Bare-knuckle boxing

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Bare-knuckle boxing
John L Sullivan.jpg
Irish-American bare-knuckle boxer John L. Sullivan
Also known asFisticuffs, Prizefighting, Classical Pugilism, Illegal Boxing
Country of originEngland England[1]
ParenthoodAncient Greek boxing, Street fighting

Bare-knuckle boxing (also known as bare-knuckle, bare-knuckle fighting, prizefighting, fist fight or fisticuffs) is the sport of boxing without the usage of boxing gloves or other padding on their hands.

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.

Bare-knuckle boxing has seen a resurgence in the 21st century with the English promotion BKB™️ (Bare Knuckle Boxing) which is a sanctioned Bare Knuckle promotion along with other big UK promotions such as Warrington’s ubkb (ultimate bareknuckle boxing) & American promotion Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC).

Early history[edit]

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."[2]

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.[3]

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.[4]

The bare-knuckle fighter Jem Mace is listed as having the longest professional career of any fighter in history.[5] He fought for more than 35 years into his 60s,[6] 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.[7][8]

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.[9] 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.[10]


Early fighting had no written rules. There were no weight divisions or round limits and no referee, resulting in very chaotic fights. An early account of boxing was published in Nottingham, 1713, by Sir Thomas Parkyns, 2nd Baronet, a landowner in 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.[11] 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.[12][13] 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.[14] The traditional bare-knuckle boxing stance was actually designed to combat against the use of grappling as well as block punching.[15] Kicking was also allowed in boxing at that time, with Wiliam "Bendigo" Thompson being an expert in kicks during his fight with Ben Caunt,[16] and the Lancanshire Navigator using purring kicks in his battle with Tom Cribb.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19] Daniel Mendoza would become the inventor of the outboxer-style of boxing.[20][21]

Irish stand down[edit]

"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 boxing[edit]

Modern rules[edit]

With the resurgence of bare-knuckle boxing in the 21st century, several modifications have been made to the London Prize Ring Rules that controlled historical bare-knuckle boxing. Additionally, there are several changes from the Marquess of Queensberry Rules. Most notably, there is an 18-second count on any knockdown in the BKB™, although the BKFC uses the traditional 10-count. In most modern bare-knuckle promotions, there is no three-knockdown rule and fighters cannot be saved by the bell. Fights consists of 5 rounds of 2 minutes. One of the distinguishing characteristics of modern bare-knuckle boxing is the inclusion of punching in the clinch, also known as "dirty boxing".

The Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship enforces the following ruleset:

1. Fighters are permitted to wrap and tape the wrist, thumb, and mid-hand. No gauze or tape can be within 1 inch (25 mm) of the knuckles.

2. Fighters will “toe the line”. There are two lines, 3 feet (91 cm) apart, in the center of the ring where the fighters will start each round. The front foot will be on the line, and the referee will instruct the fighters to “knuckle up”, which indicates the beginning of the bout/round.

3. Punches are the only strike allowed and must be with a closed fist (no kicks, elbows, knees or grappling).

4. In the clinch, the fighter may punch his way out with the open hand. If there is a three-second lull in action while clinching, the referee will break the fighters.

5. A fighter who is knocked down will have 10 seconds to return to his feet, or the referee will stop the fight. It is not permitted to hit a downed fighter. Any fighter who does will be disqualified, and the purse will be withheld. While a fighter is downed, the other fighter will be instructed to report to a neutral space.

6. If a fighter is cut and the blood is impairing a fighter’s vision, the referee may call a timeout to give the cutman 30 seconds to stop the bleeding. If the blood cannot be controlled and the blood inhibits the fighter’s vision, the referee will stop the fight and award victory to the other fighter.

7. Fights are two minutes per round and each bout will be 5 rounds in length.

8. Attire: All fighters must have a groin protector with a cup, a mouthpiece, boxing trunks, and boxing/wrestling shoes.

9. All fighters are expected to give 100% effort and behave with complete sportsmanship.


Current titleholders[edit]

Bare Knuckle Boxing (BKB)[edit]

Weight class Holder
Heavyweight / >16 st (224 lb; 102 kg) vacant
Cruiserweight / 16 st (224 lb; 102 kg) vacant
Light Heavyweight / 15 st (210 lb; 95 kg) vacant
Super Middleweight / 14.5 st (203 lb; 92 kg) vacant
Middleweight / 14 st (196 lb; 89 kg) vacant
Super Welterweight / 13.5 st (189 lb; 86 kg) Daniel Lerwell
Welterweight / 13 st (182 lb; 83 kg) vacant
Lightweight / 12.5 st (175 lb; 79 kg) Connor Tierney
Featherweight / 12 st (168 lb; 76 kg) Ricardo Franco
Bantamweight / 11.5 st (161 lb; 73 kg) Barrie Jones
Flyweight / 11 st (154 lb; 70 kg) Dan Chapman
Heavyweight Daniel Podmore
Cruiserweight Mickey Parker
Light Heavyweight vacant
Super Middleweight Anthony Holmes
Middleweight vacant
Super Welterweight vacant
Welterweight Nathan DeCastro
Lightweight vacant
Featherweight vacant
Bantamweight James Lilley
Flyweight Craig 'Rocky' Morgan

Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC)[edit]

Weight class Holder
Heavyweight / 265 lb (120 kg; 19 st) Joey Beltran
Cruiserweight / 205 lb (93 kg; 15 st) Héctor Lombard
Middleweight / 175 lb (79 kg; 13 st) Thiago Alves
Lightweight / 155 lb (70 kg; 11 st) Luis Palomino
Bantamweight / 135 lb (61 kg; 10 st) Johnny Bedford
Police Gazette
World Heavyweight Joey Beltran
American Heavyweight Chase Sherman
World Lightweight Luis Palomino
World Bantamweight Johnny Bedford
American Bantamweight vacant
World Women's Featherweight Bec Rawlings
American Women's Featherweight Helen Peralta

List of English Heavyweight Bare-Knuckle Boxing Champions[edit]

List of United States Heavyweight Bare-knuckle Boxing Champions[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ollhoff, Jim (2008). Martial Arts Around the Globe (The World of Martial Arts). Abdo Group. pp. 20-21. ISBN 1604532815
  2. ^ Miles, Henry Downes (1906). Pugilistica: the history of British boxing containing lives of the most celebrated pugilists. Edinburgh: J. Grant. pp. vii.
  3. ^ The Bare Knuckle Champions of England, retrieved April 17, 2009
  4. ^ "The Victoria Ring", Bell's Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer, December 22, 1855
  5. ^ "Synonyms Thesaurus With Definitions and Antonyms".
  6. ^ James B. Roberts, Alexander G. Skutt, The Boxing Register: International Boxing Hall of Fame Official Record Book
  7. ^ National Police Gazette, 16 Apr 2018, p.
  8. ^ Mastro, Tim (August 13, 2011), "Fistful of Danger", The News Journal
  9. ^ Woods, Michael (August 17, 2011). "Reviving a bygone, bare-knuckle era". ESPN. Retrieved June 17, 2015.
  10. ^ "BKFC 9 Results: Jason Knight avenges loss to Artem Lobov with fifth-round KO, Joey Beltran captures heavyweight title". MMA Fighting. 2019-11-17. Retrieved 2020-03-10.
  11. ^ "tumblr_lx13m7QVfb1qa5yan.jpg". Tumblr. Retrieved 16 January 2014.
  12. ^ "The 'Cross-Buttocks' Throw: A forgotten throw of Karate, Boxing & Taekwondo". Ian Abernathy. Retrieved April 13, 2010.
  13. ^ Chill, Adam. Bare-Knuckle Britons and Fighting Irish: Boxing, Race, Religion and Nationality in the 18th and 19th Centuries. McFarland & Company (August 29, 2017) p. 20. ISBN 978-1476663302
  14. ^ "A Fighter Abroad". Philipps, Brian. February 2, 2012.
  15. ^ The Pugilist: Nick Diaz, Daniel Mendoza and the Sweet Science of Bruising
  16. ^ "Bendigo". Seaver, Timothy. November 24, 2015.
  17. ^ Miles, Henry Downes. Pugilistica: The History of British Boxing Containing Lives of the Most Celebrated Pugilists; Full Reports of Their Battles From Contemporary ... of the Principal Patrons of the Prize Ring. 1906. p. 849.
  18. ^ Tacoma News Tribune (Tacoma, WA, USA) Jan. 1, 1924
  19. ^ Tom Spring IBHOF Archived 17 March 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ "Daniel Mendoza". Retrieved 7 July 2019.
  21. ^ "The Man Who Birthed Modern Boxing". The Huddle. Retrieved 7 July 2019.
  22. ^ "What are the bare knuckle fighting championship rules". Retrieved 2021-07-17.


Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]