The first Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship live event ran June 2, 2018, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. And nothing at all against Wyoming, but you’d be forgiven if you said to yourself, puzzled, “Why Wyoming?”
Because not every state embraces the concept of “bare knuckle” prize-fighting, and the series’ bossman, David Feldman, went state shopping, asking around who’d be up to play host to the edgy concept.
BKFC 16 runs this evening, in Biloxi, Mississipi, another live and let live sort of jurisdiction. And like many of the outings before, one of the featured talents on the card is coming over from the squared circle, and is soon to find out how this brand of fighting stacks up to the one that Queensberry fellow backed.
Demarcus “Chop Chop” Corley, a 46-year-old veteran of 85 professional boxing contests, will step to the line against Reggie Barnett Jr. Corley spoke to Bad Left Hook and offered his thoughts on making his BKFC debut, why he decided to give this discipline a shot and what he hopes to accomplish this evening.
“I’ve wanted to do it for a couple years,” he said.
Chop Chop’s picked him up on the idea maybe doing bare knuckle, and his daughter, age 12, expressed some worry. She’d seen some footage, and there had been blood splattered around.
“She said, ‘I don’t want you to do it.’ I told her, ‘This is what daddy does. I love to do this!’’’
As for cuts, he said, no big deal — been there, done that, stitches aren’t glitches, it’s part of the equation now and again.
Corley started boxing at age 10, first going to a rec center after school and staring into the gym longingly. The coach there, Kenny Mallard, saw him consistently peering in.
“He said, ‘You wanna learn how to do this?’ And I said, ‘No, that’s boxing, I already know how to fight!’ He started laughing, and he explained that boxing is a sport, it isn’t just about fighting.”
Corley was curious. So, what do you get if you win, he asked. Win or lose, you get a trophy, he was told. The kid said he’d think about it. He’d already sensed this could be his thing. So he asked his mom if he could try boxing, but she said no, because he had asthma, and she worried if he got hit too hard in the chest, he could have an attack.
DeMarcus would not be put off. He slid in there and started getting instruction, becoming capable enough that the coaches thought he could have a bout. His mom would have to sign a permission slip, which she refused to do. DeMarcus lobbied hard, and eventually she relented. “If you win, you can keep at it” — that was the deal. And he did, and she let the guard down and the romance continues to this day.
Corley isn’t fighting just to make ends meet, but because he doesn’t know what else to do.
Corley last gloved up in a “regular” ring two years ago, losing via stoppage to Custio Clayton. Before that, he met Mykal Fox in August 2018. I was ringside for that one, a decision win for Fox, and I saw then that Corley could easily get overlooked by someone thinking they could get an easy W over a name guy in his forties. He was in shape, and made Fox work hard to gain his 18th win.
He’s got stories, no surprise for someone who’s been in with A-level talents and is still seeking opportunities leading into his 47 birthday in June.
Working with Pernell Whitaker, when Lou Duva invited him to camp to help “Sweet Pea” get ready for a rematch with Wilfredo Rivera in September 1996, solidified in his mind that he knew he could rise the ranks and get a crown.
“Working with Whitaker, it was school,” he said. “He showed me so much, he taught me the art of it, to sit in the pocket, see stuff, get rhythm and timing. It was art.”
I asked for some more fond memories, and he gave it some thought.
“One I’ll never forget: I was in the gym, it was a Tuesday. From Don King’s office, Dana Jamison made an offer, to fight for the WBO super lightweight title on five days notice.”
Corley would face Felix Flores, topping a card in Las Vegas. Johnny Tapia vs Cesar Soto was also featured. He didn’t have to think for too long — he said yes.
“That was my first TV experience,” Corley said. The bouts aired on Showtime; Bernard Roach, a coach, had scouted Flores, and seen him have his moments against Sharmba Mitchell in 2000.
“He saw how he moved, his foot placement,” Corley said, and a plan to exploit deficiencies was hatched. “At 2:49, I finished him, it was a combo.”
The WBO 140’pound crown belonged to “Chop Chop.” He made defenses against Ener Julio and Randall Bailey before dropping the strap to Zab Judah in 2003. Corley came right back, and met Floyd Mayweather in his next outing, when Floyd held a 31-0 record. “Pretty Boy” won via decision, and Corley rebounded with a W over Darryl Tyson, before going back in real tough, against Miguel Cotto. Since then, he’s battled Junior Witter, Devon Alexander, Marcos Maidana, Lucas Matthysse, Thomas Dulorme, Ruslan Provodnikov, Viktor Postol, and rising talent, like Fox and Clayton.
He relishes the recollecting session, the title triumph, and the more low key memories, too. Like how he got the nickname “Chop Chop.” It was 1986, he was 10 years old. At a Silver Gloves tournament in Nashville, he needed to be 65 pounds for the weigh in, so coach Mallard recommended sticking to salad when they went to Burger King. DeMarcus got a salad, with a side of burger, fries, and a sundae to top it off. Imagine everyone’s surprise when the weigh-in the next morning showed a 75-pounder.
“I told you to eat light, you ate outta sight,” Mallard marveled. “Now you gotta move up and fight the bigger guys. Yeah, you chopped that food up! I’m gonna call you ‘Chop Chop!’”
Corley took lessons from losses, he said. When he met Mayweather in 2004, he realized how important conditioning was.
“There are levels to the sport, you need a team to build you up. He has access to the elite equipment, better equipment, training methods, elite stuff. I was young in my career for that Mayweather fight. I worked with Don Turner for that fight, and the game plan was, he’s a thinker and a boxer, and the plan was to make Floyd fight. Let him think he would take me to school, make him exchange. And the first three rounds, we were doing exactly what we wanted. Then in the fourth, he got caught and hurt, and he listened to his Uncle: ‘Don’t bang with this motherfucker, box him, he’s strong.’ And in the fifth, he started boxing and moving, and started winning points. I hurt him, and if we kept exchanging, I could have got the KO, because I know I punch harder than Floyd.”
Corley isn’t defensive about accumulating some losses. He says he’s proud to be still doing battle at an age where the overwhelming majority of those partaking have transitioned to an easier vocation. “It makes me feel good, to take care of my body, and still compete at a high level.”
He wanted to keep getting gigs, but after the Clayton bout, he stayed in shape, yet the phone stayed quiet. “I haven’t retired from boxing, not yet,” he said. He and Feldman started talking in 2019, and a contract was drawn up, but his opponent fell out. Later, he was to fight last October on a BKFC card, but the guy wanted more money, and that one went off the rails.
“There’s been a lot of frustration, nobody wants to fight me in the ring, and they’re afraid of me in BKFC! I thought a few times, should I just find something else to do? But trainers make no money unless their guys are on TV in big fights, and you have to start at the bottom with that. So this fight, Reggie Barnett is a solid fighter, he’s done UFC and BKFC, he’s coming to fight, it’s not going to be a cakewalk. My plan is to make it easy! His nickname is ‘Eaz-E,’ I wanna get it over with in two rounds.”
Corley’s not one to talk trash before his boxing outings, put it out there that he’s gunning for a kayo. But in this one, why spend more time being open to getting cut? Corley has been doing hand exercises, punching rice, punching sand, so his skin got more calloused.
“I wanna hit him in the face, I’m expecting to smack his eye, nose, mouth, I wanna knock his teeth out. You are going to see a different side of me!
“The gloves are off now, you’ll see the side when I was 11 or 12, like when I was a kid, about to do something I love to do. With this fight, I wanna let the world know. This will show why a lot of people avoid fighting me, I’m still a threat! If people are thinking, ‘He’s old, he’s 47,’ — trust me, they’ll see that MFer don’t fight like he’s almost 47!”