The first time Isaac Vallie-Flagg climbed through the ropes to compete in a bare knuckle fight, he didn’t end up getting paid for his work.
WBKFF, the promotion he fought for, disintegrated almost immediately after its first event, and Tom Stankiewicz, the man behind it, wound up in jail after failing to pay the majority of the fighters he’d hired.
Not getting paid for this fight, a second-round TKO win over Corey Simpson, was understandably disappointing for Isaac Vallie-Flagg. But that’s not where his disappointment ended. He also really enjoyed the experience of fighting without gloves, and with the ruination of WBKFF, was suddenly without a place to do it.
Luckily, Vallie-Flagg eventually got a call from David Feldman, the man behind Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC), an immeasurably more legitimate bare knuckle fighting promotion. Feldman, simultaneously sympathetic with Vallie-Flagg’s WBKFF woes and impressed by the UFC veteran’s fan friendly fighting style, offered him a fight on an upcoming BKFC card.
Vallie-Flagg’s BKFC debut will occur at BKFC 5 this Saturday, where he’ll battle the experienced Randy Hederick. To say he’s excited to get back into the ring — this time for a trustworthy promotion — would be an understatement.
“Everything is great,” Vallie-Flagg told BJPenn.com as he drove across the rainy streets of Biloxi, Mississippi, the site of Saturday’s fights. “I actually just talked to David Feldman, the owner of the company. He’s excited about it. My weight’s on point. I’m just excited and ready to go. I think once I get to the event, that’s when I kind of get charged for everything and I’ll be running around like a little kid.”
With his weight cut under control, Isaac Vallie-Flagg is eager to visit the Mississippi Coast Coliseum, the host venue, where he hopes to test out the BKFC ring.
“I haven’t seen the arena yet,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll see it tomorrow. Hopefully they have the ring set up so I can get in it. I like to feel out the ring a little bit.
“I like to see how fast the tarp is going to be, see if there’s any dead spots, that kind of thing. And then just getting into the environment, that’s part of the mental preparation.”
While it undoubtedly would have been preferable to be paid by the now defunct WBKFF organization, Isaac Vallie-Flagg is eager to move past the whole ordeal. This BKFC fight with Hederick represents the perfect opportunity to do exactly that.
“I was really happy that David called me for this, and to stop thinking about the money I was out,” he said. “I’m really, really excited, especially after doing my first [bare knuckle fight], and knowing what the feeling is like, what the nerves are like, what it’s like to get hit bare-knuckle by another experienced guy. I’m super excited.”
As Vallie-Flagg suggests, his opponent Randy Hederick is experienced — both in the boxing ring and the MMA cage.
“He’s a pretty tough journeyman fighter,” he said of his foe. “He’s got some boxing experience, some MMA experience, but again, nothing I haven’t seen from guys before.”
While Hederick is not exactly a household name, Vallie-Flagg was able to find quite a bit of footage of his previous fights and prepare accordingly with some world-class boxers.
“Actually he’s got quite a bit of tape online, boxing and MMA fights,” he said. “So I’ve gotten to study him a lot. I see some stuff that he does that bodes well; stuff we were working on anyway for my personal growth.
“I just got training with Fidel Maldonado,” he added. “So I’ve been putting in a lot of work. [Hederick] has got a little bit more boxing experience than me, but I don’t think it’s going to matter. I’ve prepared really well for this guy with the guys back home, with my sparring partners. Like I said, he’s got a bit more experience boxing, he’s a tough dude, but it’s not going to matter in the end.”
With a fruitful camp in the rear-view mirror, Isaac Vallie-Flagg is confident that he’ll win this fight by knockout. While he’s been in some wars in the past, he places a lot of importance on ending fights as quickly as possible at this stage of his career.
“I’m going to knock him out,” he said. “These guys all have traps that they fall into, and I’m going to take advantage of that. I’m pretty sure I’m going to win in the second round again. There are some openings that we see.
“The way I look at it, I’m too old to be having these wars anymore,” he added. “I want to finish fast, and I’ve been working on how to do that, and I think [the opening is] going to be there. I think I’m going to knock this dude out in the second round.”
Vallie-Flagg makes his BKFC debut at a very exciting time. Over the last few weeks, the promotion has signed a host of high profile free agents, most notably retired boxer Paulie Malignaggi and Conor McGregor training partner Artem Lobov.
Vallie-Flagg is fighting at 165 pounds, and understands that he’s probably a bit too big for these two fighters, but he believes a big win in Biloxi could open the door to to some big opportunities in BKFC.
“I would love to fight Artem. He’ll stand in the pocket and bang with you and I like those kinds of fighters,” he began.
“There’s no disrespect, but I was hoping [Paulie Malignaggi] was closer to my weight, because who doesn’t want to fight a world champion? Paulie’s a world champion and he’s a hell of a boxer,” he added. “I wish he was closer to my weight, but I looked at him and I think I’m too big for him. But the thing that this does do is it really starts to open up the doors for other high-level guys to start coming over. I want to cement myself in this organization as a contender for anybody that’s going to come over here.
“I’m fighting at 165 but for the right fight I’d go down to lightweight or whatever.”
No matter who he fights down the road, Isaac Vallie-Flagg is feeling like he joined the BFKC roster at the perfect time.
“Especially watching what’s happened in my life recently,” he said, referencing his recent legal troubles and his battle with addiction. “Everything happens for a reason and things are happening right when they should be.
“I’m excited to be here at a time when the sport is coming into its own. It’s a great time for it. There’s bigger names coming in, which is going to mean more money and more exposure.”
Vallie-Flagg understands that, after a long an exciting career, his days as a pugilist are drawing to a inevitable close. Yet he’s determined to achieve as much success as he can in the time he has left, as this success will propel him in his other ventures — such as his new gym, and his ongoing mission to help other people struggling with addiction.
“I will do this as long as my body will let me,” he said. “Me and my wife, we talked about how many years I have left, and it’s until I feel like I’m done. I don’t want to be one of those guys that’s just continually fighting even though I shouldn’t be, but I want to push this for as long as I can. I have some other things that I want to do and I have an agenda for pushing my platform as big as I can for a few different reasons. [I’ll do this] as long as I can. The agenda is to use the platform the same way [UFC lightweight] Jared Gordon is using the platform he has to push what he wants.
“I think as athletes, we’re in unique positions to do things that are good. As long as I can keep this going to kind of keep my platform big, I will.”
For Isaac Vallie-Flagg, much of this depends on performing well against Randy Hederick this weekend. He’s confident that when the opening bell rings, he’ll do just that.
“I want to show what I can do against this guy and let my work speak for itself.”
BKFC 5 will begin at 9:00 pm ET / 6:00 pm PT. The preliminary card will air for free on Facebook Live and FITE-TV. The main card will air on pay-per-view with all major cable and satellite providers, and on major streaming devices.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 4/4/2019.