Say the word ‘bare-knuckle’ and most, if not all, will know what you are on about without hesitation. Bare Knuckle Boxing is one of the most well known of all the ‘old style’ boxing matches with a history that goes back at least a couple of hundred years. Sadly however it also has a reputation for being not only illegal and bloody but also a high risk factor of damage to both, not only the body, but also the mind in the form of brain damage.
Today we have a multitude of martial art styles, self-defence courses and of course mixed martial arts, (or cage fighting as some of us call it), to choose from including of course the vastly popular boxing that is promoted through not only various venues but also via the television media. In the case of bare knuckle boxing however the problem of ‘image’ is very much a problem due to its past history and how it was, and still is, portrayed over its long and in-depth history.
So what is involved in modern day bare knuckle boxing and how does it compare to the regular boxing that we have all come to know and support over the years?
Being invited to a bare knuckle boxing event in Nottingham, (UK), in March 2014 that also included regular boxing, I was keen to see just exactly what was involved and how it compared to regular boxing events with regard to safety and the general format.
My image of what to expect in my mind exactly matched what I saw on that day with a well organised set up and medical people on standby ready to give aid in the event of an injury. In fact the entire set up was very much like a regular boxing match venue complete with a boxing ring, music for the fighters as they came into the ring and of course a bit of glamour in the form of a couple of ‘ring girls’. In fact the entire event was nothing like the photos of yesteryear that showed bare knuckle boxers fighting in fields or a smoke filled backstreet club with blood spurting everywhere.
The event, promoted as the first regulated event of its kind in many years, complete with all the fighting divisions and the such like, just like any regular official boxing match, was a well thought out meeting with a friendly atmosphere throughout, and just as you would expect, people meeting up with old friends and making new ones during the 5 hour event.
So what was the difference between the bare knuckle fighters and the regular boxers on the day? The only true difference when it came to the boxing itself was the fact that bare knuckle boxers don’t wear boxing gloves.
There are only so many ways two people can punch each other with or without wearing boxing gloves apart from the fact that a bare-handed fighter is not restricted by gloves when it comes to grabbing the other person of course but with all the rules and safety measures in place both forms of boxing are very much the same at the end of the day.
Take away the image and the brutal and illegal reputation that people have of bare knuckle boxing and all it comes down to the fact that the bare knuckle boxer, as the name states, are boxers who simply fight without wearing boxing gloves.
A debate that often comes up is the subject to safety. People will readily accept that body damage is all part and parcel of the job and that being bruised and the such like is unavoidable, as with any contact sport, but the problem people have these days is directly in regard to the condition that is commonly called ‘punch drunk’.
Any hit to the head will shake the brain within the skull even if the person is wearing padded protective headgear or even if they are hit by someone wearing padded boxing gloves. This situation if not carefully monitored will result in brain damage, hence the term punch drunk, and can and will result in various medical conditions in years to come. Therefore regardless as to the subject to wearing padded headgear or padded boxing gloves or not the problem of head safety will always be a problem.
Fighting without wearing padded boxing gloves is not a new thing in fact. Back in the early days of karate and kung fu I attended many a martial art competition event, back in the 1970’s, that were full contact events done without any protective padded gear at all. In fact, just like the bare knuckle fighter, some martial art tournaments were done bare fist in just the same way.
Glove or no glove – both regular boxing and bare knuckle boxing are the same when it comes to safety, on condition that it is regulated and monitored and the fighters are educated and fully informed of the risks, more so, if they are young and new to this kind of thing.
A special ‘event review write up’ by Dave J. Lomas.
First published April 2014