There were plenty of grounds for not taking last month’s John Ruiz/Evander Holyfield matchup very seriously. But the most obvious reason was right there on the fighters’ underutilized fists: Ruiz wore white gloves, while Holyfield wore purple. Not exactly a championship-caliber color palette, especially for two guys supposedly vying to be the baddest man on the planet.
For better or worse (guess), boxing gloves are now available in every color of the rainbow, but such was not always the case. In fact, black and dark brown were the only options until the 1960s, when the rise of color television led to the advent of red gloves, which at the time was considered a radical development. Brown and red maintained a rough parity from the mid 1960s through the mid 1970s, as exemplified by Muhammad Ali’s career: The Greatest wore brown gloves in his 1964 title bout against Sonny Liston, red in their 1965 rematch, brown in 1967 against Ernie Terrell, red in his 1970 comeback fight against Jerry Quarry, brown for his 1971 battle with Joe Frazier, and so on. Ironically, it was the meat-and-potatoes Frazier who really brought the heavyweight title into the Technicolor era, wearing orange gloves with green thumbs for his 1973 mauling at the red-gloved hands of George Foreman.
Red gloves became the norm in the mid 1970s, but other colors began appearing about 10 years later, paving the way for unsightly spectacles like Holyfield/Ruiz. Holyfield’s purple predilection appears to have begun in 1996, when he wore purple trunks (but red gloves) for his first bout with Mike Tyson. Uni Watch, struggling mightily to resist terms like purple reign and violet violence, notes that Holyfield has worn purple or purple-trimmed trunks in nearly every fight since then, and he donned red gloves with purple highlights in the second Ruiz bout. But the third Ruiz tangle marked the first time Holyfield outfitted his fists in solid purple. Of course, if he continues to fight as poorly as he did in that bout, he may soon be purple in a lot of other areas too.