Boxing history: When were boxing gloves invented and by who

Jul 15, 2022

The act of wearing some sort of hand or wrist protection while boxing can be traced back to ancient times.

Fighters taking part in contests against other opponents in the Middle East and Egypt in around 2000 BC are shown wearing a band that worked as support for the wrist.

The depiction of gloves is first recorded in history in Crete during Minoan times, around 1500 BC. Meanwhile, in Ancient Greece, fight contestants used hand protection, and it was custom practice for leather strips to be tied around the hands for bouts.

The idea of using gloves for protection took a turn during the Roman period, when they were instead used as a weapon to inflict as much damage as possible by adding studs or spikes to create the ‘cestus’.

Two leather bands were recovered from excavations at the Roman fort of Vindolanda, dating from around 120 AD. These items are the oldest surviving examples of boxing gloves in the world.

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It is believed boxing was banned in around 393 AD, with the reason being cited as the ‘brutality’ of the sport. 

It wasn’t until the 17th century that boxing came back, seeing a revival in Britain. Fighters would enter contest with bare knuckles and no standard format rules to follow.

This changed during the following century thanks to Englishman Jack Broughton, who instigated Broughton’s Law. In 1743, 

Broughton himself invented the ‘muffler’, a modern version of the boxing glove that was used in practice at his self-defence classes.

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Although based on the gladiatorial cestus, muffler were filled with horsehair or lamb’s wool padding and designed to save the male participants from the ‘inconvenience of black eyes, broken noses and bloody jaws'.

The first report of Broughton’s style of gloves being used in a competitive fight came in 1818. The fight, between two unspecified Englishmen took place in France with a local newspaper reporting that the pair entered the ring with their hands guarded with huge padded gloves’.

However, many contestants continued to fight with bare knuckles until boxing gloves became mandatory with the introduction of the Marquess of Queensberry Rules. The rules were drafted in 1865 and officially adopted in 1892.

Towards the end of the 1890s, modern boxing gloves started to be created. At first, they were mostly skin tight rather than padded, only weighing around two ounces. This style of glove remained popular until the turn of the century.

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The American fighter John L Sullivan, is credited with helping to bring the wearing of boxing gloves into mainstream practice. 

After being one of last the contestants to ever take part in a bare knuckle fight in 1889, Sullivan took part in the inaugural gloved heavyweight championship bout in 1892 wearing five ounce gloves.

Fast forward to 130 years later and the weight of gloves has increased to between eight and 10 ounces for safety reasons.

Boxing gloves have come a long way in that intervening period. These days they are all about protection, with cutting edge technology being used to create designs with features to keep hands, thumbs and wrists safe and secure.

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