Exclusive – How John Dodson went from turning down a Bare-Knuckle fight to becoming BKFC Champion

John Dodson, BKFC, UFC

It might be hard to believe now, but John Dodson’s current bare-knuckle boxing run almost didn’t even come to fruition. What started as a deed for a family member has evolved over the years, and now sees him headlining a card this weekend with a title in the mix.

The 39-year-old UFC vet currently holds the BKFC Flyweight Championship, which he earned with a first-round stoppage of JR Ridge last year. He has previously stopped two other fighters under bare-knuckle boxing rules and is scheduled to put his belt on the line against standout Dominican Republic pro boxer Dagoberto Aguero this Friday.

John Dodson talks BKFC journey

Knowing all of that, you might be shocked about what happened when he was first asked about competing in fighting sans the gloves.

“To be honest with you? I said no,” Dodson said in a recent interview. “I told them absolutely not.”

The visuals of bare-knuckle boxing were off-putting for Dodson. While he has seen the studies that suggest bare-knuckle boxing, albeit still a dangerous sport, could have a lower rate of concussions than other forms of combat, nasty “skin on skin, bone to face” contact in matches gives him pause to this day.

“I still have that sense that ‘I don’t want to do this,’” Dodson joked. “Every time I’m at a BKFC event, I’m hearing people get hit in the back and it sounds so painful, man!”

Brotherly Love

John Dodson
Mandatory Credit: BKFC

So what brought Dodson into BKFC? Stepping up for a family member and showing brotherly love, believe it or not.

It was John’s brother, Eric who first expressed interest in competing for BKFC. John said his brother, known as the “Thuggy Bear,” went to a tryout hosted by the promotion and earned an opportunity to compete. However, fights kept falling through. John wanted to give his brother a shot at competing in BKFC, so he accepted a fight when they came to his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and made sure his Eric would get on the undercard.

READ MORE:  Renato Moicano rallies to score ground TKO win over Jalin Turner in return - UFC 300 Highlights

“Ultimately I had to do my brother a solid,” Dodson said. “Be a good big brother and put on a hell of a show.”

Both of the Dodson brothers have found success since then. Dodson won his BKFC debut in just 40 seconds, putting away fellow UFC alum Ryan Benoit. “Thuggy Bear” picked up his last victory just a couple of months back. While he may have hesitancy about bare-knuckle fights, Dodson believes he’s in a period of his career that he is truly loving.

A Post-UFC Dodson

Four years removed from the end of his UFC run, a time in the promotion that lasted nearly a decade and included two different title fights against Demetrious Johnson, Dodson says he’s simply having fun. The pressure of being in the top MMA promotion is gone, allowing him to do so much more.

“When I was in UFC at 135 [pounds], I was still trying to secure a job and I wasn’t having fun anymore … I was playing the safe game, I wanted to ensure I had a next fight scheduled. Once those next fights stopped coming through, I had to change up my mentality. Back into having fun, making sure I can go and do what I always love.”

When his UFC career initially came to an end, Dodson remembers feeling lost. “Oh s***, I need to get a real job,” he remembers thinking. But it wouldn’t end up being the end of the road for him. What helped him regain focus was coaching at United Fit, where the Nobody’s Villains MMA team trains. Coaching is something that he wants to do even after his time as a fighter has come to an end.

John Dodson

“I always love coaching my team. Those guys keep me motivated … They push me to a new limit. When I was let go from the UFC, I needed something else to motivate me. I keep on training their guys, making sure that they can get better. And not only that, it helps me put the best foot forward.”

READ MORE:  Bobby Green batters veteran Jim Miller bloody in one sided decision victory - UFC 300 Highlights

Dodson says he wants to keep competing to set an example for his students: “I don’t want to sit there and be telling them, ‘Hey you guys should do this, this is how you really become a champion’ without ever being one at all.”

While competing in bare-knuckle boxing, Dodson is no doubt still fully in the MMA world. He has been balancing his time as of late in between BKFC and Japanese MMA promotion RIZIN. He won his RIZIN debut in late 2022, stopping veteran talent Hideo Tokoro. He had a three-fight winning streak in MMA snapped late last year when 2021 RIZIN Bantamweight Grand Prix winner Hiromasa Ougikubo beat him on scorecards. While nothing has been announced, he hopes to return to Japan sometime soon.

Not Afraid of Aguero

gettyimages 671675656 594x594 1
Mandatory Credit: Mike Roach – Zuffa LLC

Friday will be a different challenge compared to previous BKFC fights that Dodson has been in. He has previously faced MMA fighters under bare-knuckle rules or fighters like former champ Ridge, who have experience strictly in BKFC. But this weekend he’ll be facing a talent who comes from a more traditional boxing background. 

READ MORE:  Nate Diaz gives '100% guarantee' he will complete his trilogy with UFC megastar Conor McGregor

Aguero made his BKFC debut last year with a third-round win over Chance Wilson. He had a 17-fight pro boxing record before then, mainly building up wins in the Dominican Republic. He switched over to bare-knuckle competition after suffering a pair of losses, dropping a decision to Aram Avagyan and getting stopped by former Rey Vargas opponent Azat Hovhannisyan.

The different matchup doesn’t bother Dodson, as he seems to have the same confident mindset no matter who is across from him.

“I mean, he can have as many experiences all he wants,” he said. “15-2 doesn’t mean anything to me when it comes to being the more dynamic striker. I’ve solidified myself being one of the most dangerous strikers and one of the most decorated ones out of all of them.”

If the story about Dodson coming around on competing for BKFC didn’t prove that he’s still a changing and transforming fighter, a glance at his career makes a solid case as well. When looking at his success recently, it’s clear that he is having one of the strongest runs of his entire career. Before his close loss in RIZIN just a few months ago, he had a six-fight stretch of victories between MMA and bare-knuckle boxing, a run that hasn’t been seen since the start of his UFC campaign. Dodson competed a total of four times last year, a level of activity that was last seen more than a decade ago in his career.

A win this weekend would continue Dodson’s recent career resurgence and keep his champion status. And who knows, maybe it will keep him in the bare-knuckle sport that he still has second thoughts about for one more fight.