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Bare-knuckle boxing

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Bare-knuckle boxing
Irish-American fighter John L. Sullivan
Also known as
  • Classical pugilism
  • fisticuffs
  • fist fight
  • illegal boxing
  • prizefighting
Country of originEngland

Bare-knuckle boxing (also known as bare-knuckle or bare-knuckle fighting) is a full-contact combat sport based on punching without any form of padding on the hands. The sport as it is known today originated in 17th-century England and differs from street fighting as it follows an accepted set of rules.

The rules that provided the foundation for bare-knuckle boxing for much of the 18th and 19th centuries were the London Prize Ring Rules. By the late 19th century, professional boxing moved from bare-knuckle to using boxing gloves. The last major world heavyweight championship held under bare-knuckle boxing rules happened in 1889 and was held by John L. Sullivan.[1][2] The American National Police Gazette magazine was recognized as sanctioning the world championship titles.

Bare-knuckle boxing has seen a resurgence in the 21st century with English promoters such as Bare Knuckle Boxing (BKB) in Coventry[3][4] and Ultimate Bare Knuckle Boxing (UBKB) in Warrington,[5] as well as American promoters Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) in Philadelphia and BYB Extreme (BYB) in Miami.[citation needed]

Early history[edit]

The sport as it is known today originated in England.[6] 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."[7]

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.[8]

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 in Australia on December 3, 1855, when Smith gave in after 17 rounds.[9]

The bare-knuckle fighter Jem Mace is listed as having the longest professional career of any fighter in history.[10] He fought for more than 35 years into his 60s,[11] 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.[1][2]

Other noted champions were Tom Hyer, Yankee Sullivan, Nonpareil Dempsey, Tom Sharkey, Bob Fitzsimmons, and John Morrissey.


Classical pugilism began to adopt rules by the mid-1700s to decrease cases of injuries and death, while also showcasing the sport as a respectable athletic endeavor. There were three rules that were adopted during that time until the acceptance of modern gloved boxing.[12][13]

  • Broughton Rules: The first set of rules devised by champion Jack Broughton in 1743. Under Broughton's rules, a round continued until a man went down; after 30 seconds he had to face his opponent (square off), standing no more than a yard (about a metre) away, or be declared beaten. Hitting a downed opponent was also forbidden.
  • London Prize Ring Rules: A new set of rules initiated by the British Pugilists’ Protective Association in 1838 and further revised in 1853. The new rules provided for a ring 24 feet (7.32 metres) square bounded by two ropes. When a fighter went down, the round ended, and he was helped to his corner. The next round would begin 30 seconds later, with each boxer required to reach, unaided, a mark in the centre of the ring. If a fighter could not reach that mark by the end of 8 additional seconds, he was declared the loser. Kicking, gouging, butting with the head, biting, and low blows were all declared fouls.
  • Marquess of Queensberry Rules: Another set of rules that was codified by John Graham Chambers of the Amateur Athletic Club and patronized by John Sholto Douglas, the 9th marquess of Queensberry, in 1867. The new rules added restrictions that continued in boxing to the modern day, such as fighters having to wear padded gloves, a round being consisted of three minutes of fighting followed by a minute of rest, wrestling becoming illegal, and any fighter who went down had to get up unaided within 10 seconds. If a fighter was unable to get up, he was declared knocked out, and the fight was over. During this period the introduction of the first weight divisions also took place.


Early fighting had no written rules, but Mike Amoia is known in the past to have dipped his hands in petrol for 13 minute intervals to strengthen his thump. 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 in 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 that are not recognised in boxing today.[14] 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 and many favored the use of cross-buttocks throw and suplexes, although grabs below the waist were illegal.[15][16] 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 pummels him multiple times, were allowed.[17] The traditional bare-knuckle boxing stance was actually designed to combat against the use of grappling as well as block punching.[18] Kicking was also allowed in boxing at that time, with William "Bendigo" Thompson being an expert in kicks during his fight with Ben Caunt,[19] and the Lancanshire Navigator using purring kicks in his battle with Tom Cribb.[20]

Tom Molineaux (left) vs Tom Cribb in a re-match for the heavyweight championship of England, 1811.

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.[21] 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.[22] Daniel Mendoza would become the inventor of the outboxer-style of boxing.[23][24]

Irish stand down[edit]

The "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.[25] This form of combat was popular in Irish-American ghettos in the late 19th century but was eclipsed in the 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]

After more than a century, bare-knuckle boxing returned legally to the UK in Kettering on 29 June 2015. The show was promoted by UBBAD, headed by Joe Smith-Brown and Jim Freeman. They discovered that, by law, fighters would have to wear hand wraps in order to compete in bare-knuckle contests legally.  

With the resurgence of bare-knuckle boxing in the 21st century, several modifications have been made to classical 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 and BYB Extreme use 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 in BKFC, both for non-title and title fights. In BKB and BYB Extreme, non-title fights are 5 rounds of 3 minutes while title fights are 7 rounds of 3 minutes. Female fights in both BKB and BYB Extreme are shortened to two-minute rounds. One of the distinguishing characteristics of modern bare-knuckle boxing is the inclusion of punching in the clinch, also known as "dirty boxing". In BKB, punching in the clinch is prohibited and fights can range from 3 rounds of 3 minutes to 7 rounds of 3 minutes.

In October 2021, BKFC Thailand (later renamed BKFC Asia) was established as the officially licensed branch of Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) in Asia. It hosted its first event, titled BKFC Thailand 1: The Game Changer on December 18, 2021, at the Pattaya Exhibition And Convention Hall in Pattaya. BKFC Thailand became the first promotion to receive full licensing and sanctioning for bare-knuckle boxing in Thailand and Asia.

On 26 February 2022, Swedish fighter Mathilda Wilson defeated English fighter (and late replacement) Taylor Reeves in the UK's first legal female bare-knuckle fight in the modern era. The bout was held in Wolverhampton and was sanctioned and governed by the International Sport Kickboxing Association, with Wilson winning by first-round TKO to become the first Scandinavian woman ever to compete professionally in bare-knuckle boxing.

In September 2022, it was announced that Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship had acquired the UK organisation Bare Fist Boxing Association (BFBA) to form Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship UK (BKFC UK). The move meant that BKFC would now regularly hold shows throughout the United Kingdom.

Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship rules[edit]

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 3 or 5 rounds in length. In BKB can be 3, 5 or 7.

8. All fighters must wear a groin protector with a cup, a mouthpiece, trunks or boxing trunks, and boxing/wrestling shoes.

9. All fighters are expected to give 100% effort and behave with complete sportsmanship.[26]

Current titleholders[edit]

Police Gazette[edit]

Weight class Holder
Police Gazette
World Heavyweight Arnold Adams
World Cruiserweight Marko Martinjak
World Light Heavyweight Cub Hawkins
World Middleweight Barrie Jones
World Welterweight Seth Shaffer
World Lightweight Luis Palomino
World Bantamweight Johnny Bedford
World Women's Featherweight Paty Juarez
World Women's Flyweight Christine Ferea
World Women's Super Welterweight Jozette Cotton

Bare Knuckle Boxing (BKB™)[edit]

Weight class Holder
Heavyweight / +16 st (224.0 lb; 101.6 kg) Dan Podmore
Cruiserweight / 16 st (224.0 lb; 101.6 kg) Carl Hobley
Light Heavyweight / 15 st (210.0 lb; 95.3 kg) vacant
Super Middleweight / 14.5 st (203.0 lb; 92.1 kg) Marko Martinjak
Middleweight / 14 st (196.0 lb; 88.9 kg) Dan Lerwell
Super Welterweight / 13.5 st (189.0 lb; 85.7 kg) Jimmy Sweeney
Welterweight / 13 st (182.0 lb; 82.6 kg) Jimmy Sweeney
Lightweight / 12.5 st (175.0 lb; 79.4 kg) James Connelly
Featherweight / 12 st (168.0 lb; 76.2 kg) Barrie Jones
Bantamweight / 11.5 st (161.0 lb; 73.0 kg) Barrie Jones
Flyweight / 11 st (154.0 lb; 69.9 kg) Scott McHugh
Minimumweight / 10.5 st (147.0 lb; 66.7 kg) vacant
Heavyweight Kevin Greenwood
Cruiserweight Bradley Scott
Light Heavyweight vacant
Super Middleweight Dave Thomas
Middleweight Dan Lerwell
Super Welterweight Danylo Hrebenuyk
Welterweight Marley Churcher
Lightweight Ionel Levitchi
Featherweight Martin Refell
Bantamweight Aaron McCallum
Flyweight Liam Rees
Minimumweight Jonny Jones

BYB Extreme (BYB)[edit]

Weight class Holder
Heavyweight Ike Villanueva
Super Middleweight / 165 lb (74.8 kg; 11.8 st) LT Nelson
Middleweight / 160 lb (72.6 kg; 11.4 st) LT Nelson
Welterweight / 147 lb (66.7 kg; 10.5 st) Carlos Alexandre
Lightweight / 135 lb (61.2 kg; 9.6 st) Julio Tanori
Featherweight / 125 lb (56.7 kg; 8.9 st) Harold McQueen
Women's Super Welterweight / 154 lb (69.9 kg; 11.0 st) Jozette Cotton
Women's Lightweight / 135 lb (61.2 kg; 9.6 st) Paty Juarez

Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC)[edit]

Weight class Holder
Heavyweight / 265 lb (120.2 kg; 18.9 st) Mick Terrill
Cruiserweight / 205 lb (93.0 kg; 14.6 st) Lorenzo Hunt
Light Heavyweight / 185 lb (83.9 kg; 13.2 st) Lorenzo Hunt
Middleweight / 175 lb (79.4 kg; 12.5 st) David Mundell
Welterweight / 165 lb (74.8 kg; 11.8 st) Vacant
Lightweight / 155 lb (70.3 kg; 11.1 st) Luis Palomino
Bantamweight / 135 lb (61.2 kg; 9.6 st) Keith Richardson
Women's Flyweight / 125 lb (56.7 kg; 8.9 st) Christine Ferea
Women's Strawweight / 115 lb (52.2 kg; 8.2 st) Britain Hart

Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship Asia (BKFC Asia)[edit]

Weight class Holder
Light Heavyweight / 185 lb (83.9 kg; 13.2 st) Sirimongkol Singmanasak
Featherweight / 145 lb (65.8 kg; 10.4 st) Kritsana Srisang
Women's Strawweight / 115 lb (52.2 kg; 8.2 st) Po Denman

Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship UK (BKFC UK)[edit]

Weight class Holder
Cruiserweight / 205 lb (93.0 kg; 14.6 st) Anthony Holmes
Light Heavyweight / 185 lb (83.9 kg; 13.2 st) Danny Christie
Featherweight / 145 lb (65.8 kg; 10.4 st) Ellis Shepherd

Hardcore Fighting Championship [ru][edit]

Weight class Holder
Hardcore FC
Heavyweight Timur Slashinin
Light heavyweight / 93 kg (205.0 lb; 14.6 st) Vitaly Ananin
Middleweight / 84 kg (185.2 lb; 13.2 st) Muhamed Kalmykov
Welterweight / 77 kg (169.8 lb; 12.1 st) vacant
Lightweight / 70 kg (154.3 lb; 11.0 st) Emil Novruzov
Featherweight / 66 kg (145.5 lb; 10.4 st) Timur Musaev

Top Dog Fighting Championship [ru][edit]

Weight class Holder
Top Dog
Light heavyweight / 94 kg (207.2 lb; 14.8 st) Oleg Fomichev
Middleweight / 85 kg (187.4 lb; 13.4 st) Naim Davudov
Welterweight / 77 kg (169.8 lb; 12.1 st) vacant
Lightweight / 70 kg (154.3 lb; 11.0 st) Kantemir Kalazhokov
Featherweight / 64 kg (141.1 lb; 10.1 st) vacant
Bantamweight / 59 kg (130.1 lb; 9.3 st) Chingiz Salbyryn

Gromda Fight Club [pl][edit]

Weight class Holder
Heavyweight Mateusz Kubiszyn [pl]

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

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b National Police Gazette, 16 Apr 2018, p.
  2. ^ a b Mastro, Tim (August 13, 2011), "Fistful of Danger", The News Journal
  3. ^ "About BKB". BKB World. Retrieved 2024-05-25.
  4. ^ "Inside the brutal and bloody bare-knuckle boxing fights at Coventry Skydome". Coventry Live. 2017-04-25. Retrieved 2024-05-25.
  5. ^ "Fight club, Manchester style: Inside the brutal world of bare knuckle boxing". Manchester Evening News. 2019-04-06. Retrieved 2024-05-25.
  6. ^ Ollhoff, Jim (2008). Martial Arts Around the Globe (The World of Martial Arts). Abdo Group. pp. 20-21. ISBN 1604532815
  7. ^ Miles, Henry Downes (1906). Pugilistica: the history of British boxing containing lives of the most celebrated pugilists. Edinburgh: J. Grant. pp. vii.
  8. ^ The Bare Knuckle Champions of England, retrieved April 17, 2009
  9. ^ "The Victoria Ring", Bell's Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer, December 22, 1855
  10. ^ "Synonyms Thesaurus With Definitions and Antonyms". trivia-library.com.
  11. ^ James B. Roberts, Alexander G. Skutt, The Boxing Register: International Boxing Hall of Fame Official Record Book
  12. ^ Boxing: Bareknuckle Era
  13. ^ Anderson, Jack. (2007). The Legality of Boxing: A Punch Drunk Love? Birkbeck Law Press. pp. 15-16. ISBN 978-0415429320
  14. ^ "tumblr_lx13m7QVfb1qa5yan.jpg". Tumblr. Retrieved 16 January 2014.
  15. ^ "The 'Cross-Buttocks' Throw: A forgotten throw of Karate, Boxing & Taekwondo". Ian Abernathy. Retrieved April 13, 2010.
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ "A Fighter Abroad". Philipps, Brian. February 2, 2012.
  18. ^ The Pugilist: Nick Diaz, Daniel Mendoza and the Sweet Science of Bruising
  19. ^ "Bendigo". Seaver, Timothy. November 24, 2015. Archived from the original on March 28, 2020. Retrieved March 28, 2020.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ Tacoma News Tribune (Tacoma, WA, USA) Jan. 1, 1924
  22. ^ Tom Spring IBHOF Archived 17 March 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ "Daniel Mendoza". Retrieved 7 July 2019.
  24. ^ "The Man Who Birthed Modern Boxing". The Huddle. Archived from the original on 3 August 2019. Retrieved 7 July 2019.
  25. ^ "Let's get raunchy with bare knuckle boxing". Irish Travellers. Retrieved 2022-09-10.
  26. ^ "What are the bare knuckle fighting championship rules". mmamicks.com. 29 October 2020. Retrieved 2021-07-17.

Sources and further reading[edit]

  • The Outsiders – Exposing the Secretive World of Ireland's Travellers Chapters 4 and 5 (ISBN 978-1-903582-67-1) by Eamon Dillon, published Nov 2006 by Merlin Publishing
  • David Snowdon, Writing the Prizefight: Pierce Egan's Boxiana World (2013)
  • Interview with bare knuckle boxer from the 1950s
  • Near the KNUCKLE; 3,000 fans turn up at skydome to witness a night of bloody battles. - Free Online Library (thefreelibrary.com)
  • Inside The World Of Bareknuckle Boxing (boxing-social.com)
  • Bare-knuckle boxing staged at O2 Arena for first time - BBC News
  • BoxRec: Barrie Jones
  • The brutal life of Wales' bare-knuckle boxing world champion who saw his Olympic dream crushed - Wales Online
  • Can bare-knuckle boxing, stripped of its seediness and danger, go mainstream? (espn.com)