When boxing first appeared in the Olympics in 688 B.C., Greek fighters wrapped their hands with oil-softened ox hide leather strips called himantes. Those evolved into a cestus, which is the ancient form of a hand covering or boxing glove, as we know it today. Originally, they were strips of leather that would protect the combatants’ hands. That would allow the contests to last longer, and the athletes would be able to punch harder. At some point, that evolved into the barbaric practice of fitting those strips of leather with metal spikes, while having two fighters, seated on large boulders, facing each other. Whoever fell first, lost. As you can imagine, that only lasted a short period of time, because the greatest gladiators had short careers and life spans.
Although they have radically evolved and improved, the first “padded” boxing glove was introduced in 1743. At that time, padded gloves were only used in training. They were NOT intended to transition into the competitive side of the game.
For the next decade or so, the use of “mufflers,” which the gloves were called, was considered unmanly. However, as the sport was forced to undergo a more structured, cultured personality, boxing gloves slowly gained acceptance.
The first models were padded with cotton and horsehair, because of the cushioning they provided. Today, there is a much greater emphasis placed on protection and safety, which is why the use of multi-layered foams, GEL and air-infused padding is used in their construction. The design of gloves in today’s boxing game is much more advanced, being tailored towards protecting the fighter and his or her opponent more effectively.
Fun Fact: Originally most boxing gloves were made of brown or natural, tan leather. They weren’t dyed until the early fifties when boxing was entering its heyday on network television and, even then, it came about for reasons of function, not fashion. Gillette Friday Night Fights became wildly popular and boxing gloves transitioned into an oxblood red color. This shift was to hide blood, in order to “soften” the images for TV audiences and reduce the perception that boxing was too violent. They made it more family friendly.
While still an up-and-comer, in 1917 (two years before he would win the heavyweight title from Jess Willard) Jack Dempsey called on a local sporting goods manufacturer and its owner, Jacob Golomb, to construct a protective headgear that would stand up to more than fifteen rounds of intense sparring. Although the company had only made swimwear up to that time, they were able to construct durable and long-lasting headgear for Dempsey and, subsequently, many fighters after that.
Like gloves, head gear was initially developed to add protection in training and wasn’t intended to be used in any sort of competition.
Original models were constructed of good, thick leather and a minimal amount of padding. They were geared more towards preventing cuts and alleviating bruising, rather than reducing impact or shock absorption of any sort.
Of course, more current sparring head gear designs feature a greater amount of padding, thicker and softer foams, along with greater cheek, chin and nose protection. They are, typically, constructed with multi-layer padding systems, more advanced foam combinations and even shock-absorbing materials, like GEL and air-infused foam. They are meant to limit the amount of direct contact made with the nose, eyebrows, forehead, cheeks and, in some instances, the chin. They are better designed to prevent cosmetic and sub-surface damage.
Amateur competition head gear even uses a combination of open cell and closed cell foams that help dissipate impact and lesson the power of punches taken.
Although fighters may have used rudimentary mouth protection, created from any number of materials prior, the first known use of, what would be considered, the modern-day mouth protection occurred in the late 1800’s.
Woolf Krause, an English dentist, used gutta-percha to create strips that could be placed between a fighter’s upper and lower teeth, to prevent direct bone-on-bone contact. Gutta-percha was made from tree sap, and was a common substance in the dental industry at the time. It’s feel created a soft, rubber consistency that was ideal for preventing a fighter’s teeth from crashing together when he was struck.
The mouthguard’s evolution, however, is attributed to a London dentist named Jack Marles, who transformed those simple strips of tree sap into a reusable mouthguard that fighters could customize and mold to an exact impression of their teeth.
Even though it existed, the implementation of boxing mouthguards, in regulated bouts, didn't come about until Ted “Kid” Lewis entered the boxing world. As a friend of Marles, Lewis had a rubber mouthguard created to help protect him from reoccurring injuries to his cheeks and gums. Lewis used the first version of this mouthguard in his 1921 championship fight against Jack Britton. They caught on after that and have, since, become standard in most sports.
BOXING GROIN PROTECTOR
In the late twenties, the first groin protector was introduced and was called a “Taylor”, named after a Brooklyn shoe sole manufacturer, James P. Taylor.
As logical as it seemed, his invention wasn’t, originally, received with much excitement, until the results of the Max Schmeling versus Jack Sharkey fight in June of 1930.
That eventful fight ended in a disqualification. Sharkey lost due to a controversial “low blow” that left Schmeling on the canvas and the United States, suddenly, had a German Heavyweight Champion.
As you can imagine that fact didn’t sit well with the American boxing purists at that time, so following the bout, the “No Foul Rules” were introduced and Taylor’s No Foul Protector was adopted across the entire United States.
Original groin protectors were, basically, elastic “jock straps” with plastic inserts for protection.
Modern groin protectors provide more complete protection, the cups are made of more lightweight, but hard plastics. They contain more advanced, closed-cell foams and feature additional hip protection.