Jump to content

The return of bare-knuckle boxing

Guest Jack

Recommended Posts

Bobby Gunn arrived in Arizona on Thursday, a day before he was set to take part in what is believed to be the first sanctioned bare-knuckle boxing match since 1889, when John L. Sullivan had his hand raised after foe Jake Kilrain's corner threw in the towel -- following 75 rounds of hand-to-hand combat.



The 37-year-old hitter, who goes by the nickname "The Celtic Warrior" when he gloves up under the Marquess of Queensberry rules, wasn't much worried that he would be thrown off by the gloveless fists of opponent Richard Stewart. Nor was he fretting that he might sustain an injury more severe than, say, the regulation busted nose that he had accumulated while amassing a 21-4-1 mark since turning pro in 1989. In fact, Gunn said he felt at ease because he had been fighting in events like this one since he was 13 years old.



"I grew up in this," Gunn told ESPN.com. "It's nothing new to me. It's such an honor to be in the footsteps of John L. Sullivan. And nobody will be arrested afterwards."



Presumably, Gunn is right. Promoter David Feldman, along with partner Len Hayko, will stage the show at the Fort McDowell Casino, a 40-square-mile reservation just outside Scottsdale, Ariz. The bare-knuckle match, along with some boxing and MMA fights that will round out the card, will be overseen by the Yavapai Nation, not the Arizona State Boxing Commission.



Feldman assured ESPN.com several times that all proper precautions would be taken to ensure that the fighters aren't hurt, and he insisted that Gunn and Stewart are less likely to be seriously hurt in a bare-knuckle fight than in a "regular" boxing match because, in a bare-knuckle tussle, a fighter is less likely to take a sustained beating.



"Safety is first," said Feldman, a former pro boxer who has tried for years to get the bare-knuckle event rolling but has been met with resistance from folks who cried barbarism. "With the gloves, people absorb more blows. But we're not going to let anyone get killed or let someone's eye fall out."



The promoter is trying to toe a line here, as he also believes that fight fans are looking for more in-your-face action -- more violence, less science, perhaps.



"Fans want it a little more extreme," Feldman said, after admitting that his own father, trainer Marty Feldman, told him he wouldn't watch Gunn-Stewart. "They want a little bit more brutality."



The last time a bare-knuckle boxing match was held in the U.S., the event wasn't widely publicized, as bare-fist fighting was illegal in most of the 38 states. Sullivan was the favorite in the eyes of the majority who came to see "The Boston Strong Boy" take on New York native Kilrain -- although Sullivan's detractors thought his penchant for boozing might give Kilrain an opening. When Sullivan vomited during the 44th round of a bout contested under the London Prize Ring rules, Kilrain's backers liked their man's chances a bit more.



But the men kept scrapping, tossing blows and throwing each other to the ground. Finally, after two hours and 16 minutes under a scorching sun, at the end of the 75th round, Kilrain's corner threw in the towel.



Gunn and Stewart will have to get through only 10 rounds or less, with each round lasting 90 seconds. No takedowns are allowed, as they were during the Sullivan era. Two referees will monitor the action, and if someone is badly cut, a cutman will be allowed to immediately work on the slice for 30 seconds. Fight fans can watch online at ustream.tv, for a fee.



Gunn said he has taken part in about 70 underground bare-knuckle fights since his first foray at Niagara Falls, Canada, when as a 13-year-old he took on a 17-year-old.



"A guy wanted to fight me," Gunn said. "My father spoke to him. It was in a field. We made a ring. I busted him up pretty good."



He was born to brawl, Gunn says, and simply enjoys everything that comes with the package. No, he hasn't broken through into the big time in the fight game yet, and smart money says it will be hard for him to jump up in class, as he hasn't been able to get over the high hurdle of world-class fighters like Tomasz Adamek and Enzo Maccarinelli when given the chance. But he is hopeful, as is Feldman, that bare-knuckle boxing will take off.



"I sure hope so, pal," Gunn said. "Listen, fighting to me is like a virus: Once you get it, it's hard to get rid of. And you don't want to get rid of it."



He doesn't see himself as the John L. Sullivan of the 2000s, he says. "I'm just Bobby Gunn. I couldn't carry John L.'s gym bag."



But Gunn's humility isn't infinite; he says he has never lost a bare-knuckle fight. The talent he has faced, he says, is top-tier.



"Some guys were better than top-10 contenders. It was a waste of talent. If they were trained properly… People say we don't have great American heavyweights. They aren't looking in the right place."



Gunn won't have to look hard to find Stewart, a 35-year-old Delaware resident who has a 14-9-2 mark as a pro boxer. Stewart has lost five in a row fighting under the Queensberry rules, but he didn't sound dejected, like a man merely on a mission to cash a paycheck, on Thursday.



"My God, I'm so excited," he said. "It's great to be taking part in something they haven't done in more than a hundred years.



"We'll be getting the linear title of John L. Sullivan. We'll come forward, meet in the center and see who's still standing. Neither of us has ever claimed to be a Roy Jones Jr. type. Whoever is less bloody and still standing will be the winner."



There will be some who will protest that this is proof positive we're all becoming less civilized, that Feldman's event is a return to the bad old days when there was less oversight of fighters. Stewart answers that men will be men, that we are all animals -- human animals, but animals nevertheless.



"As much as we've evolved, we're men, it's in our genes," he said. "We want to see who's tougher, just like we did back in the schoolyard. Me and Bobby are the kind of guys who, if they didn't have sanctioned fighting, we'd be fighting in some back alley."

Fantastic news, I think. I can't imagine this will take off in a big way, because there are far too many people who will oppose this, but it is good to see a comeback of sorts and I hope it can progress. Bare-knuckle is the ultimate in sheer brutality of any sport in history, so I'm sure that there will be a market for this.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Jimmy Redman

Hey, Barrett is the bare-knuckle fighting champion of ALL EUROPE!


Europe > Blackpool.


In trying to stop derailing Jack's thread, for a novice, is the idea that wearing heavy boxing gloves means guys are able to throw more heavy shots without hand damage, so bare-knuckle boxing means you cant hit people's heads as hard or as long without the padding to the hands that gloves provide? Therefore its technically safer for brains?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In trying to stop derailing Jack's thread, for a novice, is the idea that wearing heavy boxing gloves means guys are able to throw more heavy shots without hand damage, so bare-knuckle boxing means you cant hit people's heads as hard or as long without the padding to the hands that gloves provide? Therefore its technically safer for brains?
Yeah, pretty much. I believe QI did a piece on bare-knuckle boxing and mentioned that there are far fewer deaths than in gloved boxing because, apart from what you mentioned about holding back on the power, the reason so many deaths occur in boxing is because the gloves allow boxers to take more punches. So not only do boxers not throw as many hard shots because it breaks the hands, the boxer on the receiving end is more likely to be knocked out by those hard punches, which means it's safer. One punch knockouts very rarely result in brain damage, it's the long, drawn out, gruelling fights over 12 rounds which do serious harm so bare-knuckle should result in fewer deaths.


That said, it has the reputation it has for a reason. It is the most brutal form of any fighting and even though it's surface damage, it is still serious. Cuts occur easily, eyes pop out quite often in true Vader style, ribs are more easily broken, hands are broken in most fights and so on.


Just out of interest, is there any truth in that about Barrett or is it purely a gimmick?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Anime Otaku

I dunno how I feel about this as a fairly new and also quite casual boxing fan, I suppose if it's actually safer in terms of people not getting permanently injured or killed then obviously it should be looked at seriously. Is there any unbiased info on what it's like for guys gettign stuff like Parkinsons?

The talk of gloves reminds me of something I read years ago when Cage Fighting just got going that it was originally bare knuckle but the moral guardians got involved and made them use the gloves and actually made the sport more dangerous as the gloves protect the hands of the attacker more than the guy on the receiving end.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nah, he wouldn't get past Regal. Thats what happens when you come up against a guy who grew up fighting on the mean streets of Blackpool, England. :lol
Don't forget that Regal fought on the docks of Blackpool. :lol
Just out of interest, is there any truth in that about Barrett or is it purely a gimmick?
Barrett was a bare-knuckle boxer in Liverpool during his early 20s. I don't know anything about his legit record though.
Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Active Fan Clubs

  • Create New...