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Bare Knuckle Fighting founder says it's not for everyone but Canada may like it


Quebec City's Jade Masson-Wong is a self-proclaimed adrenalin junky who isn't fazed by the sight of blood and likes putting on a show.

Which makes her the perfect main event fighter for the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship's first-ever show in Canada on Saturday at the River Cree Resort and Casino in Enoch, Alta.

BKFC founder and president David Feldman says it won't be the last.

Feldman says viewership numbers in Canada have been "really good," with BKFC looking to strike a deal for a bigger platform.

"Canada's a great market," he said in an interview. "I think that bare-knuckle fighting can really resonate with Canadians, really probably more than anyone — I said this from when I started it — because of the hockey, because of the hockey culture. Throwing off the gloves and getting into good old-fashioned bare-knuckle fights.

"I think the Canadian fans are really going to enjoy this." 

Saturday's card is a BKFC Prospects Night show, meaning most of the participants are just starting their bare-knuckle journey although Feldman says all have some combat sports experience. 

The 31-year-old Masson-Wong (2-1-0 in BKFC) is one of the few veterans, ranked No. 1 among women's flyweight contenders. New Jersey's Gabrielle Roman (1-0-1), her opponent, is ranked fifth.

A gymnast as a youth, Masson-Wong started boxing at 13 and mixed martial arts at 18.

She went 3-2-0 in the TKO and Battlefield Fight League promotions losing to future UFC fighter Jamey-Lyn Horth in her last outing in February 2020 before the pandemic hit.

Told BKFC was looking for female fighters, she said "Why not?"

Fights are contested in a ring with five two-minute rounds, shorter than boxing and MMA whose rounds last three and five minutes, respectively.

"I like the intensity, I like the adrenalin rush," said Masson-Wong.

"I'm sure people think I'm a little bit crazy," she added. "I think yes, because to do this sport, we have to be a bit not normal."

Masson-Wong made her debut at BKFC Montana in October 2021, defeating Crystal Pittman on a doctor's stoppage after a nasty mouse under Pittman's right eye opened in the third round, gushing blood.

Next time out, at Knucklemania II in February 2022 in Hollywood, Fla., it was a bloody Masson-Wong who lost on a doctor's stoppage. She bounced back at BKFC 43 last May, winning a five-round decision over American Taylor Starling in Omaha, Nebraska.

Masson-Wong wore a leather bikini to the weigh-in while Starling wore gold lingerie. Masson-Wong promises "something special" for this week's weigh-in as well as new heavy metal walk-in music, replacing Slipknot and Slayer.

"It's my music. I listen to it every day," she said. "I love it."

A motorcycle buff, Masson-Wong rides a 2018 Ducatti 959.

While Saturday's card is being hosted on an Indigenous-owned resort on Treaty 6 territory, Feldman said the location was not chosen "to run or hide from regulation."

"We're doing it because some of the provinces aren't regulating bare knuckle right now," said Feldman, adding BKFC is retaining someone "to help open up all the markets in Canada."

The UFC followed a similar path with Marc Ratner, a former executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission who is now the UFC's senior vice-president of regulatory affairs, leading the way.

Early studies have suggested a higher rate of minor hand fractures and lacerations but less severe concussions for bare-knuckle fighters. Masson-Wong says that's because cuts can result in bouts being stopped sooner.

In 2021, however, 38-year-old Justin Thornton died six weeks after being knocked out in a BKFC fight in Biloxi, Miss. That prompted the Association of Boxing Commissions to issue a statement saying bare-knuckle fighters "may be at higher risks for acute and chronic injuries" given the advanced age of some competitors who have already been released by other promotions "due to many factors including (but not limited to) loss of skills, consecutive losses or injuries."

"Like I always say, bare-knuckle fighting is not for everybody. But the people that it's for, there's a big part of society that it's for. I think people do generally like to see blood," said Feldman. "They don't want to see someone get severely injured. And that's what they get with bare knuckle. They get fast-paced, exciting action and with some blood and not a lot of injuries."

Feldman says "very very well qualified" Association of Boxing Commissions staff will oversee Saturday's card.

Masson-Wong says it normally takes her two months to get back to hitting pads after a bare-knuckle fight because of the pounding her hands take.

"Like I said it's not for everybody," said Feldman. "But we're going to find out who it's for in Canada on March 2 and those who it's for, we're going to continue moving them forward."


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 29, 2024

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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