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ABC medical committee disturbed by regulation of bare-knuckle boxing after death

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The committee expressed its concerns for bare-knuckle boxing regulation following the death of BKFC fighter Justin Thornton.

BKFC fighter Justin Thornton Photo: Phil Lambert/BKFC

The Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) is concerned with some regulators inadequately protecting fighters in the aftermath of Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) fighter Justin Thornton’s death.

Thornton, 36, died earlrier this week (Oct. 4, 2021) after being hospitalized following a paralyzing knockout loss to Dillon Cleckler at BKFC 20 on Aug. 20, 2021. Thornton was placed on a ventilator as of Sept. 23. and eventually died from pneumonia.

“Bare Knuckle Boxing (BKB) has been gaining in popularity across parts of the United States. Since 2018, early injury studies in BKB have suggested a higher rate of minor hand fractures and lacerations, but less severe concussions,” the committee wrote in a statement to MMA Junkie on Tuesday. “Nevertheless, athletes who compete in this sport are generally older (over 35 years old), have already fought in various other Mixed Martial Arts disciplines and tend to be at the tail end of their careers. Many of these competitors have been affiliated with other MMA organizations and have been subsequently released by these promotional companies due to many factors including (but not limited to) loss of skills, consecutive losses or injuries. Lastly, many of these fighters have not fought for extended periods of time. Therefore, the Association of Boxing Commission’s Medical Committee is especially concerned that athletes competing in BKB may be at higher risks for acute and chronic injuries due to these and other factors.

“Disturbingly, and despite our recommendations, some jurisdictions regulating these events are still not following the minimum medical guidelines set forth by the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) and the Association of Ringside Physicians (ARP). More concerning is the fact that many commissions still do not require any imaging studies (CT Scan or MRI Scan) in a sport where individuals are at risk for acute and chronic head injuries.”

ABC’s medical committee recommends commissions be cautious when licensing bare-knuckle boxing.

“Given the limited data regarding the medical risks of BKB, the ABC medical committee implores commissions who are considering licensing these events to proceed with caution,” the statement reads. “Furthermore, we encourage those jurisdictions who are still deficient in these minimum medical recommendations and guidelines to immediately update and revise their requirements to include a CT scan, MRI scan and/or neurological clearance performed by a board-certified neurologist prior to clearing a fighter to compete.

“With the tragic news regarding the death of Justin Thornton and the limited medical data regarding short and long-term injuries in BKB, the ABC medical Committee recommends enhanced screening of individuals considering participation in such events. During the 2021 ABC Conference, a Committee was formed to examine and make suggestions on safety regulations for Bare Knuckle Boxing.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help raise money for Thornton’s expenses accrued by his family.


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