|738281. Tue Aug 31, 2010 5:47 pm
|Flash wrote: |
|Q: Why do boxers wear gloves?
F: To protect the person who's being hit
A: To protect the person doing the hitting, according to this extract from Stumped! by Nicholas Hobbes:
|Promotional posters for boxing matches in the 19th century followed a formula: the two adversaries would be depicted squaring up to each other, with heads tilted slightly backwards and their fists held low, the knuckles pointing out and upwards. The pose looks comical nowadays, as if they are actors in a silent movie rather than pugilists.
The stance and guard were low because bare-knuckle boxing consisted largely of striking the opponent's body. The skull is an extremely hard object, and a full-force punch to an opponent's head could easily result in a broken hand. This is why so many bar-room brawls end after one punch. The "boxer's fracture" – a break behind the knuckle of the little finger – is regularly seen in hospital casualty departments at weekends.
The Marquess of Queensberry rules took off not because society viewed the new sport as more civilised than the old, but because fights conducted under the new guidelines attracted more spectators. Audiences wanted to see repeated blows to the head and dramatic knockouts.
By contrast, the last bare-knuckle heavyweight contest in the US in 1897 dragged on into the 75th round. Since gloves spread the impact of a blow, the recipient of a punch is less likely to be blinded, have their teeth knocked out or their jaw broken. However, gloves do not lessen the force applied to the brain as it rattles inside the skull from a heavy blow. In fact, they make matters worse by adding 10oz to the weight of the fist.
A full-force punch to the head is comparable to being hit with a 12lb padded wooden mallet travelling at 20mph. Gerald McClellan took around 40 such blows over the course of his world title fight against Nigel Benn in 1995. Even the most hardened spectators were shocked by its brutality.
Neither fighter made any great attempts to defend himself. Instead, the two stood toe to toe, trading punches. As a result, McClellan suffered brain damage that left him blind, 80 per cent deaf and paralysed.
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. Worldwide, there have been over 400 boxing deaths in the last 50 years alone. The total would be far higher were it not for the advances in medical care that saved the lives of fighters such as McClellan and Michael Watson. A return to bare knuckles would be bloodier and less acceptable to mass television audiences, but one has to ask whether wheelchairs and life-support machines are any easier on one's conscience.
I remember seeing this question on the series and wanting to throw something ungloved at the television. To use the 'data' of a bare-knuckle campaigner as statistical evidence for the fact is a poor do, gentlemen, really. More reliable data for the purpose can be drawn from the records of another campaigner, who was anti-boxing in general, Manuel Velazquez.
Velazquez' campaign dates back to just before the war, when a boxer he befriended was interred in a hospital due to mental incompetency incurred from boxing injuries. He began to collate data on boxing injuries and fatalities, acquiring a morbid trove of information on the timing and circumstances of each death uncovered.
According to this link here http://ejmas.com/jcs/jcsart_svinth_a_0700.htm section 6b states that for bare-knuckle pugilism, the death rate was about 14,000 deaths per million participations. This compares with 76 deaths per million participations for modern professional boxing, and 6.1 per million for amateur boxing. While it is likely that the bare-knuckle figures will have been altered by having mainly those in which a fatality occurred being reported, the anecdotal evidence alone is enough to suggest bare-knuckle fighting was still far more hazardous than modern boxing: English champion Simon Bryne for example won his title in 1830 in a bout which killed his opponent, only to die defending his title 3 years later. A cursory examination of the data in detail also shows many fatalities in the US in the 1800s which must have pre-dated the usage of gloves.
While it is also likely that many of these deaths may have been caused by other factors (one recorded instance was a fatality in the 169th round, another recounted an injury following a throw, 'legal' as per the rules at the time, as well as concussed boxers being given laudanum and being bled, medical 'treatment' which would exacerbate such a condition rather than rectify it), even given such precautions the data overwhelmingly dispels the idea that bare-knuckle fighting was in any way safer than its, still dangerous, modern counterpart.