Bare fist fighting is not new to South Carolina. But now it is approved.
Fighters from around the world will test their limits as they square off in the state’s second bareknuckle event on January 27. The Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship organization will hold its first matches in the Palmetto State at the John T. Rhodes Myrtle. Beach Sports Centre.
The South Carolina Athletic Commission, a division of the SC Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, licensed bare-knuckle boxing in October.
The commission’s approval is for one year, after which the sport will be evaluated for safety. Promoters are required to provide a list of injuries to the regulators after the fights.
Charleston boxer Roberto Armas feels more disciplined than he has in decades of competing in martial arts. From jiujitsu to boxing, he has faced every imaginable challenge in the ring. Armas will push his limits again when he competes in the championship’s bantamweight undercard.
“It’s something a little more different, a little more raw,” Armas said. “When you get hit, you’re going to get cut.”
The sport has grown rapidly as more states have legalized bare-knuckle boxing, and people see bouts on social media that highlight the intensity of the fights. In addition to being able to purchase tickets for live events, BKFC offers a monthly access subscription.
Boxing dates back to the 1700s, where fighters did not use the gloves we have become familiar with, but relied on the toughness of their knuckles to deliver blows to opponents. Today’s boxers still follow the rules created by Jack Broughton, an English bare-knuckle boxing champion, which require fighters to start each round face-to-face, and inches apart.
That stripped-down version of pugilism is what appeals to Armas.
Armas, 34, was a high school wrestler in his hometown of Brownsville, Texas, before becoming an amateur MMA fighter in 2008 after moving to Washington state.
“There was something more exciting about hitting someone with 4-ounce gloves,” he said.
It wasn’t until he moved to Charleston that he made the transition to boxing, but didn’t like the heavier gloves they used in fights.
So when a friend he knew at his gym, Charleston Muay Thai and Boxing, told him they were going to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to try out for the BKFC in 2021, he jumped at the opportunity to test his skills . It was a big risk, especially since he took a week off from his job at a government agency to fight, but it paid off when Smith Brothers Combat Sports picked him up as a fighter.
Fighting has never been Armas’ way of making a living. He is raising four children, has a government job and is working on a bachelor’s degree in supply chain and logistics. But his passion for martial arts drove him through adulthood to step into the ring.
“It puts me in a good frame of mind emotionally and physically,” he said. “It’s hard to explain. I like hitting people and I like being hit.”
Armas’ first fight with BFKC did not go as planned after he suffered an injury in the third round and was unable to continue in the fight. “I have a lot of fight left in me. I have much more discipline in me than when I was younger.”
Training for bare-knuckle fighting, Armas will regularly hit a sandbag at home to strengthen his knuckles in anticipation of making contact with flesh. His techniques come from his time doing muay thai and boxing under the guidance of Jeff Grady, owner of Charleston Muay Thai and Boxing.
“There is a much increased level of danger in bare-knuckle boxing,” Grady said. “The distance and timing without gloves changes, you have to be more on the defensive.”
The foundation of the sport is still boxing, but where fighters can’t take multiple blows to the head before they’re in trouble, one punch to the bare knuckle can be it.
Grady has trained numerous fighters, including Anna Toole, who won the New York Muay Thai Championship and Warriors Cup Championship in the 125-pound division. Armas regularly attends classes at the gym and spars with other professional fighters to improve techniques and sharpen his senses for his upcoming bout.
“Probably one of the greatest feelings in the world is to hit somebody or get a good exchange in, and to hear the crowd roar all over the stadium,” Armas said.
In five, two-minute rounds Jan. 27, Armas will face a new opponent and showcase his ability as a fighter.