Photos by Phil Lambert

Mike Perry returns to bare-knuckle fist-fight another man on Saturday when he takes on fellow UFC veteran and former bare-knuckle boxing champion Thiago Alves inside Los Angeles’ Peacock Theater in the main event of BKFC KnuckleMania 4.

Ahead of what’s sure to be a gruesome affair, MMA Fighting’s Shaun Al-Shatti, Damon Martin, and Mike Heck sidle up to the roundtable to preview the return of the bare-knuckle king.

1. Is BKFC Mike Perry one of the 10 biggest draws in combat sports?

Al-Shatti: Can you imagine hearing this question in 2021 after the platinum one dropped out of the UFC having lost seven of his last 10 and four of his last five? Good lord. It would’ve sounded ludicrous. Perry barely even registered as a novelty anymore in these days. He was the dude lost in the MMA wilderness, the loose cannon who couldn’t find an actual camp or team to call home, who showed up to fights on losing streaks with his girlfriend as the only person in his corner, and who made headlines more for swinging at fools in restaurants rather than any results of consequence in the cage. If I asked you to forecast Perry’s next three years the day after his UFC departure, you would’ve been more likely to suggest jail-time rather than six-figure purses and combat sports superstardom.

But therein lies the magic of the fight game. It’s a fickle mistress. Fifteen years ago Perry may have been left adrift to become MMA’s next Melvin Guillard. But fate and fortune thrust him into exactly the right place at exactly the right time, and Perry capitalized at every turn to become the face of an entire damn sport. It’s a beautiful thing.

Now, is Perry a top-10 draw in combat sports as a whole? Probably not. There are a whole lot of boxers and MMA athletes who still reign supreme in that regard. But is he somewhere within the top 25? I wouldn’t doubt it. Traffic and search interest on this very website shoot through the roof every time he steps into the BKFC ring. Call it a perfect marriage, call it morbid fascination, call it whatever you want — all I know is that when “Platinum” Mike Perry chucks those bare fists into another human being’s face, people trip over themselves to pay attention. That’s more than can be said for 99.9 percent of athletes in this game.

Eddie Alvarez
Phil Lambert/BKFC

Martin: Thanks to some memorable performances in the UFC, and then becoming must-see TV in BKFC, Mike Perry has absolutely cemented himself as one of the top 10 draws in the sport.

Of course, BKFC doesn’t release pay-per-view numbers (although those might start coming more often now that the promotion’s owners at Triller are part of publicly traded company), but every other metric available says when Perry fights, people care. BKFC might be the only promotion outside of the UFC and major boxing events to sell more than 5,000 tickets to any single event, and Perry drives a ton of that interest whenever he competes.

Going to a surprising sixth and final round to settle things with Michael Page. Taking on former UFC champion Luke Rockhold and then making him say “no mas” in the second round after watching his teeth go flying into the crowd. Facing off with Conor McGregor because why the hell not? Throwing down in a slugfest with Eddie Alvarez and blowing his head up like a balloon.

Perry creates viral moments every time he competes, and in this ADHD, TikTok world we live in, he’s exactly what the combat sports audience consumes like popcorn. The “King of Violence” gets eyeballs, clicks, and sells tickets. That’s a promoter’s dream.

Heck: Draw is an interesting way to frame it, because it’s impossible to know the answer. If I had to take an educated guess, I’d say no, although he’s knocking on the door. But he’s hit a freaking grand slam since making the shift.

When something fits so perfectly, it creates magic. That’s what we’ve gotten with Mike Perry and BKFC. It’s absolutely perfect, and you can see it on Perry’s face. He’s legitimately happy where he is. When he was fighting for the UFC, he certainly drew attention to his fights — for good and for bad — but everyone could see Perry wasn’t truly happy. Now that he’s being treated as a face and superstar, he’s become the promotion’s most valuable player.

Perry certainly brings over a different and bigger audience when he fights, no doubt about it. He brings violence, and a likable — dare I say, charming — personality to a sport where people beat the bag out of each other without gloves, not to mention he’s facing recognizable names on the regular. And trust me, from a numbers standpoint, there will be five to 10 times more interest on our site for KnuckleMania than UFC Vegas 91, and that might be generous.

What Perry has done with BKFC has put him in the conversation, and that’s absolutely incredible. Plus, he’s making bags of money to boot, so Perry is winning big. But to say he’s one of the 10 biggest draws in ALL of combat sports right now? I just don’t think the math lines up. Now, if we can get Perry in there with Jake Paul, or in a big cross-promotional fight so a new and large audience can meet him for the first time, I think that could change the conversation entirely.

2. What’s next for Perry after this weekend if he beats Thiago Alves?

Heck: Since I get the top spot for this one, I’m going to give Perry what he wants — and quite frankly, what we all want: Darren Till.

I honestly don’t understand how this fight hasn’t happened yet. These guys have been on a collision course since they were both in the UFC, and even with Till moving up to middleweight, it was about as a big of a no-brainer the promotion could’ve made.

Now that Till is no longer on the UFC roster, and with how aggressive Dave Feldman is in making fights that the fans want, I’d be pretty surprised if BKFC didn’t make Till an offer he couldn’t refuse.

UFC 282: Till v Du Plessis
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Zuffa LLC

Martin: Mr. Heck has the correct answer here and I just have to echo that by saying: What exactly are you doing, Mr. Till? Maybe a 1-5 run to end his UFC career has him a little gun shy about throwing down in a bare-knuckle fight with Perry?

To be completely fair, that is a dangerous proposition, especially if you’re trying to regain your footing and confidence in your first fight back in nearly two years.

If Till isn’t available, why not drain the last of the swamp out of the interest that may still surround Dillon Danis? Sure, he’s not a striker and he threw about four punches in a boxing match with Logan Paul, but is there any chance that Perry won’t come after him like a lion chasing down a gazelle while throwing heat-seeking missiles?

It’s a complete mismatch on paper, but Danis — for better or worse — knows how to sell a fight, and Perry going scorched earth on his face would draw a crowd.

Al-Shatti: I hate to make it 3-for-3, but what on earth are you thinking if you’re Darren Till and that alleged $2 million offer from BKFC was actually real? Like, sure, I’m not trying to bare-knuckle box Mike Perry either. The man has a frightening tendency to break people’s faces in a very literal way. He’s like Jorge Masvidal but if Jorge Masvidal actually did the thing he always talks about doing. But hand me a check for seven figures? Brother, I may start changing my tune real quick. Obviously I don’t know every opportunity availing itself to Till in this combat wilderness, but I also can’t imagine many folks are lining up to pay such a weighty price tag for someone who’s lost five of six since mid-2018. Till has to know that with every loss he takes from here, this conversation only shifts in the wrong way.

But I digress. Since it seems like Till clearly isn’t interested, allow me to revisit the idea I pitched this past December. The perfect Perry opponent is anyone who sits at the intersection of name brand, availability, violence potential, and enough lunatic tendencies to actually be crazy enough to do this. Who fits that bill to a tee? Oh yes — it’s Paul Daley. “Semtex” may be 41 years old, but he was born for bare-knuckle boxing, and he sent poor Wendell Giacomo to the land of wind and ghosts as recently as 2022. Daley also very clearly left the door open for something different in combat sports when hung up his MMA gloves.

As far as Plan Bs go, you could do a lot worse than London’s finest.

3. What is this card missing?

Martin: Because bare-knuckle fighting is such a fast-paced sport with five-round fights that only last two minutes per round, sometimes these matchups go quicker than expected, which is why you end up with a nine-fight main card like what’s happening on Saturday.

The most notable omission really comes down to at least one more fight with real name value, but even that’s not totally necessary with Perry headlining.

It would be nice if BKFC KnuckleMania IV, which is promoted as the once-a-year Super Bowl level event for the promotion, had a bit more star power at the top. A marquee fight with Paige VanZant returning would have been a welcome addition, but she’s about to headline a Misfits boxing card instead. Maybe BKFC knows Perry doesn’t need much of a supporting cast these days, and VanZant surely earns a hefty paycheck, so it might come down to a financial decision to leave her off the card.

But truthfully, Perry is to BKFC what Conor McGregor is to the UFC — that’s the only fight that ever really matters, so why not just let them shine and save everybody else to sell another card down the road?

Photos by Phil Lambert

Al-Shatti: Look, if we’re being honest with ourselves, the answer is clear. It’s missing one of two things. First is the kind of bombastic dance partner we’ve come to expect from a Mike Perry BKFC event. Thiago Alves is one hell of a matchup — a true-blue violence connoisseur who very much lives that life and could absolutely win on Saturday — but he isn’t the same type of carnival barker who’ll play the promotional game and push an event to that next level in the same way as a Michael Page, Luke Rockhold, or even an Eddie Alvarez. Alves prefers to get his work done inside the cage, and that’s great, but his more muted approach doesn’t tickle the reptilian side of our brains in the same way as Perry’s past foes.

As for the second missing component — I mean, this is an event called KnuckleMania. It inherently leans into the absurd. Where’s the weirdness? Where’s the oddity? Where’s that special circus sideshow no one saw coming that brings that “wait…what??” factor to the package? This is a much more minor quibble, no doubt, but a little dash of Fight Circus for such a Superbowl-style event could’ve gone a long way toward spicing things up.

Still, though, Ben Rothwell vs. Todd Duffee is on this card, so I’m not complaining.

Heck: I talked about this during the 2024 MMA Fighting Draft — which I won, by the way — but while BKFC is doing a ton of things right, there is a glaring hole in their promotional lens when it comes to building female stars. Britain Hart could be a bigger star, Taylor Starling as well, not to mention Christine Ferea being the face of women’s bare-knuckle boxing, but neither are competing on this card.

The biggest reason I bring this up? If there was an opportunity to put a bare-knuckle fight together between Ferea and Cris Cyborg, it would generate more buzz than any current and realistic option Cyborg has on the table, especially now that Kayla Harrison is on the UFC roster. Would Cyborg and Larissa Pacheco be intriguing? Yes. But would it draw more interest than Cyborg going to BKFC to face Ferea? No, and I don’t think it’s close.

Both Ferea and Cyborg have expressed interest in fighting each other, and I’m sure PFL could use the extra exposure by putting one of its big names in an incredibly intriguing matchup, plus with Perry at the top of the bill, and adding another mainstream combat name to the mix, there will be more eyeballs on a PFL fighter at KnuckleMania than on most of PFL’s fight cards in 2024. That might be harsh, but it’s likely not wrong.

Author: Staff

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