Behind the Bill to Bring New Combat Sports to Nebraska

June 3, 2021, 9:13 a.m. ·

Fist hitting an object
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Listen To This Story

For 35-year-old Omaha resident Dakota Cochrane, life right now is all about his deck construction business Husker Deck and Patio, which he said is doing well.

“We've been kicking ass out there as far as building our business,” Cochrane said, ”and we build really, really nice decks.”

When Cochrane isn’t building decks, he can sometimes be seen punching, kicking, and grappling opponents to roaring crowds.

While an entrepreneur, Cochran is also a professional mixed martial artist. An athlete for much of his life, Cochrane got his first taste of MMA in his senior year of college at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2009. He’s been throwing punches in the ring and putting his victims in guillotine chokeholds ever since, for a total of 33 knockouts across his 46 match career so far.

In 2018, Cochrane was invited to a new challenge; bare-knuckle boxing, which is like regular boxing, except no gloves and no padding.

The only issue at the time was that if he wanted to compete, he would have to do it out of state because bare-knuckle boxing wasn’t regulated, and because of that, was illegal in Nebraska.

His debut bare-knuckle match was in Casper, Wyoming, which became the first state to legalize regulated bare-knuckle boxing in March of 2018, where he beat Former Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champion, Johnny Hendricks.

In Cochrane’s view bare-knuckle fighting, while gruesome, is just another sport.

“You have to follow a specific ruleset,” Cochrane said. “It gives a lot of people different avenues to express themselves physically.”

Andrew “Train” Lee is Cochrane’s manager and co-owner of Omaha-based promotion and management company Dynasty Combat Sports.

“I talked to some of these guys, these other promoters that are doing the bare-knuckle and you know we thought, ‘Hey, you know Dakota is from Nebraska and this is a sport, you know it's regulated in Kansas and Mississippi and Florida and all these other places. Why? Why isn't it regulated in Nebraska?’” Lee said.

That question led Lee to write to the Nebraska Legislature to try to find a state senator to take up the cause, both for bare-knuckle boxing as well as kickboxing, which also wasn’t regulated. They eventually found District 13’s Justin Wayne, who is friends with another Dynasty Combat co-owner Phillip Henderson (they played baseball together in high school).

The bill, LB70, received broad bipartisan support in the Legislature, with only two state senators voting against it, and was signed by Governor Pete Ricketts in April.

While now legal, Nebraska Athletic Commissioner Aaron Hendry says there is still a ways to go before bare fists can start flying.

“Well, first we need to wait for the legislative effective date, and I believe that's going to be at some point mid-September,” Hendry said. “And then, because the legislation isn't self-implementing, we need to define what bare-knuckle boxing is, what our specific rules are through the regulations.”

Because combat sports can be brutal affairs, Hendry says planning will be key to make sure fighters are safe. Other than training a platoon of referees and judges to help officiate matches, he says making sure fighters are trained and matched with competitors of equal skill will be key to preventing significant injury.

For bare-knuckle boxing specifically, Hendry says it’s a tough sport but can actually be safer than regular boxing in some respects.

“I mean, there's going to be cuts. There's going to be bruising. You know there may be broken bones, but one of the things they're discovering is there tend to be fewer blows to the head because obviously when you have a bare-knuckle contacting skull, that's going to be painful, and fighters look to avoid that.”

And when those headshots do land, Hendry says the lack of a 10-ounce boxing glove means less impactful blows.

“So as far as safety... it's not something that I'm worried about at all. I think we can offer an environment where these fights can be done very, very safely and I'm just really looking forward to it," Hendry said.

When regulated matches do start to happen in the state, Nebraska will be on the ground floor of an emerging industry as one of less than a dozen states where bare-knuckle boxing is legal.

That time can’t come soon enough for Dakota Cochrane.

"My family, friends, and fans, they've all seen me fight (in bare-knuckle matches) on TV, but it would be nice for them to be able to come to a light alignment event. You know, without having to travel across the country," Cochrane said.