Boxing Gloves History And How They Have Changed Over The Years – Complete Guide

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Ancient Boxing Gloves

Humans have been competing against each other using their hands since the start of time. The first depiction of humans using material to protect their hands dates back to around 1500 BC.

In Ancient Greece in 668BC they used Leather hand wrappings to protect the boxers wrists at the Olympic Games and these wrappings developed over time, adding more layers and to include objects like metal and concrete intended to inflict damage on their opponent and became referred to as Cletus which carried over into the Roman times.

Ancient Greek Hand Protector
Ancient Greek Hand Protector/Cletus

Boxing became a one shot show with these Cletus ‘Ancient Knuckledusters’ and combatants also got protection on their arms when fighting in this way, as when one blow landed it was usually over and fights ended when a fighter raised a finger to signal defeat. The concept of rounds did not exist until the late 18th century.

Ancient Roman Box Gloves
Ancient Roman Box Gloves


Ancient Roman Boxing Gloves
Ancient Roman Boxing Gloves

Early Thai Form Of Boxing Gloves/Wraps

Muay Boran

Asia and the Ancient East also had their own forms of boxing where elbows, knees and kicks were also allowed. Muay Boran was the early form of what is now called Muay Thai and it was developed to protect the country from invaders in ancient times.

Thai soldiers in the ancient province of Siam, held two swords and were trained in ancient Muay Thai. If they dropped their swords, they would continue to fight with their hands, legs, knees and elbows.

Muay Boran was the bareknuckle boxing of Muay Thai and fighters used ropes to protect their arms, wrists and knuckles in a form of hand wrap/glove which wasn’t very forgiving for the opponent you were fighting.

Muay Boran is also still around to this day but it is mostly used for exhibition bouts and modern Muay Thai includes western style boxing gloves with 8oz and 10oz used in contest.


Jack Broughton Invents the Boxing Gloves Or ‘Mufflers’

Early Boxing Gloves
Early Boxing Gloves

Boxing became popular again in the 18th century, where it was bare knuckle fighting and it was a poor man’s sport.

The modern day boxing glove wouldn’t surface until around 1773, invented by Jack Broughton who is considered the father of boxing by many. The gloves wouldn’t gain acceptance for a long time in the boxing ring but were used for training and sparring.

These first gloves were known as ‘mufflers’ and their use in boxing was considered unmanly in boxing contests but it made the sport more accessible to the higher classes who could now train effectively without damaging their hands, faces and opponents. Since they weren’t being marked up, they could train more.


Un-Gloved Or Bare knuckle Boxing Reigns Supreme

John L Sullivan - Last Bareknuckle Fight
John L Sullivan – Last Bare knuckle Fight

In the UK and introduced to the US by the Irish immigrants, bare knuckle fighting was the most popular form of combat at that time.

Bare knuckle fighting differed from street fighting in the sense that there were a number of rules such as not hitting a man when his down and given fighters standing counts before they continued.

Bare knuckle involved the bare knuckles with no padding being used and James Figg being the first recognised champion in 1719.

Bare knuckle fights had no gloves and this form of competition was extremely popular all the way into the 20 century with John L Sullivan being a prime heavyweight champion in bareknuckle as well as padding glove contests.



Introduction Of Gloves

Gene Tunney Boxing Gloves
Gene Tunney Early Boxing Gloves

The Marquess Of Queensbury Rules originated in London in 1865 and were published in 1867 as the first set of rules that mandated the use of padded gloves. The Queensbury rules of boxing took over from the London Prize Ring Rules which advocated for no padding of the fists.

The Queensbury rules would go on to form the basis of what we know now as boxing and the evolution of the gloves from this point has been marked with many changes.

While Bare Knuckle fights continued for many decades under the London Prize Ring Rules, Queensbury rules were eventually adopted by the US and Canada around the turn on the 19th century in 1897.

Queensbury Rules stipulated that the gloves be of fair size, good quality and new and while we know have respected weights for the gloves, it was a far less exact science back then.

John L. Sullivan fought the last bare knuckle Title fight in the USA in 1889 when he knocked out Jake Kilrain following 3 hours of intense fighting. He also fought the first gloved championship contest against James Corbett in 1892 where the used 5 oz gloves and Corbett came out victorious.


The Original Boxing Gloves

The original boxing gloves were far lighter than the current 8 or 10oz gloves that are used today. They weighed in at about 2 oz and consisted of dark brown tanned leather and they were skin tight.

Jack Dempsey Padless Glove
Jack Dempsey Padless Glove – Early 1900’s


Padding Is Added

More padding in the form of horse hair,& cottone are added to the gloves quite quickly and they reach 5oz in weight. The padding that was added was made from horsehair which didn’t do the best job of protecting the hands against the heavy bag or your opponents and they are often still referred to as punchers gloves as they allow you to cause more damage. The horse hair and cotton used made the gloves much bigger than what we would be used to today with more compact materials being commonplace.

Jack Dempsey 1917 Glove
Jack Dempsey 1917 Glove


Thomas Edison Changes The Game

Thomas Edison invented what we now know as the television and he brought in two cat boxers to perform live while he recorded the action of his new device.

Showing boxing live in this way spread like wildfire and by the 1950’s boxing was on televisions all over the USA and the originally tanned leather gloves were traded in for red gloves to hide the blood and make the sport more mainstream for the Gillette big Friday fight nights which were wildly popular on network television and paved the way for modern day Pay-Per-View Boxing


Boxing Gloves 1900 – 1950

Early 1900's boxing Gloves
Early 1900’s boxing Gloves

These were big and puffy designs so they could hold the desired weight of cotton and horsehair for padding which didn’t offer the best protection for the fighter, their hands or their opponents but they were a big step up from training and fighting without gloves which caused awful marking, cuts and bruises.

Boxing Gloves Dark Brown

Early Boxing Gloves 2
Early Boxing Gloves – Jack Dempsey

Modern Day Boxing Gloves

Jack Dempsey 7oz Gloves
Jack Dempsey 7oz Gloves By Everlast

The change from horsehair to foam in the late 1950’s into the 60’s was the biggest change we saw in boxing gloves between their use in mainstream boxing and the modern glove. In the early 20th century, the gloves were getting bigger and bigger to fit all the horsehair and cotton that was in their but the use of foam allowed the gloves to be smaller and more compact while still offering the same levels protection for the hands and the face.

Muhammad Ali 1971 Boxing Gloves
Muhammad Ali 1971 Boxing Gloves

Today, the boxing rules in the USA state that a professional boxing bout must happen within a ring by contestants wearing 8 – 10 oz gloves and that is what we see in professional boxing with the lighter weights using 8oz gloves and the heavyweights using the 10’s. There are also a ton of brands to pick between from Everlast to Title, Ring or Adidas.

Muahammed Ali 1981 Gloves
Muhammad Ali 1981 Gloves

There is some debate as to whether using gloves is actually even safer for the fighters at all these days but the theory goes that the more weight is in the gloves, the safer your hands And the opponent will be.

Muhammed Ali 1981 Gloves

Modern day boxing gloves also come in many different variations when you consider, Sparring gloves, bag gloves, pad gloves, MMA gloves and Muay Thai gloves .



Sparring Gloves & Training Gloves

Ringside Boxing Gloves

Most boxers and fighters I know today will have 2 pairs of boxing gloves and some will have 3 or more.

Everyone should have a pair of 16oz sparring gloves if you are sparring. These will cushion the blows between you and your gym mates while you spar with each, protecting the hands and the face to allow you to train more comfortably, try new techniques and encourage comradery in the gym.

Sparring with smaller gloves may lead to broken noses, lost teeth and cuts especially if you are going a bit harder as a fight gets closer.


Training Gloves

Cleto Reyes Boxing Glvoes

The other pair most fighters will have is a pair of training gloves that they use for hitting pads, hitting bags and everything else that they do. The training gloves should be 10 oz or 12 oz depending on what you are most comfortable with.

Gloves for fights are usually provided so these 2 pairs should do the trick for you if you are serious about boxing.

Some people will also want bag gloves with a velcro strap and lace up gloves for hitting the pads to make sure they get the full fight feel when doing rounds with their trainer.

Other will also like very small bag gloves to get their hands moving faster and more enjoyment out of hitting the bags.


Muay Thai Gloves

Fairtex Boxing Gloves

Muay Thai Gloves are also extremely popular and they usually differ from boxing gloves in that the straps will be made with clinching in mind. This means that you will grabbing your opponents head and neck, locking for openings to land knees and elbows up close. This is not allowed in boxing and you don’t want the Velcro strap roughing up your opponents neck, so muay thai gloves will often be designed in a slightly different way to suit the rules of Muay Thai which also allows hammer fists.


MMA Gloves

Venum MMA Gloves

MMA Gloves are far different from boxing gloves in that the fighters need to use their fingers for grappling. MMA Gloves tend to be much lighter at around 4oz to 6oz and while these cause more knockouts, the evidence tends to suggest that repeated blows with more padded gloves is worse for the brain then being Kod immediately with a lighter glove.

MMA Fighters also need training and sparring gloves as when they are in sparring they don’t want to damage their opponents but they also need flexibility for their fingers.


The Return Of Bare Knuckle Boxing

Bare Knuckle boxing is also making a huge comeback in the USA with the promotion Bare Knuckle FC recently hosting a huge grudge match between Artem Lobov and Paulie Malignaggi which was hotly contested.

Artem V Paulie

Bare Knuckle Fights now have rounds as opposed to 1 round until somebody can’t get up anymore and this is much safer for the fighters and it might even be safer than boxing.

The pay days for Bare Knuckle FC are quite high so expect to see more big Bare Knuckle fights in 2020.





Aidan Lehane has been involved in the fight game for well over 10 and has trained in some of the leading boxing gyms around the world including Sinbi Muay Thai and MTK Global Marbella. He wants to offer as much advice to beginners and pros as possible.

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