There is some undeniable appeal in seeing two men (and now more increasingly women) fight one another in organized combat. A leading theory is that the outward display of violence satisfies a similar tendency brewing inside all of us, yet at the same time, few people ever want to see someone seriously hurt for the sake of diversion. This places the realm of fighting sports (and our acceptance of it) in a precarious position—one that walks a fine balance between violence and safety, entertainment and civility—and it is always seeking improvement on both fronts. Basically, how can we make combat sports more exciting for the public, but safer for its fighters? 

One suggestion that has seemingly gained traction over time is the revival of bare-knuckle boxing. From the outset, the notion appears move in the wrong direction; the removal of padded gloves mimics more the times of our ancestors where life was brutish and short. But there is a growing contingency that argues that it is indeed safer than its gloved counterpart, and that any perceived brutality only further satisfies the need for entertainment. Probably the most referenced quote on the topic is from sports historian Nicholas Hobbes, who in an article references bare-knuckle advocate Dr. Alan J Ryan in defense of the gloveless art. It reads:

“As the bare-knuckle campaigner Dr. Alan J Ryan pointed out: ‘In 100 years of bare-knuckle fighting in the United States, which terminated around 1897 with a John L Sullivan heavyweight championship fight, there wasn't a single ring fatality.’ Today, there are three or four every year in the US, and around 15 per cent of professional fighters suffer some form of permanent brain damage during their career.”

When put that way, bare-knuckle boxing appears to be the obvious solution. But let’s investigate that claim.