Kai Stewart

With a background in wrestling, Kai Stewart seemed like a natural to make waves in MMA but instead he became a bare-knuckle boxing champion.

BKFC’s reigning featherweight king didn’t necessarily intend on his current occupation becoming his biggest pursuit in combat sports, but he’s certainly happy with the decision he made. When he first got the call to compete on a BKFC card, the promotion was traveling to his native Montana, and Stewart was a local draw who could help sell some tickets.

At the time, Stewart accepted the opportunity with the explicit understanding that he was going to fight once in bare-knuckle and then begin forging ahead with a planned career in MMA. That all changed after he made his BKFC debut back in 2021.

“I did my first BKFC fight, never been in a street fight, never punched someone with a bare knuckle and I was scared,” Stewart told MMA Fighting. “It was a scary thing. So I wanted to use the platform, get my name out there, make my pro debut and then transition back to MMA.

“But the second I got out of that ring, my demeanor changed completely. I said I can be a champion in this. I can do this shit.”

Following that successful debut, Stewart only needed three more fights to become BKFC featherweight champion. He has now defended that belt successfully one time with another title defense set for Friday at BKFC 62 in Hollywood, Fla., where he clashes with Bryan Duran.

Beyond his own success, Stewart has been blown away to see how much BKFC has grown in the past few years. Once viewed as an ultra-niche sport with only a few states even sanctioning the sport, BKFC has exploded in popularity, selling thousands of tickets at numerous events and putting on some of the most talked-about cards in recent history.

Former UFC welterweight Mike Perry has become one of the biggest names in combat sports since joining BKFC and the promotion even attracted the attention of Irish superstar Conor McGregor, who became a part owner in the organization back in April.

In a short period of time, BKFC has become a major player in combat sports while many MMA promotions have struggled to find a foothold competing against a behemoth like the UFC. Stewart believes BKFC’s success comes down to the unique nature of bare-knuckle fighting versus MMA organizations like PFL and Bellator that put on events that don’t look or feel all that different from the UFC.

“With the other MMA promotions, they’re too similar to the UFC,” Stewart said. “That’s why they’re never going to be as big as the UFC. That’s why BKFC has such a high ceiling. We’re different. We are different.”

Seeing how much BKFC has grown proved to Stewart that he made the right call sticking with bare-knuckle fighting rather than taking a stab at MMA. It also doesn’t hurt that he now gets to fight for McGregor, who he has idolized since he was 16 years old with a poster of the former two-division UFC champion still hanging in his home.

His upcoming opponent tried to mock him for his adoration of McGregor but Stewart doesn’t understand how attempting to follow in the footsteps of the biggest star in UFC history is a bad thing.

“Honestly, business as usual [right now] because the job’s not done. After June 21, I can get excited that I just impressed my idol,” Stewart said. “Absolutely I want to impress the richest guy that’s come from combat sports. That’s my opportunity on June 21. I get to impress my idol and then I just have to get better.”

When it comes to his long term goals, Stewart has plenty of time to seek out new challenges, opponents, and paydays. At 23, he’s already the youngest champion on the entire BKFC roster.

Winning the featherweight title at such a young age makes Stewart believe that he can create a huge legacy for himself, but the next step comes on Friday when he defends his belt for the second time.

“June 21, I become the face of the company,” Stewart said. “Because with all respect, [Luis] Palomino lost, Lorenzo Hunt lost, all these big stars, big faces of the company have lost. It’s my turn. I’m the youngest champion on the roster. Nothing’s stopping me.

“I clinch, I box, I pressure, I make it dirty. You don’t want to be in there with me because my goal is to break you. Wins and losses, they come and go but breaking somebody, that stays in your heart forever. I’m going to break opponent, after opponent, after opponent.”

And much like McGregor, Stewart wants to amass a lot of money and a bunch of title belts before peace’ing out and saying “thanks for the cheese.”

“If you’re not doing this for big money, why are you taking this brain damage?” Stewart said. “It’s honestly ridiculous that people say, ‘Who cares about belts and money?’ It’s like, you should, because otherwise you’re getting brain damage for nothing. I love fighting. I love competing. I love the grind but in the end, it’s all about the money and it’s all about the belts and I’m coming for it all.

“I think Bryan Duran is going to be my [Jose] Aldo. I think he’s going to rush me, I’m going to f*cking clip him with my left hook and he’s going to go to sleep.”

Author: Staff

Please go to MMAFighting.com to read full article.

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