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Bare Fists: The History of Bare Knuckle Prize Fighting

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In its heyday, which spanned the mid 18th to the late 19th centuries, the bare-knuckle prize-fight was a wildly popular sport which, as gloved boxing does now, produced some extraordinary characters and legendary bouts, both in Britain and the United States. With contests lasting hours and going into over 100 thrilling, punishing rounds, the sport drew crowds both common a In its heyday, which spanned the mid 18th to the late 19th centuries, the bare-knuckle prize-fight was a wildly popular sport which, as gloved boxing does now, produced some extraordinary characters and legendary bouts, both in Britain and the United States. With contests lasting hours and going into over 100 thrilling, punishing rounds, the sport drew crowds both common and elite-from royals and politicians to writers like Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope to Dickens and Thackaray, to the middle and working classes-all drawn together by the brutal excitement and the spirited wagering the sport generated. Much like gloved boxing today, average men could become superstars overnight, and they could lose the accolades and their health just as quickly. In Bare Fists, Bob Mee shows the fascinating evolution of bare- knuckle boxing, from the earliest days when there were no rules, to the introduction of the Broughton and London Prize Ring Rules, to what was, for bare-knuckle fighting, the beginning of the end-the Marquess of Queensbury Rules, with their call for gloves and timed rounds and their banishment of such brawl-like moves as wrestling holds. Rich in rare and exhilarating anecdote, Bare Fists recreates with thrilling immediacy all of the big bouts of the sport, including those of the legendary American champion of the 1880s, John L. Sullivan. Bob Mee brings the coverage full circle, with a report on how this strange sub-culture continues to flourish, fueled by films like Brad Pitt's Fight Club. Bare Fists is an exciting and important addition to the literature of boxing.


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In its heyday, which spanned the mid 18th to the late 19th centuries, the bare-knuckle prize-fight was a wildly popular sport which, as gloved boxing does now, produced some extraordinary characters and legendary bouts, both in Britain and the United States. With contests lasting hours and going into over 100 thrilling, punishing rounds, the sport drew crowds both common a In its heyday, which spanned the mid 18th to the late 19th centuries, the bare-knuckle prize-fight was a wildly popular sport which, as gloved boxing does now, produced some extraordinary characters and legendary bouts, both in Britain and the United States. With contests lasting hours and going into over 100 thrilling, punishing rounds, the sport drew crowds both common and elite-from royals and politicians to writers like Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope to Dickens and Thackaray, to the middle and working classes-all drawn together by the brutal excitement and the spirited wagering the sport generated. Much like gloved boxing today, average men could become superstars overnight, and they could lose the accolades and their health just as quickly. In Bare Fists, Bob Mee shows the fascinating evolution of bare- knuckle boxing, from the earliest days when there were no rules, to the introduction of the Broughton and London Prize Ring Rules, to what was, for bare-knuckle fighting, the beginning of the end-the Marquess of Queensbury Rules, with their call for gloves and timed rounds and their banishment of such brawl-like moves as wrestling holds. Rich in rare and exhilarating anecdote, Bare Fists recreates with thrilling immediacy all of the big bouts of the sport, including those of the legendary American champion of the 1880s, John L. Sullivan. Bob Mee brings the coverage full circle, with a report on how this strange sub-culture continues to flourish, fueled by films like Brad Pitt's Fight Club. Bare Fists is an exciting and important addition to the literature of boxing.

30 review for Bare Fists: The History of Bare Knuckle Prize Fighting

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ensiform

    A history of bare-knuckle bouts from the 18th centuries to the John L. Sullivan era, with a quick, disapproving look at descendants of the sport like the UFC to cap it off. Mee’s an acceptable writer, but he fails to breathe life into these pugilists, possibly through no fault of his own, given the scarcity of info on them. The book reads like a series of magazine articles on the bouts, one after the other, but it’s grouped into sections ostensibly about each fighter, so we get a lot of chronolog A history of bare-knuckle bouts from the 18th centuries to the John L. Sullivan era, with a quick, disapproving look at descendants of the sport like the UFC to cap it off. Mee’s an acceptable writer, but he fails to breathe life into these pugilists, possibly through no fault of his own, given the scarcity of info on them. The book reads like a series of magazine articles on the bouts, one after the other, but it’s grouped into sections ostensibly about each fighter, so we get a lot of chronological skipping. The fight reporting was okay, but I rarely got a sense of the fighters themselves or how they lived; the section on Sullivan with its vibrant detail only underscored how faintly the previous fighters had made an impression. Still, Mee’s research is admirable and it’s interesting to read anything at all about these forces of nature than drank to excess, fought till they dropped, and died at 32 routinely

  2. 4 out of 5

    Vincent T. Ciaramella

    Wow, this book was a disappointment. First, let me state that I love boxing. Even more, I love old boxing. I am a huge fan of John L. and those old timers that fought for hours under the blazing sun without the aid of gloves. I was real excited to read this book but by the halfway point I wanted to toss it in the trash. I don't know what it is, but the authors writing style just irritates me. I can't put my finger on it and say "its XYZ" but there is something that bothers me. I really just wante Wow, this book was a disappointment. First, let me state that I love boxing. Even more, I love old boxing. I am a huge fan of John L. and those old timers that fought for hours under the blazing sun without the aid of gloves. I was real excited to read this book but by the halfway point I wanted to toss it in the trash. I don't know what it is, but the authors writing style just irritates me. I can't put my finger on it and say "its XYZ" but there is something that bothers me. I really just wanted a fast read on the history of bare knuckles boxing but this was like one antidote after another of people I've never heard of nor care about. I get putting some in to give the reader a glimpse of boxing in times past but it seems like he pretty much found every obscure boxer and added them in. I started losing track of who he was talking about at certain points. If you want this much detail, this is the book for you. If you want an overview look elsewhere.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Miroku Nemeth

    At the end of the book, Mee writes, "Pugilism is dead--and, in spite of the adaptations it has made in the 130 years since gloved boxing began to replace it, the signs are that we will not see its like again." (229) To understand this claim, and to weigh its merits and veracity, one has to actually understand something of the reality of bare knuckle boxing and what differentiates it from gloved boxing and the rule-bound and cleaned up combat sport of contemporary MMA (which is no Pankration). Mee At the end of the book, Mee writes, "Pugilism is dead--and, in spite of the adaptations it has made in the 130 years since gloved boxing began to replace it, the signs are that we will not see its like again." (229) To understand this claim, and to weigh its merits and veracity, one has to actually understand something of the reality of bare knuckle boxing and what differentiates it from gloved boxing and the rule-bound and cleaned up combat sport of contemporary MMA (which is no Pankration). Mee's is the most comprehensive book on bare knuckle boxing that I know of at this time, and it has to be respected for this important contribution to preserving this legacy, requiring so much more skill and being so much more dangerous than anything extant today in combat sports. He surveys the major fighters and their battles throughout history, and anyone who does not know this history really should not venture to speak on the combat arts of mankind. His contributions acknowledged, I have to say that his writing style varies in quality from the witty and insightful to the convoluted, overly focused on minute and inconsequential details, etc. It would have been improved through a few revisions, quite honestly. I would love to see a real rebirth of the skilled bare-knuckle boxers, the tradition that seems to still be alive among the Gypsy travelers like Bartelby Gorman (his autobiography is excellent, by the way, and very well-(ghost)-written). One of my martial arts lineages is in CHA-3 Kenpo, which dates back to 1947, and, oddly enough for GM Tinawok was a champion boxer, we still have very many moves and techniques that date back to the bare-knuckle era and are much more "street-ready" than what one learns in gloved boxing (though I believe training in boxing is excellent, adaptations have to be made if you have not conditioned your bare knuckles).

  4. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Moore

    I absolutely love this book! A wonderful look into the true history of MMA.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    Hard to read...one two or three page vignette followed by another with little or no segue, eyes start blurring every time after about 20 minutes...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dustin

  7. 4 out of 5

    Gary Ormiston

  8. 5 out of 5

    VEL – The Contemporary Heretic

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Swift

  10. 4 out of 5

    Strewth

  11. 4 out of 5

    Scott E

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dakota

  13. 4 out of 5

    Wesley Coburn

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mark

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lyndon Moore

  17. 4 out of 5

    Donny Nelson

  18. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Salmon

  19. 5 out of 5

    John

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bill Hunter

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dan Suri

  22. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Leggins

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ted Spoon

  24. 4 out of 5

    Romney Wordsworth

  25. 4 out of 5

    Colin Leidner

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jason

  27. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Helzer

  29. 4 out of 5

    Greg Boswell

  30. 5 out of 5

    Chris

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