No Dance Tonight: The Bizarre Cancellation of the BKB Championship Fight

Last year there were numerous false starts getting a bare knuckle boxing championship event off the ground. But none of them failed in as spectacular a fashion as the one that was supposed to have taken place today.

Champion Bobby Gunn and challenger Shannon Ritch have been set to square off in a BKB championship for over a year and a half. But one disappointment after another kept them from meeting. Finally, it seemed frustration had set in to such an extent they decided to just go ahead and do an event on their own. Nobody’s getting any younger and it seemed like it was now or never.

On October 20th, Shannon reported he’d formally challenged Bobby and that Bobby had accepted. On the 23rd, Shannon posted a video in which he stated “I want to test myself against the best. I know you’re the best. I will come to anyplace you say. You name the time and place. I will be there.” Bobby replied the same day, telling Shannon “You’ve already acknowledged when you challenge a man you have to go over to where that man is. Very soon you’ll be getting a time and location.”

The next day Bobby named the date as November 17th. He also referred to Canada as being the general location, though later it became clear an exact location remained very much up in the air. Still, on October 30th, Bobby announced the fight would be available by pay-per-view through, a do-it-yourself service. This was to be a no-frills match, the meeting of two battlers who were done with waiting for complexities to be worked out and just wanted to settle who was the best.

So far, so good. But then, in one big hurry, the whole thing went so far south it’s probably at the tomb of Captain Robert Scott by now. In the late night of November 7th, Shannon’s camp suddenly announced Bobby had backed out. Shannon explained that on November 6th they’d presented Bobby with a contract involving a pay-per-view company that Shannon’s camp had come up with. Bobby would later say he did not expect a move like this and that he had serious reservations with the details of the contract anyway. For example, one provision states “ST7, LLC [the pay-per-view company] will have an exclusive two-year rights, with an option for additional years (1-1-1-), for any worldwide Bare Knuckle Boxing live streaming event opportunities….” Bobby hesitated at being tied to anything for at least two years when they’d originally discussed just getting together as men to settle who was champion and leaving it at that. He also was concerned the contract did not name a venue, city or country where the event was to take place.

Then, less than 48 hours after Bobby saw the contract and refused to sign it as written, Shannon’s camp said they were done negotiating and the fight was off. We asked Shannon about postponing the date and getting everyone back to the table in a relaxed manner. After all, it takes more than two days to hammer out the details of a contract involving so many parties (four altogether, two companies and two individuals), exclusive rights, and potentially large amounts of money. But Shannon replied by saying “Nope done with this guy.” So a grand total of 18 days elapsed between the announcement & acceptance of the challenge and when efforts to make the fight happen were called off.

Something seemed a little funny with the way everything had played out. Bobby’s head liaison with the Shannon Ritch camp was long-time associate Joe McEwen, more commonly known as Joe Mack. Joe had carried out the bulk of the negotiations on behalf of Bobby. But strangely, the moment negotiations broke down Joe went publicly on Twitter complaining that Bobby had backed out of the fight, adding the hashtag #EXPOSED. In the same post was a screen shot of a communication from Shannon to British boxing promotion UBBAD apologizing to them for trusting Bobby. Later, Bobby posted information that suggested Joe had thrown his allegiance over to UBBAD this past summer, and the November 17th event had actually been an effort by Joe to financially entangle Bobby with UBBAD, discredit him, or both.

As the two camps continue to threaten each other and accuse the other of backing out, one thing is for sure. As of now, there is no fight between Bobby Gunn and Shannon Ritch, and it doesn’t look like there ever will be.

Update: Joe Mack responded to our story by saying there’s no truth to the accusation of collusion with UBBAD, calling Bobby’s information a “conspiracy theory.” He also assured us the contract they offered Bobby was for a legitimate, legal event and he saw no good reason for Bobby to reject it.

The Police Gazette as Premier BKB Sanctioning Body: How It Began

In June 1880, Paddy Ryan defeated Joe Goss in West Virginia in a bare-knuckle fight and claimed the championship of America. But, prize fighting being illegal, there was no respected organization that could officially sanction this claim. So uncertainty about who was the American champion remained. John L. Sullivan then challenged Ryan, but Ryan did not immediately accept. He said West Virginia authorities were hunting him for participating in a prize fight and, besides, Sullivan had yet to post a forfeit. Enter Richard K. Fox and the National Police Gazette.

Fox offered to sanction and facilitate a match between Ryan and Sullivan. The April 16, 1881, issue of the Police Gazette explains: “To settle this matter, Richard K. Fox, proprietor of the POLICE GAZETTE, offers to match Sullivan, the Boston giant, to fight Paddy Ryan at catchweight, according to the new rules of the London prize ring, for $1,000 a side and the heavy-weight championship of America. He will also offer a champion belt—fac simile of the belt Heenan and Sayers fought for—to the winner. The trophy is to represent the championship of America, and the winner of the belt will have to defend the trophy, according to the rules that governed the champion belt of England. All matches for the belt to be made at the POLICE GAZETTE office, and Richard K. Fox is to be final stakeholder in all matches and to select a referee…. Richard K. Fox means business, and is eager and anxious to find out who is the champion pugilist of America.”

The same article also suggested the fight—and Ryan’s training camp—could be in Canada, so Ryan could avoid his legal problems. But when the fight did take place in February 1882, it was in rural Mississippi, though still illegal. John L. Sullivan won and the Police Gazette declared him American champion of all boxing. And thus began the Gazette‘s position as not just a sports magazine, but the premier boxing—as well as bare-knuckle boxing—sanctioning organization in America, later the world. The belt Fox had produced was made from 12.5 pounds of solid silver and gold with eight diamonds, including two in the eyes of a fox head. It remained the emblem of world boxing champions, both bare knuckle and gloved, until after the turn of the 20th century.

When gloved boxing became legal in 1892, the Police Gazette suspended the use of its championship belts as representing bare-knuckle (BKB) champions. Now, with BKB making a comeback, it was natural for us to reinstate the Police Gazette belt as the signifier of world BKB champions since the last time there was an official BKB world champion it was the Police Gazette that bestowed the title. In February 2016, we passed the management of this title to Scott Burt of the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame in recognition of his immersion in the subject and the singular work he’s done in the field.

The new Police Gazette bare-knuckle champion belt, produced by the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame, will be fought for November 17th between champion Bobby Gunn and challenger Shannon Ritch—the first time since July 1889 the Police Gazette heavyweight belt will be bestowed following a BKB match. Welcome back!

The Police Gazette world-champion belt makes an appearance in the November 1, 1884, issue.