Wild night of bare-knuckle boxing returns to Cheyenne

The appearance of the great-grandson of legendary heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey in the main event highlighted a wild night for bare-knuckle boxing's return to Cheyenne on Friday.

Annaliese Wiederspahn

April 06, 20195 min read

Bare Knuckle Boxing Cheyenne
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By Cowboy State Daily

The appearance of the great-grandson of legendary heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey in the main event highlighted a wild night for bare-knuckle boxing’s return to Cheyenne on Friday.

The four-hour show also saw a 300-pound fighter crash through a unique caged ring and tumble to the floor below. Promoters declared this latest event with its eight knockouts and usual bloodshed a success. The expectation is for more of the events to be held as the long-underground sport emerges into the limelight. Up to a half dozen similar “backyard brawls” might be held in Wyoming — the only state where the sport is legal — later this year.

“It’s different. It’s just a good time all the way around,” said fan Anya Turner, 26, of Cheyenne, comparing the sport to boxing. “The energy’s definitely better. It’s a little more raw.” 

The 700 or so fans who attended “BYB Brawl 1: Brawl For It All” at the Cheyenne Ice & Event Center roared when the action grew frenetic, which was often. Tens of thousands more watched via pay-per-view.

The organizer, BYB Extreme, of Miami, Florida, unveiled its unusual “Trigon Triangle” ring, enclosed by a 7-foot-high chain-link fence and shaped like the Superman symbol. 

“It’s really to promote confrontation and therefore resolution, and keeping those results in the hands of the fighters,” said Mike Vazquez, president of BYB. Translation: Knockouts are preferred over judges’ scoring decisions.

Indeed, eight of the nine bare-knuckle fights ended in knockouts. The ninth was declared a no-contest after Josh “Dempsey” Gormley, Jack Dempsey’s great-grandson, may have accidentally stuck a finger in the left eye of Bobby Brents, who was unable to continue.

“I hit him in the head with a closed fist,” said Gormley, 45. “There was no eye poke. I’m upset about it.”

Brents charged hard at the outset and opened cuts around both of his opponent’s eyes, but Gormley fought through it.

“I’m a Dempsey. I’ve got more heart than body,” he said. 

The newest combat sport began in Wyoming because of former state representative Bryan Pedersen, a financial analyst and kickboxer who successfully sponsored legislation in 2012 creating a state mixed martial arts commission, which he chairs. Last year, the commission — at his urging — approved rules for bare-knuckle bouts. After 28 other states declined to legalize the matches, Wyoming sanctioned the sport. 

Pedersen and other supporters view it as safer than Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) because no kicking or kneeing is allowed, plus the absence of gloves leaves less skin area to be struck.

Cheyenne hosted the nation’s first event in June 2018, followed by bouts in Gillette and Casper. Bare-knuckle fighting has provided significant advertising for Wyoming, underwritten by fans watching on pay-per-view, Pedersen said. 

“They pay 19 bucks, watch the fights with their friends and they hear, ‘This is in Wyoming,’ and someone will come,” he said.

Although Mississippi and New Hampshire are toying with the sport, Wyoming still has the edge, with more fights coming. 

“Maybe another four to six events the rest of the year, based on phone calls we’re receiving,” he said.

Billy “The Kid” Martin, who grew up in Cheyenne and lives in Casper, lost by technical knockout (TKO) to Leo Pla of Parker, Colo. Martin broke his own left hand early, then Pla broke Martin’s nose, sending him to the canvas. 

“I popped right back up and then he had a really, really good body shot – right in the liver,” Martin said. “You ask any fighter: It takes one good liver shot and you can’t breathe.”

Rock Springs native Joseph Guillen lost by TKO to Joey Angelo of Las Vegas.

Guillen sat out three years, grief-stricken over the deaths of his mother, two cousins, two uncles and a friend, all within two years.

“I shut down. I just stayed in my house and quit training, quit everything. So this gave me the opportunity to get back into the ring,” he said. 

The evening included two traditional MMA fights. In a super heavyweight match, Lamar Cannady-Foster attempted a kick but Jermayne Barnes grabbed his foot and pushed him backward. Cannady-Foster’s bulky frame hit the gate and popped the latch bolt, springing it open. He fell backward and down five steps onto the concrete floor, injuring a leg. He was unable to continue so Barnes was declared the winner because he was ahead on the judges’ scorecards.

“I’m a warrior. I want to go out there and earn it,” Barnes said. “I don’t like freebies. I don’t like handouts.”

Filmmakers with the popular 2015 Netflix documentary Dawg Fight – about illegal backyard fights – shot new footage for a followup. Dada 5000, a star of the film, helped organize the Cheyenne event.

“What a great place to have it at,” he said. “And it’s far from the backyards.”

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Annaliese Wiederspahn

State Political Reporter