Why is Bare Knuckle Boxing Legal, I thought It Was Banned?

A bare knuckle fighter in the ring with his coach.

With its recent arrival and rapid rise in popularity in both the US and across the water in the UK. Some people appear to be quite confused as to why exactly bare knuckle boxing is now legal?

Well, there are some nuances to the status of the sport and how it is viewed by the sanctioning bodies in both nations. With it being currently legalised in just one US state, while in the UK bare knuckle boxing is legal, but not yet fully regulated.

And so there are two quite different stories when we look at the differing situations for the sport. As it continues to grow in popularity, how will it be treated by the relevant authorities? And will it be able to expand outside of the specific confines it currently finds itself inhabiting?

In much the same way as MMA, bare knuckle will no doubt have an uphill struggle. As it attempts to gain a foothold in mainstream popular sports culture. As rightly or wrongly, it will have its detractors and so will no doubt need to fight hard in order to be fully recognised by those at the top.

That being said, there is a glimmer of hope things will at some point move in the right direction. And apart from some in the media which have been quite critical, there hasn’t been a major pushback. Perhaps signalling that now is the time for the sport to finally make its breakthrough.

Bare knuckle Boxing In The UK

For instance, while the sport is legal in the United Kingdom, bare knuckle boxing is not officially regulated. Which means that it is not governed by the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC). So any fights which take place, do so without licensing.

Meaning that the events themselves are not currently recognised by the UK government and in effect do not exist! Until of course the authorities take an interest in regulating. Wherein the promotions and the sport will then become official.

But as things stand the British Boxing Board of Control has shown no interest in getting involved in ungloved boxing. So unless we see a seed change in their position. Bare knuckle may remain for some time in the relative wilderness.

But this is a story as old as the sport itself, as even during it’s heyday. It often suffered issues with the authorities of the time. As they sought to kerb what they viewed as a brutal and dangerous pastime. And often with unlimited time to do damage, you could understand why that might have been the case.

Bare knuckle boxing with rules originated in England. And in 1892 gloves were introduced to create the sport of boxing which most are familiar with today. Since that time, bare knuckle fights have remained legal. But there was no regulator involved to bring the different promotions together to create one cohesive and recognised sport.

Bare Knuckle In The US

When the promoter of Bare knuckle Fighting Championships in the US David Feldman went looking for a State which would sanction their flagship event. All except one, the State of Wyoming said yes.

The sport still has a reputation for being brutal and some might say barbaric. So, for this reason, the vast majority of states did not want to be the first to step up and face the backlash from their involvement.

But the State officials were quick to draw parallels between bare knuckle and other already sanctioned combat sports. With the chairman of Wyoming Combat Sports Commission Bryan Pedersen. Saying that while MMA fighters can use elbows, knees and shins, bare knuckle fighters only use their fists;

“That’s something where we can just look at and say, ‘This (bare-knuckle boxing) is going to be a safer sport than the two that we already regulate.’’’

Bryan Pedersen – Wyoming Combat Sports Commission

So BKFC along with another relative newcomer to the game in Valor bare knuckle. A promotion established by UFC Hall of Famer Ken Shamrock. Have become the two main promotions at the forefront of bringing the sport out of the shadows and back into the public domain.

Former multiple time MMA world champion Shamrock. Was very quick to point out that the sport is far more than two fighters simply bludgeoning one another with their unwrapped fists. Commenting that;

“It’s skilful. It’s very skilful, and we want people to understand that and be educated to that. It’s very important because bare knuckle belongs up there with the best of combat sports.”

Ken Shamrock – Forbes radio interview

And with long lines of current and former combat sports athletes lining up for some pretty big paydays. It looks like the sport has definitely found favour with those who have what it takes to step into the squared circle.

Modern Bare Knuckle Rules

What we would widely now be referred to as modern bare knuckle combat. Differs in several ways from its close relative, the sport of boxing. While in the previous iteration of the sport back in the 1800s. Fights were sometimes allowed to continue for dozens of rounds.

The modernised rules for bouts consist of fights lasting 3×2 minutes rounds, then in championship title fights 5×2 and 7×2 minute rounds. There is also an allowance in terms of a fighter knockdown. With a 20-second count, compared to 10 in gloved boxing.

And for some, the sport is filling what they perceive as a void. Almost like the final piece of the combat sports puzzle. Where the removal of any padding gives us the purest form of unarmed combat. Without and protection to show exactly what the human body is capable of doing.

As an example, several people involved in the sport of MMA had previously called for bare knuckles to be used. Believing that the added padding in gloves gives the fighters a false sense of security. And as the fighter can take and inflict additional punishment on their opponent. It can have the opposite effect by leading to more lasting damage from the fight.

Joe Rogan advocates bare knuckle in MMA

Bare Knuckle Boxing Payouts

Down through the years of established sports such as boxing and MMA. There has always been well-publicised unhappiness with fighters pay. But it appears as though the people at least behind BKFC have ensured that their fighters are properly compensated for their fights.

With former UFC fighter Jason Knight saying on the Pull No Punches podcast that;

“I’m going to be making more than I made in my last UFC fight. I think the money is pretty good. I lost my last one, I made $36,000. If everything goes the way it should, I’ll make more than that for sure.”

Jason Knight – Pull No Punches podcast

Adding that his opponent, another former UFC fighter Artem Lobov, who had signed a three-fight deal. Had publicly stated he would be making $50,000 for their upcoming fight. More money than either man was making while fighting in the UFC.

So with those kinds of numbers being bandied about. Providing those promoting the sport handle their finances correctly and manage to stay afloat. And not go the way of financial collapse like so many others before. There can be little doubting the appeal for those willing to toe the line.

Final Thoughts

While the sport will not be everyone’s cup of tea. You can see why some hardcore combat sports fans might be enthralled by the purity of bare knuckle boxing.

The champions of old such as John Hyer, Paddy Ryan or John L Sullivan hold a special place in the history of combat sports and are still highly revered to this day. So you can see the appeal and why some of today’s fighters would be excited about being part of this modern-day iteration of the sport.

At one time or another, almost all combat sports had difficulty in finding acceptance amongst the established sports of the day. Partly because they may have been looking to protect their own standing amongst the public. Or perhaps because they simply found the sport unpalatable. But over time as these sports found general acceptance, they would eventually be sanctioned and absorbed into mainstream culture.

Does the same future lie ahead for bare knuckle boxing? Well, we shall just have to wait and see, but the signs, at least for now, look pretty good. So for all you ungloved boxing fans out there. As the future looks bright, its time to knuckle up and prepare for the ride ahead.


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.

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