Boxing gloves have been around in one form or another almost since the beginning of boxing 3000 years ago. The ancient Greeks used to wrap their hands in leather strips in an attempt to protect their hands. But there was no padding in these early boxing gloves, just leather to protect the boxer’s hands. Most people mistakenly assume that boxing gloves have always existed to protect the person being hit. But the bones in your hand are very small and fragile. The padding provided by boxing gloves is as much to protect the person swinging as to protect the person on the other end of the swing.
When the Romans picked up boxing as a sport from the Greeks they unfortunately turned it into a life or death type gladiator event. They continued to use Greek style leather strips as gloves. However, they hardened the leather and attached metal studs and spikes to the strips. As a result, in many ancient Roman boxing matches the loser ended up dead or permanently maimed.
This was too brutal for even the ancient Romans. They made boxing illegal in all Roman cities and provinces in 30 B.C. This distaste for boxing was so great in the Roman Empire that the ban continued in the entire Western civilization for over 1500 years.
When boxing finally reappeared in the late 1600s it was of the bare-knuckled variety. However, because of the more civilized approach taken to boxing it was not long before boxing gloves resurfaced as well. This time, padding was added. Jack Broughton, who was a British boxing champ in the early 1700s, is widely considered to be the inventor of the modern padded boxing gloves. However, these padded leather boxing gloves of the 1600s and 1700s were only used in practice and for informal boxing matches. The major public boxing matches were still bare-knuckle events.
But people were dying in these bare-knuckle matches, so something had to be done. Strangely, however, the boxing rules established in the 1700s and much of the 1800s did not require or even mention the use of boxing gloves. Boxers were very reluctant to give up the purity of bare knuckles fisticuffs. As a result, in many parts of the world boxing was banned in the 1800s and picked up its seedy reputation that continues today.
The beginning of the end for bare-knuckle boxing started in 1866 when John Graham Chambers in London published the now famous Queensbury Rules. Among other things, these rules required the use of padded boxing gloves for all boxing matches. By the beginning of the 20th century the Queensbury rules were used everywhere and bare-knuckles boxing was gone from established boxing events.
The last of the bare-knuckle boxing champions was John L. Sullivan. He lost his championship in 1892 to the first of the Marquise of Queensbury rules champions, “Gentleman Jim” Corbett. Not too surprisingly, the match was held under the Queensbury rules and both combatants wore padded boxing gloves.
Today boxing gloves are defined by weight. The heavier the boxing gloves, the safer they are for both contestants. This is not just because they are padded more. The higher weight means the boxers can’t swing as fast as they can with lighter gloves.