acclimatize herself to bare-knuckle boxing, losing to both Britain Hart and Ostovich.
Feldman said he has no regrets about signing VanZant and would “definitely” make the same decision again if he was given the chance for a do-over.
“At that time, it was the most money that I ever spent on an event, and it was also the most money I’ve ever brought into an event,” Feldman said.
“So, it worked. It doesn’t work [sometimes]. I don’t want every big name that pops for free agency, because they’re not all going to work for us. There are certain names that are going to work, that are worth double to us what they are for another organization, but they’re worth it to us because they’re going to bring those kinds of eyeballs to us. And that’s why we spend that kind of money on those kinds of fighters.”
As for other big names the BKFC could be eyeballing following its acquisition by Triller, Feldman said he expects more professional boxers to begin testing the waters in bare-knuckle boxing after the first wave of converts have primarily been MMA fighters.
“I just think the boxers are a little more tentative to get in there right now,” Feldman said. “But I think that’s starting to change, because we’re getting reached out to by a lot of top-tier boxers now. But I think with mixed martial arts, you’re getting hit with an elbow, you’re getting hit with a shin, you’re getting hit with that sharp kind of object, if you will, the same as you would refer to with a bare fist. And I think that the boxers are just not sure if they want to get hit with something like that. But now we’re starting to get a lot more come over.
“I think I put two rules into Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship that I call the great equalizer. But the real one is the muay Thai clinch, when they grab the back of a boxer’s neck, it just throws the boxer really off their game. So I think that’s where the advantage with the mixed martial artists comes in, in this sport, but obviously the boxers have better hands. But are they tougher? Who’s tougher? Who can take what in this sport, and that’s who really wins. It’s really, it’s a different sport, as you see. You have to be a different type of animal to fight in this sport, and you have to have a different level of toughness. And I think that we have, I won’t say that we have the most skilled fighters in the world, all around, but we definitely have the baddest fighters in the world in our organization.”