Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, Unofficial bouts have attracted big audiences in Moscow this year

Russia's boxing federation is to bring back the ancient sport of bare-knuckle boxing, creating an official department to oversee the sport.

Unofficial bouts have been taking place since last year, sponsored by the Moscow-based Hardcore Fighting Federation.

Its online broadcasts have been viewed by millions.

Bare-knuckle fighting in the UK was overtaken by the introduction of gloves into the sport in 1892.

The sport is unregulated in the UK but not illegal. In many other countries it was outlawed but remained a popular, underground sport.

During the Soviet era it was neither banned nor allowed but there have been moves to revive it since the mid-1990s.

In Russia it became popular in the late Middle Ages and was especially common at Christmas and Easter, with fights taking place both one-on-one or in teams.

Teams were selected either from a particular street or from a village. Sometimes, mass fights would involve hundreds of people.

Rules were simple: fighters could not wear gloves or mittens, because those could hide a weapon, such as a knuckle-duster. If someone was caught cheating, wearing gloves, an angry crowd would beat the offender mercilessly.

Hitting the rival in the head and torso was allowed, but not if they fell down. In mass fights fallen participants could be trodden on and even stamped to death.

The Russian Orthodox Church was opposed to bare-knuckle fighting, considering it a pagan tradition. As early as 1274, it ruled that fighters should be excommunicated, while those who died in fist-fights should be barred from having a funeral service in a church.

But some of the Russian tsars viewed the sport differently.

Peter the Great loved watching the sport, as did Catherine the Great. Her boyfriend Grigory Orlov, known for his physical prowess, took part in fights himself.

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To play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.Media caption, Bare-knuckle fighter on the growing appeal of the sport