Ken Shamrock’s bare-knuckle boxing promotion is back on track.
The MMA pioneer’s Valor Bare Knuckle returns Friday with VBK 2, which takes place at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Fla. The event is Valor’s first show since its 2019 debut, a hiatus triggered by the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown.
Despite seeing the promotion’s momentum sputter amid the pandemic, Shamrock told MMA Fighting he and his team never considered shutting it down for good.
“Never, ever, ever thought we weren’t coming back,” Shamrock said. “Never. We were always working behind the scenes, building structure within our business while creating apps through which we could stream our fights. There’s a lot of stuff that we’ve been doing. Obviously, in my mind, experiencing the fan base, even experiencing early on when I was just fighting in the back of bars, not a lot of people there, it’s just not the same if you don’t have a fan base and your business is out there giving fans something they want to see.”
“We waited for a time to come back,” he continued. “Obviously, this is fight where there’s a lot of fans going to Florida that weekend with the Florida-Georgia game. I think it’s a great opportunity for people that are there to have a great weekend, come out and watch the fights on weekend, go watch Florida-Georgia college football on Saturday, and then to close it all off, Sunday NFL football. So it’s a great weekend. I know that’s what I’m doing. But yeah, when they come out and look at the ring sets, the belts, Oct. 27 at the UNF Arena in Jacksonville, we’re going to have some great fights, and there’s going to be some fun that night.”
Considering how the aftermath of VBK 1 went, Shamrock was due for a bit of luck. He hopes that the second event benefits from a major sports weekend in Jacksonville. His team initially considered moving away from the crowded slate when the schedule materialized, but they later decided it was a blessing and not a curse.
Plans ended up changing anyway with one fighter bowing out of Friday’s main event. Lavar Johnson was originally scheduled to fight Mark Godbeer, but MMA lifer Travis Wiuff stepped in for Godbeer to face his fellow cagefighting veteran.
This is a big opportunity for Johnson, who lived up to his reputation as a knockout artist at VBK1 with a 27-second drubbing of James McSweeney. He is now poised to be one of the names the promotion can build around.
“First of all, he’s just a great individual,” Shamrock said of Johnson. “A guy who’s overcome adversity. He went through some hard times early on, just like myself, I went through some really tough times. To be able to see somebody be able to change their life and be able to get back on the right track again is also always golden. You love to see that, but I think as a fighter I just love how he actually carries himself. He’s respectful, but he’s dangerous, and he has absolutely no thoughts about going in there and just knocking the p*** out of you. But outside the ring, he’s an absolute gentleman, so I really like that about him.
“But again, I tell people, do not look past this because this guy’s a beast. He may be a little bit older, but this guy’s got power, and he touches you, you’re doing down.”
Johnson’s punching power has always been respected, with 17 of his 18 MMA wins coming by way of knockout, including memorable first-round finishes of Pat Barry and Joey Beltran. He showed little in the way of an all-around game, which put a clear ceiling on his fighting career. But he looked like a natural fit for the world of bare-knuckle boxing when he debuted against McSweeney.
Shamrock agreed with the suggestion that Johnson, who previously competed for Bellator and UFC, might have become a bigger star if he’d had the option of doing bare-knuckle.
“Absolutely,” Shamrock said. “I think there’s a lot of guys you see, just regular boxers, that haven’t really been able to do well, they’re average in there, but they have this knockout power. … There’s guys like myself, guys that have that beast mode and power and you literally just destroyed someone, but because they landed more punches, they get the win. That power literally changes everything for the larger guys that are the true beasts.”
A veteran of 101 documented MMA fights, Wiuff is perfectly poised to play the spoiler against Johnson. “Diesel” has seen it all in his combat sports career, having fought his way across the U.S. for the past 22 years. Shamrock warns Wiuff is definitely not to be underestimated.
“He’s smart,” Shamrock said. “He knows when to turn it on, when not to turn it on. He knows when to move, and he’s a smart fighter. He has a lot of tools to bring out against Lavar and he’s going to have to, because I think Lavar is just going to be going for that knockout. If he doesn’t, Travis is capable of doing it.
“Just being able to move and set up his punches, it could be a problem for Lavar because Lavar isn’t that experienced when it comes to that movement. He’s more of that straightforward, big punches. So if Travis comes out and fights smart, this is going to be a very, very good fight.”