Bare Knuckle boxing may seem like it would be more violent, ruthless, and dangerous for boxers to compete in because they don’t have the padded gloves that modern day boxers do – but as it turns out, those gloves do more harm than good.
When Bare Knuckle boxing was growing in popularity during t he 19th Century, boxers would very rarely punch another boxer in the head. Punching another boxer in the skull with your bare hand often resulted in a few broken bones in your hand – so it was avoided at all costs. Boxers would exchange blows to the body for as many as 75 rounds.
With the introduction of a padded glove, boxers are free to punch each other in the skull without worry of breaking their hands. According to Dr Alan J Ryan in over 100 years of bare knuckle boxing in the states – there wasn’t a single fatality in the ring. In today’s boxing, there are around 3 or 4 in the US alone each year and 15% of fighters end up with severe brain damage that can often leave them deaf or paralyzed!
7 Things You Should Know About Bare Knuckle Boxing
By Diana Cook
The words “bare knuckle boxing” probably invoke visions of corny looking old-timey fighters throwing down in tight pants or drunken bar patrons getting stomped by Patrick Swayze in the 1980s film classic Roadhouse.
While people are still getting their tails handed to them in bars all across the world everyday (except no longer by the Swayz, RIP), most people assume that actual bare knuckle boxing matches, the kind you could pay money to watch in person, went away when gloves were brought into the professional boxing equation. But many of you will be surprised to know that this is not the case.
Here are seven things you should know about bare knuckle boxing…
It Still Exists
The last officially sanctioned bare knuckle boxing match happened in 1897, but that doesn’t mean that fighting purists ever gave up on the idea of squaring off sans gloves for sport. As we speak, there’s still a World Bare Knuckle Boxing Association. They have a website and everything, so you know they’re legit! According to the site, they hold John L. Sullivan, the winner of that fabled 1897 bare knuckle match, in the highest regard. Here’s a quote…
“For nearly 123 years Sullivan’s title remained vacant until former seven time cruiserweight champion Bobby “The Celtic Warrior” Gunn defeated Richard Stewart to claim the linear title.”
That’s right, there’s a reigning bare knuckle boxing world champion, Bobby Gunn. With a name like that, you better be able to fight.
So, yes, bare knuckle boxing still exists. But…
Don’t Take That to Mean It’s “Legal”
Bobby Gunn vs Ernest Jackson for the BKB title
The video above is from an actual bare knuckle boxing match in which Bobby Gunn defended his world title. There are a lot of clues in that video that point to the legal status of bare knuckle boxing being a gray area at best, but none more telling than this…the man defending his title is doing it while wearing jeans. No official sport happens in jeans, ever. Add in the fact that the venue appears to be the kind of place a seasoned kidnapper would call home and what it all adds up to is the human equivalent of cock fighting. Yes, it happens and people show up to watch, but that doesn’t mean everyone in the room will get off easy if the cops show up.
In fact, as this story points out, someone did actually yell “police” at the end of this match, forcing everyone from the boxers to the shady looking audience to the backward baseball cap wearing “referee” to find a good hiding spot. But they just did it as a joke, apparently. That person has probably since been beaten into a coma.
It’s More Than Just Regular Boxing Without Gloves
According to this article about bare knuckle boxing from, where else, Lance Armstrong’s “Livestrong” website, there’s a little more to being a successful bare knuckle boxer than just taking off the gloves. For example:
Punches – With no gloves to protect their dainty little hands, bare knuckle boxers have to be far more precise and controlled with their punches. A misplaced punch while wearing boxing gloves will just inflict less damage. A misplaced punch with bare knuckles could literally shatter your hand if it lands on one of the less forgiving areas of the skull, which would be all of them.
Defense – Gloves don’t just protect your hands in a fight, they also provide a welcome cushion between your face and your opponent’s fist. Bare knuckle boxers don’t enjoy the same luxury, so attention to proper fighting stances and defense is crucial.
Targets – Again, no gloves means no protection for your hands. And ramming your fist into something as strong as the human skull is bad times unless you enjoy broken digits and dislocated knuckles. Because of this, bare knuckle boxers focus more of their attention on crippling body blows.
But a lack of protection doesn’t necessarily mean bare knuckle boxing is any more dangerous than fighting with gloves. In fact…
It’s Safer Than Boxing With Gloves
Here’s a fun fact you can use to impress your friends. Gloves were not introduced to the sport of boxing for safety reasons. They were, in fact, meant to make the sport more dramatic and violent. Why? Because bare knuckle boxing, as far as spectator sports go, is far more boring to watch than you might imagine. Take that last officially sanctioned bare knuckle fight that happened in 1897, for example. It lasted a free-time-destroying seventy-five rounds. Taking in a boxing match on Friday night becomes a lot less enjoyable if you’re not even sure it’s going to end in time for you to make it to work at a respectable hour the following Monday.
So, gloves were added to the mix in the hopes that they would lead to more shots to the head and dramatic knockouts. And, you know, fights that don’t last a month and a half. Gloves might keep you from breaking your hand when throwing a jab to the face, but they do nothing to keep your brain from rattling around in your head if you happen to be hit with that jab to the face. But don’t take our word for it. Check out this quote from Dr. Alan J. Ryan, a bare knuckle boxing proponent…
“However, gloves do not lessen the force applied to the brain as it rattles inside the skull from a heavy blow. In fact, they make matters worse by adding 10oz to the weight of the fist.
A full-force punch to the head is comparable to being hit with a 12lb padded wooden mallet travelling at 20mph.”
He also adds…
“In 100 years of bare-knuckle fighting in the United States, which terminated around 1897 with a John L Sullivan heavyweight championship fight, there wasn’t a single ring fatality. Today, there are three or four every year in the US, and around 15 per cent of professional fighters suffer some form of permanent brain damage during their career.”
The fact that bare knuckle boxing leads to less serious injury means some people can do it really well for a really long time. Like who? Glad you asked!
Paddy Monaghan Is the Standard By Which All Others Must Be Measured
We’ll just come right out and say this…Paddy Monaghan will destroy you (he is the fella on the left in the pic). At least he would have in his prime, when he strung together an insanely impressive record of 114-0 as a bare knuckle boxer. From 1962 until his retirement in 1980, he visited a dozen countries to fight and didn’t lose once.
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s an average of just over six fights per year. These days, we’re lucky if we can get Floyd Mayweather to quit betting on Duke games and pretending he’s not the most boring show on Earth long enough to fight even once per year.
And if you still have any doubts about bare knuckle boxing being far less destructive than boxing with gloves, keep this in mind. That picture up there is what Paddy Monaghan, after 114 bare knuckle fights, looks like today. Not too shabby. It’s certainly not what you’d expect the face of a man who made his name getting punched in the face without protection for 18 years to look like. Meanwhile, actor Mickey Rourke fought eight professional bouts with gloves and this happened…
He also retired undefeated. But his face sure as hell didn’t. Also, is anyone surprised that the greatest bare knuckle boxer of all-time was Irish? It certainly shouldn’t, because…
Bare Knuckle Boxing Is Serious Business in Ireland
Irish Travellers, which is a fancy way of saying Irish gypsies, use bare knuckle boxing to this day as a means of settling disputes among rival clans. In fact, it’s so common that several of those “disputes” are actually just squabbles about the outcome of previous bare knuckle fights. And sometimes, things get deadly.
In May of 1999, a man named “Deuce” Ward was shot and killed (at a cemetery, which seems kind of convenient) as the result of a feud that erupted over the outcome of a bare knuckle fight that happened in London in 1986. That’s a feud that lasted thirteen damn years. Given the impressive array of typos in the article which makes that claim, we suspect the fight that led to the feud probably happened in 1996. But either way, that’s a mighty long time to hold on to the bitterness that comes with losing a fight. And it’s for damn sure not the ideal way to settle things. Couldn’t they have just, you know, fought again or something?
You Should Watch the Documentary ‘Knuckle’
If all this talk of bare knuckle fighting and violent Irish gypsies has you yearning to learn more, you should consider checking out Knuckle, a recently released documentary that follows three separate clans of Irish Travellers as they continuously break into war with each other over the course of 12 years. With a tagline like ‘Twelve Years. Three Clans. One War.’ it’s probably the kind of thing you would watch even if it wasn’t real.