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Bare-knuckle boxing

Bare-knuckle boxing (also known as bare-knuckle, prizefighting, fist fight or fisticuffs) is the original form of boxing, closely related to ancient combat sports. It involves two individuals fighting without boxing gloves or other padding on their hands.

Bare-knuckle boxing
John L Sullivan.jpg
Irish-American bare-knuckle boxer John L. Sullivan
Also known asFisticuffs, Prizefighting, Classical Pugilism
Country of originEngland
ParenthoodAncient Greek boxing, Street fighting

The difference between street fighting and a bare-knuckle boxing match is that the latter has an accepted set of rules, such as not striking a downed opponent.

Early historyEdit

According to the boxing chronicle Pugilistica, the first newspaper report of a boxing match in England dates from 1681, when the Protestant Mercury stated: "Yesterday a match of boxing was performed before his Grace the Duke of Albemarle, between the Duke's footman and a butcher. The latter won the prize, as he hath done many before, being accounted, though but a little man, the best at that exercise in England."[1]

The first bare-knuckle champion of England was James Figg, who claimed the title in 1719 and held it until his retirement in 1730. Before Jack Broughton, the first idea of current boxing originated from James Figg, who is viewed as the organizer of cutting edge boxing. In 1719, he set up a 'pugilistic foundation' and charged himself as 'a professional in the Noble Science of Defense' to instruct boxers on the utilization of clench hands, sword, and quarterstaff. Noted champions were Jack Broughton, Elizabeth Wilkinson, Daniel Mendoza, Jem Belcher, Hen Pearce, John Gully, Tom Cribb, Tom Spring, Jem Ward, James Burke, William "Bendigo" Thompson, Ben Caunt, William Perry, Tom Sayers and Jem Mace.[2]

The record for the longest bare-knuckle fight is listed as 6 hours and 15 minutes for a match between James Kelly and Jonathan Smith, fought near Fiery Creek, Victoria, Australia, on December 3, 1855, when Smith gave in after 17 rounds.[3]

The bare-knuckle fighter Jem Mace is listed as having the longest professional career of any fighter in history.[4] He fought for more than 35 years into his 60s,[5] and recorded his last exhibition bout in 1909 at the age of 78.

Professional bare-knuckle boxing was never legal under any federal or state laws in the United States until Wyoming became the first to legalize on March 20, 2018. Prior to that date, the chief sanctioning organization for bare-knuckle boxing was the magazine National Police Gazette, which set up matches and issued championship belts throughout the 1880s. The Police Gazette sanctioned what is considered the last major bare-knuckle heavyweight world championship, between John L. Sullivan and Jake Kilrain on July 8, 1889, with Sullivan emerging as the victor.[6][7] Since then, other claimants to being sanctioned bare-knuckle championship bouts include the August 5, 2011, match at Fort McDowell Casino on the Yavapai Nation reservation in Arizona. The Native American tribe sanctioned the bout between Rich Stewart of New Castle, Delaware and Bobby Gunn, with Gunn emerging as the victor.[8] Other noted champions were Tom Hyer, Yankee Sullivan, Nonpareil Dempsey, Tom Sharkey, Bob Fitzsimmons and John Morrissey.

Irish stand downEdit

"Irish stand down" is a type of traditional bare knuckle fighting where the aspect of maneuvering around the ring is removed, leaving only the less nuanced aspects of punching and "taking" punches. This form of combat was popular in Irish American ghettos in the United States in the late 19th century but was eclipsed in the Irish American community first by bare knuckle boxing and then later by regulation boxing. The Irish stand down is also known as strap fighting or toe to toe.[citation needed]

Modern Bare Knuckle CombatEdit

Modern Bareknuckle Combat, a contemporary form of bare-knuckle boxing, exists on a small scale worldwide.

There is currently only one legal promotion successfully conducting shows, BKB™. Based in the UK. The shows are held at the O2 arena in London.

Modern bouts have several changes from traditional gloved boxing rules. Notably, there is a 20-second count on any knockdown and the fights consist of 3x2 minute rounds (5x2/7x2 on title fights).

Current titleholdersEdit

Weight class Holder
Heavyweight Vacant
Cruiserweight Marko Martinjack
Middleweight Jimmy Sweeney
Lightweight Jimmy Sweeney

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Miles, Henry Downes (1906). Pugilistica: the history of British boxing containing lives of the most celebrated pugilists. Edinburgh,: J. Grant. pp. vii.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  2. ^ The Bare Knuckle Champions of England, retrieved April 17, 2009
  3. ^ "The Victoria Ring", Bell's Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer, December 22, 1855
  4. ^ "Synonyms Thesaurus With Definitions and Antonyms".
  5. ^ James B. Roberts, Alexander G. Skutt, The Boxing Register: International Boxing Hall of Fame Official Record Book
  6. ^ National Police Gazette, 16 Apr 2018, p.
  7. ^ Mastro, Tim (August 13, 2011), "Fistful of Danger", The News Journal
  8. ^ Woods, Michael (August 17, 2011). "Reviving a bygone, bare-knuckle era". ESPN. Retrieved June 17, 2015.


Further readingEdit

David Snowdon, Writing the Prizefight: Pierce Egan's Boxiana World (2013)

Stu Armstrong, ‘Bare Knuckle Boxing - The Truth’ ‘(2019) Bare Knuckle Boxing - The Truth: The truth behind the rise of modern Bare Knuckle Boxing in the UK

External linksEdit