Modern Boxing vs Bare Knuckle Boxing: Which is Better for Self Defense?
Boxing has a long and storied history dating back thousands of years. While the sport has evolved over time, two main forms have emerged – modern boxing with padded gloves, and the more primal bare knuckle boxing. But which style is more effective for real world self defense, where you won’t have the advantage of cushioned gloves? Let’s take a look at the history, rules, benefits, equipment, famous fighters, popularity and self defense effectiveness of each form.
History of Boxing
Boxing can be traced back to ancient Egypt in relief carvings dating 3000 years ago. Ancient Greek boxing known as Pygmachia dates back to 2300 BCE and was included in the early Olympic games. Boxers wrapped their hands in leather thongs sometimes with spikes known as cestus. Bare knuckle boxing remained the norm for centuries with the Marquess of Queensberry rules introduced in 1867 to legitimize the sport requiring gloves, rounds and other protections. Modern boxing as we know it began to take shape by the early 20th century with more gloves, rules, and sanctioning bodies added over time.
Rules of Modern Boxing
Modern boxing developed clear rules and governing bodies to oversee safety and fairness. Fighters wear padded gloves weighing between 8-10 oz. Bouts take place in a square ring with 3 minute rounds, typically capped at 12 rounds total. Only punches thrown to the front and sides of the head and body are allowed. Fighters are awarded points for effective legal punches or can win by knockout, TKO or referee stoppage. Judges declare a winner based on points accrued over the rounds. Strict rules protect downed fighters from further punches.
Rules of Bare Knuckle Boxing
Bare knuckle boxing as it existed in the old days had far fewer rules. Fighters didn’t wear gloves, although they wrapped their hands in gauze for protection. With no gloves to soften blows, making full power blows to the head difficult, and no limitations on rounds, some fights lasted for many hours and on a few occasions lasted for more than 80 rounds. Bouts ended when one fighter could not continue, known as a “last man standing” format. Groin shots, head butting, grappling and throws were generally allowed in addition to punches.
In recent years, bare knuckle boing, which had been illegal almost everywyere in modern times, has had a resurgence in some parts of the world. In these modern bouts, the fighters do not wear gloves, but they do wear wrist wraps which stabilize their wrists. Probably because of the influence of karate, it appeas that the modern bare knuckle boxers are mostly able to punch with full power to the head without breaking their hands or wrists. There are set numbers of rounds, with referees, and kicking, kneeing, elbowing, and grappling are not allowed, although the fighters are allowed to hold and punch. These bouts tend to be very bloody, and without gloves, punches have more power and knockouts are common, even from punches delivered with the lead hand.
Benefits of Modern Boxing
The clear rules, officials and padded gloves of modern boxing may seem to make it a safer regulated sport. Gloves soften the blows and allow fighters to throw more punches to the head without breaking hands. Rounds and point systems allow for strategy over time versus a single skirmish. Possible doctor checks between rounds can monitor fighter health. Weight classes and referees prevent mismatches. Modern boxing is accepted as an Olympic sport with clear training and advancement systems in place. The entertainment value and safer conditions allow it to generate far more mainstream popularity and money. However, because the gloves protect the fighters’ hands, more blows to the head are thrown and fighters can actually sustain much more cumulative damage to the brain.
Benefits of Bare Knuckle Boxing
While more brutal, bare knuckle offers some advantages. Without big gloves, fighters can’t hide behind padded shields, requiring sharper defensive skills and movement. Groin shots and throws open up more targets and attack methods beyond just punching, including hammer fits and kicks. Broken hands are rare since power must be controlled without gloves. Bare knuckle boxing teaches economical and precise striking. The lack of gloves echos a real self defense situation more closely. The bare knuckle format emphasizes toughness and true fighting spirit.
Equipment Used in Modern Boxing
Modern boxers use customized padded gloves weighing between 8-10oz which allow heavy blows while protecting the hands and head from injuries. Gloves come in many colors and designs but always offer similar padding. A mouthguard protects teeth and gums from impact. Boxers wear protective cups and athletic tape to wrap hands and wrists for support. Headgear, used in amateur bouts and for sparring practice, protects from cuts and swelling and also gives some protection to a fighter who is knocked out and hits his head on the canvas. Boxers train in rings with spring loaded canvas floors and padded rope boundaries.
Equipment Used in Bare Knuckle Boxing
Old time Bare knuckle boxers competed without any gloves or padding beyond simple hand wraps of gauze and tape. This protects the wrists and knuckles from cuts and avoids sprained wrists to some extent but offers little padding. Without gloves, cuts and facial bruising are more common. Fighters customize their hand wrapping technique and materials to balance protection and flexibility.
Bare knckle boxers in the olden times had never heard of karate, and in particular the karate practiooner’s ability to strengthen his punches by using equipment such as the makiwara. It is likely that the modern bare knuckle boxers have incorporated karate like training as they are able to deliver more full power punches to the head without breaking their hands. Their punching is also assisted by their use of sturdier modern wrist wraps, which strengthen their wrists.
Famous Boxers of the Modern Era
Many hugely popular champions emerged from the modern boxing era. Muhammed Ali brought charisma and political activism to the sport alongside his unique showboating style. Other household names like Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard and Floyd Mayweather became stars known for signature speed, power and technical prowess. The global growth of modern boxing launched the careers of international stars like Julio Cesar Chavez, Manny Pacquiao and Wladimir Klitschko. Pay-per-view boxing has created a new era of super wealth and stardom.
Famous Boxers of the Bare Knuckle Era
Bare knuckle champions like James Figg launched the early popularity of English boxing in the 1700’s. Later bare knuckle stars included Jem Belcher, Henry Pearce, Jem Ward and Dutch Sam. John L Sullivan rose to fame in the late 1800’s before gloves were mandated. Sullivan refused to fight with gloves in 1892 which essentially ended the reign of bare knuckle champions. Earlier stars like Tom Hyer, Yankee Sullivan and Nonpareil Dempsey pioneered early American boxing. Their legends continue through the gritty spirit of bare knuckle fighting. Today’s bare knuckle boxers are usually retired MMA fighters, who posess ring skills and toughness.
Popularity of Modern Boxing vs. Bare Knuckle Boxing
Despite the recent resurgence in popularity of bareknuckle boxing, there is no comparison when it comes to global popularity. Modern stars like Ali, Mayweather and Tyson are known by sports fans and non sports fans alike. Major bouts generate millions in ticket sales, gambling, endorsements and pay-per-view buys. The Mayweather vs Pacquiao fight generated over $600 million dollars. Boxing gyms can be found in any city worldwide, and many are full of aspiring boxers. While firm numbers are unavailable, bare knuckle remains a niche sport with matches and fighters largely unknown outside hardcore followers. With gambling and pay-per-view dollars driving modern boxing, the difference in popularity and money is massive.
Effectiveness of Bare Knuckle Boxing in Self Defense Situations
At first glance the fewer rules and equipment of bare knuckle boxing seem better suited for real self defense scenarios. Punches are typically thrown in self defense without thinking of rounds, judges or gloves. However some key factors make bare knuckle less effective in most cases. The hand injury risk from bare knuckle strikes to the head drastically reduces the number of punches that can safely be thrown in self defense unless the practitioner is willing to use arduous karate training methods. Furthermore, modern boxing offers superior footwork, feinting and use of angles from extensive sparring practice. These translate well in self defense situations. Overall, modern boxing skills likely prevail but the mindset and conditioning of bare knuckle training offers advantages.
How to Avoid Breaking Your Hands in Self Defense Situations
Throwing repeated bare knuckle punches against hard targets like the skull and jaw often result in hand fractures for inexperienced strikers. The safest approach in self defense is to stick to body blows and avoid the head entirely when bare knuckled. Targeting soft areas like the stomach, ribs, liver, kidneys and solar plexus can incapacitate an attacker while sparing your hands. If forced to hit the head, use palm heel and elbow strikes which make contact with firmer wrist and arm bones less prone to breakage. Proper punching technique is key – strike with the first two front knuckles straightened to spread impact rather than the weaker digital knuckles. Power comes from hip rotation not just arm muscles. Remember even bare knuckle pros limit head shots due to hand injury risks, so consider grappling and takedowns as alternatives to unsafe repeated punches.
However, for people who are willing to use hand conditioning methods like the makiwara, as well as specific exercises to strengthen their wrists, bare knuckle boxing, which incorporates kicks and throws can be extremely effective for self – defense.
Western boxing, while having some drawbacks in a self defense situations, does have very effective footowrk and head movement which can be useful in a real world self defense situation.
The ideal boxing for self defense would containe elements of both modern boxing and bare knuckle boxing.