Larne man crowned Irish bare knuckle boxing champion

A former Irish national Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) champion from Larne has won the inaugural Irish bare knuckle boxing title.

Phil Campbell, who is well-known to MMA fans from across the globe after a successful career in the sport before embarking on a media role in the discipline, lifted the Irish bare knuckle boxing accolade on Friday, July 1.

Earlier this year, the east Antrim man was recently announced as FightBook MMA’s Choice for number 1 MMA commentator alongside Kirik Jeness after commencing a career behind the microphone when he was sidelined from the sport due to injury.

The former St MacNissi’s College Garron Tower pupil and Ulster University Jordanstown student got involved in MMA over 10 years ago as a practitioner, going on to become an active competition fighter, winning an Irish national title.

Phil Campbell (left).

Phil defeated Jamie McCusker last week in Newry to win the bare knuckle title.

Commenting on his latest achievement and the rigorous training regime he undertook ahead of the fight, he said: “I had always kept an eye on bare knuckle boxing as it’s incredibly exciting and I had a feeling it was going to take off in popularity as there was always a lot of intrigue in and around it.

“The promoter of the show I competed on (Irish Fight Championships) Robby Drought got in contact with me around April of last year and told me of his intention to run the first legal bare knuckle boxing show in Ireland. He asked if I would be available to commentate for the show. I told him I would rather fight in the show as I felt my style of fighting lent itself to bare knuckle boxing and last week I ended up commentating and fighting on the same show.

“As this was the first legally held bare knuckle boxing show in Ireland, all of the competitors were making there ‘official’ BKB debut, however, I have competed successfully in MMA and in gloved boxing.

“My training was pretty intensive over a period of three months consisting of a minimum of 12 sessions a week, mixing strength and condition training, pad work and sparing.

“When I accepted the fight, I was initially 95kg and I had to make the contracted weight of 70kg for the fight. So a lot of hard work, strict dieting and staying away from all of life’s little indulgences like beer and chocolate.

“Ideally, I would like to defend my title once I have healed and perhaps explore the option of fights in England or further afield. My career in martial arts to date has afforded me the opportunity to see some incredible parts of the world and I have no intention of slowing down just yet.”

Outlining the basic rules of the bare knuckle boxing (BKB) discipline, Phil explained: “The fights themselves are considerably safer than people may assume. With minimum safety requirements such as having a combat sports specific medical team at the event, fully qualified paramedics and doctors on site.

“There are two fully equipped ambulances on site, should a fighter have to be taken to hospital post fight and extensive pre and post fight medical examinations for all fighters. There is also a fully qualified, experienced and professional cut team to manage any cuts in between rounds.

“A standard BKB fight consists of three, two-minute rounds which lends itself to exciting action as there is less of a feeling out process and more of a get stuck in mentality. Championship bouts consist of five, two-minute rounds.”

The champion fighter has offered advice to any young athletes who are considering a career in bare knuckle boxing, as well as addressing safety concerns some people may have about the sport.

He added: “To anymore considering a career in bare knuckle I would strongly advise them to join a local boxing club first and train under a good knowledgeable coach with the intention of getting fundamentally better as a boxer before even taking any kind of fight, gloved or otherwise.

“Eventually progress to gloved sparring to see how you react to being hit and indeed hitting another boxer. Progress to amateur boxing bouts and if it all goes well, who knows what you could end up doing. Bare knuckle is not for the faint hearted or not something you can simply dabble in. It involves a serious commitment, but is very much worth it.

“To those who have concerns over the safety of the sport, I would simply say there are inherent and accepted risks in all contact sports. For example, people have died competing in cheer leading.

“The strictest of safety protocols are adhered to pre-show, during the show and post show. I can understand people’s aversion to it purely on an aesthetic level as the bare fists do tend to lend themselves to more cuts, but again these are largely aesthetic.

“Despite how it may look, BKB warrants a more cerebral, analytical approach because you have to be more selective with your shots.

“The power, the volume and the frequency of your punches, it’s essentially kinetic chess with physical consequences.

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“I would also invite anyone who has a level of curiosity about the sport to go to a show and make up their mind when they’ve become a little more informed. For those vehemently opposed to the very notion of the sport, I would suggest they simply don’t watch and perhaps stick to bowls or cricket. However, I’m more than happy to have a conversation with anyone interested in the topic.”

Phil will be returning to his commentary role at the end of the month when he travels to Brazil to commentate on the next Brave Combat Federation show.