This article critically assesses the criminal law on consensual harm through an examination of the legality of fighting sports. The article begins by considering fighting sports such as bare-fisted prize fighting (dominant in the nineteenth century). It then, in historical chronology, examines the legality of professional boxing with gloves (dominant in the twentieth century). Doctrinally, the article reviews why and how, in a position adopted by the leading common law jurisdictions, fighting sports benefit from an application of the “well-established” category-based exceptions to the usual bodily harm threshold of consent in the criminal law. Centrally, fighting sports and doctrinal law on offenses against the person are juxtaposed against the theoretical boundaries of consent in the criminal law to examine whether and where the limit of the “right to be hurt” might lie. In sum, this article uses fighting sports as a case study to assess whether the criminal law generally can or should accommodate the notion of a fair fight, sporting or otherwise, predicated on the consent of the participants to the point that the individuals involved might be said, pithily, to have extended an open invite to harm.
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