‘Is anybody shocked?’ Dana White questions safety of bare-knuckle fighting following death of Justin Thornton

justin thornton, dana white, ufc
Credit: BKFC/Phil Lambert

Dana White is not a fan of promotions like Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship and has some doubts about the safety of combat sports outside the UFC.

Monday brought the news that veteran mixed martial artist, and BKFC newcomer, Justin Thornton had passed away six weeks after being knocked out in his bare-knuckle boxing debut at BKFC 20 in Mississippi. The news was another tragic moment in an industry that has seen its fair share of fighter deaths and life-altering brain injuries.

At the post-fight press conference for Tuesday’s episode of Dana White’s Contender Series, the UFC president was asked about the sad passing of Thornton — who finished with a record of 6-18 in MMA. And the promotion boss had some harsh critiques for bare-knuckle boxing. A sport that has seen Octagon veterans like Hector Lombard, Artem Lobov, and Jason Knight switch to becoming bare-knuckle pugilists following their release from the UFC.

Dana White questions safety of BKFC following passing of Justin Thornton

“First of all, is anybody shocked?” White said to reporters in Las Vegas [h/t MMAFighting]. “I mean, in bare-knuckle fighting? I’m not a big fan. And I get, I guess I would call it concerned when I see some of our people when they leave here and go there. It’s like, oh my God. … But when you look at this, we’ve been putting on fights for 25 years. I’ve done over 7,000 fights with no serious injuries in the UFC.”

Dana White says no other organizations take fighter health more seriously than the UFC

Part of White’s distaste for bare-knuckle fighting, and even some MMA promotions, is his belief that the UFC goes above and beyond when it comes to athlete safety. Claiming the organization spends “over $20 million” to put fighters through a battery of tests to make sure they are in the necessary shape to compete in a cage fight. He believes his organization holds a far higher standard for athlete safety compared to other combat sports organizations, and that a situation like that of Thornton and BKFC wouldn’t happen in the UFC.

“Every year we spend over $20 million on athletic medical, health and wellness, or whatever it may be. And 25 percent of our athletes, we send to specialists. So a guy will come and his brain test won’t come out, it’ll be irregular, so we send him to a specialist. If something was irregular with his heart, he or she goes and sees a heart specialist, and we spend the money to find out whatever it is that’s wrong with him,” said White.

“And as a result of that, our pre-fight screening, throughout the last 20 years we found 10 athletes that had life-threatening medical problems with them — that if they weren’t in the UFC, they probably would’ve fought and they probably would’ve died. So we shouldn’t even be talked about in the same sentence as bare-knuckle boxing. It’s two completely different worlds. And yes, we’re very sorry to hear that this guy passed away, but you’re never going to see any of these other organizations doing the type of health and safety and medical testing that we do for our athletes.”

justin thornton
Credit: BKFC/Phil Lambert

Thornton, 38, fought for organizations like Island Fights and Caged Warrior Championship during a 13-year career in combat sports. After his first round KO loss to Dillon Cleckler in his promotional debut, he was diagnosed with a spinal hematoma and was unable to move his arms and legs for some time following the bout. His official cause of death has not yet been determined.

BKFC president David Feldman declined a comment for MixedMartialArts.com when asked about White’s recent quotes.

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