Bare Knuckle Boxing



Published September 2012

If Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is to be believed then fighting with bare fists would have been the way that early upright man would have defended himself against attack from fellow man or predatory animals.
Charlie FigWhen the "Flight or Fight" reaction kicked in there was a simple choice, run or stand your ground. It's obvious this choice enabled man to survive when the odds were stacked against him. The techniques used in this earliest form of fighting can still be seen in the roots of every martial art and combat sports, ancient and modern.
Hieroglyphics have been found in Egypt which depicts combatants in a boxing pose which look like they have some form of leather gauntlet on, these have been dated back to 4000 B.C. History books tell us that the origins of boxing date back to ancient Greece.
King Theseus is thought to have introduced boxing as a form of entertainment, however these fighters used were hardened Pro’s and not amateurs. Theseus devised a system of fighting were the combatants would sit facing each other on flat stones, with their fists covered in leather thongs. They began their bout by punching each other until one died, this often took a while so studs and then spikes were introduced to the thongs to speed up the opponents death, modern day knuckle dusters look tamein comparison.
Boxing was first introduced to the Olympic games in 688 A.D. bouts were no longer to the death and fighters wore head guards, leather hand wraps and also trained using punch bags, much like the modern day gloved boxer. The pancratium followed boxing into the Olympics which was a mix of boxing and wrestling and allowed biting and eye gouging. The champions at the time were sponsored by their cities and commemorated on vases and celebrated by the poets of the time. The Agenes in the 5th century B.C. and Cleitomachus 250 years later won both the boxing and pancratium and were the first "World Champions" so to speak.
Boxing then continued in the Olympics during special events and also during Roman feasts. Common sense prevailed and fighting to the death was banned and with no prospect of death the spectators grew weary and in 339 A.D. the Olympics was scrapped and with it boxing.
Boxing more or less disappeared from all records until it resurfaced in the 17th century.
A report from 1681 in the Protestant Mercury paper mentions of a contest between a gentlemen's footman and a butcher but no clues aregiven as to who won.
It's obvious then that there was a opening for fighters to scrapfor a wage and this is how the sport continued for a while. Renowned hard men would travel the country stopping off at local villages challenging all-comers.
Reputations grew as the winners became more famous and travelled further a field looking for the next challenge. The Squared Circle got its name as the crowd would form a circle acting as a barrier until it wasn’t sufficient to hold the fighters so a proper ring using rope and stakes were used.
Bare Knuckle BoxingDuring these early bouts wrestling became a big part in the game although no eye gouging, kicking and biting was allowed. It wasn't allowed to hit or strike a man once he was down apart from falling on him. A round ended when a man was down and he was then allowed 30 seconds to come to scratch (The line scratched across the ring dividing it in two halves) if he failed to toe the line he lost the bout.
Many expressions used during these times continue today.
1.Stake money and Purse - The fighter's prize money was wrapped in a cloth and tied like a purse tothe stakes of the ring so no one could run away with the money.
2. Seconds - Often during the fights if a bout finished early one of the men allowed in the corner would then get ready to fight second. Two corner men were allowed - the water man or bottle man and chief second.
3. Knock out/Count out - If the fighter failed to come up to scratch in the allotted time hewas counted out, now known as knockout.
The First recognised Bare Knuckle champion was James Figg and in 1719 he opened the first proper academy although at the time using the sword and staff was more popular. Jack Broughton followed next and was the first fighter to open an academy specifically to teach the art of boxing.
In some respects although he was the man responsible for the organising and also the introduction of the first set of rules "Broughton Rules" to safe guard fighters. He was also in hindsight responsible for Bare Knuckle Boxing's worst enemy THE BOXING GLOVE. 
Bare Knuckle BoxerBroughton realised the rich and wealthy didn't want to return home after training with cuts so he designed the first set of padded Boxing gloves called "Mufflers". These were only used in training and for amateurs but not in competitive fights.
B.K.B. flourished as a sport in the 18th and 19th century and was often financed by the Aristocracy and the rich and famous.
Big gambling went hand in hand at this time and when one of its main Patrons the Duke of Cumberland suffered some huge losses he used his influence to try and outlaw the sport although the sport itself has never been made illegal. It however continued and the fighters of the time are known by many such as Daniel Mendoza, Tom Cribb, Jem Ward, William Thompson, Ben Caunt, Jem Mace etc and the name that everyone knows JOHN L.Sullivan.
The Boston Strong boy fought Jake Kilrain on the 8th of July 1889, this was the last Heavyweight Championship of the World fought under The London Prize-Ring Rules and Sullivan was declared the winner after 75 rounds. He realised the public's negative opinion of B.K.B. at the time and the need for fights to be shorter so in his next fight he fought under The Queensbury Rules using gloves and lost the fight to James J Corbett.
Many people believe Boxing gloves were introduced to protect both fighters but in reality all it allowed was for them to target the head repetitively with much harder shots. This in turn produced knockouts and much shorter fights but it has been responsible for long term damage caused to gloved boxers called Pugilistica Dementia. A new era of organised boxing had begun with Gloves and the death sentence to B.K.B. was passed.
Obviously Bare Knuckle fighting has continued to this day but with no sets of rules or regulations it has become an underground activity. Fighters are often miss-matched and there are no weight divisions and in turn many injuries occur. It's reported that in most cities in the country B.K.B. fights still occur and gambling goes hand in hand with these events which is the main reason the police and the general public have a negative attitude towards it.
Some of the most famous of modern day fighters include the unbeaten Middleweight B.K.B. World Champion Paddy Monaghan, Bartley Gorman, Dan Rooney, James Quinn McDonagh and many more besides.
Paddy MonaghanAs most of these fighters fought underground very little footage exists of these bouts.
Unlicensed fighting has been a way for a lot of the hard men of their times to fight in the ring legally without police involvement. These types of fights are fought with gloves even though lots had reputations as Bare Knuckle fighters such as Lenny McLean, Roy Shaw,Cliff Fields, and Big Lew Yates among many others.
With the advent of the computer and the internet YouTube has become popular among the travelling community to not only issue their challengers to rival clans but to also film the actual fights themselves. Although this type of Bare Knuckle fighting alleviates further trouble within the various families and considering most are fought fair and often end up in a handshake it is still frowned upon by the police and authorities who don't recognise it as a legitimate sport.
So What's Next For The Sport Of Bare Knuckle Fighting
B.K.B. has turned the corner in terms of making a comeback and for it to become a mainstream sport. A recognised sanctioning body called the W.B.B.A. has been formed which has a full set of rules and regulations which ensure the fighters safety first and foremost. These include having weight divisions, fighters matched by experience and timed rounds, all the fights will also be fought in a 24ft x 24ft boxing ring with all the safety measures on board as in Gloved Boxing.
As well as having fights and venues arranged we also have a TV show starting weekly on Sky 191 which is hosted by the Unbeaten Bare knuckle fighter James Quinn McDonagh. The name of the show is called the W.B.B.A. report show and is going to me a must for anyone interested in and curious about B.K.B. We also have various websites including an active Facebook page called Bare Knuckles with over 2400 members which includes fighters and fans of the sport and everyone is welcome to join.
James, Micheal "Bear" Clair and myself are actively involved in the W.B.B.A. and look forward to working together in the future of B.K.B.
Its time this once glorious sport gained the recognition it deserves and which it once had.

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