Son of a Gunn

By Dennis Taylor on November 27, 2016
Son of a Gunn
"Boxing gloves are designed to protect a boxer's hands, not the opponent's head."

Bobby Gunn has broken his hands in boxing, but says he’s never suffered more than a small fracture in a bare knuckle bout…

In a private mansion in an East Coast city, Bobby Gunn stood inside a circle of frothing fight fans and gamblers — most of them speaking Russian — wearing his trademark black, sleeveless undershirt and blue jeans. Pacing a few feet away was a well-muscled opponent — also Russian — with a fierce regional reputation as a skilled and violent fistfighter.

“That guy was one hairy bastard,” Gunn recalls.

Thugs like this don’t intimidate Gunn, who in his heyday was one of the elite cruiserweight boxers in the world, a former world title holder who fought Enzo Maccarinelli, Tomasz Adamek, Glen Johnson and James Toney.

He’s also the reigning heavyweight champion of bare knuckle fighting — 73-0, 73 KOs — and the only living member of the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame.

But even the toughest men get wake-up calls in situations like this.

Ten minutes into the fight, Gunn decked the Russian, then stood wonderstruck as he watched his opponent’s supporters help him to his feet and give him water. Then, things really got weird.

The fight resumed. The Russian threw a right hand. Gunn countered with a left hook that landed flush.

The Russian went down again, and this time he couldn’t get up. His supporters began shouting into his ear, to no avail, then somebody pulled a gun and pressed it against the man’s temple.

“I’m thinking, Oh, my god … this is a joke now,” Gunn remembered in an interview recorded by Rolling Stone magazine. “They’re screaming at him. They can’t get him up.

“And then the guy, who is shaking, puts the gun to my head. I say, ‘What are you doing??’”

At that point, Gunn says one of the organizers ran across the room and consulted with an old man sitting in the corner. “Pay that man his man his money and let him go,” the old man said. “He won the fight.”

Says Gunn, “I really didn’t think I was going to walk out of there.”

Even while he was boxing professionally on a regular basis (1989-2013), Gunn was building a new identity in the underground world of bare knuckle fighting, a place where anybody with hard fists and huge cojones can make a few bucks.

Hollywood depicted the underground fighting circuit in movies like “Hard Times” (Charles Bronson), “Fight Club” (Brad Pitt and Edward Norton), and Clint Eastwood’s “Every Which Way But Loose” and “Any Which Way You Can,” but the real thing exists in American cities from coast to coast. They fight in warehouses, parking garages, basements — wherever law enforcement seems unlikely to find them.

Gunn, who turns 43 on Dec. 12, is the face of Bare Knuckle Fighting (BKF), a Philadelphia-based organization that has been lobbying hard in recent years to bring the fights out of the shadows and into American arenas as a fully sanctioned combat sport.

In fact, BKF managed to stage the only legal bare knuckle fight in U.S. history in 2011 (Gunn stopped Richie Stewart) on an Arizona Indian reservation, outside the jurisdiction of any boxing commission. The event that blew up the server at UStream after 50,000 pay-per-view buys, and videos of the fight have amassed more than a million hits. That gives BKF reason to believe the sport could potentially become a viral attraction for mainstream fight fans.

First, though, they have to sell the concept to boxing commissioners, attorneys general, and state legislators — the same people who eventually blessed mixed martial arts as acceptable entertainment.

Gunn concedes that there’s a stigma surrounding bare knuckle fighting — it is seen by the squeamish as a barbaric form of organized combat—but the perception, he says, isn’t based in reality.

“People need to understand that this has been going on since before the days of John L. Sullivan, and there has never been a recorded death that resulted from a bare knuckle boxing match,” he says. “What people fail to understand is that boxing gloves are designed to protect a boxer’s hands, not the opponent’s head.”

As a result, bare knuckle fighters like Gunn rarely throw their hardest punches, and strategically target areas of the body and face where they’re less likely to injure their own fists.

Gunn says he generally unleashes only about 40 percent of his punching power in a bare knuckle fight. He’s broken his hands in boxing, but says he’s never suffered more than a small fracture in a bare knuckle bout.

The BKF team, which includes Gunn, Dave Feldman, Edward Simpson and Joe Mack, believes a breakthrough is imminent. Bare knuckle fighting will soon be legal and sanctioned in at least three states, they say, and name-brand stars from professional boxing and MMA are already talking about making the jump.

Dennis Taylor is editor/publisher of and host of The Ringside Boxing Show, and co-author (with John J. Raspanti) of Intimate Warfare: The True Story of the Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward Boxing Trilogy.

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  1. Moon-Man 07:26am, 11/28/2016

    Not criticizing BKF at all, and if I have to bring along a shotgun just to feel safe, do I really want to attend that sort of event??? Gunn was a decent former professional boxer, but how many other BKFers have talented enuff hands to compete with championship caliber pro boxers? Back in the day, Bert Cooper took out some English feller that was supposed to be a holy terror in BKF, in one round, and Cooper wasn’t exactly in his prime. Boxing is boxing, and if they are going to fight with no gloves, I would rather watch MMA, where grappling, throws, kicks etc., are also allowed. Of course, a great deal of MMA fans would like to see more striking, maybe BKF is the sort of sport that would interest them more than myself. I’m just not into it, at least not from what I’ve seen, but then again, millions of people enjoy basketball and I can’t stand the sport. Different strokes for different folks. Speaking of Kimbo, not many people know that Kimbo was the cousin of Rhadi Ferguson, a pretty tough customer in his own right.

  2. Edward Simpson 09:41pm, 11/27/2016

    Dennis, that was only one of the many bizarre situations that we’ve found ourselves in through the years of underground Bare Knuckle. Some of the critics that like to throw their two cents in, would not have attended some of these gatherings that we were involved in over the years, if they were carrying a loaded shotgun, and that’s the Gods truth. The same types of critics are the same types that were standing on the ground in disbelief as the Wright Brothers flew over their heads and they were still screaming, there’s no way in the world that it’s impossible for a heavy piece of metal to fly through the air. In fact they will be the very same people in the front row at BKF’s Championship Events through out 2017, so I find their comments very amusing. As far as Kimbo goes, Bobby tried for 10 years to get him to fight and even went as far as he and Joe Mack flew into St. Louis I believe it was and approached Kimbo back stage at a Bellator event in which Kimbo gave Bobby his word that he would take the fight for what should have taken place sometime in early 2017 if it wasn’t for his tragedy. In fact, both Bobby and Joe Mack said that Kimbo was a gentleman about it when they approached him and even took the time to poss for a few pictures with Joe Mack. They both spoke very highly of him.
    Very well written and a fine job on the article!

  3. Dennis Taylor 08:24pm, 11/27/2016

    Gunn and Kimbo were finishing up details on a fight when Kimbo died last June.
    Gunn and Roy Jones Jr. reportedly could fight in January 2017.

  4. Moon-Man 07:59pm, 11/27/2016

    I’ve seen Gunn’s fights on YT and I just can’t see BKB every taking off. If I’m not mistaken, wasn’t Gunn seeking a boxing bout with Roy Jones a couple of years ago? If anything, BKBers will have to gravitate to MMA or boxing to make it. Can’t imagine a decent MMA fighter or boxer dropping their sport for BKB. I think Gunn was also looking for a bout with the late Kimbo Slice awhile back. Google up Gypsy Fight 2013 Smith vs. Mason, if you wanna see a great BKB bout. Unlike most Traveler fights, this fight featured some skill and conditioning instead of a couple of out of shape guys sucking air after a few wild swings. “Hard Times,” what a great flick. All that fighting and probably only an ounce of actual blood shed. haha.

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