Can Big Knockout Boxing Be the Next Big Combat Sport?

The latest entry to competitive fighting is innovative and shamelessly violent.

In the crowded and expanding combat sports marketplace, Big Knockout Boxing passionately embraces traumatic brain injury. There are no ropes or corners; opponents fight in a 17-foot diameter sunken pit, pitting them toe-to-toe as if inside a phone booth. The rounds are shorter—only two minutes—meaning combatants dawdle less and punch more aggressively.

“Just enough space to get knocked the f**k out,” as BKB’s slogan promotes.

BKB, which hosted its second even this past Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, has designed the fighting space to induce more knockouts. A larger sample size of fights could prove that, but immediately it is clear that BKB is presenting a more enthralling visual experience.

BKB’s collaboration with DIRECTV for its pay-per-views (costing $29.99, less than major boxing cards and UFC events) may be revolutionizing how combat sports are televised. Without ropes or caging to obscure sightlines, cameras can zoom in with a better angle that is closer to the action and spectators in the arena have more intimate views from elevated seating.

“You’re able to see the sweat on the opponent’s brow fly off the hit,” said Chris Long, the senior vice president original content and production at DIRECTV. “You really see the cinematography and production value we’re putting into this.”

Real-time punching metrics gathered from in-glove “hit chips” were displayed on screen during the April 4 event, a feature that DIRECTV claims has never been done before during a live fight telecast. Following the rounds, replay footage will show viewers how many miles-per-hour and with how many pounds-per-inch of force punches were thrown. The telecast will display the number of strikes and average force of them, potentially showing if fighters became stronger or weaker as the match wore on. Long expects this information will even benefit boxing scouts and trainers. These stats, he added won’t influence the judging.

Claiming to succeed with technology that HBO and NBC failed to implement in recent years, Long says BKB waited almost eight months for its second event in order to “perfect” the size and operation of the hit chip, which is located inside the wrist of the glove.

“The fighter barely knows its there,” he said. “The ability to get this real-time information within two to three frames of video, you know, nobody’s done that before.”

Long aims to develop the technology further to a point where an on-screen graphic will display how much energy a fighter has during the course of a match, much like a videogame.

To all of these new spins on traditional boxing, Long refutes they are gimmicks.

“A gimmick is a marketing tool to get attention,” he said. “I would call it an enhancement of the sport. Combat sports have evolved. It started as boxing and it went to MMA. Now we’re going into a new combat sport that is less dangerous, more active and a much more engaging broadcast than what is out there now.”

Regarding the danger of BKB, Long said the shorter rounds expose fighters to less contact than in boxing or mixed martial arts. But when it came to explaining how a sport with more knockouts is less dangerous, he stammered.

“Yes there’s more knockouts,” he said. “Doesn’t mean more knockouts creates more punishment—I mean, more, uh, uh, activity—I mean, the word I’m trying to use is, it doesn’t create more violence, it just creates more action. The amount of time you spend in that ring and the rounds you spend are going to create the long-term problems that you’re going to have…That would be my interpretation.”

Punishment, action, violence: whatever Long wants to call it, BKB is unlike any other combat sport, not scaling back the gruesome spectacle but eagerly seeking ways to enhanced its proven appeal.