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Tom Shoaff Looks to Bring ‘War Shoaff’ to BKFC 34 On Saturday

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Tom Shoaff Looks to Bring ‘War Shoaff’ to BKFC 34 On Saturday

Tom ‘A Gentleman of Violence’ Shoaff  faces Luis ‘Baboon’ Palomino as the main event for BKFC 34 which will be streamed live on the BKFC app.

On December 3rd, bare-knuckle boxer Tom Shoaff will be challenging for the BKFC (Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship) lightweight title against Luis Palomino at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, in Hollywood, Florida. In an exclusive interview with NYFights, Shoaff talks about his life as a fighter and his upcoming championship match against BKFC lightweight champion Luis Palomino. He also provides readers with some insight into the mind of a bare-knuckle fighter.

Boxing has come full circle with its beginnings with the rising popularity of the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship. The last bare-knuckle prize fight was fought on Richburg Hill, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on July 8th, 1889. John L. Sullivan defeated Jake Kilrain in the seventy-fifth round to retain the World Heavyweight Championship. The site of the fight is considered a historical site marked by a plaque detailing the fight's date, the combatants, and the results.

According to their mission statement, “Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) is the first promotion allowed to hold a legal, sanctioned, and regulated bare knuckle event in the United States since 1889.” David Feldman, a former professional boxer, is the president of the BKFC. Feldman and the BKFC strive to preserve the legacy of bare-knuckle fighting. The BKFC houses a stable of former boxing, MMA, kickboxing, and Muay Thai professionals. In fact, it is a requirement for all fighters to take their talents to the BKFC, and Tom Shoaff meets just about every one of those criteria.

Before becoming a professional bare-knuckle fighter, Tom Shoaff was a respected mixed martial artist. As an amateur mixed martial artist, Shoaff had twenty-three fights with a 22-1 record and won titles at 185 lbs and 170 lbs. As a professional, he fought fifteen times and had an 11-4 record. Additionally, Shoaff was a professional kickboxer. In total, across multiple disciplines, Tom earned sixteen performance bonuses and two “fight of the year” honors. He then turned his attention to bare-knuckle boxing and currently holds a record of 4-3, and in just seven matches, the Oklahoma fighter is fighting for the world lightweight championship.

The road to this world title match was long and arduous for Shoaff. “I come from a broken home with a single mother and many brothers- most of them are older. So, I got picked on and beat up a lot. When I was young, I got bullied in school and got into trouble. So, I had to direct my anger in the proper direction. So, I found a gym and started training,” said Shoaff.

Shoaff was born in Springfield, Illinois, and moved around a lot. He then moved to Lawton, Oklahoma, with his brother, stationed at Fort Sill, serving in the U.S. Army. That's when he met boxing coach Andy Pierce. Pierce would teach Tom the craft of pugilism while channeling the young teen's anger in a positive direction.

Under the tutelage of Pierce, Shoaff would become a dynamic striker, a skill that would carry him as an MMA fighter throughout his career. Therefore, it was fitting that Shoaff would take to bare-knuckle-fighting like a duck takes to water. “For me to cross over into pure pugilism, which bare-knuckle striking is, I thought was perfect for me,” said Shoaff describing his transition to the BKFC. Shoaff continued, “I got started in it because my buddy AJ Adams, the heavyweight champion of the world, got into it. He was in the first bare-knuckle show and became the first bare-knuckle heavyweight champion in 134 years. I wanted that for myself. So, for me, Bare Knuckle boxing just made sense.”

For Shoaff to be successful, the bare-knuckle newbie knew he needed a boxing coach in his corner. However, not just any old boxing coach would do. Tom knew he needed someone to bring out the best in him, resharpen his boxing skills, and, more importantly, someone he could trust. Shoaff had only one coach in mind for the job, his childhood boxing coach Andy Pierce. “Because I knew what I had lost,” said Shoaff when I asked why he reached out to Andy after so many years. Tom continued, “he was my first real coach. I had other coaches, but nobody really gave me the love and commitment he gave me. He was at my house all the time. He picked me up, took me to the gym, ensured I had food, and ensured my training was good. He was a father figure as well as a coach. He knows what he's doing; he's the best coach in this area.”

I know Andy Pierce. Andy is a pure boxing coach. I'm sure that coaching a bare-knuckle fighter wasn't what Andy had in mind when he first started coaching Shoaff. So how different is it coaching the bare-knuckle fighter instead of its gloved offspring? “For the most part, it's the same,” said Andy. “The rules are a bit different. There's actual grabbing that's allowed, so you can grab your opponent's head, pull it, and hit him. I make sure that he has his hands closer together so the punches don't slip through as quickly.”

Because the fighters aren't using padded gloves, Pierce had to teach Shoaff to ensure his fist are tightly clinched before striking to avoid damaging his hands. As a result, team Shoaff focuses on delivering punches with speed and only saving power punches for when needed to prevent any injuries to Tom's hands. In preparation for his fights, Shoaff prepares much like a gloved boxer would do. Early in training camp, Tom spars with 16oz gloves and then transitions to 8oz MMA gloves as camp progresses.

Tom made his bare-knuckle debut on August 25th, 2018, against Diego Garijo. The former mixed martial artist was baptized by fire in his first match in the BKFC when Garijo knocked him out in the first round. “The first time was shocking, and my first fight only lasted 90 seconds. It was wild and chaotic, but it was great. It was a shock not knowing what to expect, and instantly it just turned into a street fight,” said Tom describing his battle against Garijo. Undeterred by the loss, Shoaff rematched Garijo in his next fight and returned the favor by knocking out Garijo. Tom lost in his next two wars by unanimous decision. However, even in defeat, Tom established himself as a formidable and exciting fighter. His loss to Joe Elmore was considered one of the best fights of 2020 in the BKFC and had over 1.8 million views on YouTube. Since then, Tom “War” Shoaff has won his last three fights, earning him a shot at the BKFC lightweight world title.

When asked what fans can expect to see on December 3rd, the lightweight contender told NYFights, “I am a forward pressure, high intensity, a long-range fighter who has zero issues fighting in the pocket as well.” Shoaff continued, “Go back and watch any of my fights. Even when I lose, my whole job is to move forward and hit you as many times as I can. I don't come from a background in sports-I don't come from a background of competition-I come from a background of fighting. So, my job is to get your face and fight you; that's what I do. I fight.”

Shoaff's opponent this Saturday night is Luis “Baboon” Palomino. Palomino is a former four-time MMA champion and is currently the lightweight and welterweight BKFC world champion. Undefeated in seven outings as a bare-knuckle fighter, Palomino is the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the BKFC. However, Shoaff is unphased by Palomino's' achievements and is confident that he will strip the Peruvian native's lightweight title.

“He is pound for pound the number one bare-knuckle fighter in the world. He's 5′ 8″, he has a 69-inch reach, he's 43 years old, and on December 3rd, he's going to take the worst ass whoopin of his life,” said Shoaff describing his opponent. Shoaff continued, “we are coming in prepared. We've been planning for this opponent for almost two years. He's a very athletic guy-he's a very tough guy-he's had 50 professional fights; he's been in there, seen it all, and done it all. I don't want to take anything away from him besides his belt; he can keep all the rest.”

My Take:

Can Tom Shoaff defeat BKFC's boogeyman to become the new lightweight champion of the world? Tom believes he can. He already has his sights set on defending that title. “Defending titles, that's it. I set out with a goal to be a champion, but we know that that's not the top of the hill. Once you get there, you gotta stay there,” concluded Shoaff. When Tom Shoaff logged into our zoom call, he was wearing a sweat-drenched white T-Shirt with the words “War Shoaff” written in red letters. His hair was messy, his arms tatted, he had cauliflower ears, and he was sporting a mustache much like the bare-knuckle patriarch John L. Sullivan wore in his time. Tom is every bit the action fighter he described himself to be. He is tough, aggressive, relentless, and, more importantly, can box. Tom is a fighter, and fighting is his trade. So this Saturday night, Shoaff and Palomino will be comfortable doing what is naturally uncomfortable for many of us, waging war.