The Bizarre, Disturbing History Of Kangaroo Boxing

Published August 2, 2017
Updated August 3, 2017
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The Bizarre, Disturbing History Of Kangaroo Boxing
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If you've been to any sort of Australian sporting event, there's a good chance that you've seen the boxing kangaroo. Whether pictured on a flag being waved in the crowd or sold as a plush toy in the gift shop, the image of the boxing kangaroo has become a national symbol.

This image has been around since the latter part of the 19th century and while it's now a beloved symbol of Aussie pride, its origins aren't exactly the sort of thing to boast about. The "boxing kangaroo" is exactly what it sounds like, a kangaroo wearing boxing gloves, hopping around, and throwing jabs -- all while in the ring with a human male boxer nonetheless.

The idea of a kangaroo boxing with a man grew out of little more than humans seeing the kangaroo's natural defense posture against other male kangaroos and finding a way to capitalize on it. While in the wild the kangaroo uses the claws at the end of its legs to inflict powerful kicks, the animal first grapples with and jabs at its opponent, much like a boxer would. Thus, somebody once thought, "Hey, let's put boxing gloves on this creature."

The earliest reports of kangaroo boxing date back to the early 1890s with a kangaroo named Jack being forced to wear a pair of boxing gloves and spar with a man known as Professor Lindermann at the Melbourne Waxworks in Australia. The stunt soon became a regular event at traveling shows around the country and it wasn't long before it gained popularity in the United States.

In what is possibly now a sore spot for the Philadelphia Zoo, the first reports of kangaroo boxing in the U.S., which broke right around the time they did in Australia speak of a kangaroo named John L. who would spar with his trainer. While an 1891 article describes the spectacle as simply play between the kangaroo and its handler, more exploitative matches soon followed.

Kangaroo boxing soon became a popular form of entertainment in circuses and traveling sideshows both in the United States and Europe. Clowns and even professional boxers would go toe-to-toe with the kangaroos, at times throwing actual punches that would indeed connect. While the "sport" eventually waned in popularity, it hung around long enough to find its way into pop culture, such as 1978's Matilda -- a movie wholly about kangaroo boxing.

While there are still occasional instances of kangaroos squaring off with humans in the boxing ring, thankfully, the practice has for the most part been laid to rest.

Now that you've learned all about kangaroo boxing, take a look back at the odd, forgotten sport of diving horses. Then, read up on the some of the most truly weird Olympic sports of decades past.

Joel Stice
Joel Stice holds a Bachelor's degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with more than 10 years of experience in writing and editing, during which time his work has appeared on Heavy, Uproxx, and Buzzworthy.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.