Born in Florida, BYB's Bare-Knuckle Boxing Hits the Mainstream | Miami New Times


Extreme Bare-Knuckle Fighting Returns to South Florida

Raw, homegrown Miami brawling has hit the mainstream.
Jose Fernandez (left) trades blows with Sam Liera at BYB Extreme's "Brawl in the Pines" in Pembroke Pines on August 10, 2023.
Jose Fernandez (left) trades blows with Sam Liera at BYB Extreme's "Brawl in the Pines" in Pembroke Pines on August 10, 2023. Photo by Gerardo Ramos/BYB Extreme Fighting
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Dhafir "Dada 5000" Harris' bloody brand of bare-knuckle fisticuffs returned to South Florida August 10 — and this time the showdown was sanctioned. It had been more than 17 years since the mohawked fighter started organizing illicit backyard fights at his mother's notorious green house in Perrine, and during BYB Extreme's "Brawl in the Pines" at the Charles F. Dodge City Center in Pembroke Pines, Harris celebrated just how far this combat sport — which was illegal in the U.S. until 2018 —  has grown locally, nationally, and abroad.

"We were doing bare-knuckle fighting before it was even popular. The critics were all telling me that I was bringing boxing and MMA back ten years," recalls Harris, who cofounded bare-knuckle fighting organization BYB Extreme with former NASCAR team owner Mike Vazquez in 2015. "But guess what? I've got memory. I remembered what everyone said, and that was the fuel I used to push forward to where we are today."

"Brawl in the Pines" delivered a stacked card with nearly twenty fighters throwing relentless blows that left faces bludgeoned and spotted with hematomas. At the top of the ticket was the unifying bout featuring scrapper Sam "The Caveman" Liera, who claimed the BYB Super Middleweight title in a dominant performance capped off by a third-round technical knockout against interim champ and Miami native Jose Fernandez.
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Dhafir Harris co-founded BYB Extreme bare-knuckle boxing in 2015.
Photo by BYB Extreme Fighting

Brazilian Carlos Alexandre prevailed against former UFC star Andre Ewell to claim the vacant welterweight title, while the first ever BYB featherweight championship went to Brandon Birr, who threw down against Harold McQueen.

Before bare-knuckle boxing was accepted in mainstream sport, Harris, who has been called the P.T. Barnum of Perrine, orchestrated more than a hundred fights from that lawn in south Miami-Dade County. By pitting two local amateur fighters against each another, Harris says, he sought to not only keep young men off the streets in the throes and aftermath of the 2008 recession but also provide evocative entertainment for the community. Those bloodied and bruised faces and fists were first chronicled by New Times in 2008 and have since been featured on ESPN, Vice, Rolling Stone, and Rakontur's 2015 documentary, Dawg Fight.

"This stuff goes back to the Roman Colosseum. Before the gloves were on, they were off," Harris says. "We have revolutionized how individuals look at extreme reality combat in modern times. So anybody doing this right now has been influenced by them dudes down here in South Florida, out of Miami-Dade County. They've taken it out of our books and watched our DVDs until it all got scratched up."

Harris was mostly unbothered by law enforcement for nearly a decade, even as crowds ballooned to catch the unsanctioned fights. In 2014, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation delivered a cease-and-desist letter, prompting Harris to "take his talents to the ocean," where he began hosting fights on a cruise ship off the coast of Miami in international waters. "It came to the point where it became a witch hunt," Harris says. "But creative minds never take a day off."
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L.T. Nelson (right) faces off against James Connelly at BYB Extreme's "Brawl in the Pines" on August 10, 2023, in Pembroke Pines.
Photo by Gerardo Ramos/BYB Extreme Fighting
When Harris and Vazquez founded BYB Extreme in 2015, they sought to legalize the underground sport in all 50 states. At that time, Florida had a statute on the books that required gloves weighing at least 8 ounces in boxing matches. The Florida State Boxing Commission as recently as 2016 maintained bare-knuckle matches were illegal in the state, but promoters were later able to host matches through a loophole in the law: While the statute required gloves, it didn't exactly say they had to cover the knuckles. Florida formally removed its glove requirement through a law passed in 2021.

Today bare-knuckle fighting is legal in some form in at least 20 states. The sport continues to grow as pro boxers and MMA fighters like Shannon Briggs and Luke Rockhold transition into it. BYB Extreme CEO Greg Bloom contends that, despite its bloody reputation, bare-knuckle fighting leads to fewer long-term injuries than boxing or MMA.

"The glove was invented to protect the hand, not the face. So the glove enables a fighter to not only punch with a lot more power, but a lot more often," Bloom says. "Bare-knuckle fighting looks a lot more dangerous because 85 percent of the injuries are cuts and lacerations. So there is a lot more blood than you would see in a standard MMA fight or boxing match. But those get sutured up and within a couple of weeks and the fighters are back to business."

Long-term studies comparing chronic injuries of bare-knuckle boxing with those of gloved boxing are lacking partly because the bare-knuckle version is relatively new in a sanctioned setting. The available research indicates, however, that broken facial bones and tooth loss are more common when a fighter is clocked in the face by bare knuckles.

One of Harris' greatest innovations for the sport is the "mighty trigon," a triangular ring design that started when he started roping off fights with three prongs in the lawn. The organization patented the equilateral triangle ring in 2017, and it is considered the smallest fighting surface in combat sports. (When Triller Fight Club used a triangular ring design to promote a November 2021 event, BYB Extreme filed a lawsuit seeking injunctive and monetary relief for "design patent infringement, unfair competition, copyright infringement, and related claims.")
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Miami native and BYB Extreme Fighting champ Jose Fernandez
Photo by BYB Extreme Fighting
"In a square ring or octagon, you can sort of move in a circle and laterally. But in a triangle, you're in a corner, and the way out is to go forward," Bloom says. "By its nature, the trigon pushes the action to the center of the ring, and as a result, 85 percent of our matches end in a knockout or technical knockout — it's very action-packed." 

Although BYB Extreme has hosted matches in Wyoming, Mississippi, South Carolina, London, and Dubai, Harris says he'll always honor his local roots.

"We're not just going to the upscale restaurants and sports bars to hand out flyers. I'm shaking hands inside liquor stores from Pembroke Pines straight back through Perrine to Florida City and back up to Doral promoting," he says. "I like to deal with my people direct — no middleman — connecting hand to hand."
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