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Boxing is one of the oldest recorded sports in the world. Dating back to 3000 BC in ancient Egypt the first records of boxers wearing leather strapping for protection on their hands appear in the first Olympic Games held in Greece during the 7th century BC. Yet, they were a far cry from the gloves we see boxers wearing today when they step into the ring. So what is the purpose of using boxing gloves during a fight?
The purpose of using boxing gloves boils down to two things. One is the protection of the fighter’s hands, minimising the risk of breakages and allowing the fight to last longer. Second is the protection of the opponent being punched, also helping to minimise trauma.
But the argument has been made in more recent years that boxing gloves do in fact allow more damage than fighters wearing no gloves at all. And the reason for this as set out below in a study into the effects of CTE or Chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
A disease which results from repeated blows to the head which boxers receive. With the wearing of gloves allowing for boxers to take repeated additional punches to the head, while still being able to continue the fight.
With the addition of a standing eight count allowing some time to recover. Before once again continuing to fight, commonly while looking very unsteady on their legs.
In comparison bare-knuckle boxing which has made a resurgence in recent years. Shows that A, fighters are receiving significantly more cuts and lacerations to the face. While B, at the same time the fights tend to end more quickly.
And boxing matches which end more quickly, in turn, lead to less repeated impacts and less chance of scarring on the brain that results in CTE. Something which I will go on to talk about in more detail.
History Of Boxing
So while the sport of boxing dates back many thousands of years. In relevant terms, the introduction of gloves is very recent. Bare-knuckle boxing was outlawed throughout the western world.
And in order for the sport to become sanctioned and go mainstream. A decision was made in 1867 when the Marquess of Queensberry rules were introduced. These changes finally saw the introduction of boxing gloves for any sanctioned bouts. In a move that saw the long and illustrious history of bare-knuckle finally came to end, for now.
Since that time the use of western-style boxing gloves has proliferated throughout the globe, from the USA to Mexico, Thailand to Japan. Today gloves in their many forms are utilized in almost every sanctioned standup combat sport.
With the purpose of the boxing gloves being used, widely sold as being for the betterment of the fighters. Something which has been called into question in more recent years.
Bareknuckle vs Gloved boxing
But before boxing gloves became mandatory, many fights resulted in the boxers receiving some severe cuts to their faces. In many cases forcing the fight to be stopped.
And this early stoppage with a fighter being beaten by a cut rather than their opponent. Was something which both fans and those financially invested did not particularly appreciate.
Longer fights meant more entertainment, more entertainment equalled more fans and more money. So as the sport progressed those involved were looking for a way in which to improve it, along with their bank balances.
Being somewhat of a misconception, it can’t be argued that the introduction of gloves was purely in the spirit of helping fighters. As with most things in life, money inevitably also played a major role.
But over time as science has improved, so has the understanding we now have about the effects which repeated blows to the head can have.
And we see time and time again, especially in the sport of boxing. These repeated punches to the head using gloves can have long and lasting effects on the quality of life for a fighter.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why we have seen the resurgence in the previously underground sport of bare-knuckle boxing. With its fighters being battered and bruised, the fights often end more quickly. Either by cuts, quick knockouts or a boxer breaking their hand.
So the argument from those who are looking to build bare-knuckle back up may very well be based in solid scientific analysis. As while there can be far more superficial damage taken. The fighter can walk away with most of their faculties still intact.
Perhaps adding some fuel to the argument that it’s the much older form of gloveless and not gloved boxing which in fact is the safer of those two.
Medical Studies & CTE
With multiple medical studies showing that from repeated blows over time boxers brains can receive significant scarring. And while in one sense boxing gloves have made the sport safer. At the very same time, fighters will often take several more blows to the head to reach the same desired outcome.
So in some ways their introduction as exacerbated the damage being done. Often taking many years to materialise, resulting in boxers post fighting life being one of considerable cognitive decline.
As via an array of debilitating diseases of the brain. Boxers quality of life is slowly syphoned away never to return again. From Muhammad Ali to Mickey Ward, the signs of damage are all around.
With the introduction of gloves giving the visual impression that fights were indeed much safer. Unfortunately, as we learn more and more the data often tells us something very different indeed.
Designing Better Boxing Gloves
So as we know the desired result in boxing is to defeat your opponent and there are a number of ways to do that. Including a fighter being stopped by blows to the body. Causing enough pain by temporarily shutting down certain non-essential organs.
Cumulative strikes where a fighter is unable to continue and the referee stops the match or by knockout or technical knockout.
Now the final one on the list is obviously the method which can cause the most lasting damage. Forcing shutdown of the opponent’s brain and a loss of consciousness.
With boxing gloves being designed to deliver the maximum amount of impact without causing death. Some designers still strive to try and develop a glove which can deliver the blows.
While at the same time somehow maintaining the integrity of the sport. Vis-à-vis allowing for a fighters ability to stop their opponent in any way they see fit, so not at all a tall order.
“develop boxing gloves capable of substantially buffering impact forces delivered to an opponent, thereby permitting safer boxing.”Iterative Design of Impact-Damping Gloves for Safer Boxing
However, the one drawback of this work is of course that if you do somehow manage to cut down on devastating knockouts. You will be taking away one of the key reasons which for many fans makes boxing, boxing!
As boxers have even commented themselves, fans want to see people getting knocked out. And if you then take that important element away, no matter how violent and detrimental it may be. You may very well take away the soul of the sport itself.
As we can see there were a host of reasons for the eventual introduction of gloves to the sport of boxing. And while their use has helped in the overall development of the sport.
Taking it from illegal underground and backyard street fights. Bringing it mainstream and making it one of the most popular sports in the world. We cannot deny the underlying medical proof that their use has major drawbacks.
While it helps in terms of the superficial damage done inside the ring. It’s the damage which we don’t see that is most worrying for anyone involved in the sport.
Always striving on ways to improve fighters safety. Today the sports officials are still at a loss in finding ways to do anymore to protect their fighters.
As in any full-contact sports, there was and will always be a degree of danger involved. And that for many is why they enjoy watching and participating in this age-old form of combat.
So while boxing gloves do serve a purpose. Let’s just hope that over time we can find even better ways to protect those fighters that put their life on the line every time they step inside the squared circle.
Hi, I’m Ross, at 40 years plus, I have been involved in the Martial arts for most of my life. Along with my first pet Collie dog named Tyson, RIP. My journey in the world of Martial Arts is something I want to share. So that others too can learn from my experiences.