There’s an interesting article in Russia Beyond The Headlines on traditions of bare-knuckled fighting in Russia through the ages. Here are some snippets:
…The first reference to fist-fighting is found in one of the earliest pieces of ancient Russian literature, the Primary Chronicle, dated to the year 1048.
…Two centuries later, Metropolitan Kirill … introduced harsh punishments against the practice, declaring that participants of bare-knuckle boxing matches would be excommunicated and that those killed whilst playing the brutal sport would be refused a church burial. This last measure essentially equated fighters with those who had committed suicide.
…Organised brawls took place all around ancient Russia on a regular basis, generally at the same time as large festivals and in open places. The week of Maslenitsa, a time of carnival celebrations before the Lenten fast, would see people fight with particular zeal. The clashes attracted crowds of spectators, merchants did a roaring trade in mead and beer, and fireworks were sometimes put on for the occasion.
…Both single combat and mass fights were practised. Hand-to-hand, or “one-on-one” fights were similar to modern-day boxing matches. Combatants had to remain on their feet at all times, and fighting on the ground was forbidden. The first to fall down or to admit defeat was declared the loser. In most instances, he would remain alive.
…Large-scale contests also took place. Residents of neighboring streets or villages, inhabitants of opposite sides of a river or even members of different professions were set against one another. There were two main types of these fights: so-called “chain” fights, and “wall-on-wall” fights.
The first variety was reminiscent of modern “tag team” wrestling matches: Everyone would eventually fight everyone else, and once a combatant had defeated one opponent he would face off against the next. “Wall-to-wall” fights, meanwhile, involved two opposing groups lining up in rows to face one another, allowing tired participants to drop back and regroup whilst the fight continued.
…it was forbidden to strike an opponent who had admitted defeat or who was lying or sitting down, as it was to hit an opponent who was bleeding uncontrollably. Only fists were to be used, although shoulder shoves were permitted, and fighters could use both hands at the same time. The targets of choice were generally the ribs, the head and the solar plexus.
Combatants were also instructed to wear thick hats and protective gloves to soften the force of the blows that they gave and received. Unfortunately, this rule generally caused more harm than good – fighters would hide rocks or strips of metal in their gloves.
Yet, however rough the fighting got, the opposing sides would always conclude proceedings by sharing a feast, as old tradition dictated.
…Fist-fights even served on many occasions as a means of resolving legal disputes. This somewhat unorthodox form of duelling allowed plaintiffs and defendants to settle their differences directly with one another. Or, indeed, they could hire more skilled belligerents to do the fighting for them.