The gloves come off at NM's first-ever full bare-knuckle card set for Saturday - Albuquerque Journal

The gloves come off at NM’s first-ever full bare-knuckle card set for Saturday

Bare-knuckle fighting fits Christine Ferea like a glove.

See what we did there?

Las Vegas, Nevada resident Christine Ferea, who’s scheduled to face Taylor Starling in the main event of Saturday’s BKFC bare-knuckle fighting card at the Rio Rancho Events Center, has been training at Albuquerque’s Sanchez Brothers boxing gym for a month-and-a half of in preparation.. (Journal photo)

Ferea, a 39-year-old California native and Las Vegas, Nevada resident, is scheduled to face South Carolinian Taylor Starling on Saturday in the main event of a Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship card at the Rio Rancho Events Center.

Ferea’s BKFC flyweight title will be at stake.

Ferea came to bare-knuckle fighting after a highly successful career in Muay Thai and a less satisfactory stint in MMA.

She came to fighting in general because, well, she used to do it for free on the streets of San Jose.

“When I was younger, I got in a lot of trouble and I figured I wanted to change my life, so I started working out,” Ferea said during an interview at Sanchez Brothers Boxing on Old Coors NW, her local training base.

During her workouts, she became intrigued when she saw women training for fights.

“I’d look at them, the girls in there, and I said, ‘I can beat them up.’ I was a street fighter. I knew I could take them.”

She couldn’t.

“Those girls really put it on me,” she said, laughing. “But I loved it and it challenged me. I had my first fight within three months.”

As time passed, Ferea discovered two things: Muay Thai fights were hard to come by, and the “mixed” in mixed martial arts wasn’t really her thing.

“I like focusing on one art instead of ground and a whole bunch,” she said. “I want to be good at one thing.”

Ferea began working in Vegas with boxing trainer Gil Martinez, thinking the gloved version of the sport might be her ticket. But before she could lace on a glove in anger, the BKFC came calling.

Her first bare-knuckle match was made in Biloxi, Mississippi. But for Ferea, it was a match made in heaven.

“It ended up being the love of my life,” she said.

Ferea has a 5-1 record, her only loss coming via unanimous decision to Helen Peralta three years ago. She since has won three straight, and on Saturday will defend the flyweight title she won on Feb. 19 by unanimous decision over Britain Hart in Hollywood, Florida.

Two things in her background, Ferea said, account for her bare-knuckle prowess.

BKFC rules permit a certain amount of holding and hitting. “I think my Muay Thai background is extremely critical in my success because I can clinch and punch at the same time,” she said.

All those street fights back in San Jose, she said, come into play as well.

“From the rawness that I have from that, when I go into the ring, it’s a fight,” she said. “It’s a sport to me, but in the back of my mind I know it’s not. So I think I go a little bit harder. I’m a little bit more aggressive and I go in for the kill more.”

Ferea has been in the Albuquerque area for almost two months, adjusting to the city’s mile-high elevation and getting work in with boxing brothers Jason and Jose Luis “Guero” Sanchez, overseen by trainer Pepe Sanchez, the fighters’ father.

“Hard-working, sharp, dedicated, loyal guys,” Ferea said. “I wanted to make sure I got acclimated with guys I could trust.”

Ferea said she’ll come in confident against Starling (3-0), a younger (26), less experienced fighter. But she added, “It’s a fight … I understand that this is bare knuckle, and even with differences in (competitive level), bare knuckle evens us. So I’m still careful, and I’m still taking everything very seriously.”

Saturday’s card, the first full bare-knuckle card to be staged in New Mexico, won’t lack for a local presence.

Popular Albuquerque MMA fighter John Dodson is scheduled to make his bare-knuckle debut against Dallas’ Ryan Benoit, another MMA veteran with no prior bare-knuckle experience.

Two of Dodson’s long-time Albuquerque MMA contemporaries, Donald Sanchez and Isaac Vallie-Flagg, also are scheduled. Vallie-Flagg is 3-1 in bare-knuckle competition. Sanchez, a veteran of 50 pro MMA fights, is ending a two-year combat-sports hiatus.

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