One could argue that Artem Lobov’s infamy in bare-knuckle boxing already rivals the name he built for himself while competing in MMA for the past decade.
During his seven-fight run with the UFC, Lobov was a relatively small fish—with a dogged, dedicated following—in a small pond, known for his never-say-die attitude, his close friendship with megastar Conor McGregor, and his willingness to step into the octagon with more credentialed competition. Though he only won a pair of UFC contests, “The Russian Hammer” went the distance with the likes of Cub Swanson, Andre Fili, and Ryan Hall.
Lobov then became a cornerstone piece of the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship in 2019, bringing star power and legitimacy to the upstart promotion that sought to revitalize a centuries-old combat sport for the 21st century. Two years ago, he headlined BKFC 6, the biggest event in the promotion’s brief history, which saw Lobov defeat two-time boxing champion Paulie Malignaggi.
On Saturday, Lobov takes on another opponent with a superior boxing pedigree in Denys Berinchyk, a silver medalist in boxing for Ukraine in 2012 that currently sports a 15-0 (8 KOs) pro record. Their bare-knuckle fight goes down at a Mahatch FC event in Kyiv, which is sponsored by betting site Parimatch and airs live on FITE TV pay-per-view at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT.
It’s no secret that Lobov is hunting for fights that will garner big paydays to close out his career and while he’s entertained the thought of jumping into the celebrity boxing circus with the Jake and Logan Pauls of the world, he’s confident that knocking off Berinchyk will give him enough of a name to draw interest from more legitimate fighters.
“What gets me that is a win over Denys,” Lobov told MMA Fighting when asked what kind of fight nets him a seven-figure contract. “After I beat him, I’m going to have a win over a two-time world boxing champion and a win over an Olympic silver medalist. Who the hell in boxing can say that? Only a handful of guys. Number one, they don’t fight each other, that’s the first thing, and number two, only a few guys have those kinds of high-quality wins. When I have that, to me that’s it, that sets it up for a big boxing fight.
“I don’t even have to cross over into the circus fights. I can just have a big, big boxing fight against one of the guys, like a Ryan Garcia, so I could do that. It doesn’t have to be the top dog, but let’s say Garcia and someone fight and one of them loses. The loser is a nice fight for me because I feel like the loser will want to bounce back from his loss and they’ll probably see me as an easier fight, but still a big fight. A fight that will make people take notice, a fight that will still bring in a lot of interest and as a result, a lot of money, so I can see myself in one of those fights. That is the reason why I’m dropping the weight class as well because that 135 division seems to be very, very interesting in boxing. There seems to be a lot of stuff happening in there, so I want to be able to accept those opportunities if they ever become available.”
Lobov’s bout with Berinchyk will be contested at 140 pounds, five pounds lower than the featherweight division where he competed in the UFC. It is booked for five two-minute rounds, the same rule set that he fought under in the BKFC. He believes for bare-knuckle boxing to grow, it’s important that organizations work towards acknowledging a universal rule set.
Mahatch FC fights have previously featured competitors fighting in jeans surrounded by sandbags. While the sandbags will be present, Lobov said he and Berinchyk will wear more traditional boxing gear.
Though he’s interested in high-profile traditional boxing matches, Lobov believes the sky is the limit for the growth of bare-knuckle. He calls the 10-minute format “go, go, go action” as one reason for its appeal, as well as how well it showcases the lighter weight classes. He also thinks that it’s safer in the long run for its participants.
“[Another reason] I believe is brain damage,” Lobov said. “I feel that as more and more research is done into that area like it was with the NFL, there’s going to be more and more now, and when people talk about dehydration setting in and what it does to the brain, because our brain has very little protection. It’s covered in this water, liquid around the brain, and then the inside of your head is very, very sharp. So anytime you get a blow to your head, your brain moves around, it rattles, and it cuts off the edges, it hits off the edges. Obviously, because there’s water around it that slows it down and reduces the amount of damage you take. However, when dehydration sets in, that little extra protection is no longer there or it’s there less than it is at the start of the fight. So when you’re fighting for 36 minutes as it is in boxing or when you’re fighting for 25 minutes as it is in MMA, dehydration sets in.
“I feel there is more proof of that, if you look at boxing and anytime an unfortunate event where a fighter does die, which happens quite often in boxing, it tends to be in the later rounds for a number of reasons. Dehydration, one of them, and, of course, cumulative damage. So I feel when that becomes more and more in the frontlines of people’s thoughts, they will want to reduce the number of rounds. That’s where bare-knuckle comes into play. Short rounds, less damage, more action, everybody wins.”
Lobov will be the bigger man on fight night and he expects that to be a major advantage when he and Berinchyk are clinching up against the Mahatch sandbags. The eccentric Berinchyk called out Lobov earlier this year following a knockout of Jose Sanchez in March and Lobov is looking forward to finally trading punches with him.
Berinchyk’s professional and Olympic experience should be major factors heading into Saturday, but Lobov sees his feud with Malignaggi as being beneficial to his preparation for this fight.
“It will certainly help me,” Lobov said. “More than anything it’s mentally, because when you train for a fight you can think you are ready for this, but you really don’t know the level until you’re in there with that guy.
“So having been in there with a two-time world champion, I see that there’s nothing there to surprise me. I’ve seen it, I know what it feels like, it’s just like I thought. In my preparation, I was sparring a lot with really high-level boxers, but sparring is one thing, fighting’s a different thing. So having actually fought such a high-level boxer, I know what to expect and that definitely helps me a lot in this camp. Other than that, I think my main thing here would be size and experience with bare-knuckle, not just fighting.”
A victory over Berinchyk not only gets Lobov one step closer to his goal of facing a marquee boxer, it would also add to the unique legacy he’s built among fight fans. Lobov admits he finds “a bit of humor” when he hears anyone refer to him as “the GOAT”—a persistent meme that comes up whenever his name pops up on social media—but also takes pride in his work, even if his results have been mixed to say the least. Lobov’s MMA record currently sits at 14-15-1 (1 NC).
The list of fighters with sub-.500 records who remain relevant heading into their 11th year of fighting is a short one, but Lobov has found a way. And it’s a path that he doesn’t expect to be emulated anytime soon.
“Nobody would back me before, I was the only guy to have ever done it and nobody would support me, because who would support me?” Lobov said of his early beginnings. “A promoter that has a bunch of padded-record fighters? He’s not gonna say that what I’m speaking is the truth because that means s*itting on his whole roster. Who’s gonna do it? The fighters themselves who all have padded records? Of course, they’re not gonna do it. The ones who always supported me and I’ll always respect are the matchmakers and they are the people in the know. They always know how people pull out all the time, they always know how people don’t want to fight each other all the time, and then they have a guy like me, a breath of fresh air as many of them have told me themselves. A guy that is willing to fight anybody, that’s willing to take a fight on the shortest notice, that never pulls out.
“So to me I have nothing to be ashamed of. I feel that I’ve had a true road of a warrior. A warrior who doesn’t have any scars, that’s a warrior that’s never been in battle. And my face is covered in scars. There’s literally not an inch on my face that hasn’t been stitched. This is all the result of hard-fought battles, the result of taking fights against anyone and everyone in their own f*cking backyards a lot of the time. So I have nothing to be ashamed of. When I look at myself in the mirror, I know I lived the warrior way.”
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