Now that Christmas is over, we can put 'Peace on Earth and Goodwill Towards
Men' back on the shelf for another 12 months and turn to other topics. In
particular, today we'll look at the topic of bare-knuckle boxing.
To modern eyes the stance of the old-time bare-knuckle brawlers looks ridiculous, but it actually served a purpose. Due to the risk of hurting their hands by hitting the bones of the skull, head punches were less common. Although they would hit the chin and face, most of the punches were thrown at the body. That meant the boxers lowered their defense to guard against body shots.
That also explains why they hold their fists in the way that they do. Modern boxers hold their fists with the palm pointing down, while the old boxers used a vertical fist (palm pointed to the side). This protected their hands when they did hit the face or chin, rather than leading with their knuckles they would do a slight sideways clubbing motion.
Because grappling was more common, they extended their left hand to control the distance from their opponent. The right arm was folded over their lower chest, both to protect from body shots and to be already cocked to throw a punch. I do wonder what their foot work was like but found no mention of it.
So, although their stance looks silly to modern boxing fans eyes, it was functional and well developed for the style of boxing practiced in their era.