Plot: As combat sports have become a global phenomenon, mixed martial arts seems to get the lion’s share of attention, as old school no rules, tough man brawls have been all but outlawed in most regions. But in the UK, promoters are still able to put on shows that embrace the roots of the mixed martial arts craze, with hard as nails brawlers going toe to toe in epic clashes. A man named Shaun Smith seeks to bring bare knuckle brawls out of the underground and into the mainstream, putting on high end events with stacked cards filled with ambitious fighters. In Bare Knuckle Fight Club, we are taken inside Shaun’s quest and watch as he tries to build up his promotion, while also dealing with his own personal demons. This is an in depth, personal look at a wild sport and the men who chase their passions within it.
Entertainment Value: This is a three episode documentary series and while the premise is about a man’s dream to make bare knuckle fights his career, the show is of interest to viewers far beyond just fans of combat sports. The series follows Shaun Smith, a debt collector who wants to build a bare knuckle empire and leave his shady past behind him to take better care of his family. He is an imposing presence and not the kind of man you want knocking at door, looking to shake you down for cash. A series like this needs big personalities and Smith fills that role, giving us a larger than life guide through the world of bare knuckle brawls. He is open and candid about his life, including the less than legit elements and some of his interviews are quite riveting, especially when he talks about his past and health issues. You can tell Smith has a true passion for combat sports and is driven to put on the best shows possible, while his personal life is every bit as interesting as the fights themselves.
In addition to Smith’s personal stories, Bare Knuckle Fight Club spends a lot of time on his professional pursuits as well, so we watch as he prepares and stages the fight cards, not to mention riding along on some collection jobs. As the events draw near, we are introduced to several of the hopeful fighters and learn about them on a personal level, which in turn makes the fights more impactful. The series shows frequent clips of the show’s brawls, but no complete fights, so if you’re just here for the in ring violence, you might be let down. But the clips shown are raw and brutal, including some skilled use of slow motion to emphasis the sheer impact of some strikes. These clips also help bolster the narratives of the fighters, as we see them prepare and listen to their thoughts, then watch them in action. This is why I feel the show has appeal to anyone who appreciates interesting, real life stories, as the series is as much about the men themselves as the fights, if not more so. I do wish there were more episodes, but Bare Knuckle Fight Club is recommended to those who appreciate combat sports, documentaries, or life’s more colorful characters.