Boxing fans have probably heard of middleweights Bryan Vera and Gabriel Rosado, crowd-pleasing fighters, who have both been featured multiple times on premium cable and fought some top names.
For example, Vera, 32, of Austin, Texas, twice lost decisions to Julio Cesar Chavez -- once in highly controversial fashion -- in his last two fights and Rosado, 28, of Philadelphia, has twice lost middleweight world title fights, to Gennady Golovkin and "Kid Chocolate" Peter Quillin, and is 0-3 with a no contest in his last four bouts.
But they now have new life as they take their name recognition -- and fan-friendly styles -- to a combat sports startup called Big Knockout Boxing -- BKB, as organizers like to call it.
The first event of the promotion, which is owned by DirecTV, will take place on Saturday (pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET, $29.99) at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, where the arena has been scaled for a crowd of about 4,400.
Vera-Rosado, which is for the BKB middleweight title, headlines the 10-fight card, seven of which will be on the telecast that will be announced by Kenny Albert, top trainer Robert Garcia, writer Mark Kriegel and Jenn Brown.
This is boxing but with a twist, one aimed to appeal to those who crave action fights.
Just like traditional boxing, BKB fighters will wear normal 8 or 10 ounce gloves, depending on the weight division (although the combatants will all wear Grant-manufactured gloves), and fight under the same basic rules as boxing in matches regulated by the Nevada State Athletic Commission with the same 10-point-must system in judging and medical safety standards.
There are, however, some important differences. Title bouts, such as Vera-Rosado, consist of seven two-minute rounds while non-title bouts are five-rounders. Also, BKB results are not supposed to count on a fighter's boxing record. Instead there will be another column for BKB bouts.
The biggest difference, however, is the fighting surface. BKB bouts will be fought in a "pit" 17 feet in diameter rather than in a 20-by-20-foot boxing ring with ropes and corners.
The outer portion of the pit features a slightly raised and padded "safety zone" where fighters can retreat. But if a fighter intentionally steps out of the pit and into the safety zone, they will get an eight count from the referee, and it will count against them on the scorecard like a knockdown in boxing. There are no point deductions assessed for accidentally stepping into the safety zone.
Organizers hope that having the fights in a smaller area with little room to maneuver they will generate more offense and, therefore, make for more explosive action resulting in big knockouts.
Defensive-minded boxers who like to dance, move and run need not apply.
"When they first called my manager [David Watson], I didn't like the idea, but I didn't know what to expect," Vera said. "Then we looked into it and it made a lot of sense. I'm not the kind of fighter who runs or sits on the ropes anyway, and a guy like Gabe Rosado definitely won't be sitting back either.
"They were paying good money so instead of sitting around waiting for a good offer [for a boxing match] we thought why not take this?"
So Vera's promoter, Artie Pelullo of Banner Promotions, worked out a deal with BKB for Vera to fight on the card.
"This [format] seems like it fits my fighting style perfectly. I never back up," said Vera, who has a one-fight deal with BKB and plans to return to traditional boxing, but does not rule out future BKB fights. "We did three days of training inside the actual [pit], and when I was in the gym we put tape around in a circle and I had to stay in there and fight."
As BKB's publicity materials explain, the format "is designed to deliver a higher intensity level, maximum action and amazing knockouts, all of which have been declining with conventional boxing."
There's no data to suggest that knockouts are on the decline in boxing, but BKB is selling their product and hoping to attract a younger audience that likes faster-paced fights that end in knockouts. It sounds like something between mixed martial arts and traditional boxing.
"This is the fundamentals of boxing in a new environment," said BKB executive director Bruce Binkow, the former chief operating officer of Golden Boy Promotions, who was skeptical at first. "It's like in tennis. In tennis they have tournaments on grass, clay and hard courts. They are all different surfaces and the players have to train differently for each of them.
"In this case, it's a pit instead of a ring. Same rules as boxing, but it's going to reward fighters who are aggressive, guys who are forward moving, who don't back down, guys who stand toe to toe, like Vera and Rosado. Guys who fight like that are the guys who will do best in BKB. We have shorter fights, faster paced fights, shorter rounds and more fights per card."
Binkow didn't want to get into a debate about whether BKB was looking to compete with traditional boxing or MMA.
"I just think our audience is fans of combat sports who like fights that are fast and hard hitting," he said. "BKB is exciting."
Said Alex Kaplan, BKB co-commissioner, "We aim to bring back the glory of the knockout, and as much as we love and respect the sweet science of conventional boxing, we believe legions of fans will appreciate the non-stop level of intensity, aggression and action that BKB offers."
And by having fights in a pit, BKB compares the viewing angle for fans as having a "gladiator-era feel, where fans are literally on top of the action."
BKB put on a pair of events last year in New Hampshire, but then BKB stood for "Bare Knuckle Boxing" and fighters used smaller gloves with a portion of the padding removed from the area over the knuckles. But to gain a license in Nevada, that had to go and the name was changed.
Saturday's card will also include BKB title bouts at cruiserweight (Anthony Johnson of San Jose, California vs. Dimar Ortuz of Chicago), junior middleweight (David Estrada of Chicago vs. Eddie Caminero of Lawrence, Massachusetts) and welterweight (Javier Garcia of Oxnard, California vs. Darnell Jiles of Rochester, New York).
All of them are professional boxers, even if none have nearly the name or accomplishment as Vera and Rosado.
And all of them will be expected to generate action in their fights because as Vera said, "There's nowhere to hide. There's no out unless you get knocked out. My plan is to fight in the middle of the [pit] and I think there will be a lot of action. I think the fans will like this."