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.
Irish-American bare-knuckle boxer John L. Sullivan
|Also known as||Fisticuffs, Prizefighting, Classical Pugilism, Illegal Boxing|
|Country of origin||England|
|Parenthood||Ancient 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. The rules that provided the foundation for bare-knuckle boxing for much of the 18th and 19th centuries were the London Prize Ring Rules.
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."
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.
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.
The bare-knuckle fighter Jem Mace is listed as having the longest professional career of any fighter in history. He fought for more than 35 years into his 60s, 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.
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. Other noted champions were Tom Hyer, Yankee Sullivan, Nonpareil Dempsey, Tom Sharkey, Bob Fitzsimmons and John Morrissey.
With the emergence of contemporary bare-knuckle promotions like the BKFC and BKB, a number of sanctioned and officially recognized bare-knuckle boxing champions have been crowned. This includes former mixed martial artist Joey Beltran, who holds the BKFC Heavyweight Championship and the National Police Gazette American Heavyweight Championship. In Italian Bare Knuckle Fight on street, before the federation, the rules are similar at MMA rules. One of the first Italian street fighters to transport this new style of bare knuckle fight in Internet is Christopher D'Addesa, nickname "Krisman", with a record of 31 wins and 1 loss (from tap out before the fight).
Early fighting had no written rules. There were no weight divisions or round limits and no referee resulting in very chaotic fights. An early article on boxing was published in Nottingham, 1713, by Sir Thomas Parkyns, a successful Wrestler from Bunny, Nottinghamshire, who had practised the techniques he described. The article, a single page in his manual of wrestling and fencing, Progymnasmata: The inn-play, or Cornish-hugg wrestler, described a system of headbutting, punching, eye-gouging, chokes, and hard throws, not recognized in boxing today. Consequently, there were no round limits to fights. When a man could not come to scratch, he would be declared loser and the fight would be brought to a halt. Fights could also end if broken up beforehand by crowd riot, police interference or chicanery, or if both men were willing to accept that the contest was a draw. While fights could have enormous numbers of rounds, the rounds in practice could be quite short with fighters pretending to go down from minor blows to take advantage of the 30-second rest period.
Even though Broughton's era brought rules to make boxing more civilized, there were still many moves in this era that are illegal in today's gloved boxing. That being said, there were also new revolutionary techniques that were formulated during this time. Grappling was allowed during this time and many favored the use of cross-buttocks throw and suplexes, although grabs below the waist were illegal. Clinching, known as chancery, were also legal and in-use. Fibbing, where a boxer grabs hold of an opponent by the neck or hair and pummel him multiple times, were allowed. The traditional bare-knuckle boxing stance was actually designed to combat against the use of grappling as well as block punching. Kicking was also allowed in boxing at that time, with Wiliam "Bendigo" Thompson being an expert in kicks during his fight with Ben Caunt, and the Lancanshire Navigator using purring kicks in his battle with Tom Cribb.
It was during classical pugilism where many famous boxing techniques were invented. Samuel Elias was the first to invent a punch that would later become known as the uppercut. Tom Spring popularized the use of the left hook and created a technique called the "Harlequin Step" where he would put himself just within reach of his opponent, then avoiding the instinctive punch while simultaneously delivering one himself, basically inventing the boxing feint. Daniel Mendoza would become the inventor of the outboxer-style of boxing.
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.
Modern bare-knuckle boxingEdit
Modern bare-knuckle boxing, a contemporary form of bare-knuckle boxing, exists on a small scale worldwide. Promotions include the small legal promotion, Bare Knuckle Boxing (BKB™) of the United Kingdom and many more up and coming promotions that are taking over, and worlds biggest promotion Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) of the United States.
Modern bouts have several changes from traditional gloved boxing rules. Notably, there is an 18-second count on any knockdown and the fights consist of 3x2 rounds (5x2/7x2 for title fights).
Bare Knuckle Boxing (BKB™)Edit
|Heavyweight||Ryan Swain (National treasure)|
|Super Middleweight||Anthony Holmes|
Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC)Edit
|World Heavyweight||Bobby Gunn|
|American Heavyweight||Chase Sherman|
|American Lightweight||Johnny Bedford|
|World Women's Featherweight||Bec Rawlings|
|American Women's Featherweight||Helen Peralta|
List of English Heavyweight Bare-Knuckle Boxing ChampionsEdit
- James Figg 1719-1730
- Tom Pipes 1730-1734
- George Taylor 1734-1736
- Jack Broughton 1736-1750
- Jack Slack 1750-1760
- William Stevens 1760-1761
- George Meggs 1761-1762
- Tom Juchau 1765-1766
- William Darts 1766-1769
- Tom Lyons 1769
- Willam Darts 1769-1771
- Peter Corcoran 1771-1776
- Harry Sellers 1776-1779
- Duggan Fearns 1779
- Tom Johnson (bareknuckle boxer) 1787-1791
- Benjamin Brain 1791-1794
- Daniel Mendoza 1794-1795
- John Jackson (English boxer) 1795-1796
- Thomas Owen (boxer) 1796-1797
- Jack Bartholomew (boxer) 1797-1800
- Jem Belcher 1800-1805
- Hen Pearce 1805-1807
- John Gully 1807-1808
- Tom Cribb 1808-1822
- Tom Spring 1823-1824
- Tom Cannon 1824-1825
- Jem Ward 1825-1827
- Peter Crawley (boxer) 1827
- Jem Ward 1827-1832
- James Burke (boxer) 1833-1839
- William Thompson (boxer) 1839-1840
- Ben Caunt 1840-1841
- Nick Ward (boxer) 1841
- Ben Caunt1841-1845
- William Thompson (boxer) 1845-1850
- William Perry (boxer)1850-1851
- Harry Broome 1851-1856
- Tom Paddock 1856-1858
- Tom Sayers 1858-1860
- Sam Hurst 1860- 1861
- Jem Mace 1861-1862
- Tom King (boxer) 1862-1863
- Joe Wormald 1865
- Jem Mace 1866-1871
List of United States Heavyweight Bare-knuckle Boxing ChampionsEdit
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- Tacoma News Tribune (Tacoma, WA, USA) Jan. 1, 1924
- Tom Spring IBHOF Archived 17 March 2006 at the Wayback Machine
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David Snowdon, Writing the Prizefight: Pierce Egan's Boxiana World (2013)
- Interview with bare knuckle boxer from the 1950s
- BKB™ (Bare Knuckle Boxing) (UK-based organization)
- Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (USA-based organization)
- World Bareknuckle Boxing Association (USA-based organization)
- A site dedicated to teaching Historical Bare Knuckle Boxing
- A free site dedicated to the Art