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Big Knockout Boxing takes shot as alternative combat sport this weekend

Debate rages on whether new league is thrilling novelty or brutal gimmick

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COURTESY OF BIG KNOCKOUT BOXING

Fighters approach each other in a rendering of Big Knockout Boxing’s “The Pit” in this promotional photograph.

Click to enlarge photo

Big Knockout Boxing's Bryan Vera

Bruce Binkow was initially skeptical when introduced to Big Knockout Boxing.

A self-described “boxing traditionalist,” the veteran executive doubted the radical new take on the sport was anything worth watching.

“I thought, ‘Why do we need to see something different than what I’m normally used to seeing in boxing?” Binkow said. “But when I finally got to see the guys spar and compete, I got caught up in the action and pacing of it. I became a convert.”

Binkow, now the executive director of the new organization owned by DirecTV, believes many combat-sports fans will feel the same way after Saturday night when Big Knockout Boxing holds its debut at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Established middleweights Bryan Vera and Gabriel Rosado face off in the main event of the pay-per-view card. There's six other fights on the card.

But anyone expecting them to climb into the ring and engage in a typical boxing bout will come away stunned. There’s no ring, no ropes and no corners.

Big Knockout Boxing boasts there’s no place to hide in “The Pit,” a circle 17 feet in diameter used as its playing service. The action is faster in the space that’s about half the size of a standard boxing ring as fights feature either five or seven rounds of action at two minutes apiece. Boxing rounds are three minutes.

“It was an amalgamation of new ideas thrown out there to create the sport and design what ultimately became BKB,” Binkow said. “We’re not attempting to replace or take over boxing. It’s a different sport. I would recommend that people sample it.”

Some have no plans to extend Big Knockout Boxing that courtesy. Binkow himself has heard the cries of boxing purists who regard the sport as a gimmick at best and a hazard at worst.

Concerns over fighter safety are frequently mentioned with the organization’s confined area. The Nevada State Athletic Commission had its reservations when BKB, which originally stood for Bare Knuckle Boxing, applied for a license in March.

The commission eventually approved the petition for variances in the ring and rounds, but wouldn’t budge on the gloves, said NSAC Chairman Francisco Aguilar. New Hampshire allowed altered gloves with open slits at the knuckles for two minor events last year, but Nevada wouldn’t go beyond 10-ounce gloves with standard hand wraps.

With the concession, Aguilar thinks descriptions of Big Knockout Boxing as more dangerous than other combat sports are baseless.

“It’s a regulated environment,” he said. “I think when you look at all the advances we made from a health and safety perspective, they’re very similar to boxing and MMA. People were also skeptical MMA when it was first introduced, but when we started to regulate the sport, things changed and MMA advanced pretty well.”

Mixed martial arts’ growth is often attributed to the UFC providing a new level of excitement at its live shows and on its broadcasts. The UFC improved on some of boxing’s faults.

Proponents of Big Knockout Boxing anticipate a comparable effect.

“Don’t get me wrong: The skills are great in boxing right now, but people want to see more fights,” Vera said. “They want to see us mixing it up, getting in there and being physical so they get what they paid their money for. If you’re running around and not doing anything the whole fight, they’re not attracted to that so I think BKB could be a good thing.”

Vera wasn’t familiar with Big Knockout Boxing when he received the offer to star in the inaugural event. He accepted out of trust for his manager, who advised Vera to take the fight.

Vera’s renowned coach, Ronnie Shields, also supported the idea. Shields customized a training regimen for Vera that included a heavier emphasis on lower-body strength and a makeshift circle in the middle of a ring.

Vera spoke highly of a training camp that refreshed him with a break from the norm.

“People probably would have paid money to watch us spar because you’ve got to stay in the circle and mix it up,” Vera said. “It’s made for some nice wars. It’s been a fun journey.”

Vera hasn’t committed to Big Knockout Boxing long-term. His priority remains getting a fight against WBO middleweight champion Peter Qullin, who’s highly unlikely to ever enter “The Pit” as long as he holds a belt.

Binkow and his staff have mapped out a plan for Big Knockout Boxing events over the next couple of years, but nothing is guaranteed. The future hinges on the success of Saturday’s card.

“What we’re finding is that when people become aware of BKB, they become more interested in it so that’s a really good sign,” Binkow said. “The definition of success I would have is fulfilling our goal that every fan who experiences BKB Saturday night whether it’s in the arena or on television walks away getting their money’s worth.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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