A Gravois Mills native is getting the opportunity to represent his country overseas in an international event this weekend that will showcase a resurgent combat sport harkening back to the Victorian Era when boxing was done without gloves.
Sam Shewmaker is part of the team of bare-knuckle boxers representing the United States in BKFC 27 London at Wembley Arena in the United Kingdom Saturday, Aug. 20, where Shewmaker and his fellow Americans will fight against a British team of bare-knuckle boxers.
“It’s definitely an honor to be picked to go over and represent team U.S.A. over in the U.K.. It definitely makes the preparation and the fight bigger to me because I’m not just competing for myself, I’m competing for the United States,” Shewmaker said, “I’m representing our country over there. To me, it’s a bigger deal and makes it that much more exciting and makes me want to come home with the win.”
Shewmaker’s fight on Saturday is against Mick Terrill and is one of the four bouts that will be contested between fighters from the United States and the United Kingdom. Several other bouts will be held between fighters from different countries, primarily from the host nation, the U.K..
Shewmaker – also known by his nickname the “Hillbilly Hammer” – is a competitor in the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC), a Philadelphia-based bare-knuckle boxing promotion that started out in 2018 but is something of a modern recreation of the type of boxing that was once commonplace in the United States and the United Kingdom before the popularization of the use of boxing gloves in the late nineteenth century.
BKFC was the first promotion to be allowed to hold a legal, state sanctioned, and regulated bare-knuckle event in the U.S. since 1889, as such events had been made illegal in every state. Since its inception in 2018, BKFC has grown into the largest bare-knuckle boxing promotion company in the world.
In order to compete in the BKFC, prospective fighters must have a background in boxing, mixed martial arts (MMA), kickboxing, or Muay Thai, and Shewmaker is no exception.
He started out as an amateur boxer at the age of 17, competing intermittently in boxing bouts and to a lesser extent in mixed martial arts before going pro in 2017 where he compiled a 3-0 record. It was around the time he took his boxing career to the professional level that Shewmaker came to hear about tryouts for bare-knuckle boxing and felt he fit the bill.
“Right before I turned pro in boxing I saw a social media ad for tryouts for bare-knuckle in Philadelphia, and it just really piqued my interest. I’ve always been involved in sports and a competitor, so it seemed like it would be a good fit for me,” Shewmaker said.
His decision to tryout has worked out well, as his results since joining the ranks of bare-knuckle boxers speak for themselves. He holds a winning 4-3-1 record, according to the BKFC’s fighter statistics, and is also the hardest hitting boxer in the history of the championship.
“The owner [of BKFC], David Feldman, had a punch meter custom built for the tryouts in Philadelphia. That’s when I went up there and set the record, and they’ve done it at every tryout since and nobody’s been able to beat it,” shewmaker said.
Despite his impressive power, he’s much more than brute strength when it comes to his fighting style, instead drawing on his background as a boxer to be able to dodge opponents strikes and land the big punch when he gets the opportunity.
“Honestly it’s not,” Shewmaker said of whether or not his power is the focus of his strategy, “Most of the time in my fights I’m more of a boxer, trying to set things up. I don’t just go in trying to knock someone out every single time, I was taught to set it up and it will come.”
He may not go in trying to knock his opponent out, but his inherent power has proven to be effective considering half of his wins have come via the knockout.
Shewmaker’s background in boxing has also paid dividends on the defensive side of things, as he has avoided the more grisly outcomes that some bare-knuckle boxers coming from disciplines other than boxing experience.
The extent of his worst injuries include being cut once and getting a black eye, a far cry from the damage he says fighters receive who don’t have the kind of head movement or distance management that being a boxer teaches you.
“Some of the guys come out looking like hamburger meat, it’s pretty rough,” Shewmaker said, “Some people like to come in with no head movement and they’re just a target, it doesn’t take much to get you scarred up with bare knuckles.”
Although he is unquestionably a professional in his sport, Shewmaker has not made it his full-time job. He owns a stone masonry and concrete business with his brother where he works most of the time, but takes the necessary time to get ready when he has a fight lined up.
“I usually like to do a two to three month lead up to a fight to train for it ahead of time. Sometimes it’s short notice but most of the time they give you a head’s up and I’m able to get a few months of training under my belt before a bout happens,” Shewmaker said.
While Shewmaker has been preparing for his upcoming bout against Terrill on Saturday, the entire BKFC event in London more broadly represents the growth of a sport that only five years ago was all but nonexistent. In a similar mold as the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, Shewmaker sees real potential for the sport of bare-knuckle boxing to catch on.
“I definitely think bare-knuckle is going to continue to grow and reach the fanbase the UFC has, but it’s going to depend on the companies that come up, how they hopefully treat their fighters right, and how they promote things on the media side of it as well,” said Shewmaker.
Regardless of the future trajectory of the popularity of bare-knuckle boxing in the United States, Shewmaker sees himself being involved in the sport one way or another for quite some time.
As a fighter, he says he likely won’t continue to compete beyond the next couple of years at the most, but he’s adamant about continuing to work within the sport as a coach or a scout for new fighters.
“I’d like to stay involved one way or another in the fight community, and who knows, I might even open a gym here close to home,” Shewmaker said.
On his tentative plans to start his own gym in the Lake area, Shewmaker said he’d like to open a place where people could train not only to learn how to fight but also to help with things like self-defense, confidence, physical fitness, and to help keep or get young athletes in shape for school sports – possibly including training programs and drills for sports like football, basketball, and wrestling, to name a few.
Shewmaker sees being able to provide a service like that at the Lake as, in part, a way to give back to a community that has been nothing but supportive of him and his career as a professional fighter.
“I’m really thankful for all the local support. It seems like everywhere I go people go, ‘hey good luck,’ and it’s really not hard for me to round up sponsors,” Shewmaker said, “Everyone I call up and ask says, ‘yeah for sure, we’d love to support you.’ It’s really cool to be supported so much by my local community, the whole Lake area.”
After his next match in London, Shewmaker said he has two more fights on his current contract and although he doesn’t know exactly when, where, or who he will be fighting, he said that those two fights will take place sometime in the next six months.
To watch Shewmaker and the rest of the action in the BKFC this weekend or for any of their other events, visit their website at bkfc.com or download the Bare Knuckle TV app. A subscription is required.
Shewmaker also mentioned some local businesses that show the fights, including those taking place this weekend, like 10-42 Bar&Que in Gravois Mills. Patio 52 Bar & Grill in Stover, he said, will also show some of the bare-knuckle events.
BKFC 27 London begins Saturday, Aug. 20, at 1 p.m.