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The Rise of Bare-Knuckle Boxing


Some call it bare-knuckle boxing, others call it an old fashioned fist fight. No matter what you call it, there is no denying the fact that it is the most ancient and original form of boxing. Men have been fighting with their bare-knuckles since the early ages of humankind. During the earliest years of the sport, men often fought to the death because their mindset was that victory was more important than anything. As a result, these fights were merciless and had a pure combative purpose.

John "Boston Strong Boy" Sullivan, is a notable figure in boxing history. He was the last Heavyweight Bare-Knuckle Boxing Champion and the first Heavyweight Champion in gloved boxing. 

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Bare-knuckle boxing has recently returned to cultural relevance, gaining acceptance in modern society once again. The sport is arguably a better indicator of raw strength and power than any other form of physical activity, as each fighter is only able to rely on their abilities.

“Man came into the world with a clenched fist, which was his first weapon, always ready to attack, strike, destroy everything that threatened his existence.”

-Garegin Njdeh

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When people hear the term “bare-knuckle fighting” they often think of something similar to a street fight, as that is the form of fighting that is most related to the sport. Street fights usually end up becoming bare-knuckle brawls, as the combatants often have no prior knowledge of any other techniques than using their fists. Furthermore, bare-knuckle boxing also requires no further training of typical MMA techniques, such as takedowns and grapples, and it is very similar to street fighting in that respect, as well. The only difference between the two is that weapons are occasionally used in street fights and are usually meant to severely injure their opponent, but such a tactic is prohibited in the sport. Bare-knuckle fighting is much more natural because the fighter is only using something that they were born with; their own two hands. 

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It is important to compare bare-knuckle boxing to the most popular style of fighting, Mixed Martial Arts. Competitors came from all different walks of life and fighting disciplines in the early years of MMA. The sport has been somewhat of a laboratory for combative sports. MMA’s purpose has always been to give its viewers the most realistic picture of a street-fight (without the use of weapons, of course). Another major goal for the industry has been to understand which fighting style is most effective. The early years of the UFC were no different, as fighters from all different styles and disciplines joined the upstart company in hopes of reaching stardom in a new environment. 

Which fighting style is the best in a street fight?

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While many of the fighters in the UFC may have all the desired technical skills to excel in a street fight, the fact that they use gloves makes them seem less intimidating than a bare-knuckle fighter in such a situation. This is because the absence of gloves could cause them to be out of their element. Furthermore, unlike the UFC, there are no breaks between rounds in street fights. There are also no coaches or trainers in each fighter's corner to make sure they are safe. Anything goes in a street fight, and that is just not the case in the UFC.


While bare-knuckle boxing also has limitations, it is more closely related to a street fight because it puts fighters in natural conditions, where men are limited to fight with only what they have. Furthermore, defensive and attack methods taught in boxing and MMA may not be as effective without the use of gloves. For example, a hit to the upper portion of one's head is far riskier to one's chances of breaking a hand without gloves, as they offer necessary padding for the fighter. The inclusion of gloves into the sport has not only made it far safer, it has also greatly changed techniques that are essential to the training for the sport. Nowadays, there is a much greater emphasis on power and speed in boxers punches.

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Older generations of fighters were forced to preserve their knuckles by punching the lower portion of their opponent’s face in combat, as they are less likely to get hurt that way. They also had a completely different style of punching than what is seen in boxing today, as they were forced to avoid injury at all costs. Today, this is not as much of an issue as fighters gloves protect them from such an injury more than anything else. Nevertheless, if a competitor does break his hand during a fight, that would undoubtedly be a critical blow to their success. Oftentimes fighters are never able to recover from something as routine as a broken hand, as their hands are essential to their ability to perform. This is a major reason why gloves have become mandatory in nearly all forms of structured fighting, as they minimize the potential risks and damage from punches. 

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While the sport of boxing may put increased emphasis on power and speed, bare-knuckle boxing puts much more emphasis on accuracy and preservation. A major reason for this is because there is less protection for a bare-knuckle fighter when compared to a typical boxer. 


Strong men existed in all ages. Power and training techniques have been practiced for centuries and have developed simultaneously with the exercising of power. With this increased training and knowledge of fighting techniques, fighters were not only able to gain increased strength, they were also more able to use that strength to their advantage.  

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Boxing, wrestling, and other sports were all practiced in the ancient Greco-Roman world. Likewise, muay-tai, pankration, and other martial arts were practiced thousands of years ago, as well. While contact-driven sports have always been seen in society in some form, at no point in history has there been as much knowledge of what it takes to be a championship athlete than there is right now. Nevertheless, there have always been incredible athletes in sports, and that is because nature gifted them with their abilities. Centuries ago, nature and the environment were so clean that many individuals were born with strong organisms. Their strong organisms assisted them in reaching their potential with little training. Nowadays, those who want to reach their physical potential are forced to train tirelessly to do so, because they know that is what must be done to find success. 

"Bread and circuses" Juvenal

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In conclusion, bare-knuckle boxing will always have plenty of fans who want to see a real fight and not just a show. Bare-knuckle boxers are modern-day gladiators who put their lives on the line for their audience. They possess the type of passion that is so rarely seen in sports today. While modern sports may have succeeded in increasing human power and strength, they have failed in their ability to protect the weak points of the human body, and bare-knuckle boxers use that fact to its advantage in combat.

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