As a middle schooler, Mike Alderete says, he was bullied regularly.
“I had a ducktail (haircut), that’s probably why,” the veteran Albuquerque boxer said in a phone interview. “They’d pour water down my shirt, put gum in my hair, until one day I said, ‘Screw it, man.'”
On that day as an eighth-grader, he challenged one of his tormentors to a fight, won it, and discovered he was pretty handy with his fists.
Alderete has parlayed those skills into a 14-year boxing career that, while making a little money, also helped channel the younger Mike’s aggression and helped keep him out of trouble.
Still, Alderete said, he never lost interest in shedding the gloves and once again fighting with bare fists.
And, guess what? Friday in Casper, Wyoming, he’ll face Des Moines, Iowa MMA fighter Josh Neer on a bare-knuckle fighting card fully sanctioned by the Wyoming State Board of Mixed Martial Arts.
But this is not MMA. There’s no kicking, no takedowns, no submission holds – just punching.
The card is scheduled for an 8 p.m. pay-per-view telecast. Viewers should monitor their provider’s channel guide to determine availability. The show also will be live streamed on the FITE.TV app.
The Alderete-Neer fight is scheduled to appear on the PPV telecast.
Two more New Mexicans, Albuquerque light heavyweight Isaac Vallie-Flagg and Las Cruces heavyweight Juan Torres, are scheduled to fight.
Vallie-Flagg, a former UFC fighter with a 16-7 MMA record, is matched against Cory Simpson, an MMA fighter from Des Moines with an 18-19 record.
There is more than one MMA fighter listed under the name Juan Torres, and this Juan Torres’ identity is unclear. In any case, he’s matched against C.J. Leveque, an MMA heavyweight with an 11-11 record.
The Torres-Leveque fight is a swing bout, meaning it may or may not make the pay-per-view telecast. Vallie-Flagg’s fight is a prelim, meaning it’s not scheduled to be telecast.
Thursday, Alderete weighed in at 184.8 pounds for his middleweight fight against Neer (185.4). Vallie-Flagg weighed in at 173.6 pounds for his catch-weight (between welterweight and middleweight) fight against Simpson (175.6).
Alderete first got the bare-knuckle itch more than a decade ago, when videos featuring the late street-fighting legend Kimbo Slice were going viral. But, he said, “I didn’t, because I was a professional (boxer) and there was no insurance, no nothing.”
Then, recently, Alderete saw a Facebook post involving a new organization called the World Bare Knuckle Fighting Federation.
“I put in a message and said, ‘Hey, I want to try it,’ and they called me back right away,” he said. “… The money is really good.”
In preparation, Alderete has been working with veteran Albuquerque boxing trainer Sergio Chavez. Because sparring barehanded would be dangerous – hand injuries, facial cuts, etc. – he and his sparring partners have been wearing MMA gloves, lighter and with less padding than boxing gloves.
But he’s been hitting the heavy bag without gloves “to toughen up my knuckles.”
The WBKFF rules, Alderete said, vary significantly from what he’s accustomed to in the boxing ring. Spinning backhand punches, permitted in MMA but not in boxing, are permitted here. Fighters are allowed to hold an opponent with one hand and punch with the other.
The WBKFF is the second bare-knuckle fighting organization to stage a card in Wyoming. Videos of an Aug. 26 Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships card in Cheyenne suggest that gloveless fights tend to be bloodier than traditional boxing matches.
Proponents of the bare-knuckle version, though, contend it is no more dangerous than MMA or traditional boxing.
The force delivered by a Holly Holm MMA kick to the head with a bare foot, they point out, lands with far more force than a punch with a bare hand.
Alderete, 38, freely admits he won’t know how he’ll react when he gets hit by Neer, or vice versa, until he steps into the ring on Friday. But he’s always been game for anything. His pro boxing record of 7-7-2 (three knockouts) is a bit deceiving, since he’s been willing to take on all comers. His opponents had a cumulative record of 163-55-20 entering those bouts.
Neer, 36, is a Bellator MMA veteran with a 36-16 record.
Alderete will be a fighter with a cause. He’ll enter the ring wearing a shirt lettered in honor and memory of Abran “AJ” Sanchez, the late son of Albuquerque boxer/kickboxer and Alderete’s close friend Jessica Sanchez.
AJ died on Sept. 8 at age 20.
“This one,” Alderete said, “is for AJ.”