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How Boxing Gloves Changed the Sport

During a 150 year period of bare knuckle boxing there were only ever 2 recorded deaths, thanks to boxers avoiding punching their opponents in the face (because it hurt their hands). After the introduction of boxing gloves the number of deaths in boxing rings skyrocketed.

While the data for that time period is probably incomplete due to a lack of record keeping by newspapers and the media of the day, it is pretty clear that deaths from boxing were pretty rare at the time.

Fast forward to the present.

In the USA alone approximately 4 boxers die per year due to injuries sustained in the ring. Usually the result of head or neck injuries because boxing gloves paradoxically increased the number of deaths in the ring by allowing boxers to focus more on punches to the head without fear of injuring their hands. In other words a device meant to make boxing "safer" by protecting the hands of boxers actually causes far more deaths by causing more head/neck injuries.

Modern boxing gloves also play an important role in many boxers suffering brain injuries and eye injuries.

This makes in my opinion a good argument for why we should go back to bare knuckle boxing... In which case we would have more hand injuries, but less deaths.

The way boxing was conducted during the bare knuckle boxing period was also significantly different from modern professional boxing. There was a lot more punches to the upper torso, but boxers habitually avoided the face. Today it is practically the opposite.

After the introduction of padded boxing gloves when the Marquis of Queensbury Rules were drafted in 1865, and later officially adopted in 1892, they evolved over time. Originally they were nearly skin tight and weighed a mere 2 ounces.

Over time they have become heavier and more padded, with 8 ounce gloves becoming banned by AIBA in 1994, after which only 10 ounce or 12 ounce gloves were allowed (depending upon weight class and gender).

The very first padded boxing gloves were invented in 1743, but were only used for sparring and training, and not allowed in actual boxing matches.

Prior to that period "boxing gloves" technically did exist, but they were often fitted with blades or spikes, making them more like weapons of war than they were for boxing matches. The Ancient Greeks for example used leather wraps called Caestus.

There are also many different types of boxing gloves these days, produced by over 30 makers of professional boxing gloves:

  • Bag Gloves
  • Bag Mitts
  • Sparring Gloves
  • Competition Gloves
  • Lace Up Gloves
  • Weighted Training Gloves
  • Illegally Modified Boxing Gloves (see the Carlos "Panama" Lewis case for an example)
  • MMA Grappling Gloves (technically not boxing gloves, but listed here for reference)

As a boxing instructor I would say that I enjoy boxing as a form of exercise and I appreciate it as a sport, but I would never compete as a boxer because I like my eye balls and my brain in their current condition.

There is nothing wrong in my opinion in learning how to throw a proper punch. It can be very useful for self defense, and hopefully that never happens to the majority of people, but for the people who just want to exercise and learn an useful skill then boxing is certainly an option.

And wearing boxing gloves while you are training is definitely a necessity, even if they are more likely to cause deaths in the ring.

For now the genie is out of the bottle, the cat is out of the bag, and there's no getting boxing gloves out of boxing. It is too much a part of the sport these days. What I could foresee eventually happening is the banning of head punches, for the same reason why neck punches aren't allowed.

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