Bare Knuckle Boxing

A Brief History

John L Sullivan


Bare knuckle boxing consists of two opponents fighting with fists without gloves or handwraps. It’s the original form of boxing. The London Prize Ring Rules were the foundational rule-set for boxing and were used for most of the 18th and 19th centuries. The London Prize Ring Rules preceded the Marquess of Queensbury Rules which are used in modern day boxing.

Recent History

Although various forms of boxing go back to ancient history, the first newspaper report of a bare-knuckle match was in 1681. In 1719, James Figg captured the first Championship of England and held the title until 1730 when he retired.


“Professional bare-knuckle boxing was never legal under any federal or state laws in the United States until Wyoming became the first to legalize it on March 20, 2018. Prior to that date, the chief sanctioning organization for bare-knuckle boxing was the magazine National Police Gazette, which set up matches and issued championship belts throughout the 1880s. The Police Gazette sanctioned what is considered the last major bare-knuckle heavyweight world championship, between John L. Sullivan and Jake Kilrain on July 8, 1889, with Sullivan emerging as the victor”

Modern Day

Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship(BKFC) is the first organization to hold a legal, sanctioned bare knuckle boxing event in the United States since 1899. In BKFC, all bouts are fought in a four rope circular ring dubbed the “squared circle.” The “squared circle” is 22 feet across. Opponents begin every bout by “toeing the line” at opposing scratch lines. When the ref states, “Knuckle up!” the bout begins. Bouts are five rounds and each round is two minutes in duration.

List of Past United States Champions

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