The sport of boxing was brought over to the US from England in the 1700s, but was for the most part illegal until the first half of the 20th C. It was seen as a brutal sport, especially before the 1880’s, when boxers fought with bare knuckles. Bouts still happened though, usually in private clubs with members only in attendance.
Bellows had a studio near Sharkey’s Athletic Club in New York City, a rowdy saloon founded by Tom Sharkey where members could watch other members duke it out. When Sharkey wanted to bring in a boxer from another club to fight a match, that outsider would be given temporary membership and would be known as a ‘stag.’ Bellows was a regular patron fascinated by boxing and painted many a scene. The heads and hands of the boxers in this painting are blurred; an excellent technique for conveying a sense of motion.