That's a wrap
Everything you ever wanted to know about how boxers protect their hands
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Sept. 16 Fighting Issue. Subscribe today!
ON SEPT. 14, All eyes will be on Mayweather's oft-injured fists. (he most recently suffered a bruised right hand in a May win over Robert Guerrero.) Here's a primer on how the champ and fighters throughout time protect their paws.
ANCIENT HISTORY: When boxing first appeared in the Olympics in 688 B.C., Greek fighters covered their hands with strips of oxhide softened with oil, called himantes. The Romans later invented the myrmex, a hand wrap surrounding a three-pronged fork made of bronze that was also known as the limb piercer. The Romans were nuts.
GO TO THE TAPE: Boxing, banned in Rome in 500 A.D., went underground and bare-knuckled until gloves of "fair size" were decreed in 1867 in the Marquess of Queensberry rules. By the 1920s, use of gauze and tape had become standard. Except …
PLASTERED: In a memoir published posthumously in Sports Illustrated in 1964, Jack Dempsey's former manager claimed he sprinkled plaster of paris over the fighter's wet hand wraps so they hardened before his 1919 title fight with Jess Willard. Dempsey won by TKO after flooring Willard seven times in the first round. Use of the plaster has been a source of several boxing controversies in the decades since.
DEMOLITION MAN: In 1988, prior to a title fight against Mike Tyson, Michael Spinks' trainer Butch Lewis requested that Tyson rewrap his hands three times. Tyson, agitated, slammed his hand through a wall into the next room, where a terrified Spinks was seated. Tyson KO'd Spinks in 91 seconds.
THAT'S ONE WAY TO USE THEM: British junior welterweight Steve Murray, a pro from 1998 to 2005, had a unique approach to hand wraps, spreading a tampon over his knuckles before applying gauze. Murray, who'd been experiencing problems with his hands before a trainer gave him the tip, said, "I only wish I'd known about it earlier."
MYSTERY MEDICINE: As for Mayweather, since 2000 his hands have been wrapped by 84-year-old Rafael Garcia (above right), who takes up to 30 minutes to complete the job, far longer than the customary five. According to Garcia, before he applies tape, he rubs a medicine from Mexico into Mayweather's hands to make them stronger. Asked to name the medicine, Garcia laughs. "Can't tell you."