Chris Sarro of Ellsworth (facing front) delivers a knockout punch against Ras Hylton during their Mixed Martial Arts bout at the New England Fights event held Sept. 7 at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono. Sarro is embarking on a professional career in the new Bare-Knuckle Fighting Championship organization. Credit: Monty Rand Photography

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Chris Sarro will return to work on July 24, though truth be told he’s never really stopped during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The 31-year-old Ellsworth resident is scheduled to battle veteran Billy “The Kid” Martin as part of the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship’s BKFC 11 card at the Lafayette County Multipurpose Arena in Oxford, Mississippi.

With tickets to the event limited due to state guidelines and social distancing, the show will be streamed live and free on BKFC’s YouTube and Facebook Live pages.

“I had three fights fall through, two due to COVID, so it’s been a long camp,” said Sarro, who made his BKFC debut last November with a first-round knockout of John McAllister in Biloxi, Mississippi. “It’s been a long, steady camp where we haven’t taken more than three days off, but now we’re both signed, the fight’s official and I couldn’t be more grateful because it allows me to get back to work.”

Sarro was training for a fight in mid-March when the coronavirus shut down virtually all sporting activities in the country, including the gym in Ellsworth where he trained.

So Sarro, a commercial artist before shifting his focus to combat sports, turned to his creative side and built a makeshift outdoor gym in the family’s parking lot with his father Mark.

They wrapped a karate pad and a bed comforter around a tree trunk to serve as a heavy bag, and tied a volleyball, bungee cords and dumbbell weights to a tree to further assist with his training — to go with the occasional snow-shoveling workout.

“With the gym shutting down it took a week just to gather my thoughts,” he said. “We couldn’t stop training because the gym shut down, so we got it all done in the parking lot right through the end of the winter, which was good because it kept me right in fighting shape.

Chris Sarro Credit: Monty Rand Photography

“I’ve still got it set up and I do my warmups out there now. I love that place. It ended up becoming part of my daily routine, even with the gym open.”

The steady training regimen, guided by coach Garth Krane, has left Sarro needing to cut just eight pounds to reach the cruiserweight limit of 205 pounds entering the final 10 days before his bout against Martin.

“I’m lighter, but this is the best shape I’ve ever been in,” he said.

Sarro went 7-1 as an amateur boxer, highlighted by his 2019 Northern New England Golden Gloves championship.

He then eyed a career in the fledgling BKFC, which had been founded in 2018 by former boxer Dave Feldman and is described as the first promotion allowed to hold a legal, sanctioned and regulated bare-knuckle event in the United States since 1889.

But no athletic commission in a state that had legalized bare-knuckle fighting would put Sarro in a show until he fought at least once professionally. So Sarro briefly turned to mixed martial arts and scored a one-punch knockout over South Portland’s Ras Hylton — now one of his primary training partners — last September to earn a three-fight BKFC contract.

Sarro’s BKFC debut lasted just 92 seconds, with an overhead right flooring McAllister midway through the first of their five scheduled rounds.

“The first thing I learned was if I touch ‘em, I’m hurting ‘em if not finishing the fight,” Sarro recalled. “You can’t go out there with a tactic that’s going to stand for four rounds. You’ve got to go out there with the mindset you’re going to buckle down, be technical but get it done. That’s the most valuable thing I’ve learned.”

His upcoming opponent Martin, 30, is a veteran of 31 professional bouts with what Sarro describes as a straight-ahead approach he hopes will fit his one-punch knockout style.

“I have nothing but respect for the guy just because I’ve been dying to work, too,” said Sarro, who leaves for Mississippi next Wednesday.

“The last few months have been rough for everybody including professional athletes — especially those that don’t make much money — but this guy signed a contract and didn’t try to back out and now it’s a go.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...