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David Feldman's Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship has brought the sport out of the shadows and to worldwide acclaim, but for generations bare knuckle boxing survived in truly underground fashion. Feldman was inspired to start BKFC by the bare knuckle exploits of Bobby "The Celtic Warrior" Gunn, a professional boxer and mechanic, born in Ontario, Canada into an Irish Traveller family from the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.
On Friday, August 5, 2011, Feldman staged the first sanctioned bare knuckle match in the U.S. since 1889, with Gunn defeating Richard Stewart on Yavapai Nation land in Arizona. Gunn's first title defense took the title back underground; he faced Jay Z's bodyguard Ernest "Mine’s a Nine" Jackson on December 1, 2011, as seen in the video at bottom.
The description that follows is courtesy of northjersey.com.
When the world heavyweight bare-knuckle boxing championship bout takes place, it does so with none of the fanfare typical of regular boxing matches.
The event is invitation only, and the final location is disclosed just hours before the fight takes place.
In the end, it's in the ghetto of one of America's meanest cities that the collection of involved characters will be gathered to witness the spectacle... and what a collection it is.
The audience is made up of all males, nearly all of whom belong to or are descended from a nomadic tribe of Irish gypsies known in America as "Irish Travelers."
Some, wearing wool overcoats and scully caps, have thick brogues straight from the shores of the Old Country, while others, clad in hooded sweatshirts and jeans, have the dying blue-collar New York accent that uses the letter "r" merely as a placeholder.
Professional boxers mix with working men and wiseguys from the Irish underworld, and to a man they are cordial and welcoming, all great lovers of conversation, a good laugh, or an off-color joke.
When their champ arrives, they greet him like a long-lost brother, and cheers and back slaps erupt through the street-lit city night as they welcome the Canadian-born fighter who has become Rochelle Park's own: Bobby Gunn.
Standing at just over 5 foot 10 inches and likely hovering around 200 pounds, he is nearly as wide as he is tall, and his dark hair and thoroughly Celtic face belie his Irish and Scottish roots.
Although Gunn, 37, is a seven-time cruiserweight champ with a ring record of 21-4-1, perhaps more impressive is his record when the gloves are off; at 66-0, he is creating his own legend on the underground boxing circuit.
And that circuit (Gunn's last match, held in public on an Arizona Indian reservation, notwithstanding) is still very underground.
After being led through a door that opens only from the inside, the crowd of around 150 is brought to a warehouse with deep blue painted floors and fluorescent lights, where a makeshift ring - a square area between the building's support poles - lies.
Rumors abound about his opponent, Ernest Jackson - he's 6 foot 5 inches tall, weighs nearly 300 lbs, was allegedly a bodyguard for Jay-Z - but Gunn, dressed in blue jeans and a black shirt, is calm as the day is long and walks around in his typically affable way text messaging, smiling, and laughing.
As his opponent is introduced, however, and the fight draws near, a different Bobby Gunn emerges. As his trainer, Dominick Scibetta smears Vaseline on his face, his Irish eyes scorch with their own blue light and he paces to and fro, a caged lion eyeing a child at the zoo.
He has turned into, as he says, "the Bobby Gunn that nobody likes."
Jackson, lean but muscular, turns out to be tall, but not 6 foot 5, and nowhere near 300 pounds. He is not intimidated, though, and it is immediately clear what his game plan is: keep moving, keep pumping the jab into Gunn's face, and don't let the shorter, stockier champ catch him.
Unfortunately, it's nothing that Gunn hasn't seen, and his professional experience shows through even as a cut opens up under his left eye courtesy of Jackson's left hand. He stays loose and gradually begins to close the gap between himself and his rangy opponent.
Three minutes in, he lands a sharp jab to Jackson's face, then another, and the crowd grows excited.
More shots land, and fists hitting the face create the sound of slabs of meat being slapped on concrete.
Jackson slowly tires, and Gunn walks him down, finding his range and landing devastating punches to the challenger's gut. With no gloves to spread the impact, he may as well be using a baseball bat.
Somewhere in the crowd, Gunn's 15-year-old son - baby-faced but a boxer himself - watches.
Jackson begins to fall into the champ's heavier shots, brutal overhand rights, and left hooks that stagger him and send him careening backward before he bravely comes back in for more.
As the fight nears its savage crescendo, Gunn connects with a right hand to the temple that drops Jackson, who quickly pops back up as the now-screaming crowd begins to close in, eager with anticipation, chanting "Bob-by, Bob-by!"
Jackson tries to work Gunn's body, but he doesn't hit hard enough and now he's playing the champ's game. A minute later, Gunn connects with shattering left hooks that send Jackson to the ground, crawling on all fours in a noble but ultimately futile attempt to rise as the referee waved the bout off.
Just minutes later, a rumor will sweep the crowd - cops, cops! - and the warehouse is emptied as quickly as it was filled. Quietly, however, the champ will walk out, his title still intact.
Bobby Gunn retired in 2017, after losing to Roy Jones Jr. for the WBF World Cruiserweight Title. He is and remains a noble True Fighting Man.
And BKFC is now the hottest new/old combat sport on the planet.