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Paige VanZant learns Bare Knuckle FC isn’t the easy payday it might appear | Opinion

Paulie Malignaggi was a legitimate two-weight class world boxing champion. And when he stepped into the Bare Knuckle FC ring, he lost, dropping a split decision to Artem Lobov.

Friday night, Paige VanZant learned the same lesson Malignaggi discovered the hard way: bare-knuckle boxing isn’t the easy pay day it might appear to be from the outside.

In the main event of a fight card in which, if our site numbers are any indication, had more interest than Saturday night’s UFC Fight Night 184 will, VanZant lost in her much-hyped BKFC debut, dropping a unanimous decision to Britain Hart on across-the-board scores of 49-46 at “KnuckleMania” in Clearwater, Fla.

Hart is never going to be confused with Leila Ali or Claressa Shields. She came into this fight with 1-2 BFKC record, and in the gloved version of the Sweet Science, she’s 4-4-3. But from the outset, she demonstrated the difference between someone who has made this her profession full-time against someone who’s been devoting part of her training time to her boxing and the rest to the, well, mixing the martial arts.

Looking like some sort of parallel universe PVZ who smoked, drank, and hung out with the wrong crowd in school, the gritty Hart fought like a person who didn’t appreciate someone from “Dancing with the Stars” invading her space, landing at will from range and holding her own in the clinch, as well.

VanZant? She’s plenty tough. But we know this already. She’s been through plenty of the sort of wars which would make Stephen A. Smith curl up into the fetal position. Anyone who saw PVZ tough her way through a 2015 loss to future UFC strawweight champion Rose Namajunas after getting to the fifth round of a war, understands that VanZant is tough as nails, no matter how many haters tried to discredit her.

Friday’s show was a reminder that Bare Knuckle FC is an entity best enjoyed in small doses, something you might tune into about once a year the same way you might go to the mall parking lot carnival when it pulls through town.

The evening had it’s fair share of fun moments, most memorably Chris Leben – who was built for this – earning a wild first-round knockout of Quentin Henry in what “The Crippler” is calling his final combat sports bout. The co-feature bout, in which Dat Nguyen defeated former UFC competitor “Brutal” Johnny Bedford to win the BKFC bantamweight belt, was a legitimately compelling, back-and-forth affair.

But there’s always this lingering feeling the festivities are a little dirty. There appeared to be a lot of people ignoring social distance protocols and not wearing masks indoors, making you wonder if you were watching a COVID super spreader unfold. Fighters were brought into the ring to trash talk winners who had just been through battles, given things a low-rent feel.

You do this for the money, of course, and VanZant went out of her way to mention how much better she was being paid for this than she was to fight in the UFC. But after losing in such a manner under after so much anticipation, will there be demand for an encore? For the big, one-night payoff, she lost a one-sided decision to a woman whose main claim to fame will be that she beat Paige VanZant. If this is what you saw the first time, would you tune in for the second?

PVZ finished her UFC career on the wrong end of three of her past four fights, and four of her past six. The loss here, at a sugar high of a spectacle, isn’t going do wonders for her future fighting trajectory.

Sometimes, the short-term score isn’t worth the long-term fallout.

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